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    Super selfie of a super HVAC team. The Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning team is always on the same page: super service, quality and integrity.

    2016 Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year: Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning — Quality & Service — Past, Present, Future

    Feb. 10, 2016
    The Illiana team knows the importance of customer service and value, and a unwavering commitment to honesty and integrity.  
    Tom and Sue Krygsheld: partners in life and business, have built Illiana into a regional HVAC leader.
    From left: Dan Krygsheld, Tom Krygsheld, Kevin Frump and Steve Rottier.

    Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., Cedar Lake, Ind., is a family-owned and operated HVAC contracting business that has served Northwest Indiana and South Chicagoland with residential and light commercial service, maintenance, and installation since 1987. Its motto: “Your Christian Owned and Operated Comfort Specialist.”

    As is seen in countless examples of successful HVAC companies, the Illiana management team knows the importance of customer service and value, and a unwavering emphasis on honesty and integrity.




    In consideration of the vision of company founder
    Tom Krygsheld, and his fulfillment of that vision; the selfless
    dedication of his wife Sue; for the team’s absolute refusal to
    compromise on quality; and for its well-planned blueprint
    for the future, ContractingBusiness.com has selected
    Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning, as its
    2016 Residential HVAC Contractor of the Year.


    Envisioning a Goal
    As a young man in high school, Tom Krygsheld excelled in vocational and technical subjects. Once his high school years were over, he knew he wanted to begin a vocational career rather than enter college. In April of 1979, he landed a job as a parts runner for Hoekstra Heating Company, a well-established local contracting firm. Tom made the most of the opportunity, perhaps not realizing he had just taken the first step toward his life’s work.
    Tom Krygsheld is one of the nicest people you could ever meet, and his friendliness helped him fit in well with the Hoekstra team.

    “While working there, I built a rapport with all of the technicians and helped them whenever I could,” he recalls. “I was eager to learn, and they all knew it. I asked many questions and began to build a book from all of the instructions found in each parts box. I studied them even though I didn’t really know what they were.”

    First employee Gary Skoniecki, still serves with distinction.
    Illiana office team of (l t r) of Mary Van Proyen, Pam Baker and accountant Pat Haan keep Illiana on track, and in contact with customers and the field team.
    General Manager Kevin Frump has brought about some changes in Illiana's marketing plans and new technology capabilities.
    Dan Krygsheld, sales manager: 'just talking' with prospective customers is priceless.
    Operations Manager Steve Rottier: field and office communication are one of Illiana's essential best practice.
    Gary and Tom, with installer Kevin Collins.

    Marriage to Sue Van Laten, his high school sweetheart, was also in the plan. They both worked and saved toward that day, but to boost his income, Tom soon realized he needed to become more knowledgeable about the HVAC business.

    “I spent most every Saturday going out with the technicians who were on call or those who were doing scheduled calls,” he says. “I asked that, every time a technician was called for a night call, that I was called as well, and would meet them at the job site, no matter where or when. In doing so I made life a lot easier for the technicians and they were very helpful to me.”
    Eventually, Tom moved up to junior technician at Hoekstra, and started working service calls solo. He would even volunteer to take on extra night and weekend calls, to help himself learn troubleshooting, service and maintenance.

    “I continued to work hard in the field and did a lot of sales and spiff work, sometimes making as much in spiffs and commissions as I did in wages.”

    And then, a setback: in the fall of 1981, Hoekstra’s management decided that all technicians needed to have a degree in HVAC before they could work in the field.

    With their wedding day approaching, Tom found himself back in the parts room, with wages that were a third of what he earned in the field.

    Tom and Sue went ahead with their wedding plans, determined to do all they could to build a better future for themselves. Sue was studying to be a nurse’s aide, and Tom enrolled in the Coyne Institute of Technology, to earn that HVAC license. Eventually Tom earned the HVAC license, which increased his income. Later, he was named Hoekstra’s service manager.

    Founding a Dream
    When the time was right, in April 1987, Tom and Sue Krygsheld founded Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning. They worked the business out of their home, using a small shed for parts storage. It was the first step in Tom’s dream of being a successful entrepreneur.

    Tom and his good friend Gary Skoniecki, with whom he had worked at Hoekstra, installed and serviced HVAC systems, while Sue managed the marketing and other aspects of the business.
    “It’s been neat to watch the company grow,” Skoniecki says. “I always knew Tom would succeed in business.

    “That was one of the reasons I joined. If anybody was going to make it, it would be Tom. He also knew how to put money back into the business.”

    The team’s educational progress continued, through frequent distributor-sponsored classes by industry legends such as Ron Collier, Ron Smith, Barry Burnett and Kim Archer.

