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Featured Entrepreneur: Bob Haak

Originally published: 05.01.18 by Pete Grasso

Featured Entrepreneur: Bob Haak

Bob Haak has been a part of the HVACR industry since 1963 when he started working for his uncle in the family business his grandfather founded. He learned the trade during high school.

“When I started with my uncle, I’d work in the shop after school until he went home and then catch a ride with him since he lived in my parents’ neighborhood,” he remembers. “The pay those first few years was a glass of chocolate milk and a donut. I’d carry his tool box and whatever he needed when we weren’t working in the shop.”

As Bob grew older, he helped carry furnace pieces into the home, back when the units were much larger than they are now. His uncle taught him many life lessons and treated him like a son.

“Working with him taught me that I needed to get up every day ready to work,” Bob says. “After high school, I enlisted in the Marine Corps where I learned a lot about serving others and structuring my life.”

As an airframe structure mechanic, Bob also picked up a lot of knowledge about working with metal — he learned how to fabricate the metal needed to repair damaged aircrafts. After

his discharge, Bob went back to working for his uncle, capitalizing on the skills he picked up in the military.

Bob Haak

Title: Owner

Company:Black-Haak Heating, Inc.

Website: black-haak.com

Year Founded: 1956

Headquarters: Greenville, Wisc.

Work Performed: Residential and Light Commercial HVAC and Electrical

No. of Employees: 49

Annual Revenue: $6.5 million

Vendor-Partners: Daikin, Tempstar, Honeywell, Aprilaire, IBC Boilers, Geocomfort

Affiliations: Service Roundtable, Service Nation Alliance, EGIA, Everest Group, Associated Builders and Contractors, Wisconsin Geothermal Association

Certifications:EPA, Wisconsin HVAC Qualifier, WGA Loop Field and System Installers

“I may have not been fixing airplanes, but I was using my metal-working skills to lay out our duct work,” he says. “We were doing a combination of new construction and replacements and I started going to school for A/C installation.”

Bob and his uncle started laying the framework for Bob to purchase the business. But then, in 1988, Bob’s youngest cousin decided he wanted to take over the business. So, in 1989 Bob and his wife purchased a company called Blackies.

“Blackies was a company that had been around since the mid 50s and the couple that owned it wanted to retire,” he says. “They did mostly service work and a few equipment replacements. We believed my knowledge of sheet metal for replacements and their service background made it a perfect fit.”

One thing Bob credits for still being in business today is a Frank Blau seminar he attended early on as a business owner.

“Frank had a question that struck a chord with me,” Bob remembers. “He asked, ‘Do you ever see a doctor in his scrubs at the grocery store? When he bends over do you see any exposed skin? Why are you worth so much less than a doctor? We are both responsible for the health of the people we serve and we work with a very explosive element, natural gas.’”

He also remembers learning about setting proper pricing. Prior to that, Bob had been taught by the company’s previous owner to call around to find out our competitors’ labor rates and go with a price right in the middle.

Like many entrepreneurs, those first few years were difficult for Bob and his wife. In addition to running as many service calls as possible, he took all the night school classes on business he could find. Holidays were always spent in the shop.

“We faced many other obstacles as we tried to survive, from petty employee theft to the previous manager of Blackies stealing our entire client list and taking it to a competitor,” he remembers.

To cut expenses, they would forward the phones to their home at night, rather than a service, something he recalls as worse than having a baby in the home.

One of the teachers Bob met from night school came in to help with the books. There were many weeks he didn’t take a paycheck so he could pay suppliers and employees. He learned to be frugal.

In the early 1990s, Bob changed the name from Blackies to Black-Haak, because he’d built a notable reputation locally in the industry and I wanted that to be indelibly tied to the company. During the next few years he built the team he wanted — a team with members that understood customer service.

“One of the things that makes us unique is the vast age differences among our crew and their ability to work exceedingly well together and relate to each other,” Bob says. “We have been able to build this team by hiring and retaining the best employees based on their attitude, not their aptitude.”

Black-Haak’s average growth over the last 20 years has been more than 13 percent annually, and in the last four years they’ve have seen the average yearly increase to be above 26 percent.

“Last year, we applied for and were awarded the Inc. 5000 award for being one of the 5,000 fastest growing privately-held companies,” Bob says. “With that in mind, we’re proud to continue to operate out of our original facility, even with all this growth.


About Pete Grasso

Pete is the editor of HVACR Business magazine. He has spent his career working in and with trade media, both as a public relations practitioner and as an editor. He gained a great deal of expertise in the B2B arena, within large and medium sized advertising agencies. Be sure to follow Pete on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn!


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