William E. Almquist and William “Billy” Coe, co-founders of Almcoe Refrigeration, Dallas, TX, were born to be lifelong buddies and business partners.
Friends since childhood, Almquist and Coe shared similar backgrounds and experiences growing up together and working in their families' dairy businesses. After serving in World War II — one Navy, the other Army — Almquist and Coe worked for the Joe Hoppe Company, a local Frigidaire dealer. After about 10 years, they decided it was time to put their brand on the refrigeration industry, and on April 25, 1960, the Almcoe Refrigeration Company was born.
Billy Coe and his wife Kate tapped into their savings to help finance the launch. Kate's brother, a used car dealer, let them have two used trucks for nothing down. Then, the two families got together to build a combination garage/office. It's still standing, next door to the permanent office they built a short time later.
“From that point on, we never had to borrow any more money,” Coe, 84, recalls. “It wasn't all smooth sailing, but we tried to keep up with what the other companies were doing, and with the wages they were paying,” Almquist, 83, says. “Nearly every spring there was a migration of refrigeration people jumping to another company for 10 or 20 cents more. But our employees would never leave.”
Today, Almcoe's estimated annual sales are $12 million and growing. Its business style combines friendly customer outreach with a sincere commitment to excellence in all areas of the business. Comprehensive and methodical on-the-job training, economical equipment procurement, and the newest energy efficient equipment and maintenance programs are among Almcoe's best management practices.
For these and many more reasons, the Almcoe Refrigeration Company — a big company with a big heart for people, families, and customers — is our choice as the 2009 ContractingBusiness.com Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year.
Company Growth Meets Industry Expansion
Almcoe was founded during a landmark era for the refrigeration industry. In 1960, restaurant and supermarket businesses were expanding to meet the needs of growing, post-war communities, and Almcoe soon became a market leader.
Almcoe's first customers included A&P®, Winn Dixie®, and Safeway®. “In the early years, I was making $4.60 per hour, which was about what we charged for a service call,” says Almquist.
The company earned its first $1 million in sales in 1965. By 1970, Almcoe had 20 employees, and Almquist and Coe looked forward to the challenges that awaited them. Towards the end of the decade, they realized it was time to develop a succession strategy to move the business forward.
Second Generation Bill
William Almquist's son, the third Bill in the story, had worked at Almcoe in various capacities throughout his high school and college years. He never really thought he'd take over the family business. But, after returning home from college with a degree in music, he realized he was more in tune with the refrigeration business, and joined the company fulltime in 1976. In 1982, after considerable installation and service experience, he took over as installation manager. He and a longtime Almcoe employee, Wayne Waters, eventually purchased the company and grew the business together until Waters retired in 2002.
Others who now share an active role in running Almcoe include Bill's wife Dana (vice president); daughters Erin White (director of marketing and business development), and Jana Glaze (communications coordinator); son-in-law Andy White (human resources, insurance, and training manager); son-in-law Ryan Glaze (assistant installation manager); and nephew Jeremy Morgan (sales representative). Carol Meer balances the books as the Almcoe controller. Bill's sister, K White, manages the Tyler office.
Almcoe's business mix is 90% supermarkets and convenience stores, and 10% cold storage facilities. Sales in 2007 totaled approximately $10 million, and jumped to $12 million in 2008. The company currently employs 24 service technicians and 30 installers.
Five-State, Five-Star Service
Almcoe's service territory ropes in portions of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. A branch office was opened in Tyler, TX in January 2007, manned by four service technicians and an installation crew. That was the second try at becoming established in Tyler.
“The first time around, we didn't open an office,” Erin White explains. “We discovered that the culture in East Texas believes in keeping business local, so when we opened up shop the second time around, we hired the right people, got the right technicians, and became established in the community.” Chris Shuttlesworth and Steve Johnson run the Tyler branch.
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Excellent service, timely installations, and the latest energy-efficient refrigeration systems are prime ingredients in Almcoe's business philosophy. Almcoe technicians are well-seasoned, professionally trained, and attuned to meet its customers' refrigeration needs. As a Hill Phoenix dealer, Almcoe offers the latest in distributed refrigeration systems. Other equipment preferences include Hussman Protocol cases and Emerson Einstein refrigeration control systems.
Family Ties Secure Success
Almcoe is a model of a successful family business. And that's not limited to just the Almquist family tree. Approximately 20 people from eight other families are Almcoe employees.
Almcoe's reputation as a family-friendly business was validated in 2006, when it received a Baylor University Texas Family Business of the Year Award, in the category of Family Values.
