By Chris Traczek
Like Fuel Oil News, many companies in the fuel-oil industry have been in business for 70-plus years. Two, Taco, Inc. and ECR International, chose to share with us how they have been able to stay ahead of the curve over the past seven decades.
Taco innovates for the “good of the industry”
Taco, Inc., Cranston, R.I., has been in continuous business since 1920 and today the family-owned enterprise serves the growing hydronics market across America, Canada and many other parts of the world. No longer just a circulator and pump manufacturer, today’s Taco is a leading developer and manufacturer of smart electronic controls and accessories, replacement parts for competitor products, radiant floor products and the innovative single-pipe system called LoadMatch. Taco’s venerable circulator line, the “00,” is now available in 14 models and many variations (IFC, radiant, LoadMatch). And the company now produces a full line of commercial pumps, having introduced 120 new pumps in the last five years.
Earlier this year, Taco announced that it was placing an emphasis on the fast growing “Green Building” movement to better position its energy-efficient products like the D’Mand water recirculation unit, variable-speed circulators and the LoadMatch single-pipe system. The company aims to secure a leadership position on green-related design and product specification issues for engineers, architects and builders seeking information on the LEED certification process. Taco’s Web site, www.taco-hvac.com, now carries a Green section, individuals at Taco are gaining Green certification and a software program to assist design engineers is in the works.
In response to the fast-growing radiant heating market, Taco now offers several important new products like the iSeries Mixing Valve, variable-speed “00” circulators and the Radiant Mixing Block, which simplifies radiant installations by requiring just four pipe connections. The Radiant Mixing Block is just one example of new Taco products that combine various functions into one unit. The Mixing Block combines a variable-speed injection mixing control, injection circulator, system circulator and air elimination into one device. Taco’s newest product, the patent-pending X-Pump Block, combines a variable-speed mixing control, heat source circulator, system circulator and heat exchanger into one unit.
“We want to position Taco as the company in the HVAC industry,” said company president and owner John Hazen White, Jr. “We focus on doing the right things for the good of the industry because we want our customers and suppliers to be successful, too.”
ECR International is one name, many products
ECR International was formed in June of 1999, but contrary to this recent birth date, the company has a rich history. A merger of The Utica Companies (Utica) and Dunkirk Radiator Corporation (Dunkirk) formed ECR International. In 1928, Earle C. Reed founded both Dunkirk and Utica, and ECR International is named in his honor. In the early years, Dunkirk manufactured cast-iron boilers and radiators and Utica manufactured only cast-iron radiators and baseboard and bought boilers from Dunkirk. The two companies cooperated with each other by sharing products and selling to different markets. Utica has always sold to plumbing and heating wholesalers under their own brand name, who in turn sell to plumbing contractors who sell to the final customer. Dunkirk has traditionally sold to other manufacturers such as Carrier Corporation and Lennox Industries or to retailers such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Since the early 1990s, they have also sold to plumbing and heating wholesalers under the Dunkirk and Ultimate brand names. In the 1950s, Utica designed its own line of boilers and since then both companies have designed and manufactured their own products.
The companies have been closely held since their formation and have had limited changes in senior management with several generations of only three families holding the presidency of both companies. Without the distractions caused by changes in ownership, the companies have displayed an agility to adapt to both a changing world and changing markets. For example, during World War II both companies adapted their production to support the war effort. Utica manufactured hand-grenade housings and converted part of its production capability to the manufacture of magnesium castings. Dunkirk manufactured cast-iron hand-grenade housings and bomb noses.
Both companies have constantly looked for ways to expand their businesses and have made strategic acquisitions when they were appropriate for the growth of their businesses. In the late 1950s, Dunkirk purchased The Sanitary Receiver Company for the purpose of manufacturing sheet-metal products. A new facility was built on Dunkirk’s property to make these products.
Utica has made two key acquisitions to expand into areas of the heating and cooling market other than boilers. In 1986, Utica purchased EnviroMaster International of Rome, N.Y. EMI manufactures ductless split air-conditioning systems, which are a very fast-growing segment of the space-cooling business. In 1992, EMI formed the RetroAire division. RetroAire manufactures package terminal air-conditioning and heat pump units for both the new construction and replacement markets. These units are used for heating and cooling hotel rooms and other similar areas, such as hospital and nursing home rooms. EMI has grown every year and is a very important part of the corporation. In 1990, Utica purchased the Oneida Furnace Company. Oneida Royal has manufactured high-quality furnaces since 1822.
Dunkirk’s later acquisitions have been geared toward expanding its share of the boiler market. In 1992, Dunkirk purchased Ultimate Engineering, a manufacturer of gas and oil fired boilers in Natick, Mass. This purchase enabled Dunkirk to add an extremely versatile boiler to its
product line. In 1998, Dunkirk purchased certain assets of Pennco Inc. in Clarendon, Pa. Pennco manufactured a complete line of residential boilers along with a gas-fired boiler for commercial applications. These purchases have enabled Dunkirk to significantly expand its market share and product line.
In December of 2000, ECR International made its first acquisition, one that truly made it an international company. ECR acquired certain assets of Olsen Technology in Wallaceburg, Ontario, and formed ECR International Ltd., Olsen Division. The Olsen Division is one of North America’s leading designers and producers of oil-fired furnaces. Olsen will be manufacturing all of ECR International’s oil-fired furnaces as well as a new line of gas furnaces.
Following the Olsen acquisition, ECR International acquired Argo Industries of Berlin, Conn., in August 2001. The Argo division is a leading manufacturer of copper fin tube baseboard convectors and hydronic control systems. In addition, Argo manufactures electric boilers for residential space heating. The Argo acquisition has now allowed ECR to provide complete hydronic systems featuring the finest components from heat source to heating emitters, and technology to efficiently control indoor environments.
The acquisition of these companies enables ECR’s customers to purchase a complete line of heating and cooling products from one source. ECR International is the only North American company to make and market all of these products under one corporate roof.
ECR International is also a very community-minded company, supporting local charitable organizations both financially and with the time of their employees. In addition, Utica is the creator and sponsor of the 15K Utica Boilermaker Road Race. From a start in 1978 that had 800 runners, this race is now one of the top-ranked races in the country, attracting nearly 10,000 runners and utilizing the services of over 4,000 volunteers. Earle C. Reed, former vice chairman of ECR International, was the first race director and retired from that position in 2000 after 23 years of dedicated service.
ECR International is a major sponsor of the Billy Mead ALS 5K Run for Research, an annual fundraiser and community gathering in Dunkirk. This event raises money for research into a cure for ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and has raised close to a half-million dollars since it’s first running in 2000.
In June of 1999, all of the strengths of these two companies came together to form ECR International. With a product line that covers nearly all space heating and cooling needs, strong engineering and design capabilities, and manufacturing facilities in five locations, ECR International is one of the leaders in the heating and air-conditioning industry.