Harker Heating & Cooling, Inc. has been features in multiple magazine articles throughout Madison, Wisconsin, & the nation.
"Ductwork in the dairy land" - Snips Magazine, January 2003
Some people say the old business adage about the importance of location doesn't apply when you're talking about an hvac company. After all, how many consumers drive past a store and decide to pick up a new furnace?
More than you might think, according to the owners of Harker Heating & Cooling Inc. The company recently opened a new building along the Beltline Highway in Madison, Wis. This busy stretch of road carries more than 100,000 cars daily, many of which now pass by Harker's large, brightly lit sign. It promotes the company's three main brands of hvac equipment: Trane, Carrier and Research Products Corp.'s Aprilaire.
Owners Tim and Anna Heiar say they thought such a high-visibility location that would draw customers - consumers, especially - and it appears they were right: On the first day of their grand opening in September, sales representative Kevin Multhauf estimates that about 160 people visited the store. And they keep coming, he says.
"Since we've opened this facility, I can't tell you the number of people who have stopped by and said, 'Gee, I've seen your building and wanted to see what you have here,' " Multhauf says.
Showroom equals sales
They also are buying, according to Multhauf. He says close to 95% of visitors to the store end up purchasing a new hvac system from the company. Company officials credit the large 2,500-sq.-ft. showroom for turning prospective customers into buyers. Unlike many hvac company showrooms, Harker's is aimed at homeowners, not builders. Consumers can look at different working models, ask questions and talk with sales representatives about which system is right for them.
"There really wasn't any place in central Wisconsin where a person could go in do something like that," explains Multhauf. "Our showroom is a real departure from
what heating companies have gone to market with in the past."
Owner Tim Heiar says he got the idea for the showroom from a display a local utility company used to have in Madison. Although the utility was not selling hvac systems, consumers could learn about how they worked and what to look for in a quality system. But the utility closed its showroom a few years ago, and since that time, there really hasn't been a location that offered the public an education in the workings of their home's hvac system.
Harker's showroom includes nine working systems and visitors can move from station to station and talk with company-trained representatives such as Multhauf, who says his job is as much about education as it is sales.
"I take the time to explain to people how the system works," he says.
The showroom's ceiling is transparent, allowing the public to see how the air produced by their furnace or central air conditioner moves throughout the house.
The showroom also includes unit heaters, ductless split air conditioners, air-to-air exchangers, humidifiers, air cleaners, boilers, water tanks and more. But Harker is not strictly a residential contractor. The firm also stocks many light commercial products such as infrared and in-floor heating systems, zoning products and high-pressure air-conditioning distribution systems, and many of these are on display as well.
"We wanted the whole thing to stand out," Heiar says, adding that everything, from the showroom's layout to its color scheme, was professionally designed to make the area unique, attractive and accessible to consumers. "Everyone who walks in the (showroom) comments on how beautiful it is."
Beyond the showroom in the back of the building, Harker maintains its own sheet metal shop, staffed by about 30 workers, members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 18. The shop includes a Lockformer Vulcan plasma cutter, two eight-foot brakes, a Lockformer Pittsburgh machine, a Tennsmith drive lock bender as well as hand tools.
Ten employees make up the office staff.
In addition to residential replacement work, Harker does a lot of light commercial new construction projects, including banks, offices and strip malls. The company has also done work on the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus, and some city and county projects. Much of the work is design-build.
Heiar estimates that Harker fabricates up to 90% of the ductwork it uses itself. Since most of its jobs call for rectangular duct, any spiral orders are subcontracted to one of about four shops the company works with in the Madison area.
Today, with $7 million in annual volume, Harker is one of the largest Carrier dealers in the state, and the winner of Carrier's Distinguished Dealer of the Year award. But according to Heiar, 50, that was far from the case when he purchased the then-40-year-old company in 1989. Although the company had a good reputation, it was down to two employees, and wasn't taking on very many new customers, Heiar says. Within a month of taking over, Heiar started adding workers, and he expanded beyond the company's traditional base of new construction into the replacement sales market.
"In the first four years, our growth was 40- to 50% per year," he says. Today, a good week's sales can approach $300,000, he adds.
