Archive for January, 2014

Heating and air conditioning firm building on 78 year legacy

FDR was re-elected in a landslide. Gone with the Wind first hit the bookstores. And the cost to mail a letter was three cents. It was 1936, the year McCrea Equipment Company was founded.

To place that success in perspective, the average lifespan of leading U.S. companies has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today. The Fauquier County firm is bucking the trend by building business the “McCrea Way. Quality service the first time, every time”.

“Mack” McCrea created the then heating and air conditioning wholesaler in the harsh economic environment of the mid-1930s, when unemployment raged at 16.9%; over twice what the US is experiencing today. When he died in 1965, three of his employees purchased the company’s stock.

One of those employees was George Lanhardt, who subsequently bought out the other partners in the early 80s. Since then, it’s been a family run business with Lanhardt’s son, Wayne, forging the company’s growth for nearly three decades.

Today, the firm has 215 employees—63 at the Warrenton location—and operates six companies in VA, MD, and PA. Wayne Lanhardt’s sons, Shane and Seth, are the firm’s next generation of leaders who are continuing the company’s performance by building a young, success-driven corps of managers. Their accomplishment is reflected in increased revenues generated during a depressed economy.

“We have a very strong team with a lot of guys in their 30s and 40s in management positions. The team is very forward thinking. We’ve made a successful transition from an older company. A lot of older companies stumble. In the end, it’s really about your people. That’s the strength of our organization,” says 36-year-old Shane Lanhardt, who runs the Virginia business and spent time sharing the firm’s story with the Piedmont Business Journal.

Unique business plan
Unlike many HVAC businesses, McCrea sets itself apart by being involved in all aspects of heating and air conditioning services. This includes new home installations, service and replacement, manufacturing of sheet metal, duct and piping materials, and providing energy analysis and audits. The firm is among the largest HVAC firms in the DC metro area.

In addition to the scope of the business enterprises, the firm had the prescient to see what was unfolding in the red-hot real estate market of a decade ago. “The housing market was booming during the nineties. It was almost uncontrollable growth. We were installing 10,000 units a year in new homes. But we knew the bubble was going to have to burst,” recalls Lanhardt.

And burst it did. But McCrea had positioned itself to survive the collapse. “We decided to create service and replacement companies and augment new home construction sales with more service and replacement work. In 2000, 95% of our business was in new home construction. Last year, that figure dropped to 60% with 40% service and replacement picking up the difference.”

Lanhardt goes on to say, “The housing market has recovered some but I don’t think we’ll ever see what it was doing back in the nineties. While we have done 40% more new work this year than last, I don’t think that pace will continue.”

The DC metro real estate market is among the most stable in the Nation but Lanhardt opines there is still “a lot of instability in the market. If you know your job is stable, then a decision to replace a $6,000 unit becomes easier. If not, you might pay $500 for a repair. There is a little trend of more people repairing and not buying the best systems because of instability,” Lanhartdt says.

One of the hallmarks of McCrea is not trying to sell customers something they don’t need or can’t afford. The business is based on volume sales and “we don’t want to make the most amount of money off each customer. Our philosophy is to provide good service, do a great job and provide value to people for their money,” emphasizes Lanhardt.

Building market share
One obvious advantage of building sales with a decades old business is a large customer base to draw upon. The firm has a 200,000 person customer file that receives a quarterly newsletter providing information on new developments in the industry, tips on reducing heating and cooling costs, special promotional offerings on service and installations and more.

“We keep in touch with our customers through our newsletter, Facebook and Twitter. Our industry is reactive so customers don’t normally plan to buy new. Their purchase is often dictated by the immediate need of a failed unit. Building brand so that former customers think of McCrea when facing an HVAC need is critical. There is no cold calling in this business. Word of mouth and branding are important,” says Lanhardt.

As in every industry, technological advancements have been dramatic in the last few decades. Today, an increasing source of new business is geothermal. It provides the highest energy efficiency but is expensive.

Lanhardt says, “The federal government gives a 30% tax credit back to dollar one on the installation costs on these systems. And there is no cap on that number. It is the most efficient unit you can buy. A geothermal unit can reduce utility costs by 70% to 80% a year.”

Significant savings are not limited to premier systems such as geothermal. Propane or oil systems that are upgraded to heat pumps with oil backup can generate 50% to 60% savings in utility costs from systems installed just a decade ago. Science and technology strikes again.

