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Ones journey through life is a series of paths that unfold before us as we mature and grow. The decisions we make along this journey guide us through life. They shape us into the person we become.
Little did Rhonda Wight know her destiny was just one “Help Wanted” ad away during her senior year in college. Upon searching for a temporary job to help with room and board expenses, Wight came upon a listing at a local HVACR distributor. This distributor was Refrigeration Sales Corp. (RSC), an independent and family-owned wholesale company located in northeast Ohio.
“I had no idea what the company was about; if you had asked me at the time how our house was heated or cooled, I couldn’t tell you,” she jokes, looking back fondly. “I just knew the company was located conveniently to where I was going to school, and that the pay would cover what I needed. I walked in the door, and they were willing to accommodate my schedule.”
Wight was immediately enamored with the company, gaining insight and experience in the HVACR world. However, the most valuable experience she acquired was within the atmosphere of the familial environment and the relationships she made with fellow team members, suppliers, and customers. She was “having fun taking care of customers to make life a little easier for them.”
Hired as a secretary in the parts department at RSC’s headquarters store, Wight received an immediate education interacting with various department team members and became familiarized in the company’s many layers of offerings, including the nuances of air conditioning as Refrigeration Sales Corp. is a Carrier distributor.
Wight’s journey into the HVACR industry has taken nearly 30 years, but through her dedication and relentless efforts, she has ascended to higher goals. Wight took on the role of president in 2013 and became chief executive officer in June 2021. She also is the 2022 chairwoman of HARDI.
RSC is headquartered in Valley View, Ohio, located near Cleveland. It is supported by more than 150 team members taking care of its 10 locations throughout Ohio, with one location in Pittsburgh. “We have 16 different families who work in our company,” Wight says — a testament to the company culture, and the opportunities that the growing company provided in the local area.
The company remained family-owned and -operated for three generations.
“RSC had a lot of growth, and we were getting to the point where investing needed to be done. Operations needed to keep up with sales, and we wanted to expand our technology side and possibly expand our physical footprint,” says Wight. A private equity firm had knocked on its door before. It made sense that to move forward, private equity would be the way to go. RSC was sold in June 2021.
“When the firm asked us what our weakest area is and how could they help improve it, I knew this was going to be a great partnership that would provide endless opportunities for us,” Wight explains.
WholeServing its Customers
“It is our mission to proudly create world-class comfort, dependability and efficiency by WholeServing the highest quality environmental control systems and services,” as per RSC’s mission statement. The company’s reputation hinges on its core values of service speed, expertise, and relationships. “It’s really extraordinary people providing business solutions,” Wight says, who has understood and exemplified this company culture and mission since day one.
She adds that the core of WholeServing is its people —in the team members that make up RSC, as well as its customers whose relationships are not considered transactional. It’s about taking care of team members and customers.
“This is a relationship business, whether it’s our employees, our customers or our suppliers,” Wight notes. “People may leave their current role, but typically they don’t leave the industry. I’ve worked with the same people for almost 30 years now. And it’s great to watch everybody’s careers change and grow.”
She understands that in business mistakes happen, but with a foundation of trust, partnership, and experience, relationships are not severed. “The last thing we want to do is make a mistake, but we rely on our relationships with our customers to give us the opportunity to make it right — because we care,” she says. “Service speed is all about our customers’ time; ensuring we can service them quickly and get them the products they need, as well as making sure we have a strong relationship with them.”
Wight adds that it’s all about training: “We WholeServe by experience. We are a training facility; we train the industry, our people and our customers. Training is at our core — it’s very important to us.”
Refrigeration Sales Corp. offers an extensive curriculum, complete with interactive labs, encouraging and educating its students to be the best in their class. “It’s a powerful program, and we have a waitlist for classes. We believe we can make the industry better by providing training to everyone. It’s been our philosophy since the company started, and it’s been our strength.”
Wight adds that due to the technical advances of HVAC equipment and regulatory changes, training is more important than ever: “A good installation of HVAC equipment is most important. We want to set our customers up for success. So, we train and train and train — we are relentless about that.”
It comes back to the coined term of WholeServing: serving the customer from A to Z. “Whether its presale, post-sale, or everything in between,” Wight says, “We relentlessly serve our customers.”
She adds: “When technicians are out in the field and get into a challenging situation and need expert advice by someone they trust, they know they can call on the experts at RSC. “We go above and beyond for our customers; we help them from start to finish. Not everyone provides the training and technical support that we do at RSC.”
Best in Class
In typical Wight fashion, she wanted to learn more to better serve her company and customers. RSC was an early member of HARDI, and Wight began to attend meetings. “I would go to HARDI meetings and sit with members; I was so impressed with their experiences and wisdom,” she recalls. “And I would ask question after question; if they gave me their business card, I would say, something’s going to happen at some point, and I will reach out to you.’”
She would take the information back to RSC and implement the meeting takeaways, as well as build on the relationships made at those meetings. “Everyone needs a network where you can call and ask a question or bounce an idea off of them,” Wight says.
She found this to be true with HARDI, as well as BLUE HAWK, an HVACR cooperative. “We encourage our RSC team to take part in events for both BLUE HAWK and HARDI,” she says. “Our team now has their own networks — a support system. It has served us all well, especially during the pandemic.”
In 2022, Wight was elected as the chairwoman of HARDI — the second female to lead the group and the first person to be elected chairperson in its new governance process.
“The organization went through a governance change a few years back, and I had been on the board for five years,” she explains. “The new governance model eliminated an executive committee, and instead placed four committees: a nominating committee, finance committee, a membership committee and compensation committee.”
Serving as the chair of the compensation committee and a member of the nominating committee, Wight understood that volunteering and giving back was vital to the growth of the industry.
“I’m very excited to be in the role; HARDI has given so much to me throughout my career,” she says.
As a female leader (and she was the first female manager at RSC), she reflects on the meaning of the dual roles she has.
“I want women to see this as an opportunity to join not only our industry, but also volunteer in organizations and show the path toward leadership,” Wight says. “We need more women in our industry, as women’s and men’s approaches are different. Both offer a tremendous amount of knowledge and strength to our team. Adding women to the team is a differentiator, providing multiple views of how we look at challenges, situations and develop solutions. They make our industry stronger. We need all the brilliant men in our industry; adding woman to this mix has made our industry better.”
The Year Ahead
There has been a tremendous amount of change over the last few years within the HARDI community, from a governance model change to supply chain woes, regulatory issues and now defining the “new normal.” I asked Wight about her focus and platform for the group.
“We need to focus on how we make the independent distributor stronger, and listen to what distributor members are asking for,” she says. With a diverse membership representing the smallest member company to the largest distributor, what they see and need from leadership may be a little different but encompasses the overall theme. “We’ve got to listen to everyone — each has different opinions and needs and HARDI can continue to drive what is needed to them.”
While companies have been in survival mode over the past two years, the industry has always dug in and pushed forward — now, it’s charging forward. And with Wight at the helm of both RSC and HARDI, the opportunities are endless.
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