Name: Sid Harvey
Company: Sid Harvey’s
Number of Locations: 80
Number of Employees: 500
Year Founded: 1931
Main Lines: Copeland, Heatcraft, Honeywell/Resideo, Bosch, Rheem, Fujitsu, International Comfort Products, Weil-McClain, Mueller
Sid Harvey’s marks its 90th anniversary this year. The distributor’s celebration extends from its Garden City, New York, headquarters to outlets throughout the mid-Atlantic and New England, as far south as North Carolina and South Carolina, through several states across the upper Midwest, and out to five westernmost posts in Colorado and Wyoming.
Sid Harvey still serves at the top of the company, but of course, it’s a different Sid Harvey. For his own tenure as leader, the grandson of the founder has gleaned some guidance and inspiration from a famous California sports figure, as he explains in this edition of Meet The Wholesaler.
DT: Reading your company history, I was struck by how the inevitability of market change was built into your company from the start, when Mr. Harvey realized coal heating systems were on the way out.
Has there been a transition of some sort that you’re particularly proud of, with regard to your team’s ability to work through a significant shift in market conditions or internal operations?
As you mentioned, our company was started by my grandfather in 1931 as an oil burner and oil burner parts supplier. Currently, we are a full-service heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration equipment, accessories, parts, and installation supplies distributor. The transition has been taking place since my father took over the business in 1959 when my grandfather died. I am especially proud of our recent growth on the refrigeration side of our business. We have several newer Copeland-authorized locations, and our overall refrigeration business is up about 30% this year.
Throughout our history, we have operated a manufacturing division that primarily remanufactured and manufactured products for the oil heat industry. In the mid-1970s, there were approximately 24 million homes heated by oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are about 5.5 million homes using oil today. The people in our manufacturing division are doing an excellent job diversifying our product line to include more items for the air conditioning and refrigeration business.
In addition, the oil heat industry is currently transitioning to Bioheat: a combination of No. 2 fuel oil and renewable fuel made from primarily plant-based material. Our manufacturing division has the most complete product offering for B20 Bioheat products in the industry.
DT: What was the worst business advice you ever got?
I try not to dwell on bad advice, but I think the worst advice I ever got was “You have to take care of No. 1,” meaning to put yourself first.
Our business is based on providing goods and services in a way that makes our customers and suppliers more profitable. I believe I should not merely look out for my own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
DT: Tell us about the meaning or story behind something unusual on your desk or on your wall in your office.
I have portraits of my grandfather, who started the company, and my grandmother hanging on the wall in my office.
On the back of the frames are the dates and hours each one sat for the artist, Rita Hilliard, a neighbor of theirs. I think it is interesting that my grandfather’s was done in 1948 when he was 50 and took 47 hours of sitting, and my grandmother’s, done when she was 50 in 1950, only took eight hours of sitting.
DT: Your company has an unusually wide geographic footprint compared to many HVAC distributors. Do you have a piece of advice or two for ensuring continuity of attitude and service across so many states and outlets?
Harvey: It’s all about the people you have in place locally. Customer oriented, hard-working, trustworthy, dependable people at each location drive our success.
DT: Is there a leader outside your company (or someone from any discipline or profession) who influences you in your work?
[Longtime UCLA basketball coach] John Wooden. I had the privilege of attending a John Wooden basketball camp in 1974. A couple of his quotes:
“It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
The HVACR wholesale distribution business is based on many small transactions; we have tens of thousands of items in inventory and millions of line item transactions per month. It is very important that we handle the little details efficiently and accurately in order to ensure our success.
DT: If you had to go start to become an expert in something different tomorrow, what would you enjoy studying?
I have never really wanted to do anything different. However, I do enjoy studying the Bible and how it applies to life today.
DT: What’s your favorite job interview question?
What are your life goals?
DT: What was the hardest decision — up to now — that you have had to make in the HVACR business? Tell us about it.
For me, the toughest decisions have been the times we have chosen to close a location. It hurts to admit failure in a market and see people lose their jobs. We are working to change to ensure that we will not be faced with this decision again.
Another quote from John Wooden: “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”