Small businesses can have a big impact. Each month, the City of Arnold features its small businesses that have grown substantially due to their roots in our community and their commitment to providing excellent service.
Unico of Arnold Helps Keep the Ghosts of Abraham Lincoln & Ernest Hemingway Alive!
Few industrial companies based in Arnold can say with assurance that they’ve improved original properties where Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, and other luminaries walked the halls. Or, in President Lincoln’s case, where he died.
Unico, Inc., headquartered in Tenbrook Industrial Park, is the only company in Arnold – and one of few in the world – whose products have helped preserve irreplaceable historic homes and properties across the U.S. and in Europe, products that are also found in many newer, upscale modern properties internationally.
Such properties range from the cottage on a hill outside Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln relaxed away from The White House, to the downtown boarding house where Lincoln died after he was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre across the street. With Unico’s help, both of those properties are among many that are well-preserved and open to the public today. Unico projects include Ernest Hemingway’s two-story house in Key West, FL, where the author lived and worked for more than a decade. The improved property is now a tourist destination and museum with grounds inhabited by 40 cats, the offspring of Hemingway’s own. The 50,000 sq ft mansion called Hempstead House on Long Island, NY, was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his famed novel The Great Gatsby. Much of the mansion’s renovation features Unico improvements. So does The LaMatta House built in Queens, NY by Chris LaMatta, great nephew of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMatta – a luxurious, 7,500 sq ft private home that is not open to the public. Yet Unico projects cover far more than properties linked to famous presidents, authors, and celebrities.
The company’s clients today include colleges, universities, government agencies, historic trusts, homeowners, real estate developers, and rehabbers of all varieties. Also known as The Unico System®, the company’s flagship product this year will be featured on the popular television program This Old House – for the 34th time. So…What does Unico do?
Founded by Joe Intagliata and his wife Sharon in 1988, Unico makes small-duct and ductless heating and air-conditioning systems that are whisper quiet and nearly invisible once they are installed, and which can accommodate virtually any structural environment, new or old. The innovative Unico System is often preferred by the property owners or caretakers of projects involving modern renovations of older structures, new construction, and upscale property rehabilitations. To date, the Unico System has been installed in about 500,000 properties in the U.S. and internationally.
Family Owned & Managed
Scott Intagliata, Unico marketing director, is one of Joe and Sharon Intagliata’s four grown sons who manage the company today at its Arnold headquarters along with President Phil Coerper and Engineering Vice President Craig Messmer. The modern plant employs 80 skilled engineering, manufacturing, sales, customer service, and operations personnel. The 125,000 sq ft building also hosts Unico’s subsidiary, SGI Manufacturing, which designs and builds HVAC materials.
Scott, a graduate of Tulane University and the University of Missouri – St. Louis, says, “Our family has owned the Unico business for 20 years now. Prior to that, my father and older brother were heating and air-conditioning contractors, and they installed a product similar to the one we manufacture today.”
“At the time they were based in south St. Louis where we had a facility on Meramec Street.Their contracting firm was one of 32 contractors across the United States who worked together like a business cooperative, and they all installed a product that was the forerunner to what is today’s Unico System. They put that product primarily in houses constructed before people had air conditioning.”
“About 20 years ago my father and older brother decided that they’d had enough of that forerunner product, which was invented by a man named Calvin McCracken, an MIT graduate who owned multiple patents. Craig Messmer, our vice president of engineering, knew of Calvin McCracken back then. One of Calvin’s engineers told Craig, ‘I am retiring, but I can make an improved, new product for you guys,’ meaning for our family.”
“My father and older brother were instrumental in the cooperative group that decided to take on that new proprietary product, and it made sense for my father to oversee sales of that new product.”
“Since there were 32 contractors in that group, the family decided that we would buy out all of them,” Scott says. In 1997, the Intagliatas did just that.
For 10 years after the acquisition, Unico was based in south St. Louis as the family built its customer base for the proprietary new product and maintained good relations with the cooperative group it had bought out. The Intagliatas chose Arnold as the place to consolidate all of the company’s manufacturing. The family decided to build a modern facility to employ 40 people.
