As a kid in the mid-‘70s, Jonathan Duncklee remembers the white business phone sitting on the kitchen counter. That phone served as the main line for the business, then called L.H. Duncklee Refrigeration Inc., that Duncklee’s father, Les, had started. Eventually, Les Duncklee grew the company to serve a large portion of Eastern Connecticut and moved into a prime location on Route 1. The company also changed its name to Duncklee Heating and Cooling Inc.
Jonathan Duncklee worked as an apprentice during the summer and on holidays while pursuing a bachelor of science degree in business marketing from Bryant College. There was no plan for Jonathan Duncklee to join the family business. He came to help out during the early ‘90s recession. Les Duncklee also hired a consultant to improve the company’s performance and one of the first untapped resources he spotted was Jonathan Duncklee, who went to work as a salesman.
Today, the company does mostly residential work, with some commercial jobs, and specializes in ductless technology. Jonathan Duncklee took over as president after his father died in 2014. Duncklee Inc. Heating and Cooling operates out of a 6,400-square-foot building in Stonnington, Connecticut, right off Interstate 95.
ACHR NEWS: What is the current state of the company?
Duncklee: We’ve been with Mitsubishi since the 1980s, when the entire U.S. operation consisted of four employees. We really embraced the technology. I call myself a ductless pioneer. I was out offering if when no one had a clue about it and it was a limited line. The products have really evolved with many more options. We used to have a high labor-to-equipment ration. Now you have a high equipment-to-labor ratio. You’re chances of being profitable are much higher with lower risk.
ACHR NEWS: What do you do on the commercial side?
Duncklee: We do a lot of rooftop replacements for office buildings, some nursing homes. Every year is different. Some years we get a lot of business and some years we get less. We don’t do a lot of bid-and-spec. We like to get in and get out.
ACHR NEWS: You offer financing through Green Bank. How has that worked out for you?
Duncklee: For repairs, people mostly use credit cards. That’s mostly for new systems. Coupled with the utility incentives for energy efficiency, it’s very effective. If you don’t offer financing, people can’t take advantage of it. So we leave behind the information. It’s much easier for us if they just write a check. The financing process takes time and effort to walk people through it.
They build submarines here. The General Dynamics EB contracts have drawn a lot of people to the area. We also have two large casinos here — Mohegan Suns and Foxwoods. In the ‘90s, with the downturn at EB, it was painful. The casino opened, but those were lower paying jobs. That’s why I like to let people know that financing is available.
Unlike other programs, I don’t have to pay Green Bank to offer financing. I have never understood why I have to pay to offer someone’s financing. Car dealers actually get paid when they offer financing. It’s an unsecured loan, which I get, but they are charging 18 percent. That’s supposed to cover the losses.
ACHR NEWS: What do you do in your community?
Duncklee: We sponsor a lot of events and I’m physically present at these events. I give my time; I serve on a lot of committees. We help a lot of organizations. It helps with branding, but also I live here and I want to make this a better place.
ACHR NEWS: What do you do to retain employees?
Duncklee: I understand that families have priorities. I work on providing continuing education and licensing upgrades. I hold a giant party at my house every year for employees, vendors, and some customers. I give out awards to my employees. I give gifts for years of service. Everyone here has been with the company for at least 15 years.
I’m considerate. I’m fair. I’m very involved in my business. I’m the first one here and the last one to leave. I like people to succeed. It makes me feel really good to provide people with the tools and knowledge to succeed, whatever their goals dreams are.
ACHR NEWS: What do you do to keep your customers happy?
Duncklee: We do everything they complain that our competition doesn’t do. We show up on time, we’re courteous. I teach all the soft skills. I talk at the tech schools about soft skills. I actually hire on soft skills. Most companies hire on technical skills and fire on soft skills.
I took a customer to breakfast the other day and set up her thermostat. I provide that level of caring service that nobody does anymore. It’s so easy just to care. I tell my employees, don’t talk about religion or politics, turn the lights off if they were off. It’s just basic respect.
ACHR NEWS: What do you see as the biggest challenge?
Duncklee: Providing affordable healthcare benefits. I left my agent, who I had been with forever, for a Chamber-endorsed group. We’re a healthy group, so they saved my $20,000 while getting better benefits.
Also, getting young people in the trades. The submarine also struggle to get young people in the trades — welders, electricians, etc. People don’t understand that they shove college down their kids’ throats and then they get out and they’re pouring coffee at Starbucks. You need to people fix us. When a customer calls us and complains because we can’t get there for three weeks, that’s because they don’t support the trades. The distributors and manufacturers need to support the trade schools or nobody is going to be able to install their systems.
ACHR NEWS: What do you see as your biggest opportunity?
Duncklee: The Internet, with search-engine optimization, is the biggest opportunity. I have a service that has trained me on that. We push out content, all the little tricks to move up organically. It’s working. We also have a Facebook page.