Tom Weinrich: The Rocky Mountain Relationship Builder
Name: Tom Weinrich
Company: Denver Winair Co.
Number of Locations: 1
Number of Employees: 13
Year Founded: 1976
Major Product Lines: American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning, Rinnai, LG, GeoStar, A.O. Smith
Tell me a little bit more about your company.
Weinrich: I rolled into Denver almost 30 years ago to the day. The business was doing about $700,000 annually and losing money due to the oil bust. Today, we have eight separate Winair companies doing more than $45 million. Denver Winair started out in a 3,500-square-foot warehouse and now, after about eight different expansion projects, we have about 27,500 square feet. The Rocky Mountain Winairs are a group of separately owned companies that started out of Colorado and have turned into a force in the Rocky Mountain region. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be instrumental in helping other entrepreneurs start, invest, and build their own Winair locations.
How did you end up in the HVACR distribution industry?
Weinrich: I grew up in a family meat processing business. We processed wild game and domestic beef, which also included wholesale and retail meat. I was being groomed to eventually take over the family business and was being taught by my father and grandfather. My grandfather, who had a sixth-grade education, ran the business from 1948-1976, and it was wildly successful. I attribute that success to my father and grandfather’s kindness. They lived by the golden rule. I was raised in a family of entrepreneurs. We had four family businesses during my childhood and adolescent years, so entrepreneurship is in my blood. Unfortunately, my mother and father died prematurely in a tragic accident when I was 19. I was forced to drop out of college and start my career. It was a very sad time in life, but I did not have the luxury to ponder my future. I had to go with what felt right to me and utilize the life skills I had been taught thus far. At that time, I had started working at Winair in Casper, Wyoming, but I quickly grew tired of being in a small town. So, I decided to move to Denver and started working for Denver Winair Co.
What’s the biggest difference between meat processing distribution and HVACR distribution?
Weinrich: Shelf life [laughter]. While these are two different industries, they’re actually very similar. Very simply put, both are relationship-based. In the 1970s, my grandfather was doing about $1 million a year in a town of 35,000 people. Everyone was friends with my father and grandfather. They gave the utmost respect to everyone regardless if they were the hunters who brought in their deer from the day’s kill, the ranchers who owned 24,000 acres, the restaurant owners, or the cooks. In HVACR distribution, if I give the same respect to the business owners and to all the technicians and install crews that work for the contractors, history has shown they’ll remember this kindness when they eventually go out on their own or join different businesses.
When you got to Denver Winair, what was your first job, and how did you end up owning the company?
Weinrich: I worked as an inside salesman, at the counter, and even purchased the monthly inventory when I first arrived, which turned into operations and eventually outside sales. We had a board meeting, and the manager at the time wasn’t doing a great job. He recommended to the stock holders that we close up business, because we just could not be successful in the Denver market. We adjourned that meeting early, and I was called back to meet with the board afterward. We all agreed that perhaps we needed new leadership. We discussed it, and they offered me a deal. If I could make money three months in a row, they would sell me controlling interest at a discounted amount. So, I surpassed their goal, which led to a call from the president of Winsupply (WinWholesale at the time), who offered me the position. The problem was, I didn’t have the necessary money to handle the initial investment. I was 20 years old and hadn’t quite gotten my financial feet underneath me. With no real assets and no family to borrow the money from, he cosigned on a loan for me. Less than one year later, I was able to pay that loan off.
You operate your business within the Winsupply family of corporations. Can you explain how that works?
