Ask the coach of any successful team what makes them great, and they'll cite their “deep bench” — players who fill key roles and make the team strong across the board. Ask the president of Hart & Cooley Inc. what makes his company a leading manufacturer of air-distribution and vent products for forced-air heating and air conditioning systems, and he'll cite its deep bench. From the widest product selection in the industry and experienced, committed employees to its nine manufacturing facilities and eight regional distribution centers in the United States, Hart & Cooley stands apart.
Based in Holland, MI, Hart & Cooley is a company with a rich heritage in the HVACR industry. Founded in Connecticut in 1901, Hart & Cooley was the first company to manufacture warm-air registers from stamped steel. Because its products were superior to traditional heavy cast-iron models, the company found its niche producing stamped steel products and moved to western Michigan in 1928. They soon sold their products throughout the country, and by the early 1930s, Hart & Cooley had become the world's largest producer of warm-air registers. With the growth of forced-air heating following World War II, Hart & Cooley introduced new products to its residential and commercial lines of registers, grilles and diffusers.
From the time Tomkins plc, a British investment company, purchased Hart & Cooley in 1999, the company has expanded significantly. Such growth, which has come through acquisitions as well as organic growth, has been good for the company and good for its customers. Additional brands and product lines mean that Hart & Cooley wholesalers can expand their offerings to their customers. And with the support offered by Hart & Cooley sales representatives, customer service representatives and technical staff, the company's growth has helped its wholesalers to grow their businesses as well.
The Hart & Cooley brand remains the company's most significant line, but the company also has two other operating groups: American Metal Products with the J&J Register, Lima Register and AmeriVent brands; and Commercial Products Group, which features five brands for HVACR and roofing products — Ward Industries, AMPCO, Milcor, Portals Plus and Roof Products & Systems.
In all, Hart & Cooley has 11 brands, giving the company a significant product breadth that is unique in the industry. Before its acquisition in 1999, Hart & Cooley had one brand and one distribution center. A larger, more diverse company means greater choices for its wholesaler customers. “We can bring multiple product lines to our wholesalers, and we can combine those product lines to be more of a one-stop shop and one-stop purchasing,” says Gary K. Henry, president of Hart & Cooley Inc. “These brands allow us to not only be an international company, but it allows us to service multiple distribution channels so we can get products to our customers in multiple ways.”
For example, Hart & Cooley's Commercial Products Group has brought the company into the light commercial market and roofing market. This is in line with the company's strategy of growing its businesses in areas that align with the interests of its customers. For Hart & Cooley's wholesalers who may already supply light commercial contractors, it allows them to expand their product line for their contractor customers. For those wholesalers who may not supply light commercial products, it affords them new opportunities to expand and grow their businesses.
“More and more wholesalers are trying to move into the light commercial side, and they need to understand the technical capabilities of the product,” Henry says. “Our direct sales force has the expertise in those products.” To ensure that the wholesaler develops a complete understanding of what light commercial contractors may be looking for, Hart & Cooley's sales representatives provide customers with product and installation training and technical advice, ensuring that they are properly stocked with the products that will allow them to succeed with that side of the business.
Having eight regional distribution centers located strategically throughout the country and nine manufacturing facilities in the United States, Mexico and China is a definite plus for wholesalers, Henry says. No matter the quantity or the need, Hart & Cooley is better equipped to get products to its customers faster and more accurately than its competitors. “We carry the inventory, we stock the product, and we get it to the customer quickly, whatever those needs might be,” Henry says. “It's something that we're proud of.” Those needs may be as diverse as commercial vents, duct connectors, dampers or supplies for roof systems. The company also keeps its regional centers well stocked to best reflect particular regional needs.
Hart & Cooley relies upon its own team of sales representatives to work with wholesalers and their customers. “Our guys get up every day and all they think about is serving Hart & Cooley customers. They don't have 20 lines,” Henry says. The sales team works closely with its wholesaler customers to understand their business and provide them with the support they need to service their customers. After all, Henry says, the HVACR business still relies on personal relationships.
“If my customers understand what we're doing and I understand what they're trying to accomplish and our strategies are all going in the same direction, then we both grow,” Henry says. “We pride ourselves on knowing what's going on in that customer's business and how we can solve their problems.” Dedicated sales representatives work closely with customers. Customer service reps, who are always only a telephone call away, bolster that support. Hart & Cooley also makes those customer service reps available to customers on a face-to-face basis. “We find that to be very valuable,” says Dave Wormmeester, Hart & Cooley's vice president for sales and marketing. After all, says Henry, the customer service reps are on the phone daily with customers and develop personal relationships with them. “When you can put a face to the name on the other end of the phone, the relationship just gets better,” Henry says.
