RACINE, WI — Keystone Heating and Air Conditioning Co., Inc., has been a fixture in the Racine community for a long time — since 1918, to be exact. That’s when William Challinor was installing giant gravity furnaces. He eventually sold the business to David Lonergan in 1937 for the steep price of $400. Lonergan eventually passed the business on to his son-in-law Lowell Katt, who passed it on to current owner and son, David Katt.

Katt owns the business along with brothers Marshall and Michael, and sister Colleen Miskovic. His markets include residential/light commercial installation and service, and new construction. Keystone serves the Kenosha-Racine area with 17 employees. The customer list includes thousands of residences, churches, drugstores, and “a ton of condos and apartments,” according to Katt.

On the day The News visited, Katt was busy handling phone calls and “putting out fires.” Probably the last thing he had on his mind was the company’s website (www.keystonehtg.com). But that’s OK with him.

“If we didn’t have the website, it would be no big deal,” he added. “The real benefit is that people can find our e-mail address.”

Katt said the website has been up for about four years, designed and built by a local webmaster, and he started it mainly to get the company name out. But he said the site has not generated many leads.

“The way to generate leads is to go out and meet people,” he said. “Besides that, half of my leads are generated by word-of-mouth, not the Internet.”

Katt used the example of one website visitor, a homeowner from South Dakota, who kept asking questions about her thermostat. “I told her if she couldn’t get [her local contractor] to solve her problems, she should probably look for another contractor.”

Katt would rather meet customers face-to-face and often doesn’t even read his e-mail for up to a week. His busy schedule also leaves little time for website changes. But he added, “I am checking e-mail daily now — the addition of Roadrunner to our area has made Web use much easier. I am also using several of my distributors’ sites for online ordering.”

“I’ll update the site only when I have nothing better to do,” he added.

But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the Internet and Katt is not about to close his mind to a cyber-presence.

“As the younger people get older, they become more Web-oriented,” he said. “But the older customers are not interested in becoming Web-savvy. A 65-year-old is not going to learn how to use the Internet.”

Maybe not, but the window, uh, website is going to remain open.

Publication date: 02/11/2002