Family-held company recognized for treating its customers right

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

The Hicks family finished remodeling the kitchen of their home in Upper St. Clair in February 2009, when they awoke one morning and found water pouring through a ceiling light fixture.

Jill Hicks quickly telephoned Staab & Sons Inc., a local plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractor, who already was inundated with frozen-pipe and other jobs that day.

"They came right over and found it wasn't coming from the plumbing. They said we needed to call somebody to get all the ice off the roof," Hicks said. "Then they didn't even charge us anything for the visit."

That's the kind of response by Staab & Sons that won the family-held company a 2011Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics from the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania.

"I gave Staab & Sons a perfect score," said James Weber, a Torch Award judge and professor of business ethics and management at Duquesne University. "They seemed especially strong in how they integrated ethics into the firm."

"When we hire new employees we put them through a (full-day) orientation on how to treat customers fairly and honestly," said Michael Staab, 57, one of the company's two executives.

"If we get an emergency call during the night, for instance, employees are expected to call the customer back within 10 minutes," said Staab, who is secretary/treasurer.

Staab & Sons also is noteworthy because it's a fourth-generation business.

"There are no statistics for how many family-held companies are fourth generation because it's exceedingly rare," said Wayne Rivers, president of The Family Business Institute, Raleigh, N.C.

The company was founded in 1929 by Jerome and Edna Staab in Pittsburgh's Arlington neighborhood. They had five sons, all of whom joined the family business. It moved to its current location in Overbrook in 1972, and expanded into plumbing in 2001.

"Our ethics started with Jerome," said Michael Staab, one of the five brothers. "He instilled integrity and business principals in me and my four brothers when we entered the business."

Staab & Sons was selected for the Better Business Bureau award from among about 50 nominations across the western half of the state. It will receive the award at a luncheon in Brookline on Dec. 6

The next day, Michael Staab's son, Matthew, will sit for a master plumber's examination by the Allegheny County Health Department's plumbing division. Only a certified master plumber may file with the county the plumbing plan for a home or other structure.

Staab, 31, started working part-time in the family business at age 16, and now heads the plumbing department. With a 4.0 high-school grade average and a proficiency in math, Matthew was drawn by the fact plumbing involved "calculating linear pipe feet and figuring out elevations," he said.

"I tussled with what I wanted to do, but my mom and dad left the decision up to me" whether to join the family business, he said.

His sister, Kellie Work, is Staab & Sons' accountant. Their sister, Sarah Brophy, works there part-time as office cleaner.

The fourth-generation member is Branden Staab, an installation mechanic. He is the son of acting president Raymond Staab, Michael's nephew.

Michael Staab, the last of the five brothers still in the business, initially tussled over getting into it, too. An accomplished accounting student in the 1970s, Staab was offered a job at the firm of his Robert Morris University professor, and he almost accepted.

"But my father (Jerome) was about to retire, and there was a need for someone to carry the administrative side of the business," he said . "Plus, I was about to get married and start a family, and thought about the job security of the family business."

Today, that business is doing quite well, despite the sluggish economy. It posted $1.8 million in revenue in 2010, "one of our better years," said Staab, "and we're on track to do that again this year." About one-third of sales are from plumbing, and two-thirds from heating and air conditioning.

Pittsburgh-area heating and air conditioning contractors "are still very busy," said Tom Wessner, president of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's Western Pennsylvania chapter.

Wessner, president of Metro Heating and Cooling Corp., Banksville, credits Pittsburgh's comparatively healthy housing market and an ongoing program of federal tax credits up to $500 for buying efficient heating and air conditioning equipment.

Michael Staab said his company is doing well because of its "fair prices, excellent workmanship and our reputation."

Customer Rich Weidman, for instance, recalled when Staab & Sons installed a new heating and air conditioning system in his home in Whitehall in June 2001. Not only did Gerald Staab — another of the five brothers, now retired — steer Weidman away from needlessly venting his attic, but also accommodated him in locating the new furnace in a different spot in the basement.

"I wanted it against the back wall, to give me room to put in a refrigerator and some shelves," said Weidman. "Other contractors wanted to charge me extra for doing that, but Staab didn't."

Additional Information:

About Staab & Sons Inc.

Business: Plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractor, mainly serving Allegheny, Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland counties

Founded: 1929

Headquarters: Overbrook

Employees: 18

Revenue: $1.8 million (2010)


Raymond Staab, acting president

Michael Staab, secretary/treasurer

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