Grounded in Excellence
Control Electric Services concentrates on quality workmanship and customer satisfaction for four decades
Florida is known for many things—scenic beaches, entertainment parks, retirement communities and, of course, its tantalizing orange crops. For one family-owned company rooted in the Sunshine State, the citrus industry served as the springboard to ripe opportunities in the electrical contracting field.
A Shared Love—in Marriage and Business
Control Electric Services, Inc. was founded in 1980 by Salvatore Orefice, an electrician, and his business-savvy wife, Susan. The couple’s shared desire to grow a company together stemmed from their individual experiences earlier in life. Salvatore—ambitious and hardworking by nature—has been doing electrical work since his teenage years. After attending a vocational high school program in New York City, he decided to make a career out of what has become his life’s passion. For Susan, the daughter of a successful entrepreneur, her intrinsic love and knack for business is simply part of her DNA. With support from her family, she leveraged her college degree in business to help her husband form Control Electric Services, an electrical contracting firm based in the fast-growing community of Apopka, which is approximately 15 miles northwest of downtown Orlando.
Starting out, the Orefices set up shop in their home, with Salvatore running jobs out in the field while Susan handled back-office administrative duties and cared for the couple’s infant daughter. To help get the business off the ground, Susan’s father and mentor loaned them $9,600 to start payroll and purchase two used pickup trucks, which they paid back after just 10 months in operation. “We’ve been self-capitalized ever since,” Susan remarks proudly.
Adapting to Survive
The firm originally specialized in running extraction lines in orange juice production plants in Central Florida. But then harsh winter freezes began to decrease citrus crop yields and, resultingly, processing plants began to shutter. “The orange juice industry went belly up,” Susan recalls. “We had to reinvent ourselves to stay afloat.”
At this point Control Electric Services began to concentrate on diversifying its project portfolio, taking on jobs of varying scope and scale in sectors including retail, office and warehouse. To keep up with growing project demands over the years, the company has added more staff, including Salvatore and Susan’s youngest daughter, Melissa Leischner, and her husband, Michael. Today, the executive leadership at Control Electric Services consists of Susan as President/CEO, Michael as Vice President/COO and Melissa as Secretary/Assistant Treasurer. Salvatore retired from the business two years ago.
A Team’s Refreshing Tenacity
As vital as it is for these family members to support each other in running the company, they feel it is equally important to demonstrate the same level of respect and care toward team members, clients and vendors. “Our company’s core values center on loyalty, hard work and the ethical treatment of people. These are our expectations for every member of our company, from the top all the way down to our employees,” Susan says. These sentiments were clearly demonstrated by the company leaders when the Great Recession tested the mettle of businesses of all sizes.
Susan recalls facing some very hard decisions. “I called in Melissa and Michael and I said, ‘Look, there’s going to be a smaller pie, so we will have to work harder to get our slice,’ ” she remembers saying. Employee layoffs and cutting benefits were out of the question for the company’s management team, but to survive everyone had to take a 10% pay cut. “I didn’t look at profit—I looked at bill pay. My goal was to make payroll and to maintain benefits because we believe in benefits for our employees,” Susan says. She adds, “We also looked at every employee in the face and told them we had to cut their pay…and everybody stayed. I’m still amazed.”
When asked why employees displayed such loyalty to the company, the response is full of heartfelt honesty. “Because we’re family and we’re always looking at the long game,” Susan says. Melissa agrees, adding, “We treat our employees like gold. They’re the ones who bring home these jobs under hours, under budget and even saving resources in some cases. They work their butts off for us!”
Forming new relationships with both Florida-based and out-of-state general contractors was another major focus during the recession. Melissa recalls, “Michael and I actually grabbed our copy of The Blue Book and started calling every general contractor within our area and also out-of-state GCs, to get on their bid lists and start maximizing our resources.” Though the situation was dire, it provided a golden opportunity to cultivate new industry connections and add greater project diversity to the team’s work portfolio. Control Electric Services successfully rode out the economic turbulence by broadening its target markets with additional contracts in K-12 schools, day cares, storage facilities, churches, restaurants, medical facilities and more.
“We’ve always done a variety of work,” Melissa explains, “but we wanted to broaden our horizons even further.” Her mother, Susan adds, “We have found quite a bit of success with contractors that are out of state because we’ve proven that they can trust us to provide a competitive price and high-quality workmanship, which makes their lives easier.”
Several of these industry partnerships continue to this day, enabling Control Electric Services to maintain a solid base of repeat clients and a steady stream of referrals. In retrospect, one of the most severe recessions in U.S. history actually paved the way to increasing the company’s breadth of experience and bolstering its reputation.
Thriving & Growing
Thanks to its established reputation for quality workmanship and remarkable customer service, this family-owned business continues to serve the needs of clients primarily in Central Florida and the surrounding areas, specializing in commercial and industrial new construction projects as well as renovations, remodels and tenant build-outs. The staff of 45 also has extensive experience working with design-build teams and provides preconstruction services in the form of job budgeting and value engineering.
In addition, Control Electric Services offers 24/7 support in the form of electrical system repairs, upgrades and preventative maintenance. This expertise extends to generator/UPS (uninterruptible power supply) installation, surge and lightning protection, computer cabling, security and landscape lighting, fire alarm monitoring systems, motor controls systems and more. To improve the efficiency, accuracy and safety of their work, the electricians also perform thermal imaging scans and capture aerial photography as needed.
Michael says, “I think one of the biggest differentiators with us being a family-owned business is the fact that we’re available 24/7. Customers can always count on our project managers being available to respond to phone calls no matter what day, or time of day, it is.” He notes that handling general contractors’ needs quickly and efficiently builds great rapport. “It really goes a long way in this industry,” he confirms. “If your customers can’t reach you, then they’re going to lose trust in you and won’t want to do further business with you.”
Despite economic hardships and other challenges, Control Electric Services has displayed great resiliency and is celebrating 40 years in operation this year. Salvatore is now enjoying retirement, leaving the business to be run chiefly by his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Eventually the mantle of business ownership will pass to Michael and Melissa, who plan to uphold the camaraderie and family values instituted by their predecessors.
Susan notes, “We are a team. It’s not a hierarchy. I think that makes us special because we try to make sure that every person who works here knows that we appreciate and trust them.” Michael concurs. “You treat your people right and they’ll treat your company right,” he adds. With a loyal, dedicated workforce, the company is sowing seeds for success as it grows its reputation and pursues even larger projects.
“We also believe that true leadership in this industry extends to supporting the greater construction community,” Michael comments. As an example, he points to the Florida Electrical Apprenticeship & Training (FEAT) program, which provides training and mentorship to up-and-coming electrical apprentices. Salvatore served as an instructor at this organization for many years and his company has donated monetarily to help pay for students’ tuition and books for decades. Also, Michael graduated from the FEAT electrical apprenticeship program before obtaining his state certification as an electrical contractor.
“We currently have six apprentices from this program on our team, and our service manager recently graduated from the program,” Michael says. “It’s rewarding for us to be able to support these types of rewarding, viable careers—especially with the skilled workforce shortages our industry is currently experiencing.”
As Control Electric Services heads toward the future, the leadership will continue to cultivate a positive, team-oriented work culture where all employees feel valued, respected and heard. This supportive environment, paired with a proven nimbleness in adapting to shifting market changes, seems like the right path for a business keen on flourishing.