Over the past 18 months, Fort Pierce-based Southeast Elevator has been engaging in what CEO Tim Fischer calls “a very aggressive growth strategy through acquisitions.”
The 27-year-old company focused on residential elevators — yes, elevators inside homes — has acquired Palm Beach Lifts on the state’s east coast, Precision Lift Industries in the Panhandle and Naples-based Gulfside Elevator.
“What attracted us to all of these companies were great markets, great people and great products,” says Fischer, 50, who has been in his CEO role for almost two years. “Our goal is to be the largest (residential elevator company) in Florida, and the Palm Beach and Naples markets are critical markets in Florida for home elevators.”
Several factors are helping to drive the growth in residential elevators here in the Sunshine State. For starters, people keep moving to Florida, a state known for both its aging population and its attractiveness to wealthy retirees with lots of disposable income. The current real estate market is also having an impact.
“What we’re seeing is the cost of land continues to increase in Florida, so now homes are going more vertical than horizontal,” says Fischer. “So the market for home elevators is stronger than it’s ever been in the last 20 years in the state.”
Flooding concerns and design trends are also pushing homes up rather than out. “We’re getting a lot more homes that are putting kitchens on the second or third floor of the house, so when you’re entertaining, you’re overlooking the bay or water or ocean,” says Fischer. “And with that it really becomes very logical to put an elevator in the house.”
He says homeowners are also becoming more educated about the feasibility of residential elevators. “The homeowner perception is that home elevators are very expensive and very complex,” says Fischer. “When in reality, depending on the design, for about $30,000 you can have an elevator installed in a new home.”
That homeowner education dovetails with the desire a lot of people have to do what’s referred to as aging in place. “If you’re an older person and you love your neighborhood and love your neighbors, why do you want to move out just because you’ve got a bum leg or a heart condition?” says John Tolar, incoming president of the National Association of Elevator Contractors. “So a lot of people put elevators in for that very reason — they don’t want to move. And what it would cost to put an elevator in is probably comparable to what it would cost to move.”
Southeast by Southwest
Southeast Elevator acquired Gulfside Elevator in July 2021. Gulfside, which retained its name but is now called a division of Southeast Elevator, was formerly the residential arm of Taylor Elevator and had been its own entity for six years prior to the acquisition. Its reach extends from Naples to Sarasota, and it works with many of the custom homebuilders and renovation contractors in the area.
“Gulfside has a very good reputation in Southwest Florida,” says Fischer. “They have a very experienced team and they’re very much viewed by builders and homeowners as the experts, which they are.”
Potter Homes has been working with Gulfside Elevator for about 15 years. The company builds custom homes primarily along the coast in Bonita Springs. Because the homes are elevated for flood zones, Potter Homes puts elevators in its custom builds. “We enjoy the people who run (Gulfside Elevator) and we’ve known them well over the years,” says Tom Potter, a partner at Potter Homes. “It’s been a good relationship for us.”
Marco Island-based custom homebuilder R.K. Reiman Construction has been working with Gulfside Elevator for about two years, switching over to the company after having issues with quality and service with its previous elevator contractor. “Gulfside Elevator has been good to work with, easy to communicate with, and they do good work,” says Bill Reiman, vice president and director of construction at R.K. Reiman Construction. “Anything we need, they always take care of us.”
R.K. Reiman Construction puts in elevators in a lot of the high-end, multi-story homes the company builds. Homeowners opt to install them for everything from simple convenience to preparing for the future as they age. “People want them, or at least space for one so they can add one in,” says Reiman.
Fischer says maintaining the local feel of the companies Southeast acquired is a priority, to maintain good relations with customers. To that end, John Andrews, one of the founders of Gulfside Elevator, has stayed on as general manager. “That is what helps separate us from our competitors,” Fischer says. “Our number-one asset is our people, and we have gathered a team of elevator experts across the state to help educate and provide mobility-product solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”
Fischer sees plenty of room to grow in Southwest Florida. “Everyone is just flocking to Florida, so we’ve got a lot of growth opportunities in that market in particular,” he says. “It’s about being active with the local building associations, having sales reps out on the streets meeting with builders and stopping by job sites, exhibiting at industry trade shows, and just being an active citizen in the community.”
Southeast Elevator's expertise in the industry already was already a differentiator, and its recent acquisitions only add to that. “We really pride ourselves on being the experts, in that we have seasoned elevator technicians and people who have been doing this for a long time,” says Fischer. “We are not going to be the lowest-priced provider, but we are going to be the highest-quality provider, and that is who we are.” (Fischer declined to provide annual revenue or growth figures for Southeast Elevator.)
Southeast Elevator handles every component of the process for customers, from designing and manufacturing the residential elevators to installing and then servicing them for clients. The custom nature of the company’s work has helped it weather some of the supply chain challenges many businesses have been experiencing lately. “We always say that if we can get metal and we can get wood, we can make the elevator,” says Fischer.
The company now has more than 100 employees with the recent acquisitions, with more than 30 at Gulfside Elevator in Naples. With four locations around statewide, creating a companywide culture is a priority.
“We do a lot of things with our employees to ensure employee engagement,” says Fischer. “The labor pool is very tight right now as we all know, so we have a great team and we want to keep the great team. We know how hard it is to find people, so when you find good people, you want to keep them.”
Word of mouth often helps find candidates for any job openings that come up. “That’s always our best advertising, when we have our own employees trying to talk to friends about coming to work for us,” says Fischer.
For Gulfside Elevator and the Southwest Florida market, Fischer plans to keep building on the company’s already strong reputation. “Our goal is to continue to be the experts in that region for home elevators, by helping educate builders and homeowners about elevators, by working with building associations, and by doing lunch and learns with design firms or architects or even homeowners’ associations,” he says. “We’re fully committed to that market down there, and it’s a great market with great opportunity for growth.”
The same goes for Southeast Elevator and the state in general. “We started our acquisition strategy 18 months ago because we felt there was such a great opportunity in the state and more and more activity around elevators and inquiries from builders and homeowners,” says Fischer. “We felt there was a great opportunity in the state to grow to be the largest elevator company, while keeping that small company feeling for the local communities.”
Nokomis-based freelance writer Beth Luberecki, a Business Observer contributor, writes about business, travel and lifestyle topics for a variety of Florida and national publications. Her work has appeared in publications and on websites including Washington Post’s Express, USA Today, Florida Trend, FamilyVacationist.com and SmarterTravel.com. Learn more about her at BethLuberecki.com.