Nonetheless, technical advancements can possibly be trumped by commonsense. Lanhardt underscores old fashioned strategies such as raising window shades and pulling curtains back during the winter months will allow solar energy to hold heating costs down. Reverse actions in the summer permits a darken house to retain air conditioned cool air.

“Our newsletter regularly includes cost saving recommendations,” says Lanhardt.

Community involvement
The importance of giving back to the community that helped fuel its growth is evident in McCrea’s work with Fauquier Habitat for Humanity. Last January, the firm provided discounted HVAC units and no cost installation for two duplexes Habitat built.

The duplexes are a collective effort between Habitat and the Fauquier Family Shelter. The Shelter provides transitional housing for families in need. If they subsequently qualify, they are eligible in securing mortgages as permanent residents of the newly constructed duplexes.

Brenda Drerenberger, Executive Director of Fauquier Habit for Humanity, explains, “Shane is great to work with. He arranged for the manufacturer, Trane, to provide the deeply discounted units to Habitat and then donated McCrea’s labor costs to install them.

“The program is a hand up not a hand out. Each family must be employed and quality for a mortgage. They are also required to provide 400 hours of sweat equity. The program gives them an opportunity to step up in life and improve their future possibilities. But the lower we can keep construction costs the lower the family’s mortgage.”

Habitat has 200 volunteers that provide much of the construction labor but, by law, cannot install heating and air conditioning units. McCrea fulfills that need.

“I went to them this year and was not expecting them to be able to help again but they did,” says Drerenberger.

The firm also supports Habitat’s annual golf tournament and other Habitat projects in Virginia.

Given the business and community philosophy that drives McCrea Heating and Air conditioning, celebrating 100 years in business appears to be just a matter of time—2036 to be exact.


Published in the Winter 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Rebirth at The Inn at Vineyards Crossing

Posted on Jan 23 2014 | By

Hume bed & breakfast brings 227 years of history back to life 

In 1787, James Madison wrote the Virginia Plan, a document that outlined what would ultimately become the basis for the U. S. Constitution. It was also the year that Barbee’s Tavern—located at Barbee’s Crossroads but today known as the village of Hume— opened its doors to weary and thirsty travelers.

The tavern, with its wide pine flooring, American chestnut interior logs and three stone fireplaces, is once again providing shelter and relaxation for the weary. But overworked excursionists are guests rather than farmers and tradesmen.

And libations of hard cider, whiskey and rum have been replaced with Virginia wine, a beverage largely unavailable to the colonials.

IMG_8539The Inn at Vineyards Crossing is a diamond centered on a necklace of local wineries. It opened just five months ago but guest reviews can be characterized as “raves”.

The world’s largest travel advisory website, Trip Advisor, already has posted twelve guest comments, all of them bestowing an “excellent” rating on the establishment. No small achievement in the demanding world of hospitality.

Typical comments from the website include, “Absolutely outstanding”; “Wonderful weekend with great food; “Best B&B I’ve been to”, and “Excellent on all fronts.” It’s impressive how social media can catapult a new establishment to success with minimal advertising. Resultant bookings have been good with occupancy rates building faster than anticipated.

The inn was also recently accepted into the Bed & Breakfast Association of Virginia. The Association’s quantifying criteria involves an onsite property inspection before an establishment can be listed on its website.

The forces behind the newest Fauquier County bed & breakfast are Philip Carter Strother and Steve Mills. Strother is a Richmond attorney and owner of Philip Carter Winery. Mills is an executive with a Washingto DC firm and co-owner of the B&B and an investor in the winery.

The day-to-day operation of the inn is in the capable hands of General Manager, Joshua Haugh, who is also the chef. Haugh has twenty-five years experience in the hospitality and culinary field and has seen duty at resorts in Hawaii, Canada, DC, New Jersey and Virginia.  When asked why he accepted the position he says, “It looked like a great opportunity.” Indeed, for him and his guests.

Wine centric concept
Virginia is home to over 260 wineries, twenty-six in Fauquier County alone. The idea to open an inn centered on showcasing local wineries made for a sound business plan. Vineyards Crossing has partnered with five locals wineries, creating the necklace of establishments with the inn at its center.IMG_8516

The wineries are Rappahannock Cellars, Desert Rose, Philip Carter, Barrel Oak and Naked Mountain. It is anticipated additional wineries will be added in the future.

