Guided Growth: An Interview With Heather Hockenberry

Published by Christy Reed on

Guided Growth: An Interview With Heather Hockenberry

Featuring Heather Hockenberry

Share
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email

The Fire Time Magazine

Joining me from South Central Pennsylvania is Heather Hockenberry, an amazing Coach and Consultant at Hockenberry Management Consulting. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat today, Heather. I know you’re very busy, and I truly appreciate it.

Heather Hockenberry

 I’m very glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

FTM

 Let’s start by getting to know you a little bit. Can you tell our readers why you became a Consultant and Coach for small business owners? What motivated you? What was your journey like?

HH

 I’d love to. The business began more than 22 years ago with the intention of helping businesses and leaders grow. I joined about eight years ago and have really enjoyed working with amazing clients on the things that matter to them within their small businesses and teams.

One of my personal core values is to add value to the situations I’m in. Coming from a background of positions that served me well in terms of knowledge but lacked the feeling of making a difference, I really enjoy where I am today with Hockenberry Management Consulting—because I’m able to add value to people and situations every single day.

FTM

Yes, that’s one of the places where we get meaning from our work—when we add value by using our greatest strengths toward the greater good. With that in mind, what experiences, values, and skills do you have that can help hearth businesses grow?

HH

My educational background certainly serves me well. I just obtained my master’s degree in Executive Coaching and Consulting.

This interview is brought to you by Associated Energy Systems (AES).

FTM

Congratulations!

HH

Thank you! I feel like it gives me more tools in my belt to serve my clients well. In the hearth industry specifically, we’ve had a valued client for years, and that team has taken advantage of a variety of services we offer to build their team, develop their leaders, improve their culture, train their staff members, and deal with seasonality. We’ve been very intimately involved with this client, and it’s given us tremendous familiarity with every aspect of the business. I personally understand the ups and downs of having a seasonal business. It really influences the way the business shows up and brands itself in the community it serves. I think there are a lot of intricacies to it that make it unique.

FTM

Let’s lean into that seasonality a bit more. Virtually everyone who reads The Fire Time Magazine works in the hearth industry, which means they deal with seasonality. Given that, could you share some common strategies for managing the seasonality of the hearth industry?

HH

Some key things to remember—and this is a high-level overview—are to understand that your people are there because they want to be, so keep them and your customers top of mind. If you’ve done a good job of attracting customers in the heating season, for example, do you offer products and services that may interest them in the summer, like outdoor products, grills, smokers, furniture, or hot tubs? Those are often common matches in this industry. Remember that a loyal customer in one season may be a quicker and easier customer in other seasons as well. Nurturing those relationships is super important.

The same goes for the internal team. Keep them encouraged, whether things are slow or busy—because both can feel overwhelming. Use the slower seasons to work on the business, as other times can be too busy for that. Focus on the business when it’s slower and pay attention to it when demand is high.

FTM

At this point, we’ve looked at some of the experiences and skills you bring to the hearth industry specifically as a Coach and Consultant. That said, can you tell us more about your role in helping hearth, patio, and barbecue businesses overcome challenges and achieve growth?

HH

Sure. It’s important to mention that we don’t exclusively work in this space, or in any specific industry. We consider ourselves process consultants, focusing on business processes and foundational elements that apply to any organization, regardless of size or type. There are essential components, systems, and processes that must be in place for a business to be successful and grow, and those are what we focus on at our firm.

Given that, our role within the businesses we work with is to be an external resource, offering a third-party perspective. When you own, manage, or preside over a business, it’s easy to get consumed by the day-to-day operations, making it challenging to think at a higher level. Having someone to advise, consult, mentor, and support you in that process is tremendously helpful for those in charge of a business’s success.

Finally, it’s socially beneficial to have someone in your corner, and it’s also crucial to know that someone else wants you to win. In coaching specifically, our role is to be in a person’s corner. We have no stake in the game except wanting our clients to succeed—and I think that’s a really powerful role to fill in business.

FTM

We’ve already discussed two common issues that hearth retailers often face: dealing with the seasonality of the hearth industry and working in the business instead of on the business. What are some other common issues with businesses in the hearth industry that you’ve seen where consulting services can make a significant impact?

HH

 It’s really easy to think that you’re alone in business. Many business owners, especially in this space, got into it because they love it, it’s their family’s business, or they started a small shop that grew. Often, people in this business may not be “business people.” They know the hearth stuff—the technical things—but they don’t necessarily know how to manage all the other business aspects required for a successful company. That’s a lonely place that can be isolating, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s easy to waste a lot of money just trying things because you lack confidence in your direction.

The value of working with coaches and consultants is that they help businesses get clarity on where they’re going and how to get there in the most efficient and cost-effective way. For business owners, that can be really hard to figure out on their own. At Hockenberry Management Consulting, our processes often end up with a to-do list. It’s literally a to-do list of what needs to happen and when these goals need to be achieved. It seems

like that should be easy to do, but of course, there’s a lot more to it, and it’s often overwhelming. Having that clarity is a real difference-maker.

Another key area is the value of training up teams, especially in a space where things can be expensive, costs are changing, and sticker shock is a real challenge. Having your team well-trained and well-equipped in understanding human behavior, customer reaction, and communication preferences is crucial. These small things make a big difference in customers’ experiences, their loyalty, and their return business. If you want life-long customers and offer service as well as sales, it’s super important to build a strong foundation of relationships. That’s a real challenge without intentional training and work. We’ve done that with our clients, and it’s been awesome. We’ve seen marked changes in how customers feel and interact with the team.