    “With these folks, we began to understand business better, and we were able to begin to realize a profit. Not much, but enough to get by,” Tom recalls. “I was able to start sharing responsibilities with Gary, but it did not seem to lessen our work load because we were growing quickly,” he says.

    Tom and Sue’s son Dan was born in 1988, and Sue became even busier, now with two children to care for (they eventually had three children, Wendy, Mandy and Dan). The business chugged onward, and in 1991, they opened a 1,152 sq.ft., two-story shop, independent of their home, in Lansing, Ill.

    As the business grew, Tom and Sue were learning the trade by leaps and bounds, continuing to take business classes and seminars. An office assistant brought some relief for Sue, who was extremely understanding of what Tom had to do to keep the business on a successful trajectory.

    “I think our youth had something to do with not grasping the gravity of it all,” Tom says with a laugh. “We were reacting every day. I was working as a service manager and making good money, but I told her, ‘we have to do this.’ I would have expected her to resist since we had two children already. But she supported the idea. The kids helped too, stuffing envelopes at the kitchen table. But when it reached over 1,000 mailers, we knew we needed to get other help.”

    Says Sue, “I was very understanding of Tom’s long hours and his not being able to always help out wit the kids and stuff like that, because we had to get the business started. He’d work all day, come home at night, and sometimes continue to work in his office. But then we’d always be sure to take special vacations so we could spend time with the children.”

    Tom praises his wife’s contributions, sacrifices and dedication to  the business’s success.
    “Sue was a master at moving dollars around in the first years, when cash flow wasn’t strong,” Tom says. “She would tell me when it was ‘9-1-1’ time, and I needed to find some money. That was an incredible skill that she brought, being able to move the funds around a bit. She was also internally strong. I was more the relational guy. She was more the voice of ‘this is what has to happen.’”

    For those who want to start an HVAC business, Tom has this advice: “Number 1, you have to understand, when you’re starting out, be prepared to work about twice the hours for about half the money. We didn’t see that coming. When we first started, we were working double the hours for quite some time.” With Sue managing the details, Tom was spared having to hound the techs for invoices and work tickets. She served as the company’s the primary bookkeeper for about 20 years. Soon, it was time to hire additional technicians.  “Gary and I were still working hard in the field but we had hired several more technicians, so we didn’t need to do all the work, and night calls ourselves,” Tom says. That can serve as a lesson to others: for a business to be more than “a job,” you must hire new people.The Reputation Grows They added on to the shop again, in 1995, by buying the home next door. They built more shop space, and remodeled the entire home, transforming it into a living showroom, offices, parts rooms and front office.
    With Sue managing the details, Tom was spared having to hound the techs for invoices and work tickets. She served as the company’s primary bookkeeper for about 20 years. Soon, it was time to hire additional technicians.
    75% of Illiana's technicians are NATE-certified. Each attained certification brings a $1/hour raise.

    “With the Lord’s continued blessing and a whole lot of work, we were growing our reputation and really gaining traction,” Tom says.

    For years, Tom had suffered from chronic back problems, and eventually would endure seven surgeries. With the onset of fibromyalgia, his field work was severely curtailed. On the upside, he now had more time to work “on the business” rather than “in it.”

    In April 2000 Tom hired Charlie Cooke as his first operations manager. “Charlie had great business skills, a management background, and great vision.”

    Gary Skoniecki continued as field foreman, and they continued to grow and train new technicians. Dan Krygsheld worked by his dad’s side during all of his formative years, on all kinds of projects. “He was my ‘right hand man,’ especially with my health constraints.,” Tom recalls. “Over time, he slowly began entering the business, working during the summers, on weekends and after school.”

    Following the Market
    During the next few years, the team noticed a population migration across the state line into Indiana.
    “Many customers had moved, as churches and schools were heading that direction. We became clearly aware that a move to Northwest Indiana was in our future, and we began to study that option,” Tom says.

    In 2006, they moved the entire Illiana operation 12 miles and 30 minutes southeast, to its present Cedar Lake, Ind. location on a main highway running through the area.

    At Illiana, quality starts at the beginning. Is the right plan in place? Are the technicians trained? Do they have the right materials. Much of quality is based on legwork and preparation in advance, for both service and installations.—Kevin Frump
     

    “The shop was no bigger, and we were set back on the lot, but we had a lot of potential to grow,” Tom says. “We kept our first shop in Lansing for five years afterwards, for storage and to indicate to our customers in Illinois that we were still there for them.”

