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Keeping the Faith

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Members of the PTL team at NAEC 2014 in San Antonio; (l-r) Jon Heffer, president/CEO; Lori Heffer, vice president; Joey Dooley, IT/purchasing manager; Joe Yergin, controller; Jonathan Wright, customer service representative; Steve Robbins, sales and customer service manager.

Pioneer in vandal-resistant elevator fixtures PTL Equipment continues to diversify and grow.

The scenario in PTL Equipment’s online ad perhaps isn’t the most common: a freshly dumped boyfriend boards an elevator with his box of belongings and proceeds to cry and beat the buttons on the car station with a bowling pin, as a pair of bemused guards look on via security camera. They’ve witnessed such scenes before. They consider calling a repair company but realize it isn’t necessary: the buttons are from PTL Equipment.

While elevator fixtures receiving a beating from a bowling pin-wielding man perhaps isn’t a frequent occurrence, elevators are often subject to vandalism, and the advertisement gets the point across with humor. The fact that elevators, especially in specific locations, often sustain damage is something PTL Equipment founder Bob Coronato, now retired, learned in 1971. A neighbor in Huntington, New York, told Coronato about how units in apartments run by the New York City (NYC) Housing Authority, for which he worked, were prone to vandalism. Recounts Coronato:

“The panels in the authority’s elevators were brass and bronze, and they were disappearing constantly. Buttons were being broken. People would just push right through the plastic. I thought, ‘I can make something better than this’ and made some prototype aluminum panels on the milling machine in my basement.” 

Difficult Times, Difficult Decisions

In the early 1970s, Coronato was in personal and financial crisis. A machinist by trade, Coronato had done lucrative work for government contractors, such as Northrop Grumman. But when a recession hit, work dried up, and Coronato was forced to declare bankruptcy. He ended up hospitalized for several months with double pneumonia. With a wife and six children to support, he felt bold decisions were necessary. Instead of looking for a stable job with an established company, Coronato went the entrepreneurial route, pitching his idea to the housing authority, which liked the product and placed many orders. 

“I thought, ‘I can make something better than this’ and made some prototype aluminum panels on the milling machine in my basement.”

 – PTL Founder Bob Coronato

It was also at this time Coronato underwent a religious conversion and became a devout Christian. He said he decided to put his life in God’s hands. He believes his faith has helped him personally and professionally. A year and a half after landing that first deal with the housing authority, “All of a sudden, I was dealing with 100 projects, subcontracting buttons and other components out,” he reminisced.

In 1980, the Coronatos moved their business into a 650-sq.-ft. storefront. Then, with business still growing, they moved into a 2,500-sq.-ft industrial building. 

From Yankees to Southerners

As growth continued for PTL, by the late 1980s, the Coronatos were looking to expand again. However, the cost of living in the NYC area had become extremely high. So, after looking at three or four different states, PTL’s attentions turned to Toccoa, with a population of just over 9,300, in northeast Georgia. It is the home of Toccoa Falls College and suggested to the Coronatos by a business associate who had attended a Christian business retreat there. After several visits, they decided it was the place for them. Observes Coronato:

“The people are so gracious. They treated us like a Fortune 500 company even though we were just a little company, and we agreed on a handshake to have nine apartments built for the families [who were moving down South].” 

The PTL crew moved in July 1990 and had the company up and running by August. It is located in an expansive, multibuilding former elementary school across from a dairy farm. Coronato describes it as the perfect location. 

By 2004, the Coronatos had decided to retire. At that time, current President and CEO Jon Heffer was general manager, married with two children. He decided he and his wife wanted to buy PTL, closing the deal in 2006. He says: “It was a great opportunity, and it’s been great ever since. My desire has always been to carry on the heritage and vision established from the beginning.”

That vision has always centered around a strong faith in God. PTL stands for “Praise the Lord,” and its vision statement, “to honor God by following business ethics consistent with Biblical principles to produce and market the highest quality fixtures in the elevator industry,” is prominently displayed on the company’s front door, in its trade-show booths and on its website.

The move to Georgia coincided with the company’s decision to take a closer look at the needs of the industry and, in 1992, diversify its offerings to include escalator emergency safety stations. Allowing escalators to be stopped in case of emergencies or for maintenance to be performed, the safety stations are customized for each client. In 2014, PTL developed a custom, weather-resistant escalator station for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We’re extremely proud of that product,” says Heffer, adding the contract was a contributing factor to PTL enjoying its best year ever in escalator-unit sales in 2014. 

PTL retains its New York customer base, he said, and now has clients all over the U.S. and world. Heffer said the company hopes to grow its international business in coming years. Although its top-selling Centurion products are often copied, it remains, the company states, “the unparalleled leader in consistent, uninterrupted performance for the most demanding physical environments.” It also prides itself on its custom work, such as the 22 bespoke wooden car stations it created for elevators in the Coca-Cola building in Atlanta. “We’re extremely proud that we were able to respond so well to a customer’s request, Heffer says. “We’re not afraid to take on new challenges.”

What PTL produces today goes beyond buttons, and its clients include universities, housing authorities and mass-transit systems. In the late 1980s, it began producing steel fixtures in response to a change in NYC Housing Authority specifications. “We did the entire Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority system,” Heffer notes. “Seventy-80% of the [vertical-transportation fixtures] in the Atlanta area are from PTL.”

The company’s line of vandal-resistant elevator fixtures encompasses car stations, hall stations, lanterns and position indicators. Heffer states its Centurion Series® line of fixtures are its best sellers. PTL also provides an array of fixtures that do not fall under the vandal-resistant category. 

Coronato observes there are PTL products in elevators in the Statue of Liberty in NYC and in escalators installed in Athens, Greece for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. With a smile, he remembers the company called on a Greek scholar from Toccoa Falls College to translate the verbiage for the products, and that he did so in ancient, rather than modern, Greek. “We got it straightened out before too many of them were made,” Coronato says. 

Part of what is keeping the company in growth mode, Heffer says, is its steadfast belief in keeping both manufacturing and customer service based in the U.S., adding:

“When we say we’re going to do something, we do it. We provide one-on-one customer service; we have a sales force that goes out and visits with folks. We really try to work to build relationships, and we think that is key to building a company.”   🌐

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