Heins Appliance’s co-owner Chris Matson, center, is flanked by his mentor Craig Heins (left) and new partner Brian Heins.
By Andy Kriege, YSN
Chris Matson sports a remarkably realistic tattoo of the late, great “Hillbilly Shakespeare” Hank Williams on his right forearm. With Matson’s newfound status as part owner of Heins Appliance, it only seems appropriate to cue up some old Hank and sing, “Move it on over, ’cause the new dog’s moving in!”
Longtime BrandSource Members
Heins Appliance in Shawano, Wis., has been a member and strong supporter of all things BrandSource for years. Principal Craig Heins had long served on his region board until recently selling his portion of the business to employee and avid Young Professionals (YP) member Matson. Heins, along with his brother Brian, ran the store for decades after taking over from their father. Brian, who is eight years younger than Craig, ran the service side of the operation. He will remain a partner in the business and continue to work with Chris going forward.
As is the case with many dealers facing succession issues, none of the Heins’ kin showed an interest in working in the family business. Without the next generation stepping in and taking over, Heins Appliance was destined to dead end without a plan for the future. Fortunately, Chris Matson was there to take up the mantle.
An ‘Intentional’ Plan
When the elder Heins began to contemplate retiring and moving on to other things, he harkened back to the succession planning sessions he had attended at BrandSource events over the years. The message was clear: you have to be “intentional” in planning how to transition out of your business, he was instructed; it will not just “happen.” Indeed, it takes years of planning to successfully transition a company, especially if the business cannot stay within the family. And a key part of that planning involves grooming a successor.
“In those seminars I was given the guidance on to how to become intentional in that process and how plan to make it happen,” Heins said. “I began to groom Chris to take over. It really worked out well for everyone.”
Matson started out at Heins Appliance about 15 years ago when he was not far out of high school. He began by doing just about anything: deliveries, warehouse work and loading trucks. Heins took Matson under his wing and became a wonderful mentor and a positive influence in his life. “I’m so thankful that he gave me the opportunity,” Matson said. “He has treated me like a son and has taught me so much.”
Today, at 33, Matson feels an added responsibility to take the business and run with it. “Now, when I turn the key in the door in the morning, I have to worry about more than my family alone,” he said. “I’m responsible for all the people who work here.” But he feels well prepared to take on the role of owner. “With what Craig has taught me, coupled with the training I’ve received from being a part BrandSource and the Young Professionals, I feel I’m ready to take on that challenge.”
The YP Experience
Matson has been an active member and eager participant in BrandSource’s under-40 Young Professionals group for about four years. He attends every event possible and absorbs all he can from the educational sessions, the speakers and most of all from his fellow YP members.
Matson described his experience in YP as “Amazing. It is such a powerful group.” In particular, “The networking has been fantastic,” he said. “To be able to reach out to people that are doing the same thing and experiencing the same challenges that I have has been of great benefit to me as I continue to learn and grow into this business.” Between meetings, Matson regularly communicates with his YP colleagues via text, phone and through the group’s Facebook page. “I’ve made some awesome friends that I have on speed dial,” he said. “We recently used Facebook to collaborate on some holiday pricing strategies.”
Not surprisingly, the most powerful part of the YP sessions for Matson are the roundtable discussions and the one-on-one interactions with fellow members, who share the same day-to-day experiences. These discussions typically spill into dinner, to the bar, or poolside, and often continue long after the meetings conclude by keeping a digital thread going.
YP has clearly been an eye-opening experience for Matson, and he eagerly shares his enthusiasm for group by encouraging all his young BrandSource peers to join the organization and attend at least one YP University.
His advocacy has not gone unnoticed by AVB General Manager Jennifer Baldwin, who runs the Young Professionals group. “Chris has been a part of our YP family for years now,” she said. “He’s a great source of knowledge and advice for the newcomers. I congratulate him on becoming an owner. Great things lie ahead for him and the future of his business.”
A Look Back to Move Forward
Mentor and former boss Heins recalls that he saw in Chris “a young me. When he first started, he was more into having fun and goofing off. I was that same guy. I am really proud of how far he has come and feel great about where he is now and where this business is headed.”
Heins paused as he contemplated how someday Matson too will have to plan for the future of Heins Appliance. “Chris knows he will eventually have to find his own version of himself,” he said. “Someone he can groom to keep the business going.”
With that in mind, Matson has already identified a young employee who may someday follow in his path. Matson brought him to his first YP event last year and hopes to fan the same spark that Heins fostered in him. To that end, both Heins and Matson laud the Young Professionals group as a valuable tool to help bring the next generation of leaders to the forefront. Afterall, even though his ownership journey has just begun, Matson knows that at some point in the future it’ll be time for him to “move it on over” and let the next boss move in.
BrandSource is a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc.