We sat down with Mike Graessle, general manager of Hetter Heating & Cooling in Columbus, Ohio. Graessle discussed recruiting retirees, checking financials every day and being thankful.
1. Can you tell us a little about your background?
I worked 11 years in sales & marketing at Columbia Gas — a local utility company in Columbus. I then worked 11 years as a sales manager for three home builders in Columbus. I’ve served as the general manager at Hetter Heating & Cooling for the past 12 years.
2. How did you get started in this industry?
A good friend, who knew Hetter well, suggested I call John Hetterscheidt because he was looking for a GM to help grow the company.
3. What is your management style?
It’s very grassroots … I try to keep my finger on the pulse of this company throughout the day. I’m a huge “numbers guy” and I believe numbers don’t lie. I watch all of the numbers every day.
4. How do you motivate your people?
I try to stay in touch with them. I want to know how they’re doing. I want to know how their spouses or children are doing. We want our employees to know we care, we’re in this together and we are a “family in business.” I tell people when they do well and thank them. We distribute gift cards, we celebrate anniversaries and birthdays and we try to enhance our benefits package in some way each year.
5. What’s recruitment like in your area?
Recruitment is tough. This is a competitive market. We always have our eyes and ears open. We have a great reputation and constantly stay in touch with our local HVACR schools.
6. Where’s someplace new to look for technicians?
I believe there is potential in hiring retired service technicians to assist with maintenance. I would take it a step further and say retirees outside the industry can be trained, certified and can assist in our maintenance strategy — 70 is the new 60. I’ve felt this way about sales for quite some time as well.
7. What challenges have you faced?
Aside from this current pandemic, our biggest challenge is finding that means of staying constantly busy during the shoulder months. We researched getting into duct cleaning but have not pulled the trigger.
8. What is your business mix?
We are 100 percent residential retrofit and service.
9. What do you view as the most important aspect of your job?
It’s important to monitor daily cash flow. Our financials must be accurate, our accounts receivable must be managed and our lead generation needs to keep feeding the system.
10. What’s the biggest misconception about the current workforce?
Many employers seem frustrated with young people because “they’re not as committed to the job” or “wanting more while giving less.” I believe all employees want to be a part of a successful team. They want to enjoy coming to work. They want structure and a sense of knowing the company is growing and improving and they want to be a part of it. We’ve seen 19-year-old employees and 60-year-old employees committed to the cause.
11. What challenges do you see in the next few years?
To maintain a solid, dedicated and trained workforce. The technology continues to improve and training is crucial. This industry will always be competitive so you have to let the client know what differentiates you from the rest and why your company is the one with which they should partner.
12. Where do you see the most significant growth in this industry?
I do believe that the largest opportunity for growth is coming with different applications for mini-split equipment. Ductless products will continue to provide opportunities for us.
13. What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Seeing friendships here grow over the years while revenues continue to move towards what we envisioned as our potential. We have 250 years of experience working just at Hetter amongst our 24 employees.
14. Who’s been your biggest role model?
My father, by far. He passed away of lung cancer when I was 19. He was my best friend at the time. He taught me the value of faith, family and hard work. He taught me the valuable lesson of thanking God for every day and being thankful for the people in your life.
15. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The best business advice is from Barry Burnett, co-founder of Business Development Resources: “What Gets Measured Improves.”
16. How do you ensure your company isn’t getting too big?
We’ve grown steadily over the past 12 years. Some would argue not enough, but it has been manageable growth. We have built a solid foundation for the 24 families who represent us. John has invested back into his staff over time and not all people do this. When employees are happy the client feels this. Retaining employees and clients are key today and for always.
17. How important is a company culture?
Company culture is crucial and something that needs worked on every day. You can’t simply create a mission statement and post it on the wall. You have to live it and breathe it and promote it constantly.
18. How do you ensure you’re getting the quality you expect from your team?
We still value customer feedback and peer evaluations. We ask for referrals. We ask for Google reviews. We want to know where we can improve. We ask employees how they’re doing and even ask how teammates are doing out there on the jobs. Feedback is a great measuring stick. We demand that Quality Installation Forms are received with each installation and we require temperature readings and pressure gauge readings on our invoices. Everyone knows we have a reputation to uphold.
19. What innovations impress you the most?
The new phone apps really impress me. The information we have at our fingertips and the abilities we have to communicate and get instant feedback is incredible.
20. How do you manage profitability?
This is my No. 1 job responsibility. I track cash flow daily. We track payables, receivables, income projections, checking accounts, warranty reserves, payroll and maintenance totals weekly. Most Importantly, I track our top 10 indicators monthly. These range from leads, sales and service revenue to install revenue and accessory sales. We compare this each month to our 5-year previous YTD actuals.