Two employees to run business
By Jamison Cocklin
Charlie McCrudden recounts the time he received a phone call from a customer in the early 1960s who wanted to know if the young salesman, barely out of college, would make a home delivery.
As the owner of a fledgling heating and supply distribution company, the way McCrudden remembers it, he didn’t think twice. It was typical, and that’s how he ran his business in its early days — building a reputation one order, and one delivery, at a time.
His wife, Barbara, was told to hold watch at the sales counter until McCrudden returned. Of course, in those days, Interstate 680, which winds its way around Youngstown and provides easy access to many of its nearby suburbs, had not yet been built.
Still, McCrudden packed his truck with parts for the contractors waiting across town, and he set out from his business at the Corner of Williamson and Southern Avenues. But on this particular occasion, he “decided it was time to hire a truck driver.”
“When they started the company, my mother would answer calls and tend to me in a baby carriage,” said McCrudden’s daughter Rosemary. “Even during the winter when customers would call needing a part in the middle of the night, my father would get out of bed to serve them.”
It so happened that Rosemary was born in 1963, when McCrudden Heating Supply was founded. It still thrives today, albeit under the ownership of two longtime employees.
After 55 years in the business, McCrudden, 77, retired last May.
“No, not at all,” he said resoundingly when asked if he should have waited longer to retire. “The way it was working out, it was perfect. By selling inside the company, all my employees would still have a job.”
The company went to Bill Rotar and Ralph Desimone, both Youngstown natives with a combined three decades at the distributor. Larger, nationwide suppliers approached McCrudden, but negotiations kept “going round,” he said. To him, knowing that his 18 employees, many of whom have worked at the company for decades themselves, would undoubtedly keep their jobs was all that mattered.
“Most of these employees have been here for 15 plus years — we just don’t have a lot of turnover here,” Rotar said. “We’re serving second- and third-generation contractors, and our goal is to keep the reputation of the company going and grow the business.”
Rotar and Desimone will take a cue from McCrudden himself.
Shortly after graduating with a degree in economics from Notre Dame in 1957, McCrudden made his way back home to work alongside his father and uncle at the Banner Supply Co., which still operates today. But growing restless for independence, McCrudden struck out on his own, first opening his small distribution company in a rented building along Southern Avenue.
Six years after he opened, McCrudden trained his sights on an old lumber yard on Williamson Avenue, calling a secretary to arrange a walk-through at the property. He quickly purchased it for $65,000, later bought out two nearby houses and made room for a warehouse expansion where the business operates today.
“After about five years, we had built up a pretty good customer base,” McCrudden said as he described how he developed his business over the years. “I had a good relationship with my customers, and some of the other guys I hired did, too. I wanted to stay on that end of Southern; it was a great centralized location, even without 680, you could get anywhere quickly.”
The company finds its headquarters there today, but it wouldn’t be McCrudden’s last expansion. In 1993, a second branch was opened in West Middlesex, Pa., in close proximity to the Ohio state line; that location was a way for the business to better serve customers in Western Pennsylvania, where demand was growing, McCrudden said.
Over the years, McCrudden’s wife gave birth to two more children, but as his family grew, so, too, did the heating and cooling industry.
His company sells thousands of products from furnaces and rooftop cooling units, right down to tools, copper pipe and brass valves.
Those components have changed with time, with the old lumbering cast-iron furnaces that could take any number of parts from different makes and models evolving into 21st-century wall-mounted units no bigger than a large microwave that make little or no noise at all and require highly specific parts.
The wholesale distributionSFlbbusiness is a competitive one, serving a $58 billion HVAC industry annually, according to IBIS, a market research firm. The McCrudden’s of the world are stacked up against large national, or regional, competitors such as Ferguson Enterprises, Grainger and the F.W. Webb Co. in the Northeast.
“Charlie is a very wise businessman. He was a man that helped many, many contractors and carried them when they were hurting or gave guys credit when they probably shouldn’t have gotten any,” Rotar said.
Desimone described him as “very down to earth, very old-school,” which is likely a reason McCrudden Heating Supply remains a mainstay in Youngstown’s commercial and residential construction industries today.
“I can remember the customer’s families that would always be bringing in tomatoes from their gardens, fresh-cooked fish, or cookies,” Rosemary added. “It was those kind of relationships my father relied on to build his business.”
For McCrudden, the community didn’t stop at the sales counter. Instead, along with wife Barbara, he was active throughout the Valley, counting among his stewardship a stint as president of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, constant efforts on fundraising committees and a seat on the board of directors at Fellows Riverside Gardens, among other things.
Between him and his wife, the two fulfilled more than 15 different voluntary public roles.
“I liked to meet people, and it was enjoyable getting out,” McCrudden said in describing his place in the community. “I learned so much at a lot of those meetings; things that helped me run my business better.”
Although he still serves as a consultant for Rotar and Desimone, keeping an office and varying hours at the Williamson Avenue location, much of his time is spent traveling to see his children who are now scattered across the country, living in Virginia, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
In Youngstown, McCrudden remains active with the Rotary Club and by filling his time with golf or yard work.
But if anything is required of him during one such activity — friends and colleagues caution — it might have to wait.
“I’ll tell you what he does a couple times a week,” Desimone said, laughing. “He has lunch with his friends, especially on Thursdays; you can’t get him away. Don’t expect to get in touch with him — he’s busy then.”