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Up, Up & Away

Donald Gelestino | photo by Jill Lotenberg

As the Industry Shifts, Champion Elevator’s Growth Soars

Licensing of mechanics, local New York City code requirements and new rules cutting landlord rent increase opportunities, combined with basic demand and private equity/venture capital entering the marketplace make for a very interesting and challenging future for elevator companies and real-estate owners/managers.

Local codes also will encourage more business: elevators must install door lock monitoring by December 31, 2019. That will be followed quickly by the 2026 code deadline to comply with unintended motion (single plunger brakes and rope grippers) compliance (a design to better enhance safety by stopping an elevator if it begins to drift).

Interestingly, Don Gelestino, founder and president of Champion Elevator, has seen another possible avenue to enable growth: Private equity and venture capital has entered the elevator market space, a first for an industry largely consisting of entrepreneurs. Gelestino mentioned that Oracle Elevator, 3-Phase in Boston, and the recent supplier, Vantage, have made some substantial headway for equity partners and proves the elevator space is a good avenue for investors.

“If the fit is right,” he said, “Companies may join ventures to create more competitive market solutions and drive growth (but they had best be ready to put their best foot forward and achieve the demands of such partnerships).” Such companies that want to meet, finance expansion and perhaps arrange merger opportunities are welcome to speak to him, Gelestino said, but he notes that his strategic growth plan, partnerships and key personnel are in place and providing superior customer solutions.

IBIS World reports that overall United States construction corporate profits average 5.6% of revenues, while the elevator industry boasts a 6.7% profit, making it an attractive investment, he observed. Furthermore, salaries on a national level are averaging 20.3% of revenue, while the elevator industry is at 31.4%. This does mean wages are predominantly higher in the elevator sector.

“It is a great industry and opportunity for workers,” Gelestino said. “We as an industry need to make blue-collar workers aware of such opportunity.”

For now, though, Gelestino is focused on a more immediate future: In September 2019, he will become president of the National Association of Elevator Contractors, with education and safety as a special focus. He’s spoken overseas about the need for implementing education and safety training.

Champion is a union company, offering a certified apprenticeship program, after which an employee becomes a helper. From there, he or she can progress to a mechanic and beyond. This will be especially crucial, as a bill in New York requires licensing of mechanics and all those working on elevators and lifts in the state of New York.

“There won’t be any licensing without education,” Gelestino said. “Champion suggests all elevator companies take part in education by joining a certified Union Apprenticeship program or implementing the NAEC CET program, which is a certified training session.” Gelestino said. Countries that do not have structured education see many more accidents and fatalities than in the U.S., he added. Champion is committed to educating its technicians and supplying them with the latest educational materials, proper tools, safety equipment, and wants to spread that word.

“If you don’t educate and have standards, that is what happens,” Gelestino said. “We’re hoping to bring that CET program to other countries, adapted to their codes. We’re pushing education in the U.S. and in New York, which is the elevator capital of the country. I’ve been in this industry for 33-plus years. We’re trying to enhance education on a local level. I want to leave behind a more educated and safer environment for all workers as well as the riding public. Safety, education and technology are all evolving, and we’re growing as a result.”

Gelestino came to the business as a teenager through George Deering of Deco Elevator, the father of a friend, who needed help one day at the elevator company he owned. The job clicked, and Gelestino rose through the ranks, eventually founding his own company and acquiring others to form Ver-Tech Elevator. He sold that company to United Technologies in 2010, assisted with the transition, and then sat out a non-compete period. He founded Champion in 2015.

“It’s all part of our strategic planning from the core of the company, from the department head to project managers to supervision to the boots on the ground,” said Joseph Corrado, executive vice president. “This is what makes Champion a valuable partner to all building management and owners.”

Today, Champion provides service, repairs, violation removal, modernization, and testing on all elevators, to more than 1,200 elevators, ranging from a two-stop elevator in a medical office to residential buildings more than 40 stories high.

One of Champion’s large projects is the modernization of elevators at Co-Op City, home to 43,752 residents. The first phase of its biggest project, modernizing 80 groups of 20 elevators at Co-Op City, was nearing completion at press time — two weeks early.

“This job is the most complex with regards to logistics,” said Robert Masterson, president of Modernization at Champion. “Logistically speaking, there are many variables and facets that have to come together in a cohesive manner to produce the result we’re looking for and have promised the customer. Staging, deliveries, bringing in the new, taking out the old, managing vacations and sick days are a tremendous achievement performed by Champion.”

Champion looks to go above and beyond to provide its clients with something more. For example, Co-Op City called for an industry standard A-plus car and hall display unit in the selection. Champion works with Monitor Controls fixtures but the company found a product with a slightly cleaner and sleeker look from Italian company Vega. It was able to facilitate Hauppauge, New York-based Monitor Controls and Vega working together to give the customer an enhanced product.

“When the tenants go into the elevator and look at the floor display, it will be classier,” Gelestino said. “We had to travel to Italy. We could have done what everyone else is doing, but those tenants now have something special. And they may not even know what it is or where it came from, but they will feel better.”

In addition, as more luxury office and residential buildings are built or renovated, they expect top-notch elevator maintenance. That’s why they turn to Champion, known for its 24/7 commitment to immediate service, Masterson said.

“As buildings charge high dollars per square foot, they must provide the very best,” Masterson continued. “They must have A-plus maintenance and preventive maintenance.”

There’s nowhere to go but up.

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