“We integrate our entire family, and the families of employees, into this operation. Whether a person is spending 50 hours a week taking care of customer needs or managing a project, or working part time and taking care of children, we view both individuals as integral to this company,” Almquist says. “The person taking care of the children and grandchildren is cultivating future generations to carry on our work.”
Almcoe has a way of finding new talent that's just waiting to be discovered.
“We hire people without visible technical skills, and from day one they start learning from our best teachers and managers,” Erin White says. “We have many Cinderella stories of technicians who might not have been as successful in other industries or companies, which I think says a lot about us, and about the way Bill runs the company. Once they're on board, they work hard, and are rewarded,” White says. “We know that in the summer, the wives may not see their husbands during the week if they're working on an out-of-town project. So we try to give back as much as we can to the families and the technicians.”
Sifting through prospective employees who've been conditioned by instant gratification can be a challenge for Human Resource Manager Andy White, Erin's husband. He often encounters prospective employees who want it all, and want it now.
“Guys who come to us directly from trade schools are given false hopes about what they can earn once they graduate,” Andy White says. “Nobody just out of trade school will earn top pay and get to work out of a truck right away. I often have to filter through that mindset. I also look for people who won't be job hoppers. If we interview someone and discover they change jobs every two years for 50 cents an hour more, we won't hire them. We do all we can to eliminate attrition down the road.”
To help prioritize and improve its organizational structure and functionality, Almquist enlists the services of Quantum Consulting, a family business consultancy operated by Wayne and Rita DeBow.
“We had a family retreat in February, which Wayne managed for us. We talked about how family members can get a job here, our expectations for employees, and compensation. It was a grueling day,”Bill says, “but those are the kinds of things we're doing to remain successful.” Employees also find support when needed through Marketplace Ministries, Inc.® of Dallas. Additionally, regular company activities provide opportunities for recreation and team building.
Running With New Technology
Almcoe operates with ease and confidence in a competitive food service market, an industry that's constantly changing due to developments in technology. This usually necessitates a refrigeration modification, an equipment change-out, or other processes to give it an edge over the competition.
Almcoe's supermarket customers form an impressive roster of leading consumer food outlets, such as Brookshire Grocery Corp., Whole Foods Market®, Target®, Costco®, Mission Produce, Minyard Food Stores, Brookshire Brothers, H-E-B® San Angelo, Elrod's Cost Plus™, and Central Market.
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Almcoe's primary objective is to be valued as an essential resource for new ideas, not just another contractor in the Rolodex. The Almcoe team realizes that equipment innovations are driven by a need to reduce energy consumption and overall equipment lifecycle costs.
“Because they're marketing to consumers, store owners want to be able to say they're doing their part for the environment by reducing energy costs and refrigerant charges, and by being good stewards of our natural resources,” Almquist says. “The public listens to that message.”
To win energy efficiency disciples, customers first have to see the need.
“You're not going to make the sale strictly on the merits of the technology alone,” he says. “Once you've got their interest, you have the impetus for them to make the purchase.”
The Whole Foods Market store in Lakewood, TX, a suburb of Dallas, is the first EPA GreenChill® certified store in the U.S. Store executives have submitted it for LEED® certification.
“Almcoe had been a service provider for Whole Foods Market for about five years, with great results, so we gave them an opportunity to bid a complete store package at the Lakewood store,” says Gregg Farrar, Whole Foods Market's equipment buyer. Farrar, Chris Staples, energy and maintenance coordinator, and Mike Shaw, construction manager, are impressed by Almcoe's knowledge, responsiveness, and attention to details. “Their technicians are very professional, and very responsive,” Shaw says. “They're willing to go the extra mile, no matter what, to satisfy the customer. They have a knowledgeable crew that works well together, which takes a lot of the headache out of managing that process. I've worked with many refrigeration companies, and they're one of the best.”
Almcoe is certified in the use of secondary fluid for medium- and low-temperature applications, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and distributed refrigeration.
“Refrigerant is one of the largest maintenance expenses a company has. Whenever you can reduce the amount of refrigerant in the store from 4,000 lbs. to about 500 lbs., you've done a huge favor to your maintenance budget,” Almquist says. “Secondary fluid — such as CO2 — allows that.” Controls are another of Bill Almquist's favorite refrigeration innovations.
“The controls companies have done a great job of marketing to the end-user from the standpoint of saving energy. They address savings by also talking to the CFOs. If they tried to sell strictly to the engineering departments, it would be considered to be just one more thing to figure out. By talking to the CFOs, they address bottom line energy savings.
“There's a lot of cool stuff you can do with controls, such as load shedding, off-site interrogation, system diagnostics and troubleshooting, and alarm systems,” he says, “all of which are the results of a financial decision by the end-user.”
