A Journey of Vision and Values

15 Jan

When James Harris Jr. moved his family from Pennsylvania to Mount Dora, Fla., in 1960, they moved into a house with an oil furnace. Oddly enough, none of the local companies came to homes to sell oil.

So, Harris decided to start his own oil business – and eventually bought out the competition.

Now, more than 50 years later, Harris Oil continues to take care of the fuel needs of the Mt. Dora community. The company provides home heating oil and kerosene, non-ethanol gas and diesel fuel delivery to farms and businesses, as well as mini-storage, U-Haul rentals, sheds and carports.

The company also remains a family business. Harris Jr. retired in 1986 after selling the business to his son, James Harris III, better known as “Jimmy.” Now 68, Harris continues to run the company along with his two daughters and son-in-law, Mike Brown. Brown and his wife, Kelley, took ownership of Harris Air Conditioning in February 2013. Kelley’s sister, Nancy Burford, runs the day-today operations of the oil business. Harris said he is proud to work with his family.

“It used to be more challenging than it is now. Now it’s pretty well rewarding,” said Harris, adding that he never considered another line of work. “This is what we do.”

The secret to their success is simple: “Hard, hard work, and being nice to people,” Harris said.

Brown said the family atmosphere among the 20 employees extends to customers.

“People just love coming in here. We’re so down-home and friendly,” Brown said. “We treat everybody the way you want to be treated.”

When Harris Jr. started the company in 1961, the office was run from the family home and his wife handled the books. They soon purchased Lake Oil Company, and eventually acquired about a dozen other companies.

“In the early days, the company primarily delivered kerosene, diesel and propane to plant nurseries in Apopka. While working on customers’ furnaces, the company saw an opportunity to work on AC units, too, and the business blossomed from there,” Brown added.

“The Harris’s have got great vision. There wasn’t a whole lot up here for doing AC service,” Brown said.

When the heating oil business was big in the 1980s, about 250 dealers from around the state formed the Oil Fuel Institute of Florida. Harris said it was mostly a social club, and as the heating oil business faded, so did the group. But Harris made a lasting friendship with John Green, owner of Greens Energy in Orlando, as did Brown with Green’s son, Bill, who is the company’s vice president.

“We’re still good friends,” John Green said of Harris. “We stay in contact with each other if we have issues or problems we need to talk about. He’s a good friend to talk to.”

“The companies often refer customers to each other,” Brown said, “because they share the same philosophy: providing great customer service at a fair price.”

Customers rely on Harris Oil & Air Conditioning during emergencies such as freezing winter nights and dangerous storms. Brown recalled that, after one hurricane, a large corporation that was left without fuel offered “any amount of money” to get fuel from Harris.

“We told them, ‘No.’ Our existing customers come first,” Brown said. “The almighty dollar is not going to determine where we go.”

Jack Pease, president of First National Bank of Mount Dora, had this to say. “They’ve always been the kind of people that if you need something, then they would be there to get it done,” Pease said. “They’ve been very active in helping promote the different venues in our community, and the surrounding communities as well,” he said.

Harris Air Conditioning offers full-service air conditioning repair and installations to Mount Dora, Eustis, Tavares, Leesburg, and Apopka.