It Runs Hot and Cold
Going back nearly 135 years, Ted Noonan says, the company now known as Noonan Energy has been defined by ambition, innovation, entrepreneurship, diversification, and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness — and ability — to adapt to changing times.
And these qualities continue to describe Noonan today, he said, noting that the company started by his great-great-grandfather in 1890 as an ice-delivery venture continues to evolve and create new business opportunities.
Indeed, Noonan, which moved on from ice after the advent of refrigeration and morphed over more than a half-century into a leading provider of oil and HVAC services, has added two new divisions in recent years, electrical and plumbing services, that give it the ability to provide more services to existing and potential customers — and intriguing growth opportunities.
“We added these new divisions because there was so much synergy with our other services,” he explained. “We were constantly needing an outside plumber or an outside electrician to pull permits and do work, so we said, ‘since we’re hiring one all the time, why don’t we just bring one on and create a new division?’”
The plumbing division was added in 2011 with the hiring of master plumber Mark Gadourey, and the electrical unit was introduced in 2018 with the addition of master electrician Daniel Rollend, said Noonan, adding that both continue to grow, as do other aspects of the broad operation.
“We were constantly needing an outside plumber or an outside electrician to pull permits and do work, so we said, ‘since we’re hiring one all the time, why don’t we just bring one on and create a new division?’”
“We’ve had some nice growth in both of those divisions over the past five to 10 years, and on the service and installation side as well,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the company installs everything from oil tanks and oil burners to air-conditioning systems, heat pumps, and mini-splits, while also undertaking home-energy audits and creating comfort plans. “We have a whole host of … everything.”
As fifth-generation owner, Ted Noonan continues many traditions, if they can be called that, of the owners who came before him. Being entrepreneurial is one of them. Growing up in the business and learning all aspects of it first-hand is another — Noonan recalled riding with the delivery men in his youth and unwinding hose. And filling in, especially in a pinch, is yet another.
“I still drive today when we get really busy in the winter,” he said. “I enjoy it … I always say that it’s therapy for me; I get out of the office, I shut my phone off — or try to — and make deliveries. I’ve pretty much done every territory we handle, so if we get a couple of call-outs in the winter, I’ll step in.”
Mostly, though, he is involved in short-term and long-term planning, creating additional opportunities, and exploring new avenues for growth and expansion. He noted that a trend toward consolidation within the industry, one that has fueled the dramatic growth of this company over the past 50 years, continues, especially as the Baby Boomer owners of smaller oil-delivery and HVAC service companies move into retirement.
“We’re still looking at acquisition opportunities and expansion opportunities, while also keeping an eye on what might create great synergy from a diversification standpoint,” he noted, adding that, at present, the company is focused on “shoring up” those new divisions and growing those aspects of the business.
For this issue and its focus on the building trades, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Noonan Energy, exploring its rich history, the continuing of a tradition of entrepreneurship, and the question of what might come next.
Flashing back more than a century to company lore that he is well-versed in and relates often, Noonan marveled at how the venture known as T.F. Ice Dealer (named for his great-great-grandfather, Timothy F. Noonan) cut huge blocks of ice from Lake Massasoit (Watershops Pond) in Springfield and, using sawdust as an insulator, kept it relatively cold all through the year for delivery to customers in the Greater Springfield area.
And he continues to be awed by the insulating properties of sawdust.
“We’re still looking at acquisition opportunities and expansion opportunities, while also keeping an eye on what might create great synergy from a diversification standpoint.”
“We have a small barn at our house, and we have sawdust for the horses,” he noted. “You’ll go two months after cold weather, and if we’re digging in the sawdust, we find snowballs. And that always brings me back to how this company started.”
While some things haven’t changed — like sawdust’s ability to keep ice cold — the Noonan company certainly has. Its history is told through a huge photo display in the lobby of the company’s offices on Robbins Road, in the shadow of a 2-million-gallon oil tank. That lobby is also home to an oil-delivery truck circa the 1930s — it was rescued several years ago, refurbished, and painted with the Noonan colors (green and white) to resemble trucks the company had on the road 80 or so years ago.
Providing a quick history lesson, Noonan said the company, while it has remained in the same family, has changed names a few times and added new products and services on a consistent basis.
The first name change came in 1911, when T.F. decided to put ‘Massosoit Lake Ice Company’ over the door and on the side of the horse-drawn wagons. He would sell the company to his son, Edward J. Noonan, in 1923. The entrepreneurial second-generation owner would add kerosene and home heating oil to the products delivered by the company, additions that would prompt a name change to Massasoit Lake Ice and Fuel Co.
