When an HVAC firm in a small Midwestern town has, in its work portfolio, a record of successfully completing installations at a fish cannery in Alaska, the McCormick Center and the Trump Tower buildings in Chicago, Yankee Stadium and food equipment lines in Saudi Arabia, you know there’s an extraordinary story behind their success.

Schebler Heating and Air, based in Bettendorf, IA – along the scenic banks of the upper Mississippi River, tracks its lineage to two brothers selling potbelly stoves in 1895. Originally a metal manufacturing company, this do-it-all shop manufactured potbelly stoves, ductwork, washtubs, funnels and stove piping, and plenty of other things along the way.

Joseph and Rudolph Schebler, brothers and German immigrants, began the initial “tin shop” in a storefront in western Iowa. Their key focus was to support the metal fabrication needs of the “quad cities” region: Davenport and Bettendorf, IA and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline, IL.

In 1950, the third generation of Schebler management moved the operation with its 20 employees to Davenport, IA. In 1979, a Minnesota-based investor group purchased the company from the Schebler family. Two decades later, a group of regional investors purchased the business and subsequently facilitated its current growth by investing heavily in the company’s people, facilities and capital equipment. The business is now governed by a board of directors with no majority shareholder.

Even in this tough economy, Jim Anderson, company president, estimates that their business this year will set an all-time record in revenue. Today, Schebler’s key strength is diversification. The company, with 165 full-time employees, has four divisions: an HVAC group that serves a 200-mile radius, a specialty fabrication shop, and a food equipment group and chimney division (largest of the groups), that serve clients worldwide.

Schebler’s chimney division has earned the distinction of being the leading North American supplier of prefabricated, positive pressure chimney solutions for venting boiler, generator and
restaurant grease exhaust.

Schebler’s chimney division has earned the distinction of being the leading North American supplier of prefabricated, positive pressure chimney solutions for venting boiler, generator and restaurant grease exhaust. When reading through their completed project list, it’s easy to see why. The chimney division partners with a premier network of sales distributors throughout the United States and select export countries.

In Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Schebler’s chimney division created an enormous, free-standing stack for a fish cannery, scrutinized carefully by the EPA, that burns its own waste to heat the plant.

HVAC a Specialty
The HVAC group serves the residential and commercial service and commercial construction markets. They also do all of the company’s local residential equipment replacement. The group excels at commercial design/build projects, typically contracted through general contractors or building owners. They’re the premier HVAC contractor in the area for both residential and commercial applications.

Kevin Lesthaeghe, Schebler’s director of the HVAC division admits, “We get a lot of help from the software that we use.” To ensure accurate estimations for new construction and equipment replacements, and quick, efficient heat load calculations that avail a bounty of information for quotes, Schebler uses Wrightsoft technology.

“We began using Wrightsoft in July of 2011. We were looking for a way to be different from other companies; we wanted advanced technology that would have a short learning curve, with loads of capability,” said Lesthaeghe. “Of course, it had to be accurate, too. We now use their Right Mobile Consultant – a mobile, web-based tool with a presentation app for iPad.

“Our customers are always wowed by the fast, sophisticated approach,” said Charlie Crabb, residential estimator. “With Wrightsoft, we don’t just give them a quote, we can show them how we came up with the numbers.” Crabb explained that he now uses Wrightsoft “99 and-a-half percent of the time” when developing customer quotations.

“I just break out my iPad and begin the process of building the quote with Wrightsoft’s Mobile Consultant. As homeowners answer questions about their expectations, and use of the home, there’s usually a level of admiration and surprise at how thorough I can be in building the quote,” added Crabb. “The graphics are great and give a very nice presentation; with today's 3G and 4G internet, the program is fast. When customers see me performing load calculations on the spot while tapping through iPad prompts, and that I can give them different options and projected savings, I quickly gain their trust.

“That’s what’s important to us – that they see and appreciate the level of integrity we bring to the job,” he continued. “It’s much more professional, and shows appreciation for their valuable time, when they see me plow through the calculations efficiently . . . than if I were to sit down for half an hour with a memo pad, calculator and cheat sheets, only to come up with a semi-accurate quote.”

Of course, for their own interests, Schebler’s customers want to know how much money they can potentially save when swapping-out old, inefficient HVAC systems, or when choosing equipment for a new project. Wrightsoft Mobile Consultant not only shows the amount of savings they can attain; it also provides pictures, graphics and sound. “I can import HVAC manufacturer photos, graphics and statistics, show them operational savings, and compare heat pump systems, for example,” continued Crabb.

Schebler has won top honors for Carrier high-efficiency sales and a Carrier Presidential Award. They were the first company to sell R410a air conditioning and heat pump systems in their region, and are currently selling it three to one over their competitors.

“Wrightsoft’s Carrier Mobile Consultant is the perfect tool for the HVAC business. Not only does it improve the homeowner’s confidence in your quote, but it’s impressive and makes the sales process much faster and simpler,” said Lesthaeghe. Their niche? Selling whole systems rather than single replacements. This is preferred because Schebler is then able to guarantee the entire system.

“On the residential side, we do a fair amount of replacement jobs,” said Anderson. “But the commercial side is almost all new construction. Each division has its own sales and marketing strategy with continued growth expected in all segments.”

Even though Schebler’s divisions are supported by a common manufacturing group, separate processes are used when appropriate to keep proper focus and efficiency. Their operational capabilities play a strong role in delivering each of the division’s value propositions. Schebler maintains an ISO 9001 certification to support their quality system. Heroic ingenuity While members of the residential and commercial HVAC groups typically operate close to home – typically within a 100-mile radius of home base – the professionals in the chimney division, and in the food equipment and specialty fabrication groups build equipment to meet various needs, by design throughout North America. Schebler’s chimney division experts came to the rescue at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx when a last minute design flaw in the existing chimney (not a Schebler creation) was discovered during the final walk through, shortly before the grand opening. Schebler pros designed extension pieces to increase the height of the chimney. The retrofit was installed two days before the first fans arrived.

The specialty fabrication group provides contract manufacturing and field maintenance services for a large variety of industries. They apply laser and plasma cutting, forming and welding processes to produce fabrications from stainless steel, aluminum and carbon steel. Their craftsmanship can be found in agricultural and construction equipment, food-grade fabrications, monorails and tanks, to name a few.

While they’re well known for completing urgent, high-quality, limited-production projects, Schebler is also recognized for performing extended-term production as an extension of their customer’s business. Schebler’s food equipment division has solidified its reputation as a creative and quality provider of specialized machinery for food products in the confectionary market. Their Revol belt coater is used around the world to coat confectionary products with chocolate or yogurt.

Not a bad “rap sheet” for a Midwestern firm that ties it origins to potbelly stoves.

Rachel Wenger is a writer for Common Ground Uncommon Communications, LLC, Manheim, PA.