Contractor Insights

Full-Service Brings in the Business
Cooling Equipment Service, Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL, is an air conditioning and refrigeration engineering and service company that has seen steady growth over its long history, thanks to diversification and innovation.
President Bob Axelrod’s father founded the company in 1933, during the height of the Great Depression. And, throughout its 73 years, Cooling Equipment has gradually added services to its core business of refrigeration pipe fitting. Services now include refrigeration and HVAC controls, and sheet metal, with the purchase six months ago of a sheet metal company that had previously partnered with Cooling Equipment on many commercial projects.
A firm believer in applying new ideas, Axelrod says the company’s expansion follows a trend.
“It’s going along with a new paradigm that Jim Norris talked about at an ACCA convention more than 10 years ago,” says Axelrod, “in which companies handle virtually all phases of a project: plumbing, electrical, HVAC, controls, and sheet metal. We’re going in that direction. We’re now able to handle the design, piping, controls, sheet metal and some electric, and we’re doing it all in-house. We’ve grown to have more control over the total job.”
Axelrod says similar opportunities lie in wait for aggressive companies looking to serve.
“The opportunities exist if you’re willing to take care of the customers, work with them, and stay focused on their needs. Basically, we look for opportunities to help the customer. We’ve gotten involved in a lot of things, and we’re not afraid to try new ideas.”
Axelrod is positive about the future.
“We’re looking at a possible 40% expansion this year, even with the general slowdown in the labor markets,” he says.
Axelrod credits Cooling Equipment’s success to:
• offering innovative solutions
• networking and positive word-of-mouth advertising
• quality workmanship.
“We like to think we do a good job, and provide systems that are above and beyond what other HVAC or refrigeration contractors offer, that are strictly designed to fit the customer’s needs.”
Finding Technicians is Tough
Axelrod, a professional engineer, says today’s new employees have a different attitude toward employment.
“Younger people don’t seem to mind changing jobs at the slightest whim,” he says. “We recently hired two guys at separate times, and each lasted only four weeks. Either they didn’t like going into the city to work, were guaranteed (supposedly) a 40-hour week at another company, didn’t want to work on a hot roof, didn’t like the paperwork, and so forth.
“It’s difficult to find very many new, long term employees anymore,” he says, so he’s glad the bulk of his crews are older, and more loyal than some younger employees.
Axelrod is incorporating expanded, in-house training to foster loyalty among employees.
“They’re working to develop new technicians through the union school, but it’s a long, slow process, and they don’t always come out of school with the kind of knowledge we need. It’s hard to come by specialty refrigeration training.
“I think we have to keep up with our age-old practice of developing people ourselves.”
His Tools of the Trade
Cooling Equipment uses Copeland and Bitzer compressors, a variety of evaporator coils by Guntner, Ref-Plus, Heatcraft, and Keep-Rite. Refrigeration equipment is usually custom-made to specific requirements. Browning/Emerson parts are used for motor service, and its air conditioning systems are typically Lennox and York.
“We’re doing a lot with variable speed drives for fans and pumps,” says Axelrod. “Allen-Bradley is the brand we use most. The advantages to variable speed drives are efficiency, less on-off cycling, longer motor life, and pump pressures or air flow that are always matched to system requirements. They use the natural physics of water and air, instead of forcing an inappropriate product to fit the application.”

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