By 1939, with refrigeration chipping away at the ice business, Ed Noonan diversified by opening a gasoline station at the corner of King Street and Eastern Avenue in Springfield, one that also sold paint and wallpaper, which many of those facilities did at that time.
In 1958, Ed Noonan sold the business to two of his sons, Timothy and William, who ran a company that would take the name Noonan Oil Co. Inc., a venture that would slug its way through the oil embargo in 1973 and manage to expand sales and develop new markets. Timothy would become sole owner in 1981.
“We see a bright future … it’s going to be different, certainly, than it was five, 10, or 50 years ago, but everyone is always going to need warming and cooling, and we’ll be there to provide it.”
His son, Ed, would launch his own career in the business by acquiring Palmer Coal and Oil in 1973, while his father continued to grow Noonan Oil. (The two companies were in friendly competition for several years.) Ed Noonan doubled the size of his company with the acquisition of Leonard Oil Co. of Monson in 1978 and continued to grow with other acquisitions, including Dulude Oil Inc., Palmer Oil Co., City Oil in Springfield, Marquis-Rivers in Holyoke, and Tinco Fuel in Ludlow.
He would eventually put all those brands under one name, Noonan Energy, in 1985, and in 1985, Noonan Oil Co., still owned by Ed’s father, Tim, would become part of Noonan Energy as well. In the ensuing years, many other smaller oil-delivery and service ventures would be acquired, including Better Heat Inc., Bolduc Fuel, Royal Heating, National Heating, Canary Oil, Hampshire Oil, Hillside Oil, Davis Fuel Co., Hadley Fuel Co. … the list goes on.
Ted Noonan, Ed’s son, joined the company in 1998, became its president in 2009, and was named a member of BusinessWest’s Forty Under 40 class of 2017.
During his tenure, one during which Tim has remained active with the business, Ted Noonan has continued his father’s tradition of aggressive acquisition of smaller fuel-oil and service businesses.
In 2011, the company acquired the assets of Whiteley Fuel Oil Co. in Chatham; in 2011, it purchased Ray Kelley & Son of Palmer; in 2013, it acquired East Springfield Oil Co; and, most recently, it added Borsari Oil of West Springfield, Chudy Oil in Three Rivers, and Westfield Fuel to the fold.
All these acquisitions give the company something very much needed in this day and age — size, said Noonan, adding that they also give it a presence in several different markets across the region.
Indeed, the Noonan footprint, or service and delivery area, now stretches to the edge of the Berkshires to the west, several of the border communities of Connecticut to the south (penetrating further into the state is difficult, Ted said), into Franklin County to the north, and into Worcester County to the east. With that acquisition of Whiteley Fuel Oil, it also serves a dozen communities on Cape Cod. Locations in the 413 are in Springfield, Westfield, Amherst, and Palmer.
Beyond these acquisitions and the accompanying territorial expansion, the company has achieved additional growth though expansion of its product and service portfolio, said Noonan, adding that, in addition to the new plumbing and electrical divisions, the company also added a home-energy audit division under the leadership of his sister, Kara Noonan, in 2012.
He said these new divisions, and especially the plumbing and electrical units, were natural additions that came about as need became evident, especially as plumbers and electricians retire in large numbers, and as customers looking for those services continued to ask people from Noonan — who were delivering oil, servicing a boiler, or installing central air conditioning — if they knew a good plumber or electrician.
After years of offering referrals if it could, the company made the entrepreneurial decision to change its answer to those questions to ‘yes … that’s us; we can handle that.’
“It’s similar work to what we do, and it’s a niche we can fill,” Ted Noonan said, adding that the ability to give that answer puts the company in a position to offer a portfolio of services that few, if any, of its many competitors can match. Noonan said many still just deliver oil, while others will also handle installation and service of HVAC systems. Meanwhile, some handle plumbing and HVAC, but not electrical or oil delivery. But very few cover all those bases.
The new divisions enable the company to further diversify and better position it for a future where there will certainly be less dependency on fossil fuels, said Noonan, adding that the company is already making strides in that direction through steps such as the blending of biodiesel and traditional heating oil to create bioheat, continually increasing the blend so it is less carbon-intense.
“We see a bright future … it’s going to be different, certainly, than it was five, 10, or 50 years ago, but everyone is always going to need warming and cooling, and we’ll be there to provide it,” he said, adding that the ability to change with the times — and sometimes see around the corner and anticipate what’s coming next — has kept Noonan viable since Benjamin Harrison was patrolling the White House.
And these qualities will continue to serve it well into the future.