Bruce Krinkie, owner of Krinkie's Heating, Air and Plumbing
Originally published: 08.01.17 by Terry Tanker
Terry Tanker met with Bruce Krinkie, owner of Krinkie’s Heating, Air and Plumbing in St. Paul, Minn., a 2017 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner. The two discussed rebranding, transitioning from technician to owner and expanding the business into other areas.
1. Congratulations on being a 2017 Tops in Trucks winner — can you tell us about your fleet?
We have three Ford Transits, seven Ford Econolines, and two Ford F-150s.
2. What drove the idea for the design and the lements?
We wanted to differentiate our vehicles, but not so much that we looked like strangers to our customers. We were inspired by old furnace logos and developed a new company logo that incorporated the original Krinkie’s logo we had years ago when we first started the company. We hired a design firm to help us with the process.
3. Is this part of a larger rebranding effort?
Yes, it’s a company-wide effort. We rebranded everything — stationary, marketing materials, the fleet, you name it. We invested nearly $10K in the design and $20K in fabrication, preparation and installation of our fleet and carrying it through to all aspects of the business.
4. Have you seen ROI on the project yet?
It’s difficult to put a monetary value on this investment, however, I’ve seen a huge return on the pride and ownership the technicians take in their vehicles. They keep them clean and neat. When they stop for lunch, they park near a busy intersection just to make sure the trucks are seen. It’s really impressive and, of course, we do receive plenty of customer compliments.
5. Who was involved in the process?
We included all of our employees in the entire process. When we’d get a new design, we’d get feedback from them and share that with the designer. Since they were so involved in the process, they’ve taken ownership of it. I’ve honestly heard stories of technicians bringing clients outside to look at their truck with the new logo!
6. You vacation in Fort Myers, Fla. — are you a fisherman?
Yes; I really enjoy backwater fishing. I’ve been going there since I was 10 years old. I also fish quite a bit up here in Minnesota.
7. I understand you enjoy working on old cars — could you tell us about it?
I started taking cars apart in high school. First, it was a ‘53 Volkswagen, then I helped my dad restore a ‘29 Model A Ford. Then I moved on to a few newer model Fords. It’s really a challenging and enjoyable hobby.
8. What is Krinkie’s history?
I worked for the largest HVACR company in Saint Paul and was a service technician by trade. It was my father’s family business — my grandfather started it when he lost his bank in The Great Depression. I ran the service department but, in 1981, it got to be too much family and not enough business [laughs]. So, my dad and I left and started Krinkie’s Heating.
9. How did you make the transition from technician to owner?
My dad was a great teacher. I learned how to be an owner mostly from my father.
10. Do you remember what your goals were when you first started?
I was a service technician and always believed the biggest part of my job was to make people happy. That was our philosophy: Make customers happy, they’ll come back and they’ll tell their family and friends. Pretty simple. So, when I look for a technician, that’s the kind of person and personality I look for specifically. I want technicians who can talk to customers and make the toughest customer happy.
11. How’s recruiting in your area?
Impossible. We’ve done a lot of “de-hiring” — we go through the interview process and find someone we really like, but then they can’t get past the background check, drug test or they have an uninsurable driving record. It seems every company struggles with recruiting though. We do, however, offer a great apprenticeship program for those who pass the background checks.
12. You work closely with Jeff Madison, your general manager — how did you find him?
I had a service technician who left the company but we remained good friends. I asked him if he knew anyone who wanted to be GM and possibly own a company some day. He said, “You know what, I know a guy.” So, it goes to show you, you always have to be networking and recruiting.
13. What is your business mix?
We’re about 75 percent residential, but don’t do new construction. The other 25 percent is commercial. We’ve also recently added a plumbing division.
14. What type of plumbing do you do?
Our plumbing business is totally residential.
15. Why didn’t you start a plumbing division sooner?
We didn’t have a license, but we did have an arrangement with a plumbing company. When customers needed plumbing, we’d recommend them. Unfortunately, we found out that arrangement wasn’t quid pro quo and that helped us make a few new decisions.
16. Do you have any plans to get into electrical?
We have a great relationship with an electrical firm, so for now we’re going to try and grow the plumbing side with an eye on the future for electrical.
17. Are you planning for growth this year?
We planned on about 10 percent growth and so far we’re on target.
18. What’s the most profitable side of your business?
Based on our location (Minnesota) heating is more profitable for us than cooling. You’d never know that now, however, as we’re in the midst of a two-week stretch of temperatures above 90F.
19. How many installs do you do per year?
Typically, we do around 250.
20. Do you actively sell maintenance agreements?
We call it the “Krinkie Club” and we’ve gotten a lot better at concentrating on them. We try to mention them to every customer. We have a little more than 1,200 agreements and they really help keep us busy all year long.