Van Deusen and Associates Inc.
After establishing its presence in the eastern United States and the Midwest, specialty engineering firm Van Deusen & Associates (VDA) has taken bold steps to gain footholds in new markets and solidify its position in its existing markets.
With more than 15,000 projects in its portfolio, the 33-year-old firm has grown into one of the premier vertical transportation design and consulting firms in the world. VDA is a one-stop shop for vertical transportation solutions including comprehensive design and engineering services for elevators, escalators, moving walks, dumbwaiters and lift systems in new and existing structures. The firm also provides design and specification services for cost-effective material and mail-handling systems in commercial and healthcare facilities. It has provided services for special equipment applications, such as rack-and-pinion elevators, double-deck elevators, turntables and vehicle lifts.
Some of the building community’s most prestigious architects, engineers, and developers have called on VDA to consult for innovative plans and solutions that make every new project a showcase of aesthetics, efficiency and safety in context of proposed structural function and surrounding settings. The firm says it applies the same diligence and unique approach to every assignment from the smallest residential job to the largest commercial campus or transportation hub.
The company also has consulted on a number of modernization projects. Whether renovating a retail establishment or corporate headquarters or upgrading a residential high rise, VDA works closely with clients to integrate optimum vertical transportation systems mandated by exacting regulations and by inventive designs and projected function, the company says.
Its expertise is displayed on a number of notable projects, such as The Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Terminal and Chicago’s Willis Tower. Today, VDA expanding its reach to become a true nationwide firm. In 2011, with 11 offices under its name, VDA kicked off a multi-year expansion strategy with the addition of staff to its original Atlanta office.
VDA opened its first Atlanta office in 2005 and in November 2011 acquired Atlanta-based firm Elevator Advisors to increase its local representation. The purchase was quickly followed with incorporation of VDA in Canada and its opening of an office in Toronto in January 2012 – its first Canadian office. The company followed this move in December 2012 with another first when it acquired San Francisco firm Hesselberg, Keesee & Associates Inc. This established VDA’s first West Coast office.
“We saw in each area the need for a quality elevator consultant there,” President M. Wade Smith says. “We felt like as a company that has been in existence more than 30 years that we could offer more expertise. The West Coast office in particular gives us an opportunity to work with existing architects who we have worked with in our other offices on the East Coast. I’ve had at least five people contact me from different firms that we worked with on the East Coast to say how thrilled they were to hear that we are in San Francisco.”
In the wake of its San Francisco debut, the company is already planning acquisition of a not yet-disclosed firm to bolster its presence. Smith says that the strength of Canada’s economy is what attracted VDA to the country. After establishing in Toronto, he says the firm plans to expand into other provinces offering its full scope of services, which go beyond new construction.
“We are always looking for new opportunities and we are in an expansion mode right now,” Smith says. “But with new construction being less active than it was seven to 10 years ago, we’ve concentrated on being a more services-based company. While the new construction market is of great importance to VDA, the service market is really what is driving things in this business right now.”
Here to Serve
One of those services that is fast evolving is contract administration.. When it comes to new construction and modernization, VDA is typically an extension of the architect and handles the design of all vertical transportation components. The firm acts as a third-party liaison between the building owner and its maintenance contractor. It acts in the interest of the building owner to ensure it is getting the correct services at a fair price and that its equipment is operating to standards.
Complementing initial evaluations and maintenance audits, VDA will help develop and oversee maintenance contract agreements that best suit individual client needs. The company calls on its familiarity with anticipated operational issues, identifying and establishing appropriate contract terms to obtain desired levels of equipment availability and performance.
“We help owners write agreements with contractors for maintenance services,” Smith says. “We vet the contractors to see if they are a good fit for the individual property and we do our best to make sure the owner is well-protected. We also make sure the agreement is fair to the contractors and not onerous to them. We have a good record regardless of whether it’s in South Florida or Boston or Minneapolis or on the West Coast. When we put out a bid for a maintenance contract we typically get at least three qualified contractors to provide pricing, after which we make recommendations.”
Whether it’s a high-rise, mid-size mixed-use buildings or private residential lift, all of VDA’s clients can access the firm’s robust list of services. For instance, VDA provided modernization, initial equipment evaluation and maintenance and quality control evaluation services for the Nebraska State Capitol building’s four primary gearless traction elevators last year. When it worked on New York’s Grand Central Terminal in 2008, VDA provided vertical transportation consulting services for 27 elevators. The project was a mix of modification, rehabilitation and complete replacement.
Smith says the company is making sure that new and existing clients are aware of all it offers. “We are consistently reviewing our list of clients as we want to make sure that all of them know how important they are to us,” Smith says. “We want to make sure they are aware of everything we can do. There is a tremendous opportunity with regards to existing clients that may have dealt with us before for new construction, but don’t know about our emphasis on providing the necessary assistance to keep their elevator investment working for them.