Getting out and working with the customers is not limited to the sales force and customer service representatives, says Henry, who has more than 35 years of experience in HVACR business. He and other members of Hart & Cooley's senior management team travel around the country to meet with customers as often as possible. “I get more out of being out with customers than anything else,” he says. “I genuinely enjoy going out and seeing what's going on with them and what they're doing. All of us find it to be very valuable.” Hart & Cooley is also an active member of HARDI and ASHRAE, which provide the company with additional avenues to share with and learn from its wholesalers.
Knowing the customers means more than just knowing their business. It also means knowing the environments in which they operate. For example, updated and revised building codes often result in the need for new HVACR products or the adaptation of existing products. Hart & Cooley representatives stay abreast of these changes and work with wholesalers to ensure that new code requirements are met.
One of the reasons that Hart & Cooley's people are so good at building and maintaining relationships is traceable to the fact that many of its employees have been at it for a long time. Customer service representatives have been with the company for an average of 20 years, and they have “set the benchmark” in the industry for how HVACR customers are treated, Henry says. Leading the technical support is Dave Fetters, whom Henry calls Hart & Cooley's “secret weapon.” Fetters, who has been with the company for more than 20 years, is the technical expert who writes a monthly paper, Tech Talk, that is distributed to customers. Each Tech Talk paper addresses a specific technical air-handling issue, and his topics usually come out of questions that he receives from customers. Henry says he has yet to see an air-distribution question for which Fetters doesn't have an answer.
Training remains the backbone of the company. Whether a new Hart & Cooley employee comes to the manufacturing or sales side, that person receives product and company training so they have a thorough understanding of the company. Salespeople receive additional product training. This training philosophy extends to Hart & Cooley customers. This training takes different forms: It may be training at the counters or “lunchbox meetings” with contractors. Wormmeester calls training a very effective tool for everybody involved. “The more we work with our wholesalers and customers, the more successful our wholesalers become,” he says. Contractors benefit from the trainings because they get the hands-on practice to do installations correctly the first time with fewer callbacks later. “We would love to do more of them,” Wormmeester says.
Henry and Wormmeester say the wholesaler remains a valuable part of their distribution strategy, citing the local expertise, service and inventory that wholesalers possess to support their customers. Henry likens the manufacturer-wholesaler relationship to a partnership. “Partnership is a two-way street,” he says. By that, he means that it's great to have a customer's business, but they also have the obligation to provide those customers with the support so they can sustain and grow their business.
Hart & Cooley continues to develop ways to improve its relationships with wholesalers. While wholesalers can access product information on the Hart & Cooley website (hartandcooley.com), Henry says the company plans to do much more via website, including online ordering, product tracking and inventory management.
Meanwhile, Hart & Cooley will continue to aggressively pursue new opportunities to grow their business. In fact, the company would like to double its business in the next five years, Henry says. Growth, he says, is the lifeblood of any organization, regardless of size or industry. “We will continue to acquire companies that allow us to bring more product breadth to our customers so they can buy more from them in one location,” Henry says.
What's important, he adds, is finding opportunities that will best align with their customers' needs. “You can't be all things to all people, but you have to move your strengths in that direction. It may be a product that our customers are looking for, and we want to be in a position to supply it for them.” In that vein, Henry is optimistic about where the company is heading. “I think the future for Hart & Cooley and our wholesale distributors is extremely bright.”
Michael Maynard is a business writer in Providence, RI, who writes on issues related to HVAC, construction and architecture. Contact him at [email protected].
Gary Fisher — American Metal Products Group
Sean Steimle — Commercial Products Group
Definition: Hart & Cooley Inc. offers many HVACR brands to the industry — Hart & Cooley; AmeriVent, Lima Register and J&J Register under American Metal Products Group; and Ward Industries, AMPCO, Milcor, Portals Plus and Roof Products & Systems under the Commercial Products Group.
Significance: Hart & Cooley provides its customers with a single-source provider of HVACR components and accessories.
Benefits: Hart & Cooley Inc. offers the most extensive product line in the industry. These products come in a variety of styles and sizes and are available for shipment from a number of regional distribution centers.
People Involved: Experienced customer service and technical personnel are available to answer your questions and to complete your orders for products. Hart & Cooley's knowledgeable engineering staff offers cost-effective solutions to questions large and small.
Timing: Hart & Cooley Inc. has been in business since 1901. The company has built its reputation as the industry leader on design, quality, technical support and customer service.
Cost: Price should not be the only deciding factor in the cost of acquiring inventory. An experienced, single-source provider can save distributors time and money as well as reduce freight costs and increase inventory turns.
Other Considerations: All products undergo thorough research, design and testing in Hart & Cooley Inc.'s state-of-the-art engineering lab.
Contact: For Hart & Cooley, contact Dave Wormmeester at [email protected] or 616/395-2872. For American Metal Products Group, contact Gary Fisher at [email protected] or 616/395-2869. For Commercial Products Group, contact Sean Steimle at 630/595-7320 or [email protected].