Taking care of customers is a fundamental requirement of HVACR distribution success, and, undoubtedly, each of the companies featured in Distribution Center’s Top 50 list provide exceptional customer service.

The ways in which these wholesalers differentiate themselves are defined by their cultures — the framework that proactively propels their daily performance and impacts everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, structurally and organizationally.

While most claim to harbor cultures, many have difficulty quantifying, defining, and pinpointing their cultural attributes.

So, what are the exact ingredients necessary to concoct a cultural recipe for HVACR distribution success? We asked several of the companies on our Top 50 list — and many aiming to make the list — to describe the components that constitute their championship cultures. While many of the responses were harmonious, others were unique in their own special ways.

Creative Cultures

The culture of Houston-based Century A/C Supply, which ranked No. 16 in Distribution Center’s Top 50 Distributors of 2018 list, enlists the spirit of the squirrel, the way of the beaver, and the gift of the goose.

The book “Gung Ho” by Ken Blanchard describes how an American factory facilitated a cultural change based upon old Indian wisdom. After reading the book, Rick Luke, president, Century A/C Supply, elected to implement its principles within the company’s culture. 

“The spirit of the squirrel represents worthwhile work,” said Renata Morgan, director of marketing and IT, Century A/C Supply. “It notes that everyone’s job is equally important, and all the work that is accomplished is worthwhile. The way of the beaver relates to being in control of achieving a cumulative goal, and the gift of the goose signifies our need to cheer each other on.”

The principles all mesh during the company’s annual Gung Ho meeting in February, where employees receive equal profit-sharing checks.

“The equality in these bonus checks reinforces the philosophy that all jobs are equally important,” Morgan said. “It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when they see the animals as they walk into our locations. They’ll ask, ‘What’s up with the squirrel and goose?’ It always makes us smile. There truly is a worthwhile message behind it, and it’s worked really well for us.”

Tualatin, Oregon-based Airefco Inc.’s culture follows four core values: integrity, reliability, resourcefulness, and outstanding service.

“Our aftermarket manager, Lance Poole-Hussa, recently implemented a recognition plan that rewards employee achievement with custom-made coins that are inscribed with the four core values as well as our logo,” said Brandon Bateman, director of supply chain, Airefco.  “We reward these through three tiers of achievement. The first coin is given to someone who’s demonstrated exceptional day-to-day value. The next level, the director coins, signify performance that exceeds the norm. The final coin, the presidential coin, demonstrates superior value and recognizes employees who have exceeded expectations. We’ve rewarded a number of coins thus far and will continue to recognize employees in this manner.”


Customers First

Ferguson Enterprises, which ranked No. 3 on this year’s Top 50 list, has built a culture centered on best-in-class customer service provided by its trusted associates.

“Our mission statement is that, at every step of the way, we serve communities and industries by connecting people with the expertise and solutions necessary to power success,” said Carlton Harwood, vice president for HVAC, Ferguson. “One of the most important parts of Ferguson’s culture is our associates. They’re committed, knowledgeable, and passionate about this industry. Ferguson’s HVAC associates have an intrinsic desire to contribute to our customers’ success, and by investing in our associates’ personal and professional growth, we invest in this culture.”

A team commitment to customer service highlights the culture at New Lenox, Illinois-based Munch’s Supply, which ranked No. 12 on this year’s Top 50 list.

“Our goal is to have what customers need when they need it,” said Mary Jo Hann, director of marketing and communications, Munch’s. “We do this by carrying quality equipment and stocking more than 10,000 pieces per branch with one-hour will call and on-demand delivery. We also offer dedicated technical and commercial training and marketing support.”

Midlothian, Virginia-based Value Added Distributors (VAD), which ranked No. 23, deemed its customers the lifeblood of the business.

“We pledge to undertake every task and obligation with a sense of urgency and caring,” said Chris Baker, president and CEO, VAD. “We’re dedicated solely to the HVAC industry and the people within that industry.”

Baker said VAD staffs a full-time director-level position dedicated to customer service and employee development. Additionally, the company hosts a list of service promises that may be viewed by customers at any time and backs them up with definitive satisfaction guarantees.

