Cincinnati Business Courier

Jeff Wilmink is quietly leading an M&A spree at West End-based Mechanical Optimizers. The commercial HVAC provider, which he founded after leaving "BigCo” life in recent years, has inked five acquisition deals since 2021 - three of which have been publicly disclosed - with plans to increase revenue for those combined firms four-fold in 2024. He's looking to keep pace, too, thanks to a new infusion of cash, with plans to expand his reach in the broader region, eyeing key markets such as Indianapolis, Lexington, and Louisville.

"We're ready," Wilmink said. "We now have the structure in place to take it to the next level. Being able to compete at a corporate, public company-like level, with a family business mindset, it's the big difference between us and our competitors."

Wilmink has 40 years of experience in the HVAC industry. He was working for a public firm when, in 2020, he decided to take a leap to launch Mechanical Optimizers. He opted to operate it using an aggregator partnership business model - or when a firm owns or partners with goods and/or service providers and markets or sells their services under a common brand.

In 2021, he acquired Airtech Mechanical Solutions, a 27-year-old commercial heating and cooling business, then located in Cleves and rebranded it.

In 2022, Mechanical Optimizers bought 3B Mechanical, located in Greater Columbus; and in 2023, it acquired Pickaway Mechanical, also based in Ohio's capital city. The additions have grown his team to more than 60 between Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus. He declined to disclose Mechanical's total spend in those deals but did say the three companies did a combined $5 million in revenue before the purchases. Mechanical Optimizers will increase that figure to $20 million in 2024.

The businesses have landed in his lap for a myriad of reasons, Wilmink said: The previous owners were looking to retire, or looking to do something different altogether, or they wanted to remain in the business but didn't want to have to deal with the day-to-day operations anymore.

Wilmink said the goal is to continue to do one or two acquisition deals a year. Recently Mechanical Optimizers received a second phase of funding from a small family equity group based in Orlando - a key part of executing that plan. - The HVAC industry is one prime for M&A, Alex Burkhart, an adjunct instructor at UC's Lindner College of Business, told me last year for a September Business Courier cover story on the growing local trend of ETA, or entrepreneurship through acquisition.

HVAC is a must-have - there's always going to be a need, Wilmink said. "Sometimes the less sexy (the business) the better," Burkhart said. "Home services across the board is a ripe place to win. It's logistics, plumbing, HVAC, garage doors."

Mechanical Optimizers will look to stay largely regional, which is why it's eyeing opportunities in Louisville, Lexington, and Indianapolis, cities within a 100-mile radius. It doesn't have to be a big operation, either, Wilmink said. As long as the company fits culture-wise, he'll consider it. The two acquisitions he did not disclose were with owners who simply wanted to retire - and needed a place for their employees to go.

There is some semblance of urgency. On average, those operating in this business are in their late 50s, he said, making succession planning over the next 10 years key. "What's happening is many of these guys are just closing," he said. "This is such a family business; a lot of times, they turn it over to their children. But that's not any way where it ends up. It seems sad to me that somebody spent 30 or 40 years building a business, and then just walked away. "There's an option we can give to them," he added. "That's the niche."

In July 2022, Mechanical Optimizers moved into its current facility in the West End, located on Patterson Street near St. Vincent de Paul, following a remodel of the 23,000-square-foot warehouse space.

Wilmink said the facility is key to serving a growing team. It serves as Mechanical’s Cincinnati office, but it also functions as a corporate headquarters and a main distribution center for all the other locations.

In terms of succession planning, Wilmink does have his own in place, although he wants to stick around for at least another 10 to 15 years. His son, Noah, a certified public accountant, is part of the Mechanical Optimizers team and has been tapped as the heir apparent.

In the meantime?

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Jeff Wilmink said.

Cincinnati Business Courier
Liz Engel - Digital Editor