FTM

Given everything we’ve talked about, could you run us through some of your other core services? I know creating processes and training employees are big ones. What are some other core services you and other coaches offer, and how can they help folks in the hearth industry grow?

HH

Good question. For the sake of clarity, our team tends to think of this from two different dimensions. First, there’s the organizational dimension. We support businesses through various means, including strategic planning, where we sit down with our clients to figure out where they are today, where they want to be in the future, and how to get there in the best way possible. That sounds easy until you try to do it on your own and realize it’s quite challenging.

FTM

Says easy. Does hard. Right?

HH

Right. We do a lot of strategic planning, internal reviews, and implementation support with clients. That’s what we’re most known for. But we also do a lot of what would be considered management consulting. We support organizations by offering them business advisory services, being an outside resource for ideas, and giving them a variety of assessments. We provide guidance when it comes to leadership development, performance management, process improvement, internal communication, customer experience, and marketing strategy. Simply put, we take a holistic perspective on organizations by understanding their needs, helping them solve their problems, and getting the job done while working with the people in the company. That’s the organizational piece. 

On the individual side, we focus on the development of people—because a good organizational plan without the right people is ineffective. We work on team awareness and team building. We offer custom-built training and development, including leadership programs, as well as one-on-one or team coaching. This is something I’m super excited about, especially after finishing my advanced degree in coaching. We work with people specifically on their journey, tapping into their potential and helping them reach it.

From a team perspective, we help with team dynamics and facilitate conversations. Individually, we help people figure out how they can improve and grow. I believe in coaching the whole human, not just the job title or position within the organization. This often leads to renewed confidence, clarity, perspective, and self-awareness, empowering them to make a greater difference for their organizations and colleagues.

FTM

Can you walk us through what a typical coaching process looks like with new clients in the hearth industry?

HH

When people reach out to us and express interest, they often don’t know exactly what they want or need—they just know they need support to grow their businesses. Part of our process is helping them figure that out. Many people feel pressured to know what services they need before calling a consultant. But if you’re considering getting help, it’s often better to call with your observations and questions, then let us help figure out what’s going on and what our first plan of attack should be. We’ll usually set up a consultation call, discuss the situation, try to understand what is happening, and then make some recommendations on what solutions might be helpful (and where to start if it’s a more complex issue).

Sometimes it is an easy problem to solve. For example, if a client wants a specific training program or workshop, we can do that—no problem. More often than not, it’s a bit more complicated. We help figure out what’s happening and where we should start our work together. Once that’s agreed upon, we get started and partner with the relevant people in the organization. We help with communication around the project to ensure there are no surprises or frustrations within the team. That’s pretty much the process.

From a hearth-specific perspective, it’s quite similar. We know the industry well and understand its unique challenges. This familiarity reduces the need for extensive explanation about industry-specific frustrations . . . because we get it. We’ve walked clients through these struggles for years, so there’s less explanation needed.

Finally, when you’re engaging with an external resource like a consultant or coach, it’s crucial to recognize that you don’t know everything, and you have to be open to learning, engaging, and recognizing where there’s room to tweak and adjust. At Hockenberry Management Consulting, we’re often asked, “Who do you like to work with?” Our answer is always the same: “We love to work with people who want to grow.” That sounds simple, but being close-minded or arrogant in your processes won’t help you get to where you want to go. We won’t be able to move the needle effectively. That’s something really important to us when considering who we want to partner with as well.

FTM

 That’s a perfect segue into the final question: What advice would you give to people who are just starting their business journey in the hearth industry?

HH

When you’re getting started, one of the biggest things is not to try to bootstrap it alone. Some companies benefit from organic growth, but often that only takes you so far, making the journey much more difficult than it needs to be. Starting early and getting wise counsel from others can make a significant difference. This doesn’t mean working with a consultant is the only way. Seeking advice from wise advisors and mentors in the industry who are already excelling is also a great resource.

But please understand, what worked for others may not necessarily work for you, so it’s rarely a “copy-paste” situation—more often, it’s a “copy-paste-edit” situation. In other words, taking good ideas and making them even better on your own is a great way to get started. 

Finally, start early in seeking counsel and creating a plan. The earlier you get intentional about growth, the sooner you’ll see the benefits of that work—and you’ll likely have more clarity and confidence in your decisions.

FTM

That’s great advice, Heather. I know our readers are going to get a ton of value out of this entire interview. If they’re looking for coaching or consulting services, there are obviously lots of great firms out there, but they should certainly consider Hockenberry Management Consulting. If folks want to learn more, I know they can send you a message on LinkedIn, or they can also listen to your recent interview on The Fire Time Podcast. Thanks again for your time today.

HH

Of course! It’s been a pleasure.

Heather Hockenberry

Heather Hockenberry

Heather Hockenberry helps leaders and business grow as she works with clients at Hockenberry Management Consulting. Click here to learn more about her work.

Other Articles by This Author
Enjoy this article? Join The Fire Time Movement to get rewards for your business and support this publication.
Get more resources to help your business.
Want to get your brand in front of the best retailers in the industry? Become an advertising partner.