“This level of transparency allows our customers to know exactly how we define outstanding customer service,” Baker said. “They’re reminded repeatedly to expect more from us and that we’ll meet their expectations only if we demand the best from ourselves.”


Family First

Aaron Braun, IT and operations director, G.W. Berkheimer Co. Inc., Portage, Indiana, said the company, which ranked No. 20 on this year’s Top 50 list, has always had a family-first culture.

“As a young employee of Berkheimer, I remember very clearly being scolded by the then president of the company for being at work the same day my dad was going in for surgery,” he said. “A healthy work and life balance is an important part of the Berkheimer culture.”

Maintaining a family culture is also beneficial when employees falter.

“As a company grows in size, maintaining a consistent culture can be challenging,” Braun said. “When the culture is tested, there are always those in the company who can keep the culture strong by sharing how the family culture has impacted them.”

Countryside, Illinois-based ILLCO Wholesale Distributors’ culture  emphasizes strong relationships with employees, customers, and vendors.

“As internet sellers continue to disrupt our channel, we need to differentiate ourselves with our knowledge and expertise,” said Karen Madonia, CFO, ILLCO. “We strive to be the best partners possible to our customers and our vendors, and we offer extensive training to employees to enable them to not only sell but also help our contractor customers solve problems.”

Winsupply Inc., which ranked No. 6 on this list, cherishes an entrepreneurial culture that is built out of respect and hard work.

“Respect can only come when employees transform from individuals who have to show up to do a job to people who come to work every day with a desire to do better,” said Tom Weinrich, president of Denver Winair, which was recently honored as Winsupply’s National Sales Company of the Year. “We only team interview, and we hire attitude not aptitude. Everyone on our team has an equal vote. When we determine someone is not a fit, they’re gone quickly, because they not only cost financial resources but cultural resources, which is way more valuable.”


Charitable Endeavors

Cultural Quotations

Maybe your distributorship has yet to establish a culture or perhaps your crumbling cultural infrastructure is in need of a face-lift. Here are some quick culture tips courtesy of some of the most successful HVACR distributors nationwide.

  • “Nurture a culture that aligns with your core business objectives, welcomes change, and invests in people,” said Carlton Harwood, vice president for HVAC, Ferguson. “Customers are your lifeblood, but associates are the heart that keeps things flowing.”
  • “Our team grows closer through numerous team outings, such as rafting, golf, bowling, zip lining, go-cart racing, picnics, etc.,” said Tom Weinrich, president, Denver Winair. “I am a firm believer if you have fun with team members outside of work, you are more apt to get to know them on a personal level, and you’ll work better together during the work day.”
    “Do the right thing and do the thing right,” said J.K. Hussa, owner, Airefco Inc.
  • “Treat customers as friends and employees as family,” said Renata Morgan, director of marketing and IT, Century A/C Supply.
  • “Work diligently to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off,” said Troy Meachum, president, ACR Supply Co.

A vital part of ABCO HVACR Supply + Solutions’ culture is geared toward giving back.

“ABCO actively participates in many charitable initiatives from helping victims of Hurricane Sandy to helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity and disabled vets to hosting annual golf tournament fundraisers for the Make a Wish Foundation,” said Tony Tanzillo, chief sales officer, ABCO, which ranked No. 15 on this year’s Top 50 list. “Many of our contractors and manufacturers partner with us in these endeavors and truly appreciate the ability to give back to the communities we serve.”

This charitable culture extends into ABCO’s desire to inspire the next generation of HVACR professionals.

“For 11 years, ABCO has hosted an annual HVACR Vocational Day in Boston that welcomes 250-plus students, which helps enlighten the community about the opportunities and careers in HVACR,” Tanzillo said.

Troy Meachum, president of Durham, North Carolina-based ACR Supply Co., said ACR prioritizes fellowship within its culture.

“At ACR Supply, we currently operate an initiative called ACR Cares, where we’re doing a lot of things in the community,” he said. “We’re working with Operation Resolute, which ministers to military personnel and their families. We’ve hosted a father-and-son float down one of North Carolina’s biggest rivers, held a daddy-daughter dance, did some work with the Ronald McDonald House, and every one of our storefronts houses an Angel Tree during the holidays. Additionally, we’re in the process of building an orphanage in Burkina Faso.”