Meet a McHenry couple who are sharing their dreams and revitalizing their newly acquired business.
Cheryl Kern was looking for something new, after serving as a McHenry County realtor for 22 years.
“I loved it, but I was ready for a change,” she says. “And I wanted to find an opportunity to work with my husband.”
Adam Kern, her husband of 41 years, had spent the past three decades working in the heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) business, most recently as co-owner of a local HVAC company. He, too, wanted a new challenge and yearned to run an operation of his own. Things fell into place for the couple when the owners of Official Heating and Cooling in McHenry retired last fall. The Kerns jumped at the chance to purchase the 26-year-old business.
“We’ve always been close,” says Adam. “Working together is not a problem, it’s a benefit. We have common interests and purchasing this business together has brought us even closer.”
Official Heating and Cooling, 1401 North Dr., offers sales and service of heating and cooling units, air purifiers and boilers. A factory-authorized Carrier dealer, the company handles everything connected to HVAC work, including humidifiers and indoor air quality issues.
“I knew that the company had potential that was not being utilized to its fullest capacity,” says Adam. “In any business venture, you take a chance. That’s what life is all about. There are no guarantees in anything. But if you put your heart and soul into it, usually good things come from that. There’s a saying that, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you are.’ That’s true, but it’s also the effort you put into it that brings back the rewards.”
Official Heating and Cooling has 12 employees, including sales, office and service staff. Cheryl’s main responsibility is overseeing the bookkeeping and familiarizing herself with the HVAC business. “I’m learning new things every day,” she says.
The team includes Lexie, the Kerns’ German shepherd, who comes to work most days, and even rides with Adam on various service and sales calls. “She’s also our director of security,” quips sales manager Ben Martorano.
“This truly is a ma and pa shop,” says Adam. “It’s not just a saying. We’re here every day. This is what we do. Without our staff, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful. We have employees who are committed to making our customers happy with the work that we do.”
Mary DeFrancisco is one such employee. She joined the company five years ago and is now the office manager. She’s the only employee who also worked for the previous ownership group.
“It’s an intimate, family-owned business,” she says. “Adam and Cheryl make it a very comfortable atmosphere. They let our voices be heard and that’s a very nice feeling when you come to work every day.”
Martorano adds: “Because we’re so small, when someone comes up with a great idea to solve a problem, we’re able to react and implement possible solutions in a timely manner. There’s not a lot of red tape, and that’s one of the biggest advantages to working for a small company.”
Official Heating and Cooling focuses primarily on residential business, but also does some commercial work. Adam comes from a residential background. For years, he was involved in handling HVAC work in downtown Chicago factories that were turned into residential lofts.
“From a business standpoint, there’s a benefit to doing residential versus subdivision work,” he says. “This company was doing mostly new construction. When we came in, we eliminated that part of the business and decided to focus on what we do best, and that’s residential. I enjoy working directly with the homeowners, making an impact on their home and making them as comfortable as they can be. It was a difficult decision, but it has all worked out for the best.”
Another major decision was tightening up the geographic service area. With fuel costs rising, Adam decided it was no longer feasible to travel great distances for service calls. He and Cheryl redefined the company’s coverage area, now as far south as Elgin, north to the Illinois border, west to Harvard and east to Lake County. “By concentrating on a smaller area, we’re able to provide our customers with the best possible care,” Adam says.
And, quality customer service is always the paramount concern. As owner, Adam says it’s important to give every job his full attention. “I don’t leave anything to chance,” he says. “I review every job. If there’s an issue, we’re there to take care of it. We’re big enough to take care of most jobs, but we’re small enough to offer each job personal attention.”
When the air conditioning went on the fritz in his son’s home in Hampshire, Al Butti called on Official Heating and Cooling. Technicians came out and immediately addressed the vibration that could be heard in the unit. Faulty bearings were to blame.
“They were prompt and very professional,” Butti says. “You couldn’t ask for anything more. They were cordial and spent plenty of time with us, explaining the different options available in dealing with the problem. Everything they did was upfront. There was no song and dance with this company, which means a great deal in business today.”
Preventative maintenance is a must. Ducts should be cleaned at least every 10 years. Filters are to be inspected every month. Be careful, however, when it comes to buying expensive filters, Adam says. They don’t always allow air to properly flow through, which can be problematic for equipment.
“There are so many little things you can do that will help extend the life of your unit,” Martorano says. “Cleanings and inspections are most important. If you put off either of those tasks, it can lead to pretty expensive repairs.”
That’s why experts advise scheduling fall and spring cleanings well in advance.
“It’s a weather-driven business,” says Adam. “In the peak of summer, our business gets busy, as it does during a cold winter. Most people don’t have the patience in the summer, when they have a problem, which can be a challenge. When temperatures reach the 90s, our business can double or more in a week. The heat can take a physical toll on homeowners.”
For the past several months, the Kerns have been solidifying the company’s business plan. They expect to hire additional service techs and installers in the near future.
“I’m pleased with the results that we’ve seen in the short time that we’ve been here,” Adam says. “I’m encouraged by the fact that we overcame obstacles such as a mild winter, which didn’t help our bottom line. But with the weather starting to cooperate and the economy hopefully rebounding, I can see that future growth is definitely on the upswing.
“We’re expanding our marketing and advertising efforts, and we’re taking advantage of social media. I know we’re doing all the right things, and I see nothing but long-term success for us in this new venture.” ❚