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Horizon Services and Sun Capital lay out strategy for expansion

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Horizon Services’ Mark Aitken says he knew more than 18 months ago that to continue the company’s growth at a clip of 25 percent to 30 percent each year, he and co-owner Dave Geiger would have to change their strategy.

“We needed a partner,” said Aitken, of the heating, plumbing and air- conditioning business he and his partner started in 1989. “There were a lot of banks that were willing and had the desire, but we knew that it wasn’t simply a financial transaction – we wanted a partner that had experience in acquisitions and a strategic plan.”

Aitken said they found it in Sun Capital Partners, a Florida-based global investment firm that officially acquired Horizon Services in early March. It’s a strategic move that Aitken said will allow the company to purchase additional locations and grow the workforce at their Newark call center.

“This is about expansion, creating job opportunities and growing the business,” said Aitken, balking at claims that Horizon has simply been “sold.” “This is really good news. It’s good news for customers and employees.”

And it’s good news for Horizon, which projects a $500 million in revenue over the next decade, as they add additional locations to their six sites in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut. Their goal is ten locations in all – each generating $50 million in revenue over the next decade.

The strategic plan also calls for a ramp-up of IT services to enhance the customer experience.
“This industry is pretty antiquated when it comes to IT,” said Aitken. “And that can significantly impact relationship with customers.”

From online service calls, text messaging and live chats, even GPS capabilities to track a Horizon truck live, Aitken said such integrated services are “high on our radar screen.”

Additional businesses could also mean consolidation of services, particularly at Newark’s 25,000-square-foot Ruthar Drive location. Roughly 125 people work at the site, but Aitken said they’re hoping to double the workforce there in areas of human resources, marketing, and advertising.

Horizon has long branded itself as a company that cares most about its customers, touting timely, clean service and a community partner who puts the customer first.

Aitken said it was important that Sun Capital shared the same vision in culture, and people and growth and development.

“Yes, they bring an element of experience that we didn’t have – acquisition, integration and strategy,” said Aitken. “But they also know our focus is on the people – what’s really important is how we treat them – compassion and integrity, teamwork, excellence, growth and development.”

“Adding value to services companies has been a special focus of Sun Capital over the years,” said M. Steven Liff, senior managing director at Sun Capital, in a press release that announced the deal. “We are eager to partner with Horizon’s management to provide the resources needed for growth, organically and through acquisitions, as well as to offer our expertise in strengthening systems and business processes and enhancing the Company’s service offerings.”

Aitken said he was recently talking to a room of front-line managers, supervisors and executives – 64 people in all.

“I asked them, “˜How many people in this room started out in a service truck?’ and 40 people raised their hand,” said Aitken. “And that’s the thing that jazzes us is that we’re super excited about the opportunity that people will have to advance their careers.”

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