Rory Richardson & Mike Hastings, owners of Cardinal Heating & Air
Originally published: 07.01.19 by HVACR Business Staff
We sat down with Rory Richardson and Mike Hastings, owners of Cardinal Heating & Air in Kirkland, Wash., a 2019 Tops in Trucks Fleet Design Contest winner. Rory and Mike discussed making their mark, learning to lead and the importance of company culture.
1. Can you tell us about your background?
Rory: We both started in construction. I started in the mid-80s installing solar heating systems and solar domestic hot water systems for a smaller solar company. Once the ta breaks ran out, I jumped in with a large HVACR company here in Redmond.
Mike: I grew up back east and went to Wentworth Institute, a technical college in Boston, and got my associates degree, mechanical. I worked in New England for a few years doing industrial refrigeration and large systems.
2. Mike, what brought you to Washington?
Mike: I decided to go back to school to finish my degree, and I decided to come out to the University of Washington.
3. What made you decide to go on your own?
Rory: I worked my way into sales and decided, “I think we can do this on our own.” So, I joined up with Mike and we started chasing lumber trucks, following them around, trying to find jobs. What got us going was we had a pretty good connection doing tract homes, and I thought we would really make our mark doing tract homes in the area.
4. What was that like?
Rory: I remember getting an opportunity to possibly do a couple hundred tract homes, and I just thought we were going to become millionaires overnight … until I put the numbers together, and they told me we were a little high. We’re working out of a 10x10 shed in Mike’s backyard. How could we be high? That burst my bubble. We realized tract homes weren’t where we’re going to make our mark.
5. So, where did you make your mark?
Rory: We got introduced to a job from a friend of ours who was in the radiant industry. He was building a custom home that was going all radiant, but they didn’t have a forced air contractor. So Mike and I approached this contractor and got the opportunity to do this house, and that’s what got us into these big, large custom homes. That’s where we’ve pretty much made our niche here … the very high-end homes with heating systems ranging from $50,000 to $1 million.
6. How do you split roles as owners?
Mike: I’m more of the type that likes to design and then install a system. Rory is more sales and marketing and gets the jobs, and then I take them and figure them out and get them in.
7. How long before you started to grow?
Mike: I’d say the first five years were difficult. We were, essentially, just reinvesting in the company, and we had two or three guys with us. And then, we took on radiant heating as part of our product line, so we did radiant and forced-air under one roof. From there, that gave us the boost of volume because there weren’t that many players able to do both.
8. What’s your business mix now?
Mike: We’ve got new construction division, which is probably 40 percent of our sales. And then we’ve got retrofit and service, which makes up the difference.
9. What’s recruitment like?
Mike: Very difficult. There’s a program in Seattle at CITC, which is a non-union apprenticeship program, so we’ve got two or three guys in each year. We’ve been, essentially, training our crew.
10. What’s your leadership style?
Mike: I’d say Rory and I have a good cop, bad cop [laughs]. I’m the more calm and mellow approach and lead by example versus the iron-fist type, come down on people. Not that Rory does that. I’m more of a lead-by-example type guy, and it seems to work.
11. How is managing Millennials different?
Mike: The way we were brought up is you get out of your truck and you start working. When they’re working, they’re great, but they tend to take breaks and look on their phone a lot, so we’re trying to figure out how to manage that. For the most part, if they’ve got good leadership they work hard.
12. How has your leadership changed as you’ve grown?
Rory: One of the things we’ve really done over the last five or six years is to put department heads, managers of each department — our service manager, our retrofit manager, our construction manager — and give them the ability to manage their team and set up incentives. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of setting expectations for our employees.
13. How do you ensure you’re getting the quality you expect from your team?
Mike: I’m on the road a lot. I’m personally bouncing around to the projects quite a bit, either helping technically or just reviewing. And we’ve got a few good lead journeymen that know the game, and they keep a good eye on things.
Rory: It’s also constantly instilling our company culture.
14. What is your company culture?
Rory: One of the things we hear a lot when we’re having a company meeting is, “Hey, that’s not the Cardinal way.” I’ve said this, “What is the Cardinal way?” To me, it’s really having integrity on a job site. I preach this forever, that integrity, to me, is doing what’s right when no one’s looking, constantly doing the best you can.
15. How do you motivate your team?
Rory: I think people see that we’re always trying to keep morale up. Sometimes, it’s hard in the grind, just day in and day out. Some of these guys just feel like, “Boy, we’re just doing the same thing.” So we’re trying to come up with ways of mixing it up. Once a month, during our weekly safety meeting, Mike and I decided we’d make breakfast for the company. But now, making breakfast for 55 people means waking up at 3 a.m. to get here and scramble eggs.
16. What lead to the decision to redesign your trucks?
Mike: We brought on Kevin Breiwick as general manager, and he came from a pure retrofit company, so all they did was replacement-type equipment. He was up to speed on the marketing and getting recognition with, essentially, the rolling billboards. He and my wife, Cindy, worked together on re-energizing things as far as logo and getting the new, fresh look out there.
17. What’s your favorite aspect of the design?
Rory: That it makes you turn your head, look at it, and go, “What is that?” Every day I come into work, I drive by and look at our vans, and I take another look. At first, I’ll admit, I thought it was just too much. But, I’ve heard more in the last six months, “I’ve seen your vans. Wow, what a change. Congrats on your new logo!” It’s just amazing, the brand awareness it’s bringing to us.
18. What did your vans look like before?
Mike: There wasn’t even a cardinal incorporated in it. It was just an oval that said “Cardinal Heating and AC.” Pretty basic.
Rory: White van, red letters.
19. How receptive has your team been to the new design?
Rory: The younger guys thought the wraps were the coolest thing in the world. What a great change. Some of our older technicians, however, fought it, like, “I don’t want to drive in that thing!” Now, I show them this magazine and they’re like, “Wow. Somebody did take notice.”
20. Is this part of a larger branding effort?
Rory: Yes, in the last six months we’ve completely changed all of our uniforms and logo-wear.