Working with Almcoe can be a joy for distributors. Earl Burlison, territory sales manager for Baker Distributing, Fort Worth, TX, has dealt with Almcoe for about eight years. He appreciates that the company is up to speed and on the ball.
“Almcoe's a terrific company. They definitely know what they're doing,” Burlison says. “As a wholesaler, the first thing you look for when you're dealing with a contractor is that they know what they're doing and know what they need, especially with refrigeration. They're always right on the nose.”
Lead with Your Strengths
Ryan Glaze, assistant installation manager, previously worked in a three-store, family restaurant chain. He describes himself as a laid back manager, but nonetheless knows the importance of tenacity in a competitive business environment.
“Stick to the bidding, do what you do best, and stay alert for any new business that's about to come to the area. You have to be the first one on their doorstep,” Glaze insists.
Almcoe technicians are EPA-certified in refrigerant handling. Almquist plans to pursue commercial refrigeration certification through North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Management meetings are held every week, and service and installation teams meet to go over issues once or twice per quarter. Technicians compete for quarterly rewards in a variety of categories, including callbacks, driving complaints, customer compliments, and safety.
Bill Almquist's secret to success is simple: invest in continuing education for technicians, and focus on service.
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“If you have a happy, well-trained, well-paid workforce, your company is going to grow,” Almquist asserts. “You're going to attract good people and great customers. And, once employees get going, that feeling feeds on itself. We've seen great growth because of it,” he says.
Many factors contribute to Almcoe's success: a solid first generation of leadership, a seamless succession that brought Bill and later, his family, into the company, loyal employees, a commitment to service, and a willingness to adopt new technology and help customers save energy.
For all that it's done and continues to do to promote quality commercial refrigeration services, we congratulate Almcoe Refrigeration Company, the 2009 ContractingBusiness.com Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year!
A Firm Foundation of Family and Faith
William Almquist was an anti-aircraft gunner on the U.S.S. Intrepid. Billy Coe was in the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines.
After serving their country in wartime, they returned home and turned their attention to building lives for themselves and their families. They weren't alone, either in body or in spirit. They had tremendous family support, and a strong faith in God.
“Another key to our success was that we said one of us would be available for customers at all times, so we never traveled together,” Almquist explains.
The first couple of years were tough, but they didn't give up.
Billy Coe's strength was in service, especially for meat cases and coolers. Bill Almquist was the installation specialist.
“I had a burning desire to fix things. Today, I walk into a mechanical room and I'm lost,” Coe says with a laugh.
Almquist and Coe realized that growing a business was about more than nuts and bolts.
“When you're in business, you also have to have a knack for dealing with people,” Coe says wisely. “You're always selling, whether it's service, installation, or products. Everybody is responsible for somebody else. If you sell or service something, the customer has to be confident that you'll continue to be there for them.”
“We leaned a lot on people's friendship, and shared information that was helpful to each customer,” Almquist says. “But I contribute our success to the good Lord giving us the business we needed each day. Sometimes we'd miss a bid, but I'd tell Billy the Lord had something better for us. And, it always turned out that way.” — TM
What Makes a Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year?
The ContractingBusiness.com Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year is a leader in the industry. He or she consistently demonstrates a commitment to quality installation and service, and customer relations. The Commercial Refrigeration Contractor of the Year is on the cutting edge of the latest technology, and upholds high standards of employee training, presentation, and character. Visit contractingbusiness.com/refrigeration/RefrigerationContractorofYearCriteria.pdf to view the full range of nominating criteria.
Almcoe Refrigeration Co., Dallas, TX
Founded in 1960 by William Almquist and William Coe.
Business mix: 90% supermarket refrigeration installation/service; 10% walk-in cooler installation/service.
Service area: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Installation capabilities: ground-up construction; remodels; walk-in coolers and freezers; rack systems; case line-ups; ice machines; duct work; control systems; Emerson Einstein; CPC controls.
Estimated sales volume: $12 million.
- Bill Almquist, president
- Dana Almquist, vice president
- Erin White: director of business development & marketing
- Jana Glaze, communications coordinator
- Sam Lindsey, installation manager
- Ryan Glaze, assistant installation manager
- Danny Essary, Essary, director of service, Almcoe
- Dennis Price, service manager, Dallas
- Andy White, human resources, insurance, benefits manager
- Jeremy Morgan, sales representative
- Chris Shuttlesworth, service manager, East Texas
- Steven Johnson, installation manager, East Texas
- K White, office manager, Tyler office
- Carol Meer, controller
- Other key employees include Clint Collier, Gary Miller, Gloria Fisher, Sara Reyes, Samantha Rocha, and Ivy Johnson.