Billy Frick, president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based American Electrical Contracting, shares his secrets to success for staying profitable and growing business during the recession

Billy Frick embodies the term “self-made man” in almost every way. Founder and president of Jacksonville, Fla.-based American Electrical Contracting, Frick

Billy Frick is the founder and president of American Electrical Contracting, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based electrical contractor with 70 employees

readily admits he gained most of his knowledge from “the school of hard knocks” rather than a traditional four-year university. Despite his lack of a formal college degree, Frick has managed to build his company into one of the largest commercial and residential electrical contractors in Northeast Florida — and remain profitable in one of the states hit hardest by the recession.

“My mother and father always told me that to be successful I needed to surround myself with successful people, and I took their advice to heart” Frick says, who started his business when the company he had planned to spend his career at was bought by a large consolidator. “In 2000, five key employees and I left the company we were at. I rented a 2,500-sq-ft warehouse space, bought a couple of vans, and went to work. That first year, we did a little over $1 million in revenue.”

Although Frick makes it sound easy, he’s worked hard to get to where he is at today, beginning with his first job out of high school.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated, so I took a construction job swinging a hammer,” he recalls. “I was practically killing myself, so when my dad told me one of his friends in the electrical business needed an assistant, I applied for the position. In 1974, I took a dollar-an-hour pay cut to become an electrician’s helper, because I thought it would be easier than the carpentry work I’d been doing. I spent the next six months doing underground electrical labor.”

According to Frick, he was surprised by how much he enjoyed being an electrician and decided to make a career of it. He received his journeyman’s license in 1978, and took/ passed the master electrician exam in 1990.

“The economy was strong when I started American Electrical Contracting, and we doubled our revenue every year for two or three years,” he reveals. “In fact, business got so good that we stopped being salespeople and started being order takers, picking and choosing the work we wanted to do while still making a profit.”

Then the recession hit, competition drastically increased, and Frick was forced to re-evaluate the way his company operated.

“Instead of taking on a doom-and-gloom attitude like many of the other area electrical contractors, I told my people that we weren’t going to participate in the recession — that we would stay busy and continue to be profitable,” he says.

To ensure this happened, Frick took on different types of jobs than his company typically performed, such as service work for property managers and owners.

“Several hurricanes passed through Florida, and we saw an increased demand for emergency generators,” he notes. “So we got certified to install and service generators. We also bought two additional bucket trucks to give us an edge over the competition.”

In addition, Frick sent several of his employees to South Dakota to become certified to perform work on video billboards and scoreboards. He also created incentive programs for his employees, including the opportunity to earn additional paid vacation time for meeting performance and financial goals.

“I have a great group of people who work for me, and I try to make sure they know how much I value them,” he says.

Frick also values his customers in Jacksonville and the surrounding area. To show his appreciation for their continued patronage and support, the contractor reciprocates by giving back to the community.

“We’re involved with a local non-profit charity called Builders Care, which provides home improvements to senior, disabled, and low-income citizens,” he says. “We also participate in Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to U.S. service members. I believe that if you treat people right and do the right thing, then the right thing will happen to you. I have to say this has been true for me so far.”