When it comes to living in the HVAC world, Total Comfort founder, Pete Katschke, has blazed a trail all his own, and has his mind set on turning the stereotypes on their head.
His life in Heating and Cooling in the Region began quite on accident, and wasn’t something he entirely expected. He started out working for a Ford Motor assembly plant in Chicago, and through a series of twists and turns in life, ended up where he is now; at the head of a successful family company in Northwest Indiana.
Being a person of initiative, Katschke began taking classes while in Chicago for relevant HVAC certifications and was planning on moving with his wife to Minnesota. Instead, they moved to Northwest Indiana in 2004, his wife Christy is from Hobart, and it made more sense at the time.
Katschke knew a company in the area and got hired quickly as he had some certifications that were uncommon at the time, and he quickly realized he had an aptitude for the job, and enjoyed the work.
“I hit the ceiling quickly at the company I was at, but I got frustrated because they had more of a ‘good enough’ mentality, and I was always focused on doing things the best way possible. Without a conduit to do it to my own standard, I created my own company because ‘good enough’ wasn’t good enough,” said Katschke on his decision to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
Total Comfort was started expressly because Katschke didn’t feel he could do the level of work he wanted to, so in 2010 he decided to do it his way: focused on excellence, and doing the best work possible.
It paid off, though the work was hard and at the beginning Katschke worked out of a storage unit, using the headlights on his truck to light his work. Making metal pieces by headlight and storing machinery in his living room, Katschke had his work cut out for him.
Even his daughter, Lily, was involved from the very beginning.
“We call her the Vice-President,” Katschke laughed, “My daughter’s bedroom, when she was one and a half, was my first office. We couldn’t afford daycare so she was with me at the table negotiating with the banks. She was quite literally on my hip for the first few years,” he said.
Katschke is clear that he had a lot of help from family. For example, Lily is nine now but still helps out, sweeping around the shop and mowing the grass. He has also had his two brothers and father working for the business in the past.
With a lot of dedication and family support, Total Comfort had become successful enough that it purchased the assets of Thorn heating and cooling in 2015. A sign of Katschke’s growing success, Total Comfort moved offices to Portage and began working out of the Thorn office.
“My biggest motivator was satisfaction. I always wanted to do the finest work possible, even when I worked for Ford. I was involved in a quality initiative because American auto makers got black eye on quality around 2003,” Katschke explained.
Katschke credits this time at Ford in part for his eye for excellence.
“They made investments in process and tech to ensure we had highest quality in industry and shortly after I left they achieved that. That intensity, that most people glossed over, we magnified and looked at how we could do everything correctly down to the most minute details.”
He’s brought that dedication to detail into the HVAC industry, something that sets Thorn Total Comfort apart from other industry providers who settle for ‘good enough.’
Katschke lives in Valparaiso with his family now, and though he sometimes misses the farm aspect of his former life, he loves the community.
“It’s a very diverse place to live, and I’m a bit of a foodie and Valpo has a very intense food scene with an artistic flair to it. And it’s such an active community. It’s an active place that’s always moving and improving.”
As for when Katschke gets a spare moment away from work, he spends a lot of time on Lake Michigan, fishing and getting some quality time out on the boat and enjoying the view. He enjoys this time as being a business owner is a 24/7 dedication.
As he looks to the future, Katschke is encouraged, but being detail and excellence oriented, he’s already preparing for far down the road.
“The industry has a 20% shortage of qualified manpower. So, I’m looking to engage the younger generation and make the work relevant and important and satisfying for the new generation. We will always take the best person for the job, rather than someone in the field with the wrong attitude. I would rather hire a waitress with intense sense of serving and solving problems than a mechanically-inclined person who has the wrong attitude,” explained Katschke on where he would like to lead the industry.
Thorn Total Comfort is a company that started in the spirit of excellence in quality and service and forges a path forward in the same spirit.