It’s not every day that you meet an HVAC contracting firm that has been in business for 93 years and is still going strong. Located in Fredericksburg, VA, Robert B. Payne, Inc. has almost as colorful a history as its historical hometown along the Rappahannock River.
The company was opened for business by Robert B. Payne in 1930 as a residential wood and ice delivery service using horses and buggies. That led to the delivery of coal in the late 1930s.
In fact, according to Wes McKoy, service manager for the company today, the company purchased its first box car of coal on credit in the late 1930s, during the Great Depression.
Then, in the 1940s, the company expanded to deliver fuel oil.
“That began to change a bit when, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the company expanded into central air conditioning system installation and service,” McKoy says.
“Shifts in technology have never been a problem for us,” he continues. “Today, we are seeing a big move toward all-electric comfort systems. Though gas efficiency is still big around here, heat pump technology and efficiency are to a point where they can work well in our climate.”
Robert B. Payne Today
McKoy, who began working for the company in 1994 as a service technician, worked his way up to service manager within five years. He says that today, Robert B. Payne, Inc. is an $11 million+ company that does mostly residential work. They do some light commercial work as well.
“That has changed a lot since the 1980s when the company was more focused on commercial,” McKoy explains. “Once we got into the residential service and replacement market in the late 1980s, we pretty much evolved over time to an intensely focused residential company.”
On-the-Job Sheet Metal
The company has a sheet metal shop and fabricates most of its fittings and duct runs.
“In the past, we had a shop foreman who was our full-time sheet metal guy. Today, we operate differently. Our six installation teams operate the sheet metal equipment in the shop. We have a Vulcan sheet metal machine, some Pittsburgh sheet metal forming machines, and some bending machines.
“Again, these are all operated by our Installation department. They work as a team. There is no separate sheet metal crew,” McKoy says. “They prefabricate return boxes in bulk as well as emergency pans before they go out on jobs. We also build our commercial ducting here. But we take things a step further.
“We have sheet metal machines on our trucks, enabling us to fabricate metal on the job site. Every installation vehicle has a Pittsburgh and a sheet metal brake.
“Our installation fleet includes large box trucks, and they have room for this equipment plus all the materials needed for the job. In other words, most of our fabrication happens in the field,” he continues.
In addition to the HVAC work, the company continues in its original role as a fuel oil delivery service.
McKoy says, “In our area, delivering fuel oil is a service that is still needed for existing customers. This part of the business helps us take care of existing oil customers. We’re a one-stop shop for them. We are one of the few companies still delivering fuel oil and servicing oil-fired equipment.”
Robert B. Payne employs 19 service technicians (including McKoy). This team consists of four maintenance and 15 service technicians. They have 13 installers and a fuel oil delivery driver. In total, they employ 51 people, including their office team, fuel manager, and salespeople.