A lot of business owners may throw around the phrase “friendly competition,” but few would probably take the concept as far as Kevin Gill Sr.
When the owner and president of McCusker-Gill Inc., a sheet metal contractor based in Hingham, Massachusetts, heard in February 2015 that snow had caused the roof to collapse at nearby United HVAC, Gill placed a call to United owner Tom Scolaro. He made his competitor an offer that many business owners would never consider. He offered to help save his company.
The two men have known each other for more than 20 years.
“Tommy and I used to work together at a company called Harrington Bros.,” Gill said.
They both left in the early 1990s to start their own companies.
At the time of United’s roof collapse, Gill was planning to double the size of his sheet metal works shop, moving from a 30,000-square-foot building into a 60,000-square-foot facility. He had just put his existing shop up for sale.
As a business owner, Gill said he knew such a catastrophic event could be hard for United to survive.
“I knew that probably his shop was going to be closed,” he said. “He was running probably 30 to 40 guys, and I knew that he was going to be in trouble within a couple of days because they’d be out of material.”
Gill called his old co-worker turned competitor and offered his condolences and any assistance he could offer.
The next day, Scolaro called back, and said he was considering purchasing McCusker-Gill’s current building. But Gill knew that wouldn’t fix United’s immediate problems. And that’s when he made his competitor an offer.
“I said, ‘That’s all well and good, but the reason I’m calling you is, you’re going to need stock — and we’ll help you out in that regard.”
Gill said he would give Scolaro access to his existing shop and machinery — and even his company’s supply of sheet metal — without any markup.
“Just because he was jammed up,” Gill said. “I didn’t need to make any profit on it.”
Scolaro could not be reached for this story, but those who saw United HVAC’s building after the collapse said it was in bad shape. Rockland, Massachusetts, city officials estimated that more than 3 feet of snow were on the roof when it gave in Feb. 9, 2015. No employees were injured.
“Mark Ward and I were in that shop just a couple days after that happened, and it was sad to see,” said Scott Husbands, a regional sales manager with Mestek Machinery.
Much of the equipment in the shop was from Mestek’s Engel brand, most of it purchased through Ward’s Oxford Machinery.
“It put him out of business really,” Husbands said. “Once it started, it was just a domino effect.”
Ward said the interior damage was extensive.
“There wasn’t too much salvageable stuff out of there,” he said.
Ward and Husbands did what they could, helping Scolaro get information on the lost machinery to give to the insurance company.
For Ward, it was a process he understood.
“I lost my house to a fire one year,” he said. “You wake up one day and everything’s gone. So I understood what he was going through. We just did whatever we could for him.”
For McCusker-Gill, allowing United HVAC access to its shop required a bit of scheduling. It had recently purchased a new Iowa Precision coil line with in-line slitting, plasma cutting and 168-inch max part length; Cornermatic Combo and Cornermatic Plus machinery for its new, larger shop. But the custom equipment wouldn’t be ready for a while, which meant McCusker-Gill still needed access to its existing coil line, even though it had agreed to sell the machine to United HVAC. So Gill and Scolaro agreed that McCusker-Gill workers could have access to the coil line for seven hours a day.
Just another wrinkle in an already unusual arrangement.
“Yeah well, maybe it is,” Gill said, laughing. “You know, one good deed deserves another. I find in like when you behave that way, you get rewarded 10-fold. It was really an easy decision for me.”
Gill pointed out that the two men did not really keep in touch since their days as co-workers, although they’d see each other at meetings of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s Boston chapter.
“We always remained friendly, but you’ve got to be careful. You can’t be too close to your competitors,” he said, adding that there are laws against that. “It just felt like the right thing to do in my heart.”
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.