A family-owned business founded in 1952, Ware sells and leases boilers, chillers and related equipment. David Soyka reports on how this Kentucky company chills out with a steamy business that keeps businesses running full speed ahead.
Irving Oil, Canada’s largest refinery based in St. John, New Brunswick, needed to build up steam. Four of its high-pressure, super-heated boilers were out of commission, and it was hot on the trail of two backup boilers it needed to keep things running. Trouble was, you don’t find 60-ton boilers at your local supplier, much less get them shipped to you overnight. These things are the size of a small house, and normal rail or road transport would take at least five weeks, in part because of a lengthy permitting process. But the company couldn’t afford to stay idle for that long. It needed to get under steam as soon as possible.
Who you gonna call?
The company made the call down south to Ware in Louisville, Ken. to both procure the boilers and manage the truly Herculean effort of hauling these behemoths. An idea took flight, quite literally, and Ware arranged to use a military cargo plane originally designed to transport military tanks. While that might sound simple enough, crews had to work around the clock to rebuild one boiler frame so it would fit in the plane, while the other managed to squeeze in with a little under two inches of space. A plane this big required a long runway, so the boilers had to land in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they were loaded onto trucks and transported to the refinery 250 miles and nine hours away. And, by the way, then installed. The entire process took five days.
“We believe this is the first time that two boilers were ever delivered by air,” says Ritchie Ware, third-generation family member and company president.“This is just the kind of challenge we relish. Yeah, we sell and rent boilers and chillers and valves, but what we really see as our business is solving customer problems in creative ways that saves them money and gets the job done for them, sometimes under extraordinary circumstances. That’s what everyone here excels at – going the extra mile to confront a difficult situation and cost-effectively resolving it. It’s almost a company motto that if it was easy, anyone could do it. That’s why customers turn to Ware.”
Helping the company to fulfill its mission are a number of key suppliers; these include Superior Boiler Works, Inc.,
manufacturing Scotch Marine firetube boilers for process steam, hot water and waste heat recovery; Neace Lukens, the 15th largest privately held insurance agency in the U.S.; Heimbrock Refractory Service, manufacturing a complete line of equipment for product recovery, dust collection and air pollution control; BFS Industries LLC, which makes boiler room and diesel generator support products; Penn Separator Corp., offering boiler room accessories; Chem-Aqua, which provides water treatment solutions; Norris & Son, Inc., a full services refractory contractor and National City, one of the nation’s largest financial holding companies.
Ware was founded in 1952 originally as Ivan Ware & Son, a residential air and heating company. In 1971, it established a rental boiler business, the first of its kind in the Louisville area, and which today represents half of its total revenues.
Today, it is one of the largest and most extensive service companies in the Southeast and one of the top three rental businesses in the United States.
In addition to selling new and rebuilt boilers, Ware also sells and rents chiller equipment to commercial and industrial customers. In 2003, it purchased The Valve Shop, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., which, as the name implies, sells and services a variety of safety and relief, butterfly, control and blowdown valves, among others. “It allows us to be a single source for our customers’ heating and cooling needs and it’s been a nice synergy for us,” Ritchie points out. In addition to Ritchie Ware, the company is run by Ivan’s son Richard, company president and his son-in-law, Vice President of Operations Brent Falcone. The company employs 75, and provides direct service to customers in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Its national business, however, is providing emergency boilers and chillers for temporary lease. “When a boiler goes down, production stops,” Ritchie points out.“That’s what we’re here to help prevent. We’ve provided rental boilers to Ecuador, Egypt, Scotland and Mexico. And these services are available 24/7. And when we say 24/7, that’s not just an advertising slogan, that’s our commitment to customers. You don’t have to wait to call us, we’re ready to respond and deliver to almost any location with any size boiler to keep a customer system up and running. Whatever it takes is what we’ll do to get the job done.” Ware provides similar services for chillers for customers within 700 miles of Louisville.
Not all rentals necessarily involve emergency service, however. “Sometimes a customer needs a rental to cover a spike in production or some other temporary run,” Ritchie explains. “Or there could be a plant shutdown, or even just one or two boilers that need to go off-line for repair, and the customer needs back-up steam to keep things going without interruption.” Boilers are available as self-contained mobile systems, as well as trailer- or skid-mounted configurations in a variety of pressure ranges from 30 horsepower to 250,000 pounds per hour. Typical rental periods are four to six months.
The latest addition to Ware’s mobile fleet is a “Super High Efficiency Boiler” that combines state-of-the-art control and combustion technology that eliminates standard mechanical linkages with electronic servomotors. The result is fuel savings of up to 10 percent. This technology had previously been employed with stationary boilers, but now provides the same economies in a mobile application. The considerable fuel and efficiency savings has resulted in extensive customer demand to refit existing mobile applications with the new technology, particularly as fuel costs in general continue to rise.
Ware does not manufacture these boilers, but purchases them from OEMs. Ware then provides planning, design, installation and project management services. The company can provide ongoing maintenance services or a turnkey application.
In either situation, Ware provides repair and parts services,boasting a 99-percent customer retention rate. “This is a family owned business, and our employees are family even if they aren’t related by blood,” Ritchie says. “Most of our employees have been with us for a long time, and they are highly-knowledgeable, innovative technicians who our customers have come to respect and trust.”
This knowledge is spread through Ware’s unique “Boiler University,” which has been operating for the past 16 years in providing hands-on classes on all aspects of boiler installation, maintenance and repair. “We’re committed not only to training our people, but training our customers,” Ritchie says. “The four instructors currently have over 120 years of experience combined. They’re not simply professional educators, they’re people who deal with these issues day in and day out.”
Ware emphasizes that the intention of Boiler University is not to sell, but to train. The basic program offers training in the basics of boiler operation, safety, efficiency and equipment.
The advanced school offers training in inspections, cleaning and upkeep as well as troubleshooting. Both programs are accredited continuing education classes through Western Kentucky University. People have come from all over the
United States and the world including Jamaica, Canada,England and Mexico to attend Boiler University’s three-day class. Ware is currently working on translating the program to Spanish.Ritchie says that Ware is continuing to grow primarily
by taking market share. “The last six or seven years have been great for us, and we see continued growth for the foreseeable future.”
He adds, “The best business conditions for us is when manufacturing is either growing or in decline. When it’s growing, obviously that means more production and more demand for boilers to fuel it. When there’s a decline, industry wants to make the most effective use of what it has in place.
That’s where the maintenance part of our business plays a big role. To make steam, you need water, and water, when not treated, destroys equipment over time. So to keep things running efficiently and cost-effectively is important, particularly so during slowdowns.”
In any event, industry is always going to need steam power. “It’s the cheapest way to generate power,” Ritchie says. “I think it unlikely that anything will ever replace steam. What helped jump-start the industrial revolution was steam power, and it’s still here today, and will still be around for some time to come. Nothing does the job better than steam.”
And few other companies do the job with steam better than Ware. As an example of its obsessive attitude with boilers, go to the Ware Web site (www.wareinc.com) and on the home page click on the video, “Feel Like Making Steam,” a vignette about a man and his boiler set to the tune of the rock song by Bad Company, “Feel Like Making Love.”
Funny stuff. Though the guys at Ware shouldn’t think about quitting their day jobs, for which its customers are extremely grateful.