Four generations strong
Nate Moeller returns to FD to join family furnace business
When Nate Moeller visits customers’ homes in Fort Dodge, he’ll sometimes find air conditioning or heating units that were installed by his grandpa decades ago.
Moeller, the son of Fred Moeller, returned home in 2020 to become manager of the family business — Moeller Furnace Co.
“I am out doing quotes every day,” Nate Moeller said. “A lot of the residential jobs we do, we are taking out equipment installed by my grandfather. It’s interesting to see the history there.”
Nate Moeller’s great grandfather, Walter J. Moeller, founded the company in 1912. It was first located on the other side of the street from where it is today at 114 S. 12th St. The move happened just about a year-and-a-half after the business started.
The business has survived recessions, depressions, wars and natural disasters.
During the Great Depression and World War II, Moeller Furnace manufactured corn planters for area farmers and bird feeders for the Strombert Hatchery. Some of those feeders reside in the Smithsonian Institute. Another production was “overseas boxes.” These were simple containers made from used ammunition boxes. During the war, they were used to ship goods to loved ones in the armed forces.
“It was the ingenuity of my grandpa to keep the business alive,” Nate Moeller said.
Walter E. (Bud) Moeller, Fred’s father; and W.H. (Willie) Moeller, operated the business after Walter J. Moeller.
“My dad came in during the war when he was a kid in 1938-41, somewhere in there,” Fred Moeller said. “He was oldest of three boys. Willie was a Navy aircraft carrier pilot.”
Fred’s father stayed behind during the war because Moeller Furnace was considered essential business.
When Willie returned from the war, Moeller was the first company in the state to start selling air conditioners. Willie retired in the 1980s and Bud took the reigns from there until Fred was ready to take over in the late 1980s.
“I was working for a big corporation out in Colorado and it got pretty toxic and my dad always wanted me back here,” Fred recalled. “In 1976 I called him from Breckenridge, Colorado and decided to come back. Met my wife back here, raised my family here.”
And Fred’s son, Nate Moeller is in the process of becoming majority owner.
“We are so blessed with the right people,” Fred Moeller said. “We have great people working for us. Always have. It’s a family. I’ve never considered them just totally workers. We’d do anything for each other. I am so grateful.
“Family business can be hard and I don’t know many who have four generations going,” Fred Moeller said. “Not many four generation businesses exist or even thrive.”
Becker Florists, Laufersweiler-Sievers Funeral Home & Cremation Services and Daniel Tire Co. represent three other Fort Dodge businesses with at least three generations.
Nate Moeller, a 2009 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, arrived back at the family business right as the COVID-19 pandemic was rearing its ugly head in the spring of 2020.
“During this past year it’s been pretty hectic with everything going on,” said Nate Moeller, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Wartburg College in Waverly, where he also played football. “I came in a year ago and since then we have had tough times getting equipment. Being more safe going to people’s houses. It was a hectic year for everyone. Getting through this past year, things are starting to even out now with being able to get equipment and keep prices down.”
He said more efficient furnaces and air conditioners were harder to come by during the pandemic.
“We weren’t able to get them and didn’t know how long it would be,” Nate Moeller said. “This was across the whole industry. Any production line of HVAC equipment was shut down during a time period. Luckily, we have been around a long time and have accrued capital and able to stock equipment here which kept us going during that time. From March to about a month ago we got a call that they (supplier) have all the equipment now. But for a year it was basically a struggle.”
Prior to moving back to Fort Dodge, Nate Moeller worked for HD Supply in both Iowa City and Des Moines where he gained experience as account manager.
HD Supply is a large corporation that provides an expansive offering of construction materials.
“I’ve been around the mechanical, construction type industry for my whole life,” Nate Moeller said. “I grew up working here since middle school, doing any type of grunt work. And I grew up thinking I’d work here. After college, I wanted to test my skills on my own. It took me a while to figure out I wanted to work for myself and continue the family business. I take a lot of pride in coming back and taking over for my dad. I know there’s a lot of potential in this line of business. I thought it would be a good idea to move back to Fort Dodge and serve the community.”
Nate Moeller’s older brother, Brandon, lives in Cedar Falls. He works at a John Deere center as an engineer.
Since returning, Nate Moeller has reconnected with people he saw as a kid.
“Everyone around here was kind of like family,” Nate Moeller said. “We still have guys that work here from when I was a kid. It’s kind of funny coming back. Having some of the same guys still working here and remembering myself working here as a kid in the same spot.”
Moeller Furnace installs and services residential and light commercial HVAC systems.
“We do the basic furnace and air to rooftop units,” Nate Moeller said. “Mini split systems. Anything residential. We have done a lot of new homes this year as opposed to last year ,which is surprising because of COVID. We work with a lot of home builders around Iowa.”
One challenge is working in some of the older homes in the community.
“There’s some older, historic homes and when it comes to airflow in these older homes, you have to have some ingenuity,” Nate Moeller said. “We do our own sheet metal fabrication and duct work. Taking some of that out that’s 50 years old. Making sure airflow throughout the home is quality air can be difficult.”
But those jobs can also be the most rewarding.
“The jobs that take some ingenuity and working with the crew to figure out,” Nate Moeller said. “It’s a whole collaboration between our whole team.”
Higher efficient heating and cooling options are becoming more popular, especially with rebates offered from energy companies, he said.
“People are becoming more aware of that and going with more efficient equipment,” he said. “Mini splits are more popular, which are basically ductless heating and cooling systems you can put in any room, garage or four seasons room. New equipment like that. Things are constantly developing and becoming more efficient, better functioning as years have gone on. And we are a Rheem dealer and have been for a long time. We have a great relationship with them. In Iowa we are one of the top sellers of Rheem.”
He said workers from Moeller will travel within 100 mile radius if requested.
Nate Moeller said typically the busy times of year are supposed to be when it’s really cold outside and when it’s really warm outside. However, he said business has remained pretty consistent as of late.
In 2020, Moeller did about 500 installs. So far in 2021, 109 installs have been completed. The company employs about 10 people made up of sheet metal workers, heating and cooling technicians, a design engineer, a bookkeeper and an office manager.
“We have always been a small company and my idea is to grow a little bit in the future since we are always so busy,” Nate Moeller said. “We have enough workload to have another crew or two.”
Another goal of Nate Moeller’s is to find a new home for the business.
“We’ve been here over 100 years now,” Moeller said. “My goal is to eventually get a new location. My main goal is to grow.”
Seeing notes of appreciation from customers is a sign that the company is doing things the right way, Nate Moeller said.
“We have had a great reputation and are able to stock up on equipment,” he said. “Keep our prices down and be competitive with everyone around Iowa. We have a whole wall of hand written notes from people around the community. All that pieced together has kept us going for as long as we have.”