The Valdosta Daily Times
If, as Chinese philosopher Lau-Tze claims, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then a business of 50 years begins with a single day.
Take a day in 1963, the day David Waller Sr. opened Waller Heating & Air. It was a day he had been working towards for years.
It was a business he started, in part, by working for someone else.
“He went to work for Voigt Sheet Metal,” said Cindy Slaughter, Waller’s daughter. “He convinced them to get into air and heat. He learned it under the auspices of Voigt Sheet Metal.”
While he worked for Voigt, Waller saved, working with Voigt motivating him to open his own heating and air business.
He saved about $10,000, no small feat in the 1950s and ’60s. Needing another $10,000 to get Waller Heating & Air off the ground, Waller visited local banks. After a number of refusals, CNS Bank agreed to lend him the money.
“He paid them back six months later and never looked back.”
As any small-business owner will tell you, running your own business is a time-consuming job.
“I remember, he’d work 20-hour days. We’d see him for dinner, then he headed back to work. If we wanted to spend time with him, we had to go to the store.”
So they did. After renting a building on Marion Street for the first couple of years, Waller moved into the building he had built at 405 N. St. Augustine Rd. Cindy and her brother, David Jr., practically grew up at the store.
Cindy was 6 when the elder Waller opened Waller Heating and Air and has a lot of memories of coming to work with her dad, including getting in a car chase with a man who had stolen gas from the company.
“When the police got him, he had eight different names on eight different IDs from eight different states. They said ‘Whatever you want him for, David, is nothing compared to what everyone else wants him for.’”
The younger David was born a couple of years later, and for his part, he started working with duct installation when he was 12, climbing up into attics in the summer months.
“If you wanted to be with Dad, you had to go to work with him,” said David Waller Jr. “We all learned good work ethics. We believe in that. It’s what makes good business.”
After starting out with four employees, including their mom, Sharon, as the secretary, Waller now has 40 employees. Today, the younger David acts as president, Cindy works as office manager and Bill Slaughter, Cindy’s husband, is CEO.
“When Dad started out, he was doing 50-100 jobs a year. Now, we do that many in a month.”
Like many businesses, it has had to weather some rough times in recent years, but it still managed to do good business, something that the younger Waller credits to their diversity.
“With our commercial, residential, servicing and installation work, we were able to refocus when construction work started. Of course, that’s starting to come back now.”
The company’s altruistic community endeavors has helped this success.
“We try to give all we can.”
“Dad has always said he cannot repay the
community for what it’s done for him,” said Cindy.
Like every other business that’s worked through decades, Cindy and the younger Waller have seen a lot of changes. The Internet has changed how they apply for permits, greatly expediting the process. Technology has made house planning faster, allowing them to do load calculations faster.
“Even though we have this advanced technology, we still do things the way Dad did,” said Cindy. “We still do load calculations, cost sheets. Of course, you have to change with the times, but why would you change something that was successful?”
“We still have some of the original equipment used to make duct work,” said the younger Waller. “We still use it today.”
And other things have changed. When Waller Heating and Air opened, the majority of America didn’t have air-conditioning. Now, almost everyone does.
They opened a Thomasville location in 2010.
“We had talked about it for a couple of years and finally decided to take the plunge.”
The business has also seen Valdosta change, seen St. Augustine change from a two-lane road, seen the Valdosta Mall start up on the site of a horse farm. And they’ve seen their business change and grow, something they’d like to see for another 50 years.
“It’s not something that just happens,” said Cindy. “It takes hard work and treating people right. It gets frustrating sometimes, but I still have the desire to come in everyday. It’s a struggle, but it’s a good struggle.”