When guests arrive at the inn, they are greeted by Haugh and given a unique check-in experience. Luggage is conveyed to the guests’ room and then a wine tasting is conducted in the reception area. The inn has a license to pour and sell wines and features its five partner wineries on a rotating schedule.

Lodgers can pre-book a VIP tour at nearby Phillip Carter Winery. The tour is an educational and pleasure filled excursion of the winery’s vineyard, where the challenges and rewards of growing wine grapes in Virginia are discussed, followed by an in-depth presentation in the cellar on winemaking and bottling.

Guests then adjourn to a private tasting room to sample the full lineup of Philip Carter wines. The tour concludes with a picnic basket containing locally sourced meats and cheeses to be enjoyed in the winery or on its grounds in seasonable weather.

IMG_8529The inn has five rooms for lodgers: The Commonwealth Suite, The Virginia Viognier room, The Grand Cru room, Barbee’s Crossroads room and The Cobbler Hunt Loft. The Commonwealth Suite offers a cozy bedroom with fireplace and separate sitting room. It also comes with a unique attraction; sleep here and your dreams will unfold in an original room of the National Historic Trust tavern.

All rooms have king size beds and private baths. Rates range from $189 a night to $269 for the historic Commonwealth Suite. There is no two night minimum stay except on Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine Day.

Typically, a B&B provides only breakfast, often simply continental in style. Not so at Vineyards Crossing. Not only is a full fare breakfast served but the rare treat of dining in the evening at an historic venue is available when prearranged.

There are two dining options. Guests can join their fellow travelers for dinner in the inn’s main dining room. Up to ten diners can be accommodated for a three course repast prepared with local fare and wines.

“When guests make reservations, I ask them to let me know if they would like to join us for dinner. I prepare all of the dinners using locally available produce and meats. A typical selection might be pork chops from Dark Hollow Farm in Markham with apple stuffing,” says Haugh. The dinners run $40 per person.

Joshua Haugh

Joshua Haugh

For the more romantic souls, a four-course private wine dinner for two can be arranged and served in a smaller dining room. The couple creates the menu along with Haugh and are assured the ingredients will be “farm to table” fresh. “It’s a intimate wine dinner and a special experience that guests can take advantage of, if so desired,” says Haugh. The cost ranges from $70 to $90 per person.

In seasonable weather, visitors can enjoy drinks or simply relax on a quiet patio located off the dining room or take a dip in the pool located behind the inn.

In addition to the VIP winery tour, Marriott Ranch offers trail rides with lunch and a bottle of wine for equestrian fans. And wine tastings at the numerous local wineries provide freestyle afternoon outings reinforcing the name of the inn.

Philip Carter Winery Vineyards

Philip Carter Winery Vineyards

A unique tour is being offered the weekend of February 29 – March 2 that has not heretofore been available in Virginia. “We are hosting a ‘Wine Camp’ for registered guests limited to five couples,” says Haugh.

The camp will involve visits and presentations at the five partner wineries. Guests will arrive Friday and after check-in there will be a reception and an hour discussion on Virginia wine history led by a winery owner. The next morning after breakfast, the tour continues at Philip Carter Winery for a vineyard discussion on trellising, grape growing, and grape varietals that thrive in Virginia, followed by lunch.

Next, the group will visit Rappahannock Cellars and meet with the winemaker and “learn how wine is made and participate in a wine blending exercise to understand first hand how the final product is created,” explains Haugh.

Later, a visit to Desert Rose Winery will offer an opportunity to meet with the owner and talk about owning a boutique winery and its operation. The day ends back at the inn with a five course wine dinner.

Following Sunday morning breakfast, the group will visit Barrel Oak and Naked Mountain wineries for more wine related seminars. The camp provides a weekend graduate course in culinary and wine related subjects coupled with the opportunity to meet and talk with winery owners and winemakers. “It’s an experience you really can’t find elsewhere.” says Haugh.

The “Wine Camp” cost $1,200 per couple and includes all lodging, tours, meals and, of course, wine, says a smiling Haugh.

The Inn at Vineyards Crossing anticipates expanding its excursion offerings in the future. Additional information on rooms, dining and tour packages are available by visiting
 Published in the January 22, 2014 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES