Volume 4 | Issue 8 | Year 2001

If one of the memorable stories you bring back from your recent business trip or vacation is the luxurious elevator you rode in, most likely that elevator cab is a product of H&B Elevators of Minneapolis. For more than 40 years, H&B has been working with architects, building owners and major elevator companies nationwide to create stylish elevator cabs and entrances. Its products turn elevators into unforgettable hallmark environments that convey a building’s spirit and personality.

H&B’s elevator cabs transport people from floor to floor in condominiums, office buildings, corporate headquarters, sports stadiums and multi-use projects combining retail, office and residential space. They can be found in all of the major cities and the towns in between. “We’ve been involved in all the major metropolitan areas including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington and San Francisco,” says Charles Rhea, general manager.

H&B is the premier supplier of elegant, custom-designed and custom-built cabs and entrances to all of the major elevator companies. These include Otis, KONE, Schindler, ThyssenKrupp, Mitsubishi and Fujitec. “We take an architect’s vision for a cab and entrance, and design and manufacture a product to reflect that vision. We build it so that it meets all of the multiplicity of codes and specifications required,” says Rhea.

He continues, “Architects increasingly are using elevator cabs to make statements about the theme or aesthetics they wish to convey about the building as a whole. So we are constantly trying to meet the challenge of conveying and translating that vision into a cab that can be made in a cost-effective and timely manner – because we are always working within a budget and a tight construction schedule.”

To create these environments, architects will use the same materials – such as stone, metal, a variety of woods and glass – used to create lobby environments. In doing so, the cabs and their entrances contribute to the unity of the intended environment. Each material — such as the finest woods, polished bronzes, stainless steel and specialty glass — is carefully chosen for the final design and application based on its specific intrinsic properties.

The Door to Craftsmanship
In custom-designing and custom-building the company’s elevator cabs and entrances, H&B’s 90 experienced employees work in the tradition of Old World artisans at the company’s 75,000 square-foot facility. “We are literally talking about cabs and entrances that are works of art,” says Rhea. “Our products are unique because of our design, engineering and final assembly personnel. While other companies might have a good engineer or a good assembler, our success is really the result of having capable and experienced employees with all of these skills.”

Rhea notes that the company’s customers commonly remark favorably about the cooperative and energetic spirit of H&B employees. “We are proud of our employees, many of whom have been with us in excess of 20 years,” says Rhea. Since US Industry Today’s first profile of H&B in January 1999, the company has undergone some fundamental changes. “We are evolving from a functional organization to more of a project-oriented organization,” explains Rhea. “Our project teams focus on a particular project so they can manage that job all the way from start to finish to assure the success of the project — both for our customers and for H&B.”

This means good news for customers. In the past, a project would pass from sales to engineering to production, and “no one was actually maintaining an overview perspective of the project,” Rhea says. The project-team approach allows H&B to be more customer-focused and efficient so the job is done right, on time and within budget.

To the Top Floor
Another change is in H&B’s executive ranks. “We’ve added significantly to the management team of our division,” Rhea says. He notes that his division is one of three under the umbrella of Hauenstein & Burmeister, Inc. “We have a new general manager, quality manager, materials manager and engineering manager. All of these new people bring many years’ experience in designing and fabricating custom hardware in other industries,” says Rhea. “We are combining the industry-unique experience of our long-term employees with our new employees, who have successfully managed similar businesses in other industries.”

The new management team’s focus is “the right product (which means giving our customers the quality based on their specs and their expectations) to the job site on time,” says Rhea. “This means that we deliver a product that must fit in with the overall building construction schedule — whether it’s for new building construction or a building renovation project.”

Ideas flow in a healthy exchange between customers and H&B. “We often get involved in what is called ‘per-contract award’ – or design-build – which means the architect will work with us and have the cab more or less designed prior to putting it out for bid,” Rhea says. “These types of projects usually end up being the most successful for both us and the architects, because the cab is already designed and there is a level of confidence going in that the architect will get what he wants within budget.

“Potential customers come to us wanting something unique and different, and more of the work we see them involved in is with cities doing renaissance work,” says Rhea. Many cities nationwide are reclaiming old factories or warehouses to convert them into desirable condominiums, offices or multi-use buildings. Because of this robust building activity, older buildings might need to have their elevator systems overhauled. Other buildings might not have had elevator systems and require them for the modernization project.

Rhea states that the $15 million company plans to continue to grow at an annual rate of more than 10 percent. “Historically, we’ve been focused on new construction,” he says. “We see our future in helping our current customers more with modernization and renovation projects, and we believe this is where much of our growth will be in the years to come.”