Building relationships has brought success

Tony Benedict, left, and his brother, Luke, assumed co-ownership of Benedict Sales & Service in 2020. The company is headquartered in Altoona but has an number of locations in the region.

Benedict Sales & Service’s purpose statement is quite telling: “We go the extra mile — to connect business to family.” The company’s standard for business has carried it into its fourth generation of business and through 85 years of serving the Chippewa Valley and beyond.

“Our purpose statement doesn’t have a lot to do with refrigeration or mechanicals, but it does speak to relationships. It says volumes about how we treat customers and employees,” said Luke Benedict, CEO and co-owner.

Luke co-owns the company with his brother, Tony Benedict, who serves as president and owner, and although the two have long had roles with the company, they assumed co-ownership in September 2020, taking the helm from their parents, Tim and Amy Benedict.

That isn’t the only significant change to occur in recent years. In 2019, with the expansion of both service area and services offered, the company retired its former name, Benedict Refrigeration, to become Benedict Sales & Service. Interestingly, it’s a matter of what’s old is new again.

“We were known as Benedict Sales & Service years and years ago when we had a residential side of the business,” Tony said. “The recent name change made sense because we have added so much more than just refrigeration. The name was pigeonholing us. We needed to get past the ‘Oh, I didn’t know you guys did that’ when we had conversations with customers because what we do is more broad than what our namesake did.”

These days, the company continues to offer a full range of commercial refrigeration services, but what may surprise some is the work they do in commercial HVAC and in the food service and draft-beer and line-system categories.

“Overall, we are commercial mechanical contractors, selling and servicing most lines of equipment in those categories,” Luke said. “We can help you design and lay out a project, sell you the equipment, install it and take care of the service aspect after.”

That appeals not only to restaurants and bars, but also breweries, cafes, grocery stores, gas stations/convenience stores and manufacturing plants.

While the company’s roots are in Eau Claire, and the headquarters is now at 1003 Harlem St. in Altoona, its physical presence and reach have grown over the years as well.

Today, the company’s operations include locations in Altoona, La Crosse and Winona, Minn., with service satellite locations in Hudson and Rice Lake. Collectively, the locations employ about 94 employees (the majority in Altoona). The addition of Schomburg Refrigeration in Onalaska in 2017 allowed Benedict Sales & Service to extend its reach into southern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northern Iowa.

“There really isn’t anybody like us in our markets,” Tony said. “Different facets of our business compete with different contractors, but no one else has everything under one roof or offers customers one point of contact for these services.”

While commercial refrigeration has long been the mainstay of the company’s offerings, the food service/institution aspect was added about 25 years ago. Benedict Sales & Service has long dabbled in HVAC but has experienced significant growth in that part of the business in the past seven years.

“It’s been a part of our service realm for quite a long time as it’s similar from a service standpoint to refrigeration, but we didn’t get into the installation side really heavily until seven to 10 years ago,” Luke said. “That’s when we made it a priority, and it’s grown into a significant portion of our business as we do sales and installation in addition to service.”

The newest part of the business model is in draft beer and line systems as many local beer distributors got out of the business of installation and sales.

“It was a natural fit for us since we were already doing food service, already serving a lot of bar and restaurant customers and have the draft systems,” Tony said. “It was a natural fit to add that segment. With that, we’ve been able to capitalize on the nitro coffee trend as well.”

These days, Benedict Sales & Service serves a variety of businesses in a variety of locales and is diverse in both sales and service. Convenience stores and a particular food chain rank highly on the company’s work list as the company can do refrigeration, food service, beer systems and HVAC in the buildings.

“We try to embrace customers and help them as much as we can from almost the top to the bottom of their business,” Luke said. “There’s really not a key functional operation that we cannot help them with in some way, shape or form.”

That has led the company’s service area to grow as well. Most of its service clients are located within a 150-mile radius of its locations, but that stretches farther on the sales side of the equation. The company has done installation work in North and South Dakota and Nebraska and regularly travels to Michigan and Minnesota.

“People ask us, ‘How far do you go?’ and I kiddingly reply, ‘As far as people will pay us.’ There’s a certain amount of truth to that with the right customer and relationship,” Tony said.

“We have always been open minded to being flexible to grow with our customers as they grow,” Luke said.

Sometimes, that growth keeps them in their own backyards as well. Silver Spring Foods, established in 1936, is one of Benedict Sales & Services’ longest-standing customers since its CEO said he can’t find refrigeration documentation without the Benedict name on it.

Whether it’s a business down the street or down the road, the Benedicts take a family approach to business, something that was integrated into the company’s foundation when Luke and Tony’s great grandfather, Samuel S. Benedict, set up shop to service locker plants, meat markets and small corner markets.

“The family approach to business is in everything we do,”Tony said. “That’s the case whether it’s an internal decision with employees or external with customers. We have a lot of customers who have transitioned from one generation to the next, and we love being part of that and keeping their operations going, whether through service or new goods or helping in new avenues. Helping to be part of their success is awesome.”

Both Benedicts say that their father’s approach to business — focusing on taking care of customers and employees and success will follow — is prominent in their decision-making today.

“A lot of times, it’s caring about customers enough to give them the feedback they need to be the best they can be even if we’re not the ones who will bring that value to them,” Luke said. “If we can anticipate expectations and identify opportunities, we bring added value in a way they won’t get from everybody.”

That begins at home, where the Benedicts work diligently to maintain a family culture so employees can shine.

“Tony and I recognize the day-to-day operation has a lot to do with our employees — what they bring to the table to keep us in business and taking care of customers the way we should,” Luke said.

“We hire for careers,” Tony said. “We want to keep growing. If we’re not growing, somebody else is. With growth is the opportunity for people to take on additional responsibilities or take new roles. So many people take such vastly different career paths with us. It’s exciting that somebody’s career here isn’t defined the day they’re hired but by the opportunities they seek out. ”