California Hydronics Corp. (CHC)
California Hydronics Corp.’s employees care deeply about their work and relationships with customers and manufacturers.
By Jim Harris
California Hydronics Corp. (CHC) believes strongly in creating a positive internal culture. “Finding and retaining talent is our biggest challenge, especially being located in northern California, where you have Google, Apple and Facebook just down the street,” says Robert Polizzi, president and CEO of the Hayward, Calif.-based manufacturer’s representative. “It can be hard to compete with companies like that, so we focus on making [CHC] a great place to work so talent comes and stays here.
“It amazes me when I walk through here and see just how much people care about the company,” he adds.
CHC had its employees in mind when it opened its new office in Vancouver, Wash., in October. In addition to giving the company additional office, warehousing and fabrication space, the building includes amenities such as a cafeteria and fitness center. “We’ve made it a very nice place to work – our office doesn’t look like a typical supplier or distributor’s office,” Polizzi says.
In addition to their competitive salary and benefits package, CHC’s employees are all part of the company ownership. Since 2011, CHC has been a 100 percent employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) company.
“We try very hard to have a very positive and inclusive culture, and we are not a command-and-control company,” he adds. “We stress respect here, and believe everyone needs to be approachable, a team player and engaged in their work.”
Many of the company’s employees are involved in industry organizations such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the American Society of Plumbing Engineers (ASPE) and the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC). CHC encourages staff members to be on the board of directors for these organizations.
CHC is a manufacturer’s representative specializing in hydronic heating equipment, steam components, heat transfer equipment and plumbing accessories. The company serves customers in the HVAC and plumbing trades in northern California, Alaska, western Idaho, Montana, northern Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
In addition to representing major manufacturers such as Bell & Gossett, CHC also stocks millions of dollars’ worth of product stock. “This puts us ahead of most other manufacturer’s representatives,” Polizzi says. “We believe we carry the A [grade] lines.”
Polizzi considers the company’s familiarity with not just its products but systems to be its biggest asset. “We pride ourselves on being system experts, and train on that on a regular basis,” he says. “In addition to having a sales department, we have a business development department whose function is to call on mechanical engineers to get our products specified on projects.”
The company shares its knowledge of systems with the mechanical engineers in three full-size training centers. CHC’s technical service department will also assist contractors by starting up products they supply. The company also services product warranties for the first year they are active.
The company’s other value-added services include manufacturing and fabrication, which is performed by its FlowTherm Systems division. FlowTherm fabricates fully assembled and packaged systems that include boilers, water heaters, pumps and piping.
The company is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2017.
Founded in 1957 by Thomas Brewer, John Littleton and Milton McLeod, CHC expanded its capabilities during the 1970s when it formed FlowTherm Systems.
The company expanded further in 2001 when it purchased the Pacific Northwest-based Larry Harrington Company, which it renamed the Colombia Hydronic Company. Polizzi has been with the company for 27 years, starting in its business development department. He was named CHC’s president and CEO in 2015.
CHC has maintained relationships with Bell & Gossett and several of its other manufacturer partners for most, if not all, of its history. CHC has represented Bell & Gossett products since it opened its doors. “We have personal relationships with our suppliers,” Polizzi says. “We don’t want to be a transactional partner – we work hard to be a business partner and share information.
“I have had many meals with our manufacturer partners, we’ve played golf together and had all-day business sessions together,” he adds. “At the end of the day, it’s a marriage – we have to have good communication and put a lot into the relationship.”