From the time Chuck Winkler of Ditter Cooling & Heating, Inc. was five years old, he has had a driven personality and been an outside the box thinker. As a mite hockey player in Libertyville, a suburb of Chicago, while other players yearned to be a forward so they could score goals, Chuck was drawn to guarding the net as a goalie. “I realized early on that when in the net, I could be the game changer. I could work to block out all goals from the opposing team ending in a shutout, or I could be the difference maker in an overtime shootout.”
That decision early in life ultimately brought Chuck to Minnesota when he was recruited to play college hockey for Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter. “I always tease that I was the All American third string goalie. I was a goalie and because I was born here, I’m all American!”
Upon graduation from Gustavus, Chuck utilized his degree in accounting for the Jefferson Bus Service where he met his wife, Traci. When Traci left the company to return to her studies, Chuck moved on to a small accounting firm, which confirmed his desire to start a business rather than pursue a career as a corporate CPA. ““I found that I liked the business aspect of the work more than the actual accounting. I had an idea to deliver groceries, so I went to work for Schwan’s to learn more about that industry,” Chuck explains. “I worked as a delivery man for five years, then was asked to run one of their divisions in Milwaukee, which was close to where I grew up. Unfortunately Simon Delivers beat me to the idea I’d had for a grocery delivery service.”
As fate oftentimes intervenes, Chuck met a client on his Twin Cities Schwans route who was in the heating & air business. This customer told Chuck he had the perfect personality to do well in the HVAC industry, and encouraged him to come join his company.
With this introduction, Chuck learned about the business and the HVAC industry through hands on work and some classroom training. He remained at this business for five years, but ended up leaving when he found his values didn’t line up with the company’s focus and requirement to hard sell equipment to homeowners, whether or not it was needed.
Tom and Jim Ditter from Ditter Cooling & Heating had a job opening listed in the community newspaper (a copy of which Traci has kept to this day). Although Chuck had already accepted a position with another HVAC company, Tom convinced him to join them at Ditter. “He said he would match the other company’s offer to allow me a day off a week to finish school. What really intrigued me, though, was that the family planned to sell their business to the employees in the next few years.”
In October 2003 Chuck worked in service and installation, then was promoted to sales within six months. Two years later he was promoted to general manager and in 2010 he and the Ditters began talks regarding the buyout. The sale was completed in July 2012.
Signs of a solid business often stem from the experience and longevity of the staff. “I’ve been with Ditter for 18 years, and I’m the least tenured of the long timers. Tim, our sales estimator, along with Alan, our service manager and Darin, the head of the install department have all been there over 26 years.” Rounding out the team is Josh, the newest sales estimator with two years with the company.
As a side note, three long term employees recently retired, all with over 25 years of service to Ditter Cooling & Heating. Doug Bjork, a sales estimator, Tom Siegler, the previous install manager and Barb Morris, office manager. “We have a set of seven younger techs that have been with us for one to five years now, hopefully they’re the next generation who will take over and run Ditter within the next few years.”
Ditter Cooling and Heating base their hiring on each individual candidate. Of the seven newer techs, three had completed their education prior to starting; the other four Ditter Cooling and Heating has sent to classes and provided on the job training. “We need vendors and relationships. John Ditter, the founder of the company, his philosophy was being a steward of the community. We really strive to be a part of the community. Every time we go into a home, we take it seriously that we’re there to help our neighbors. The company and it’s philosophy started in 1946, and we still work by John Ditter’s word today.”
Ditter Cooling and Heating, Inc.
820 Tower Drive, Hamel, MN