Weinrich: Winsupply creates and empowers the entrepreneurial spirit. We have nearly 600 corporations — not branches — across the U.S. Every single one is a separate C-corp. If one of our team members in Denver is in need of an item from the North Denver Winair location that’s 15 miles away, we can’t just arbitrarily call that location up and take the item. We have to communicate with the individual at that location, ask if he or she can spare it, and then receive the part with a purchase order. We are completely autonomous. Every president has a personal investment in each of his or her own companies. The Winsupply business model of personal ownership offers a high potential return on investment. We are required to reach a minimum of a 20 percent return on investment, but we expect 30 percent. Now, that return on investment is without a cap or ceiling, it can get as high as we can make it. I have personally been involved in businesses that exceeded a 130 percent return on investment. I also provide business and financial coaching for some of our contractor clients, which helps them get their expenses and operating ratios in line. These owner-to-owner conversations have helped to raise the level of contractor clients with which we do business. Also, when they talk with me about something they need, they know I can make the decision. I do not have to talk to a branch manager, regional manager, sales manager, vice president of sales, etc. I am the single largest stockholder at Denver Winair Co., so I have all of the responsibility and authority.
Tell me about one influential business decision you made early in your career that worked out in your favor.
Weinrich: For me, it wasn’t just one moment, rather one influential belief: always abide by the golden rule. Humility has to be present in business. The individuals who come to our counters and call into our businesses are truly those who are signing our paychecks. The day we forget that is the first day of our going-out-of-business sale. We have to always do what is best for the partnership between ourselves and our contractor clients.
Can you share one incident in your professional career that you regret?
Weinrich: I absolutely can, and I get to see that decision every day. A husband and wife co-owned a contractor in our area, and they were headed toward a divorce. A naïve Tom Weinrich at the time elected to take a side. I sided with the husband. He lost in the divorce, and she got the business. That company is still in business today, and I have not sold her diddly squat. Now, I get to see it every day because the husband had season tickets for the Colorado Rockies, and he gifted me the first week’s worth of game tickets in a frame. While handing them over, he said, “I could never have been as successful as I was without your help.” It’s been hanging on my wall for decades. I’m not even a Rockies fan, but I keep it up because it reminds me daily of the lesson I needed to learn. That lesson: Never pick sides because you have a 50-50 chance of losing.
What’s your greatest strength as a business owner?
Weinrich: I’m a happy, energetic, and motivating individual. I absolutely love what I do so much that I have no need for an alarm. We all have those challenging days, where we may lose a customer or something important, but I absolutely love what I do and who I work with. They are my work family.
What has been your greatest challenge of the last five years?
Weinrich: The availability of quality teammates and customers. We are constantly looking for good additions, and we are hiring attitude and teaching aptitude. We would rather bring someone in who has the right attitude and fits in our culture than an individual who has all the knowledge and struggles in our culture. The unemployment rate in Denver is 2 percent. In addition to our teammates, our customers have to be quality customers as well. Our business models are changing, and customers are struggling with some of the things we are struggling with. We remain focused on helping contractors train their teams because the labor shortage is epidemic. Many are struggling to find qualified employees as well.
What challenge do you anticipate being the most pressing over the next five to 10 years?
Weinrich: Technology is moving faster and faster. I know e-commerce is an important part of where our business is going because it’s convenient for technicians or business owners to order online, but, by doing so, we lose that personal relationship. That is a big fear of ours going forward. As business becomes less personal, do we lose a piece of our connection? We utilize phone calls or face-to-face meetings to upsell and utilize different sales tactics. You cannot hear emotion, empathy, or passion through a text or email like you do over the phone. When I first got involved in the business, you could only call or meet in person. Then, we had pagers, which would lead to a meeting or call. Now, we have email and text messaging, which strip a lot of the emotion out of today’s personal interactions.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 19-year-old former self?
Weinrich: All of my adult life I have had insecurities that I do not have a college education. My friends tell me that the skills I portray could not be taught in a classroom and that a college education is not synonymous with business success. I’m proud of my unconventional entrance into the industry. I’m truly self-made. I had to take the situation that life handed me, pull myself up by my boot straps, and create my own legacy. In talking to myself at 19, I would remind myself to stick with Winsupply. It’s an entrepreneurial business model that is tried and true. I own stock in nine separate Winsupply locations, and it’s helped me build a happy, enjoyable, and successful career. And, of course, I would repeat what my father and grandfather told me: Treat people how you want to be treated. That is the true cornerstone to success.