Meet the Wholesaler: Keith S. Kruysman
Foregoing bad advice and making the occasional bold move can help a company take wing
Name: Keith Kruysman
Company: Portland Winair
Number of Locations: 1
Number of Employees: 25
Year Founded: 1974
Major Product Lines: American Standard Heating and Air, Mitsubishi Electric, JP Lambourn Flex, Milwaukee Tool, Mars, Diversitech
Drawing from many sources over the years, Keith Kruysman has developed a system at Portland Winair Co., designed to help employees succeed — in their current jobs and sometimes in future positions. As one might imagine, the system has worked out pretty well for Portland Winair, too.
Get to know a little more about Kruysman and his organization in this Meet The Wholesaler interview.
What was the hardest decision that you have had to make in the business up until now?
Kruysman: The hardest decision I made, over 20 years ago, was to switch equipment manufacturers. We were selling Heil equipment at the time, along with five other distributors in a small market. We made an agreement with American Standard (a new brand for us) at that time, and our customer base switched with us.
Switching brands on major lines is a gamble, and it may have been the hardest decision, but it turned out to be the best decision.
I’m interested in your company’s training and business management offering — how did you start that side of your business, and how has it evolved?
Kruysman: I’ll start by explaining how I started. The last day of my senior year in high school, I started as a truck driver for a Win company. By age 20, I had learned most of the jobs inside of the company and moved on to outside sales.
After a couple of years, there was a new HVAC Winair opening, and I worked with that company for five years. In 1987, I became president of Portland Winair, which was struggling to stay afloat.
Today, we are a leader in our marketplace and continue to offer world-class service with world-class products. Training and business management starts from day one with employees. We invest a great deal of money and time in our employees and customers. All of our employees are exposed to the finances of the company in order to train and have a full understanding of the overall goals.
The majority of our employees start at a delivering position. The reason is that they see products installed, get to know the customers, and learn the sense of urgency on correct, timely delivered goods. As they move up through the company, this culture teaches new employees the same discipline and therefore builds continuity in the system.
And how did this attitude translate to resources for your customers?
Kruysman: Customer training and employee training were hand in hand in the beginning. We budgeted quite a bit of money early on in our company development. We trained our customer base on high-efficiency and variable-speed products. We did both service training and sales training in the early days of these products.
Our goal and thought process was that if a dealer could be comfortable servicing high-tech equipment, then they would sell it to the consumer. It paid off well, as our percentage of the high-end equipment grew every year. Our customers benefit from those sales with better profit margins and happy customers.
We followed this with our sales team, including an option on every quote for high-efficiency products as well. Tech training continues yearly, using both equipment supplied trainers and our own technical staff.
I always say that our sales department can get us new customers, but our technical support can keep customers.
Visiting your company’s website, I was surprised to see load calculations among the available services.
Kruysman: Load calculations are something we do for both residential and commercial. As it is very time consuming, we do them as a service, but we also work with software companies to get our customers up to speed so they can do their own. We hold training to teach the correct way to size a system.
What motivational approach/tactic has been most effective for you in your career with regard to the employees you manage?
Kruysman: Risk/reward is the base of Winsupply. We are partners in business, and most of us have skin in the game. The risk is that our base salary is not what one would expect, but we are paid a bonus on our operating profit.
We are doing this for the ownership and profit sharing, not for the day’s pay. If you bet on yourself and do well, the sky is the limit. We also can start new companies with employees in new areas and invest in those opportunities.
All the employees of the company know that the more profitable we are, the larger the year-end bonus will be for them. Productivity, execution of order of processes, customer relationships, and team-building make motivational meetings easier.
How is your company dealing with the ongoing threat of e-commerce and consumer-direct sales?
Kruysman: E-commerce in HVAC is a factor to a segment of the customer base. At this time, most of our customers prefer the relationship, support, and service outside of the online business. There is a heavy demand for our knowledge that online just doesn’t have. HVAC equipment sales direct to a consumer is happening, and in my mind, it can only lead to problems. We sell to HVAC contractors only.
What was the worst business advice you ever got?
Kruysman: The worst advice I ever received was to chase large new construction housing jobs for the volume early in my career. “Don’t worry, you’ll make money.”
He forgot to say, “If you get paid!”
Is there a business leader (or someone from any discipline or profession) whom you admire or even try to emulate? Why?
Kruysman: I have been lucky to be trained early on by Henry Panza, Ed D’amico, Calvin Grout (who hired me), Stan Reznicek, as well as many others. Ward Allen was a mentor in helping me fine tune my company. Each one of them has contributed in many ways to my success.
Our company has systems and management in place that can take a high school-educated person like myself and teach them to run and own their own company. I try to learn and take knowledge or ideas every time I meet someone new. I owe a lot of my success to listening, learning, and operating outside the box.
I notice you’re a prior winner of Winsupply’s HVAC Company of the Year award. Is there something specific that happened that year that you would share with other distributors?
Kruysman: Portland Winair has won many awards for performance over the years. The truth is that all of those awards are made possible by our customers, employees, Winsupply, and the manufacturers reps. You can’t get to the top without lines like American Standard, Mitsubishi, and other world-class manufacturers and products.
What would be your dream job outside of this industry?
Kruysman: Being a pilot is my dream job. I love aviation, and before I retire, I want to own and fly my own plane. Hopefully a Cessna T210 or P210!
Want to read more? See more articles from this issue here!