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Louis Loeffler Sr. opened the doors to his new company, Federal Steam Specialties, on April 23, 1918, in Oklahoma City. The company’s four employees focused on selling steam specialties and boiler room equipment, primarily to mechanical contractors. It was a modest start for modest man who firmly believed that hard work, fair treatment and courteous service were synonymous with success in any human endeavor. The company slogan was “we sell results.”
The company sold more than results. Fast forward to 2018, and now under the name Federal Corporation, they have three companies under one roof: a factory/manufacturers’ rep firm, a stocking distributor and a commercial/industrial service company with more than 36 employees.
“Essentially, in any boiler room, everything there is our business – from the boiler to pumps, valves, fittings, expansion tanks, controls, gaskets and hydraulic separators. That’s our world,” said Alan Loeffler, president of Federal Corp.
The company’s line card includes (but is not limited to):
Federal Corporation celebrated its 100th anniversary this year with an open house and trade show, where 20 manufacturers exhibited products in a 100-foot-long tent. In another large tent, tables and chairs were set up for entertaining more than 500 customers, friends and former employees who came to celebrate the jubilee. Many employees were recognized for their length of service, from 10 years to 45 years. “If that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is,” said Loeffler. He went on to say “Our people are so committed and so amazing and through the years have greatly influenced our success. Federal is our people. That sounds so over-used and trite, but it’s true. They pull together in good times and bad, much as a family would.”
How it all started
Louis Loeffler Sr. was a self-taught and energetic man. His formal education ended when he dropped out of school in eighth grade — but he was armed with a mind that had a knack for fixing things and the love of problem solving. In the early 1900s, Loeffler was living in Chicago where he took a job as a draftsman with a manufacturing company that at the time was one of the pioneers of modern vacuum steam heating systems for commercial and industrial buildings.
One day he overheard the manager and two salesmen talking about a problem at a jobsite in St. Louis where the vacuum pump would not work. It was causing all kinds of criticism by the new hotel where the pump was installed. He had not seen the job or such a pump, but said, “I’ll go down and fix it.” The two salesmen said “All right, if you’re so smart, go down and fix it.” The manager agreed, and when Loeffler arrived on the job he decided to take the pump apart. He numbered every nut, bolt and part so he would be able to put it back together like the catalog showed.
There was one part he couldn’t find. He went to a local mechanic and told him the problem. The missing part was the ½” square packing that goes in the piston slots as a piston ring. The mechanic saw the problem immediately and advised Loeffler where he could buy it. After buying the packing and installing it, the pump worked.
People back at the home office in Chicago thought he was a genius.
The manager said, “This boy doesn’t belong at a drafting table; he belongs in the service crew.” And so Loeffler became part of the company’s service crew and traveled around repairing pumps. There seemed to always be something on the job that was the fault of the installer or the factory, so he had plenty to do. After many years, Louis married and had a family – four sons and two daughters.
During this time the owner of the company Loeffler was working for had passed away, and Loeffler decided it was time to go into business for himself. Business was booming in Oklahoma and Loeffler moved his family to Oklahoma City to set up shop, much to the delight of the many contractors within the local area.
When Federal Steam Specialties Company opened its doors, mechanical contractors were the main customer base. The firm handled only steam and boiler items designated by the trade as steam specialties. Soon, however, other lines were added. Business was plentiful, as the company’s products — boilers, radiators, pipe fittings, and valves — were in great demand by state buildings, county court houses, hotels and the State Capitol. Federal had been a factory rep since its inception, but even in those early years customers appreciated that in addition to selling steam equipment (boilers, tanks, radiators), the company also supplied accessories like pressure gauges, specialty valves, steam traps, etc. This led to Federal stocking not only steam specialties, but pipe, valves and fittings to support the equipment in a heating system. It was a natural extension to become a stocking distributor in addition to being a factory rep.
The combustion service company began as a result of requests from customers who needed industrial combustion service. “We have sold Honeywell and Fireye flame safeguard systems for decades, but when Honeywell’s industrial controls line was offered to us in the 1980s, a new market opened,” said Loeffler. “Since we sell to service contractors, we stay away from routine commercial combustion service, concentrating on industrial process combustion systems. These are the “three companies under one roof.”
As business grew so did the need for additional office space. 1n 1921 the company moved from its original office and warehouse into a newly constructed two-story building with an adjoining pipe storage yard. The old building was utilized as warehouse space, and with the added inventory, the company changed its name to Federal Supply Co. in January 1935. Ever expanding and adding warehouse space, the company remains true to its roots and still resides in the “new space” it built in 1921.
During this time, several of Loeffler’s sons worked for the company, and with Louis Sr. at the helm, it grew to 17 employees. When Louis Sr. passed away in 1941, his sons were not ready to run the business themselves, so they brought in an individual to do so for several years; in 1945, Louis Loeffler Jr. took over as president.
After World War II, the company diversified by expanding product lines to include maintenance and replacement items for existing systems. In addition to heating and air conditioning equipment, Federal expanded into controls, pipe, valves and fittings, and hydronic and combus-tion equipment. The company continued to grow and thrive, and by 1954 they again changed names – this time to Federal Corporation, which solidified their position as a factory representative as well as a stocking distributor.