    ___________________________________________________
    Name: Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning
    City: Cedar Lake, Ind.
    Founded in 1987, by Tom and Sue Krygsheld
    Management team: Tom Krygsheld, president; Kevin Frump, GM; Steve Rottier,
    service/operations manager; Dan Krygsheld, sales/installation manager.  
    Outside sales: Shelley DeYoung
    Accounting: Pat Haan
    Customer Service: Mary Van Proyen, Pam Baker
    Services: Residential HVAC (10% light commercial) service and installations; duct cleaning;
    insulation; geothermal; web-based innovations.
    Employees: 18; 9 are service/installation technicians.
    Revenue: $3 million. Business plan envisions $10 million in 10+ years.
    HVAC brand: American Standard
    Professional memberships:
    • North American Technician Excellence
    (NATE)
    • Service Nation Alliance/Service Roundtable
    Recent accolades: ‘Best of the Region’ 2012-2015 by the Times of Northwest Indiana.
    ____________________________________________________

    Dan Krygsheld joined the team full time in 2007. He first helped with installation and service work, but he soon realized that his true calling was in sales.

    “He asked me if he could do sales calls, which I had been doing with the help of some comfort consultants who were not very consistent. Dan was not a very outgoing guy growing up, but his personality was blossoming and he was coming into his own,” Tom recalls.

    “I explained to Dan that we needed to sell to keep profitable and keep the team working. He wanted a try at it and I reluctantly conceded. Dan began performing sales calls with incredibly great success. His closing percentages were in the upper 70% bracket. He is now our sales manager and still does the majority of the sales calls, with me doing most of the commercial sales calls.”

    “My main goal on the first visit is to educate homeowners,” Dan says. “These are expensive decisions, and I want them to know the product, be educated on what we’re selling, and on why they should choose Illiana. I even explain that we’re not gong to be the cheapest bid but we will provide the best installation and best follow-up.”

    Dan’s enthusiasm is matched by his methods. He has a well-practiced routine he follows with every prospective customer.

    “First, I look at what type of equipment they have. Then I take home measurements. I perform a home assessment, looking for air supplies, returns, ductwork. Then we talk. I provide options, which are narrowed down as we discuss efficiency, two speed, variable stage. They start asking questions or sharing information about allergies or other issues.

    “Much of my time is devoted to talking about our company. Family-owned, Christian-owned. ‘Best of the Region’ for four straight years. NATE-certified installers and service technicians.”

    Firming up the Base
    The team continued to grow and was gaining traction in Northwest Indiana. By this time, they had hired John and Vicki LaPlant of Vital Learning Experiences, Pottsboro, Tx., as their business consultants, and the operations soared on a well-defined upward trajectory.

    In 2009 Tom and Sue’s son-in-law Kevin Frump, a mechanical engineer with a business degree and extensive information technology abilities, approached Dan and Tom about entering the family business. He had been working for Alcoa, but was unhappy with the travel time, which was over an hour both ways, and he and his wife wanted to live close to the rest of the family.

    To move the business to the next level we needed to get more efficient in many areas,” Tom says. “We now had a great staff of field workers and a super customer service and financial team, and an awesome facility, which will serve our needs for years to come.” —Tom Krygsheld

    “At first,” Tom says, “we thought Kevin was overqualified. But we walked him through all aspects of the decision, and in 2010 Kevin entered the business as operations manager, and Dan moved exclusively to sales.”

    Frump’s presence on the team has helped spur the company into new areas of service. “We’re installing mini-splits a lot more, and Kevin is getting us into geothermal quite a bit more,” Tom says. “We also got into duct cleaning and attic insulation. I have pushed them to look at solar and wind power. I think that would be a good adventure for Kevin. His main interest is in the web-based products. He’s an IT expert, so we’re on the leading edge of the web-based products. We try to jump in first.”

    “At Illiana, quality starts at the beginning,” Frump explains. “Is the right plan in place? Are the technicians trained? Do they have the right materials. Much of quality is based on legwork and preparation in advance, for both service and installations. They need to be confident that they will leave with the system running as it should. Quality is making sure we deliver what the customer expects, and then exceed those expectations.”

    Growing Again
    In 2013, with increased focus on the future, it was again time to expand Illiana’s physical plant. So, with the management team doing well without Tom’s oversight, he focused his attention on building a 9,000 sq. ft. facility at the front of the existing Cedar Lake property. The expanded building allowed for individual offices and a large front office, conference room, sheet metal fabrication shop, ample shop space and staging stalls, and a large training facility. The extra space helped to improve overall efficiency.

    “To move the business to the next level we needed to get more efficient in many areas,” Tom says. “We now had a great staff of field workers and a super customer service and financial team, and an awesome facility, which will serve our needs for years to come.”
    Tom admits that, while he was responsible for much of the company’s success, his ways of doing things needed an update.

