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Fifth-generation family-owned business changes with the technology

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Alvin Hollis Inc. vice president Laura Bicknell-Carbone stands in front of old family photos at the company’s office in South Weymouth.
Alvin Hollis Inc. vice president Laura Bicknell-Carbone stands in front of old family photos at the company’s office in South Weymouth.(The Boston Globe)

Alvin Hollis Inc. in Weymouth is a fifth-generation family-owned company begun by Alvin Hollis in 1871 delivering ice by horse-drawn wagon. Laura Bicknell-Carbone of Marshfield, Hollis's great-great granddaughter, started as a 16-year-old typist and is now vice president of the company that provides heating, air-conditioning, and plumbing services throughout the south suburbs. Bicknell-Carbone, 46, was recently named an "Outstanding Woman of Family Business" at the New England Family Business Conference. We spoke to her for this story.

Q. How has the technology of what Hollis does changed?

A. Dramatically. It's kind of like with cars; there's more computerized equipment, and you have to stay on top of it. Boilers and furnaces are getting more energy-efficient and take advantage of things like variable-speed blowers. The older systems ran at one speed all the time, but the new technology learns you need more in winter and less in fall.

Q. Is there a busier time of year than others?

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A. It depends on how cold winter is and when it starts to get hot. In the bad winter a couple of years ago, we had to use two drivers on every truck because one would get exhausted pulling hoses over seven-foot mounds of snow. It's very seasonal and unpredictable, but that's what makes it fun.

Q. In reference to your recent award, is your business still largely male-dominated?

A. Basically, yes. I do sales, and a lot of times I go to houses and they say, "Oh, I was expecting a man." But that's OK, it's changing. And I'm very humbled and proud to get the award.

Q. Is central air the norm these days, and how expensive is it?

A. More people are getting it and many won't buy a house without it. What used to be a luxury is almost a requirement. As to cost, it varies by size and need; it can run from around $5,000 for a wall unit to $12,000-$20,000 depending on the set-up.

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Q. In the heating-and-cooling world in this area, how big is your company?

A. We have about 70 employees and a fleet of service and oil-delivery vehicles. There are mom-and-pop operations and big conglomerates out there, but over the spectrum I'd say we're fairly good sized.

Q. Any talk of you being bought up by one of those conglomerates?

A. There's always talk, but we're very happy where we are.

Alvin Hollis Inc. vice president Laura Bicknell-Carbone walks through the parking lot of the company’s warehouse in South Weymouth.
Alvin Hollis Inc. vice president Laura Bicknell-Carbone walks through the parking lot of the company’s warehouse in South Weymouth.(Debee Tlumacki)

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com.