For the past three years, Dan Loeffler has represented the fourth generation of his family to run the business. He joined the company in 2008 and became president in 2012. Dan fought a battle with cancer and won, though he lost his earthly life to the disease in early 2018. During his 10 years of leadership, Dan strengthened the company in its financial, accounting and personnel areas. He encouraged company managers to use the Internet to bring an online catalog and ordering capabilities to its customers. Dan also helped establish Federal Services LLC as a subsidiary. This specialized service group has brought industrial combustion control systems to a new level in the mid-stream gas industry as well as other industrial fields.
Today, the company is under the direction of Alan Loeffler (Dan’s father), who is the son of Louis Jr. Alan led the company starting in the 1980s and has again resumed holding the position of president. Before joining the family company, Alan had been involved in Campus Crusade for Christ. “Evangelism was something I became very interested in, and at a time of incredible unrest among young people, it was mission work that I felt was very important.”
His passion for his faith is evident when talking about the company and its employees: “God’s hand has shaped us and the company. During WW II years, the greatest part of the company’s business was for the war effort. The Loeffler brothers decided that if either was drafted, they would close the company. There were several occasions when it looked inevitable that they would be drafted, but for various reasons, that never happened.”
Under Alan’s direction, the company expanded, adding additional control products for commercial and industrial customers. Through a strategic planning process in the early 2000s, Federal refined its focus on hydronic, steam and combustion equipment, and controls.
“When my grandfather founded the company, the few controls there were for boiler systems were mechanical,” added Loeffler. “Today they are all electronic or computer controlled. Con-trols for both HVAC and industrial applications have been a very big growth area.”
The biggest difference between the company today and the company as it was founded is in the variety of products managed and sold.
“If you want to pump it, heat it or control it, we handle the equipment that trade pros seek,” said Loeffler. He went on to say “That’s the way the company started, and the way we are today. The equipment and parts we handle have changed and modernized, but many of the practices – rooted in industry knowledge and expertise, good work ethic and fair treatment and decency toward others – remain the same.”
He went on to note “One of our solid hydronic performers is Laars. We signed on with them in 1980. We wanted a copper tube boiler/volume water heater line and found it in Laars. It’s their MightyTherm line – now the MightyTherm 2 – that most attracted us to meet our customers’ needs for large commercial, non-condensing systems.
“Today, the MightyTherm’s newest generation of boiler/volume water heaters is a real performer here in our market. The systems are versatile, durable, yet easy to install and service. They have good efficiency – though non-condensing in design. The systems are also lightweight, so they’re easy to inventory; we typically stock six of the 10 sizes made by Laars, from 200 to 1,500 MBH, although Laars makes units up to 2,000 MBH.”
Federal has always specialized in the sale of engineered products requiring technical knowl-edge. Such major equipment items have included steam and hot water boilers, refrigeration equipment, air handling equipment and pumps. Important accessory items, such as automatic controls, gauges, steam traps and piping specialties, have been a large percentage of sales.
“We started out 100 years ago in the boiler room, and we’re still there,” Loeffler said. “Through those years, we’ve built on our expertise and experience with wet heat – steam, hydronic and combustion. This is our niche, and our core strength, here in the state of Oklahoma.”
Asked about its success and what he believes sets the company apart, Loeffler described, “In Oklahoma, hydronic systems are used chiefly for commercial, institutional or industrial applications, and through the years they have been squeezed by other technologies, so we’ve had to work harder. Fortunately, hydronics is still unbeatable in many ways – especially for its versatility and efficiency. We’ve also expanded our territory some, and have diversified our offering.”
Today, the company’s footprint includes warehouses in Oklahoma City and a Tulsa branch that total approximately 23,000 square feet. With 36 employees across the three companies, Loeffler’s management style is that of consensus. “I have ideas that I implement, but when major decisions need to be made, there is a conferring process among the managers.”
Growing and thriving have been the trend for the company, and when asked about new initiatives, Loeffler noted “The main new initiative is to have a quality e-commerce site that will help our customers access our products. Because of our association with Controls Group North America, we have access to excellent technology and a variety of products.”
He went on to say: “There have been many instances where we’ve been aware of God’s presence or gentle guidance - and here we are today, 100 years after inception, still growing. We’ve been blessed through customers’ appreciation of our core values, dedication to serving the market with expertise and leading technology, and ensuring the honest, fair treatment of everyone we deal with.”
A great example of customer service is summed up by Ray Pierce, national sales manager, Hurst Boiler & & Welding Co., Inc. “I had to work for many years to have Alan Loeffler and Federal Corp. represent Hurst Boiler. We are now enjoying a partnership of over 13 years, and due to this connection, both companies have excelled and flourished in the Oklahoma boiler.” He went on to say “Federal Corp. is the epitome of an ideal manufacturers’ rep organization. They have integrity, knowledge, are dependable and have an outstanding and long-lasting reputation. Most important is that we enjoy working with each other, and If you make a little profit, that’s good. If you make a profit and have a good time at the same time, that’s the very best you can ask for.”
As Federal enters its second century, they strive to follow the commitments of their founder: technical excellence, perseverance and honesty. Their motto remains “We sell solutions.”