Such growth is what prompted the company's move from its prior location, Heiar says. "In the other place, we didn't have any place to put or vehicles." Harker maintains a fleet of 10 service and 20 construction trucks.
Prior to purchasing Harker Heating, Heiar worked for a mechanical contractor in the area, supervising projects and performing estimating work.
Harker was recently received Trane's Comfort Specialist award for 2002, given to companies who are exceptional in the areas of customer service and employee training. It's all part of the company's philosophy, Multhauf says.
"We try to do the right thing," he says. "We want people to continue to continue doing business with us and we want people to be comfortable with their purchases and comfortable with us."
"Harker Heating & Cooling, Inc." - WeatherVane
At least once a month you'll find Tim Heiar, Vice President of Harker Heating & Cooling, Inc. located in Madison, WI, sitting down with a group of his employees over a few cold drinks. He listens to them talk about both their work and their personal lives. He also makes sure there are plenty of other opportunities for interaction between employees and management, like holiday parties and bowling nights.
Why does Heiar spend so much time listening to his employees' comments and complaints? "I really believe that if you make your employees happy, they will make your customers happy," says Heiar. Another way Heiar ensures his employees' satisfaction is to give them all the tools they need to do their job- like new trucks with air conditioning, quality tools, and nice-looking uniforms. Heiar also strongly believes in the importance of training, and, to encourage his employees to take classes, Harker pays 100% of tuition costs for work-related courses.
Another part of keeping Harker's 45 employees satisfied is being involved and on good terms with the union. All of Heiar's employees, except the front staff, belong to the local sheet metal worker's union. Heiar maintains a great relationship with the union by keeping the lines of communication open. It also helps that Heiar is active in the union – he is chair of the apprenticeship committee. This allows him to have a voice in approving new apprentices and in setting the curriculum for the 5-year cooperative education program.
The fact that Harker has the reputation of being a company people want to work for – and has very low employee turnover – is proof that Heiar is doing his job. This successful development of the company's employees is one reason Harker was chosen as a 1998 CDD winner.
Keeping Customers Satisfied
Another reason Harker is such a successful dealership is their balanced mix of customers, including commercial, service, add-on replacement, and residential new construction. Heiar works hard to provide an extra level of service for all these customers. To help keep their commercial customers satisfied, Harker uses the Carrier Comfort Network (CCN) program to remotely monitor the HVAC systems for a dozen commercial buildings (as well as several residential homes). If there is ever a problem with one of the HVAC systems, the CCN alerts a computer in Harker's offices. This allows the company to respond immediately to any problems, which avoids equipment downtime. The CCN also reminds Harker when regular service, such as a filter change, is needed on the HVAC systems, ensuring that the systems will be properly maintained and that the customer receives the optimal service.
One policy that keeps residential service customers happy is the company's two-hour arrival time window for service calls. Heiar reports that his service trucks are able to meet that goal 98 percent of the time. "We know how busy homeowners are today, and we don't want to make them wait around for us," comments Heiar. "Although we give the customers a two-hour window, our goal is to arrive in the first hour and we meet that goal 90 percent of the time."
Builder Upgrade Program
The one area of Harker's business that has dramatically increased over the past few years is residential new construction (RNC). Heiar and his team have made RNC successful and profitable by providing an easy way for builders to offer HVAC system upgrades. New home buyers are invited by the home builder to visit Harker's well-equipped showroom.
The showroom features a working Carrier Infinity furnace and a Carrier 38TUA air conditioner that actually heat and cool the building. The Carrier system has four zones and includes an air cleaner and humidifier. "Having working equipment in our showroom allows us to show customers the system before they buy," says Heiar.
"This is important for some homeowners, as they want to
hear, see and feel a working system."
During the visit to the showroom, a salesperson offers two options (or packages of products) to the homeowners. One option is standard equipment, and the other option is high-efficiency equipment. If a customer purchases the high-efficiency upgrade, Harker gives the builder a commission as an incentive for sending customers to Harker.
Heiar is very pleased with the results of their builder upgrade program because it has increased both sales and customer comfort, and has reduced customer complaints. Heiar's advice to other dealerships is, "Don't give up – not everyone wants the cheapest box."
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