20 Questions

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20 Questions

20 Questions with Keith Ouimette

Chief Operating Officer at Cardinal Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electric

Originally published
Originally published: 6/1/2024

Publisher Terry Tanker sat down with Keith Ouimette, Chief Operating Officer at Cardinal Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electric in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, one of our Tops In Trucks Fleet Design Contest winners. The two discussed fleet design, rebranding the company and managing a family business.  

1.    How did you get your start in the HVAC industry?

My father (Rick) started in the plumbing and heating business when he was a teenager, working for his father, who owned his own business.

2.    Is your father still involved?

Yes, my parents, Rick and Sharon, are the founders and majority owners of Cardinal. My brother Craig and I own a small percentage. Both my parents are still involved in the business.  My mom (Sharon) works two days per week, assisting with the accounting and HR team and being the heart of the company. She loves baking and sharing her great treats with the staff.  Rick is the first one to the office every day.  While he’s stepped back and let us take more control, he doesn’t have any plans of retiring in the near future.

3.    Why was the company named Cardinal back in 1984?

 We were living in Sun Prairie, WI, when my parents decided to start their own HVAC business, and they came up with “Cardinal” because the Cardinal was the mascot for our only high school at that time.  Everyone recognized the Sun Prairie Cardinals, so it just made sense. 

4.    What is your business mix?

Seventy percent of our business is HVAC, with HVAC install being the largest. Plumbing is about 20% of the business. Electrical makes up about 10% of our business.

5.    Can you describe your company’s business philosophy?

      Providing exceptional customer service at a fair price.  We live by our core values of teamwork, customer first, committed to excellence, forward thinking and do what’s right. This is what we’ve always done.

6.    What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of managing a family business? 

Family business is hard.  You have to accept that this is just a business and not take everything personally.  Our mindsets have changed over the past few years, and we are now all about the greater good of the company, because we have 150-plus families we are responsible for, and they are all relying on us to lead the company to success.

7.    How many vehicles are in your fleet? 

Currently, we have 134 vehicles in our fleet.  Ford Transits are the newest vans in our fleet and will be the primary vehicle moving forward. We also have GMC and Chevrolet Express vans and cube vans. Our sales department uses GMC Acadias as well as GMC and Chevrolet pickup trucks.

8.    Why have you decided on the Ford Transits to be your primary vehicles?

When GM could no longer fulfill our orders for multiple years, we started to look at other manufacturers.  The Ford Transit has a very nice van, and so far, we have no issues getting vehicles when we need them.  Also, living in Wisconsin, the all-wheel drive option on the Transit vans is a plus.

9.    How did you come up with the idea for this fleet design? 

Our fleet has changed over the years.  We have used GM standard vans for service, cube vans for install, pickup trucks for parts runners, and Acadias for our sales team.  We do like the idea of having a more standardized van, which is another positive with the switch to Ford Transits.  Now, all our vans will be set up the same way, making it easier to order inventory, audit inventory and know up front what a new fleet vehicle will cost for budgeting.

10.    When was this design implemented?

We rolled out our design on April 1st, 2024, which was also our 40th anniversary.

11.    How many vehicles currently feature this design?

Close to 50% of our fleet has the new design now. We have two different wrap companies working on the balance of our fleet with the goal of having the fleet completed.  The goal would be to have all vehicles switched to the new wrap by Jan. 1st, 2025.

12.    Is this design part of a larger company branding initiative?

Yes, when we started we were exclusively an HVAC company, and we’ve expanded to provide plumbing and electrical services as well.

13.    Which services followed HVAC and why?

Plumbing came first after HVAC.  We added plumbing mainly because of all the work we were doing with solar hot water and hydronic systems at the time.  Years later, we added electrical mainly because we were subbing out electricians all the time for our HVAC installs, and it just made sense to have that in house. Shortly after adding both of these services, we had to hire more techs because once our customers found out we offered these services, we had a hard time keeping up with demand.

14.    What type of investment have you put into your fleet marketing campaign?

We've put a lot of money into our fleet marketing. We will probably end up close to 600k by the time we get all of our vehicles wrapped.

15.    Have you seen a return on this investment? 

While I can't show it on paper, we know there is a return because we hear it all the time that people see us everywhere. We also have people searching for our name on Google versus just a generic search for service.

16.    How have customers responded to your fleet design?

We’ve had very positive feedback so far, and again, customers are always telling us they see our fleet everywhere. I had a friend who goes south for the winter and came back this spring and said, "I can't drive five minutes without seeing a Cardinal van."...We love hearing that!

17.    How have your employees responded?

Some were hesitant on the new design at first, but they've all fallen in love with the new brand.

18.    How many of your employees were involved with the rebranding effort?

This was mainly Rick, Craig & myself, but after we got through the initial rough draft designs, we included our leadership team, which is made up of six people.

19.    What element of your fleet design do you feel is most important for helping you stand out from your competition?

The Cardinal logo and the colors. Creating the right brand is very important.  We had a brand that people recognized before, but this new design jumps out at you.

20.    If you could start the process over again, what would you do differently?

I'm not sure we would have done anything differently. And I honestly wouldn't want to start again. It's really a tough, time-consuming, expensive process. But I believe it’s all worth it in the end.

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