Owner, Nelson Comfort

Dan Detmer

Dan Detmer of Nelson Comfort was born with the entrepreneurial spirit. The son of an entrepreneurial father who owned a start-up residential heating and cooling business, Dan creatively financed his education at Wilmington College while working an assortment of jobs and serving as a residential advisor.

After earning his business degree in 1985, he joined up with the family heating and cooling business, but soon grew weary and restless of the long hours and on-call nature of the business. “One of the most difficult decisions that I have ever been faced with is leaving my father’s business,” says Dan. “But after spending six years in the business, I knew in my heart that I needed to make a change.”

 

Dan then spent the next 15 years in the wholesale side of the business, working for such giants as Lennox Industries and Superior Distribution (an Amana distributor). He made it a policy to personally get to know every one of his customers and to help them grow their business. Providing them with marketing materials, cash-flow analyses and even advice on employee-related issues.

 

One such customer—who also became a close, personal friend—was Gregg Mortimer. Gregg owned a small heating and cooling company on the west side of Cincinnati. When he was tragically diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer in early 2004, Gregg approached Dan about buying the family-owned business. Gregg knew Dan and his work ethics first-hand and felt confident that he was the one to take over the family-owned business.

 

“Although the circumstances were very tragic and emotionally charged, I was determined to buy this company and make Gregg proud,” says Dan.

 

Dan has certainly made Gregg proud. He acquired Nelson Brothers Heating and Cooling, located in Madeira, in January 2007, and Nelson Comfort was born.

The Problem

 

As with the growth of any small business, Dan was faced with a host of challenges.

 

“The biggest hurdle,” says Dan, “was blending two established family-owned businesses with long-term employees and two totally distinct cultures, sets of loyalties, and mindsets. It hit me all of a sudden that I now had 20 employees that I was responsible for instead of seven. I thought I was doing a good job of managing both companies and holding everything together until one of the consultants at Aileron made me realize that I could use a little help.

My CPA and trusted advisor for years had recommended I investigate Aileron. I have to admit that I was initially a bit skeptical, as I had previously been through some programs designed for small businesses, but none of them accelerated my business to the next level and held me accountable in the way the resources at Aileron have.”

The Solution

“From the onset of this process, Aileron helped me see the need to consolidate my office to one central location, taught me how to work more ‘productive’ hours, taught me how to take the emotion out of my decision-making process, and helped me to begin to focus on a long-term growth plan.
More specifically, there are three, distinct courses or sessions that each helped me to focus on different areas of my business.

My first course at Aileron was Course for Presidents, a two-day program specifically designed for business owners, presidents, and CEOs. The key reason I believed in this program up front is the fact that it is based upon Aileron Founder Clay Mathile’s proven track record with the Iams Company.
The major takeaways of this program for me were: the Clay Mathile mindset of making employees and clients your first priority, learning how to blend different cultures, how to develop your people, and also how to understand your strategy.

The second session at Aileron was Strategic Management with nine of my key employees. This was a ten-hour process where we talked about how we view our business 10–20 years down the road. Everyone in the session unanimously bought into our company, its culture, and our long-term vision.

The third course that I took was Outside Boards, where business owners who have already completed the Course for Presidents learn about the critical need for an outside board of directors to help them steer their business in the right direction. I learned that a business owner should never pick a person they know to be a board member. One should choose objective professionals who bring a fresh perspective to their business. I also learned that a business owner needs to choose board members whose strengths and expertise supplement their weaknesses and that a board member should be compensated financially, although they are definitely not giving their time for the money—they are doing it purely for the desire of giving back.”

To grow my business, I need to be pushed, challenged, and continue to learn, and Aileron makes working hard fun!

The Results

 

“So, how did I find my board? Aileron helped me do it! A small business owner does not have the time to be soliciting board members one by one. The team at Aileron found my board members for me, and I am proud to say that I now have an attorney and another very successful entrepreneur who owns a multi-million-dollar company. We are about to add one more member, which will bring our total to three. I never realized what a huge impact a board of directors could make on my business. The members provide me with direction, keep me focused on the long-term strategic plan and help me stick to what I know best.

Probably the biggest difference that this program has made in my life is holding me accountable for my game plan. When I left the Course for Presidents, I had an action plan for my business in place, and I was responsible for implementing it. And who was going to hold me accountable? The Aileron consultant assigned to me, who I have on speed dial 24/7, keeps me on track and on course.

At one point in time I was considering the acquisition of a large company with 50+ employees. So, what did I do? I speed-dialed my Aileron contact, who told me that he would pull together a temporary board of directors to help me evaluate my opportunity. Within a week, Aileron had some major CEOs from billion-dollar companies at my fingertips and ready to advise me. After discussing the potential acquisition with them, it became very clear to me that this would have been a huge mistake. Without the board’s expertise, I probably would have pursued it and regretted it in a major way further down the road.

We are all now on the same page, and my employees take pride that they are being held accountable to help us meet our goals. Every decision that I make will be made looking down the road ten years and considering how it will affect my company and my family of employees.

Perhaps most importantly, the Aileron experience has shown me that I can’t grow if I stay in my comfort zone. To grow my business, I need to be pushed, challenged, and continue to learn, and Aileron makes working hard fun!”

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