Founded in 1981, this business keeps an eye out for its family of customers.
A Branching History
In 1932, a man by the name of JA Fritch founded a business in Peoria called JA Fritch & Sons. The company did—and still does—specialize in sheet metal work contracting and heating and cooling for industrial buildings. Five decades later, one of Fritch’s grandsons, Michael J. Fritch, went out on his own, establishing Fritch Heating & Cooling to serve the residential market in the fabrication and installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Michael began his career at JA Fritch & Sons, though his grandfather was no longer directly involved in the business. Instead, one of the “Sons” in the business’ namesake was running the shop. “My dad’s father passed away young, so he was working for his uncle [at JA Fritch & Sons], and his uncle had his son-in-law in the business,” explained Angela Fritch-Milton, Michael’s daughter and general manager of Fritch Heating & Cooling. “They had a buy-out agreement written up in the ‘50s on the stock options between my grandpa and his brother, and it just seemed like a natural time [to start his own business].”
And so, in 1981, Michael founded Fritch Heating & Cooling. Today, the two Fritch shops operate side by side on Northeast Adams Street in Peoria, but their family ties extend only to distant cousins.
Adapting and Defining Boundaries
The more recently established Fritch shop currently employs two generations of family: Michael, Angela and Angela’s husband, Joseph Milton. Joseph joined the business after following Angela, then his fiancée, to Peoria. He started at the bottom rung of the ladder, working his way up to his current position as sales manager.
The business is one means to ensure that the family behind it will continue to prosper. “My dad is so focused on making sure that my husband and I succeed,” said Angela, “and he’ll do anything to help us.” But like any family business, adapting to new roles as business partners can be difficult at times.
“[My dad] has expectations for me on what he would like to see,” said Angela, “and I have expectations for him…and sometimes those don’t match up.” In order to handle such issues, she believes, it sometimes helps to step away from the business. To that end, Angela and her father will often go for walks on the trail behind their office in order to discuss the issues at hand, which Angela believes is a healthy, effective way to resolve differences.
The company also features a spousal relationship, which, says Angela, doesn’t carry with it any serious obstacles. “We do have to have some boundaries when we talk about work,” she said, “but for the most part, we really don’t have any problems with it. We’ve kind of found our boundaries and work within them.” Despite occasional disagreements that derive from the workplace, this is one couple that has found a way to separate such things from their home life. It doesn’t hurt that Joseph deals primarily with outside sales, while Angela works out of the office—sometimes, a little bit of distance can go a long way.
The benefits of this arrangement far outweigh the negatives for Angela. She says that working with her husband is an enjoyable experience, as it allows her to see him during the day for a few minutes, several times a week. It also provides a sense of stability that is often hard to come by. “When you’re in a ‘regular’ business and you’re working with co-workers,” said Angela, “there’s not that amount of loyalty that you see when you’re working with family members.”
Making Customers Family
Fritch Heating & Cooling extends this loyalty to their customer service. The company offers a unique service plan that can save its customers quite a bit of money. Its “Planned Maintenance” program is a once to twice yearly cleaning check on any product purchased from them. If there are any problems, Fritch will fix them with no charge for labor or parts, as long as the work is not needed overnight.
Such programs follow the same concept on which the business was founded: to ensure that their customers, like their family, will be covered. iBi