RACINE — When William Chancillor started his company in 1918, it may have pleased him if some time traveler could have told him his firm would still be a sound business today, a century later.
Keystone Heating & Air Conditioning Co., 2707 Durand Ave., today is run by third-generation owners: two brothers and a sister, albeit no relation to the company founder.
Keystone President David Katt said the company name was Keystone from the start.
“I think it was just Keystone Heating,” he said, “because there was no such thing as air conditioning then.”
Katt’s grandfather David Lonergan went to work for Chancillor in the 1920s. When Chancillor died in 1937, Lonergan bought the business for $600, “with a firm push from behind by Grandma,” Katt remarked.
Keystone would then be passed down to two more generations: first to Katt’s father, Lowell Katt, who married Lonergan’s daughter; and then to brothers Dave, Marshall and Michael Katt, and their sister Colleen Miskovic.
Today the three surviving siblings remain active and equal owners. Miskovic is the office manager. Marshall handles new construction, remodeling jobs and commercial work. “He handles the bigger jobs,” Dave said.
“What I do is, generally,” Dave said, “is oversight of the whole business plus, specifically the service department and residential installation department.”
For this company with about $2.5 million in revenue, residential work comprises about 90 percent of the company’s jobs and commercial about 10 percent.
Current and recent commercial jobs have included the new EverGreen Academy under construction at 3351 Chicory Road, Butter Buds Food Ingredients, the future Racine Brewing Co. microbrewery under construction at 303 Main St. and the local Division of Motor Vehicles offices in Sturtevant. Pioneer Products, Western Village and the numerous Rogan’s Shoes are all long-time Keystone customers.
‘Sense of accomplishment’
Besides the sibling owners, Keystone has two office employees, five service technicians and three installers. Keystone is a union shop, and both its installers and service techs earn $34 in wages per hour and just less than $30 hourly in benefits, Katt said.
“What I get for that is well-trained guys and motivated guys.”
Those installers and service techs earn their money, Katt said, and he knows because he served a five-year apprenticeship and did the work for 20 years. “It’s tough on your body,” he said.
Katt said he got a real sense of satisfaction during those hands-on years.
“We used to do a lot of new homes,” he said. “I would drive around and go, ‘That’s my house,’ ‘That’s my house.’
“I took possession of the jobs because we custom-fit everything, custom-made everything. We made all our own ductwork, all our own fittings, installed all that stuff. And there’s a good sense of accomplishment doing that.”
Katt continued, “Putting in furnaces, we made our name by doing good and esthetically pleasing work — not just cramming stuff in.”
The Great Recession hit the business hard, Katt said. But it has been steadily, slowly growing ever since then.
Keystone also survives the weather-dependency of this business. For example, last summer’s comfortable temperatures meant a not-very-robust time for air-conditioning jobs, Katt said.
“This time of year, for a couple of months it’ll be slower, because most of the (heating equipment) that was going to break has broken,” he said, and people usually don’t plan furnace change-outs for mid-winter.
But two things will always create business, Katt said: “People need heat.
“And they want air conditioning.”
“I think it was just Keystone Heating, because there was no such thing as air conditioning then.” David Katt, president of Keystone Heating & Air Conditioning Co.