David Heckler: A Winning Pattern
Q: Tell us a little about your business and the lines you carry.
David Heckler: We’re HVAC system specialists, pure and simple. We strive to offer unparalleled technical assistance from beginning to end. This is one of our key core values — and differentiators such as tech assistance and training have been peeled away due to lower margins. Because of our focus on systems, we have been able to enhance our technical offerings. We have three branches and have been fortunate to double our business in the past five years. We’ve definitely had accelerated growth during the last decade or so. Our major product lines are American Standard and Mitsubishi ductless and VRF systems.
Q: I had the pleasure of knowing your father and interviewing him. He was a real gentleman. What was the hardest part of the transition when you took over from your dad?
David Heckler: The transition went extremely well. I had worked hand-in-hand with my dad since 1986, when I was 22. We spent so much time together when I was practicing Judo, about 10 to 12 hours a week from age 8-18, I believe there were no surprises in personality and work ethic. The hardest part of the transition was that when my dad disengaged from CSI; he removed himself rather quickly. He was still there for me, and I talked to him two to three times per week, but, frankly, I wish we could have worked another 10 years together in the trenches. He passed away in 2013, and he was my mentor and the best teacher I ever had.
Q: If you could fix ONE BIG thing in the HVACR industry, what would it be?
David Heckler: Training, training and more training, and more engagement, more often. Companies often tell me they don’t have time to train, yet their quality and employee retention rates are sinking. It’s another backbone of our company.
Q: Where do you see your company in 10 years? Remember, I’ll be back in 10 years to see if you’re accurate.
David Heckler: I see CSI as a strong regional player, continuing to define system specialist — really a different type of wholesaler pioneering new products in our market. [I also see us] adding more pre-sale and post-sale services that truly help our contractors succeed with their customers.
Q: What’s a secret passion or interest of yours that you seldom tell people? We won’t tell anyone except the readers of Distribution Center magazine. Tell us something about it.
David Heckler: I’m a huge reggae music fan. I’ve been into it since late high school. I’m also a fan of punk and new wave music from the 1980s. For my 50th birthday, my wife, Marci, hired The English Beat for a private party at a small local bar. I was reliving my youth!!
Q: When you’re not sure about a business decision, what do you do? Do you have a mentor, turn to a business guru or pray for guidance?
David Heckler: I get opinions from our team, my son Brendan [vice president and part of the ownership team], industry peers and our legal and accounting advisers. At the end of the day, it becomes a gut call, and don’t look back. One thing my dad was big on was “no regrets” — no would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. Make a well-thought-out decision and move on.
Q: You were the Junior Pan American Judo Champion. You almost gave up the HVAC business to train in Japan. What was your favorite judo throw, and why did you decide to pass on studying in Japan?
David Heckler: Kouchi gari [minor inner reaping] was my favorite throw; it’s not flashy, but, like most Judo throws, it can be very effective. It kind of fits my personality. I’m going to keep working and working and working, gaining small wins, and eventually it’s overwhelming for my competitor. I passed on studying in Japan because it was a whole different level of commitment, probably two to three years (suspending my college). I think I looked at the big picture, and thought it was time to “get on with my life’s work,” as Chuck Noll would have said. I do think about Dr. [Jigaro] Kano’s [the founder of Judo] principles often — they’re great life lessons!
Q: What was the dumbest business advice you ever got? Explain.
David Heckler: Build it [a branch] and they will come. We can’t afford to take anything for granted, ever.
Q: As a wholesaler, what do you see as the two or three most significant threats to the HVACR business?
David Heckler: Lack of training on all levels and manufacturers that may not have good intel of local market conditions, yet make crucial decisions that impact contractors and wholesalers.
Q: What’s your favorite book or news source? Why?
David Heckler: Twitter. I’m not from the kids’ generation, but I do enjoy technology! Twitter gives me the latest news from many perspectives. I’m super active on Twitter@davecsi and Facebook, especially for a 52-year-old in our industry.
Q: If you sold your business tomorrow, what would you do?
David Heckler: I would probably find some way to teach. I love to watch people grow and achieve great things. It’s really all about leaving a legacy that has an impact on others.
Q: If you were in a band, what instrument would you play and why?
David Heckler: Drums — kind of in the back, yet the backbone of the group. I’ll let the lead singer get the big credit!