The date April 27, 2007, was proclaimed “Intagliata Family Day” in Arnold when the mayor, city officials, contractors, and local citizens gathered for groundbreaking ceremonies with the Intagliatas. Civic officials lauded the site as the start of a new industrial building boom for Arnold. Joe Intagliata told a newspaper reporter, “Give us a couple of years and, as a private organization, we’ll have more employees than any other private organization in Arnold. If I had known the people in Arnold were so nice, we’d have been here 10 years ago,” he said.
The new manufacturing plant opened and was busily occupied within a year. A year later the United States entered a recessionary economic downturn and the construction industry, including Unico, was hit hard.
Shannon Intagliata, sales director at the company and a member of the management team, says, “For us, the timing of that recession was horrible. Just a year or two before it hit we had built the new plant and then the recession brought tough times for everybody. Unfortunately, we had to lay off some employees.”
“The year 2009 was terrible. In the credit crunch, people who would otherwise borrow money against the equity in their homes to install the Unico System often couldn’t do that. It was heartbreaking for us to have to lay off some employees,” Scott Intagliata says, “but we had a good enough base of business, we kept a good base of customers for the company to get through those tough times.”
“With smart management, we were able to weather the storm,” Shannon adds.
In his role as marketing director, Scott Intagliata has utilized state-of-the-art techniques that include marketing analytics and targeted digital marketing to help expand, grow, and preserve Unico’s success since 2009.
He attributes the company’s sales volume to the fact that Unico markets to elite homeowners with assets of at least $500,000 who can afford a new HVAC system to help beautify and increase the value of their home. He especially credits Unico’s affiliated contractors nationwide “who continue to promote our product installation as part of their business.”
“You can’t have one without the other,” he says.
Phil Coerper, Unico president, points out, “Our focus is on high-quality customer service. Our commitment is to make sure the experience for our customers and our contractors is as good as it can be. We are very committed to making sure that the experience of working with us fits beautifully for the people with whom we are interacting. Our type of customer is paying a premium and expects a perfect installation and a perfect product.”
“This commitment is an outgrowth of Joe Intagliata’s customer service philosophy from the early days, and which the company has carried forward as a hallmark of our operation,” Coerper asserts.
“Excellent products and responsive service are the lifeblood of this business,” adds Shannon Intagliata. “Our on-time shipments are at 99.8 %, and we want to improve that.”
Unico employees are responsible for much of the company’s success. Shannon says, “There’s a passion and pride for our company’s traditions and commitments that is reflected in our employees.”
“We have a long-tenured workforce – employee turnover is minimal at 1%. There’s a family feeling here, and it is not just among the Intagliata family. A lot of married couples work here. Our father always treated his employees as good as he treated our customers. Everybody here knows that they are working for a family and a company that cares,” Shannon says.
In 2016, Unico expanded its existing plant in Arnold with a $2 million investment that consolidated all of its non-manufacturing operations by building new offices, a training center, an R&D lab, and other improvements at the facility it opened in 2007.
Scott Intagliata credits Phil Coerper with forward-thinking leadership to help make that expansion happen after Coerper joined Unico as its president four years ago.
Like many companies, Unico in recent years has seen a lot of millennials enter its workforce. The company has accommodated these younger people, as well as its other employees, with opportunities such as flexible work hours, tuition reimbursement for work-related advanced study, and a social lounge where employees can play board games or simply relax on work breaks.
Unico, which began as an air-conditioning installation firm staffed by Joe Intagliata and one of his sons, seems positioned for even greater success than it has achieved since 1997.
Asked how the company has grown so much in 20 years, Unico’s management team responds with these comments:
“We consolidated business and manufacturing operations at our expanded plant in Arnold.”
“We continually introduce new technology to our operations.”
“We hire and engage employees with new skill sets.”
“We maintain exceptionally good relations with our installation companies and our customers.”
“We want our employees to excel in their jobs, and we maintain programs to help them do so.”
“We found capable and skilled employees in Arnold, and the City has been very supportive of our business.”
Joe and Sharon Intagliata are now retired and have a home in Florida. As Unico’s CEO and chairman of the board, Joe is at headquarters once or twice a week when in Arnold. Though not involved with day-to-day operations, Joe consults with and advises his sons about the business that the family founded. He attends all of the major parties and celebrations at headquarters, and he visits with employees he has known for a long time.
“We are maintaining and preserving the traditional values that our father introduced to this business, we are doing it in a modern way, and we continue to work hard to be the best caretaker of our customers in this industry,” says Shannon Intagliata.
Story by Jeff Dunlap