    “We asked John and Vicki LaPlant to help us with a new management structure and a business plan for going forward. They helped us immensely, with so much knowledge and wisdom, and a whole lot of love and care for our business,” he says.

    Steve Rottier was hired as operations manager, which left Dan to concentrate on sales. Kevin Frump become the general manager overseeing the entire operation.

    Says Rottier of his contributions: “I bring the enjoyment of working on a team, communication, and personal friendships. I enjoy making sure everything is going together well, helping the guys in the field and the ladies in the front office.

    “We all understand each other’s challenges. The ladies support the guys in the field. But they also get the brunt of the customer’s complaint. I want the ladies to understand it’s not always cut-and-dried with the guys. The ladies are the first impression and the techs are the final impression. I appreciate what the guys do for customers. Customer service is number one with them,” Rottier says.

    Next Generation Time
    Illiana Heating & Air Conditioning is in the process of transferring full responsibility for the business to Dan Krygsheld, Kevin Frump and Steve Rottier.

    “Our goal for the last 10 years has been to begin putting together a succession plan which allowed Sue and me to back away from the business,” Tom says.

    “The first part of the plan was to allow Sue to retire completely starting in 2014. With the help of John and Vicki LaPlant, John Kamp, our CPA, Chad Mast, our financial advisor, and our attorney, Tim Kuiper, we developed a plan that allowed me to jump on a final ride toward retirement.”

    For Sue and me, the business was a means to an end, and we’re now happy that the boys can carry it into the future. We will no longer pull the business forward but we will always push from behind and be cheerleaders.” —Tom Krygsheld
    Tom now works three days each week in summer, and plans to fully retire at the end of 2016. He helps with project estimating and sheet metal fabricating. “For Sue and me, the business was a means to an end, and we’re now happy that the boys can carry it into the future. We will no longer pull the business forward but we will always push from behind and be cheerleaders,” he claims with great satisfaction.
     “The boys are doing a phenomenal job running the business. We’re confident that our retirement is safe and sound, because the boys care for the business and understand the work we put into it to make it a reputable business. They treat the business like we did, with care and honesty. They are proud that we can call ourselves, ‘The Best of the Region’ for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and counting. “But most of all, we’re proud to be a “Christian owned and operated company.” Tom Krygsheld believes today’s HVAC consumers seek honesty and integrity first. “They want to know that they’re dealing with quality. They want to know, and have it proven that we’re good,” he asserts. “We’re not here as a non-profit; we have to make a living, and we do have a reputation of being more expensive. However, people are willing to pay more as long as they know they will get the highest quality technicians and products.
    For those who want to take on running their own HVAC business, Tom has this advice: “Number 1, you have to understand, when you’re starting out, be prepared to work about twice the hours for about half the money. We didn’t see that coming. When we first started, we were working double the hours for quite some time.”

    “If you can drive the dollar amount with value, they go from saying we’re expensive to saying we’re fair.”

    Illiana is an American Standard dealer.

    “I also think a lot of them will see things that Illiana Heating does outside of the industry in a variety of ways, such as donations to groups and other involvement. The more you do with that, the more you touch people where they live. We honestly believe we’re blessed, and want to give back.”

    Illiana supports Mommy’s Haven, a refuge for pregnant women in need, Lansing Christian School and LaMotte Christian School, and is active in the Rotary and two Chambers of
    Commerce.

    Sound Advice
    For those who want to start an HVAC business, Tom has this advice: “Number 1, you have to understand, when you’re starting out, be prepared to work about twice the hours for about half the money. We didn’t see that coming. When we first started, we were working double the hours for quite some time.”

    Sue adds: “People think owning your own business means you have tons of money, and you’re ‘your own boss,’ and can do what you want when you want. Not true.”

    “We could have been more profitable and generated faster growth if we had been better educated on the business and marketing side,” Tom continues.

    “When Kevin came in, he brought a ton of business knowledge. He has a minor in business and a major in mechanical engineering. He brought a different element. He had the mechanical and business aptitudes. He knew how to read everything that’s going on financially. That helped
    a lot.

    “We learned through trial by fire,” Tom concludes. “Fortunately, we were able to tie in with people like Ron Collier, Ron Smith, and others for advice.

    “We want to thank all those who have helped to make this company a great company, both from the past and still now. We also want to thank our incredible customer base who have supported us for 28 years and counting!”

    CONGRATULATIONS TO ILLIANA HEATING & AIR CONDITIONING, THE 2016 CONTRACTINGBUSINESS.COM RESIDENTIAL HVAC CONTRACTOR OF THE YEAR