Contractor Insights: September 2009

For this edition of RST Contractor Insights, ContractingBusiness.com spoke wth Kurt Hudson, vice president of service for L.C. Anderson, Boston, MA.

We recently placed a call to Kurt Hudson, vice president of service for L.C. Anderson, a Boston-based full-service commercial HVACR company, to get an idea of local business conditions.

L.C. Anderson's refrigeration customers consist largely of fast food and dine-in restaurants. It installs, repairs, and maintains most major brands of refrigeration equipment, including walk-in coolers and freezers, ice machines, under-counter and upright refrigerators, proofing machines, wine storage rooms and built-up systems.

L.C. Anderson's HVAC division won a ContractingBusiness.com Design/Build award in 2003.

Hudson says the struggling economy has greatly reduced new construction, and put much more pricing pressure on HVACR contractors for those jobs that do get started.

“More contractors are bidding on fewer jobs, and you've got to work harder to find it and secure it,” Hudson says.

Since being founded in 1943, the L.C. Anderson company has traveled through plenty of business peaks and valleys. The company's refrigeration service remains strong, in spite of a cool spring. However, Hudson says increasing numbers of customers are seeking to repair equipment rather than replace it. That includes those who wouldn't have even blinked at a replacement one year ago.

“People are stretching equipment life longer to save money,” Hudson says.

But, in all situations, Hudson acts as the expert counselor who provides customers with options.

“We can certainly repair an older unit, and keep it running. We examine the general overall condition of the unit and help customers make the best decision,” he says.

Service agreements are a key part of L.C. Anderson's strategy. “We try to tailor every service agreement to what the customer is looking for,” Hudson says.

L.C Anderson offers three levels of commercial refrigeration service agreements:

  • a standard agreement, in which the company performs a stipulated amount of maintenance calls each year, based on what the company perceives to be the need. The customer pays for anything above and beyond the service call

  • a mid-level agreement covers maintenance, and the customer pays only for parts

  • a full-service agreement, in which the customer pays one, all-inclusive fee for a year's worth of maintenance.

Hudson adds that in this economy, a greater number of customers have been shopping service agreements.

Once Again, Training is a Key

Training is a key to the company's success. All L.C. Anderson technicians have received heat pump certification from North American Technician Excellence (NATE; natex.org), and there's a plan in place to have all technicians proceed with NATE's commercial refrigeration certification, in addition to increased energy management training.

Hudson is excited about the savings customers can realize with a CoolTrol anti-sweat door heater controller by National Resource Management, Inc., Canton, MA. The controller is a microprocessor-based digital controller designed and programmed for improved energy management. The basic system can be expanded to allow control of multiple coolers, door heaters, lights, and other cooler operating functions. By adding expansion boards, it can be programmed to operate other equipment, such as HVAC systems, lighting, duty cycling of loads, or scheduling for optimum start and operation. (See product description on p.39)

“The theory is that less heat is needed in winter, and you don't need constant heat on the freezer door heater. You can cycle it off and on, and save power,” Hudson says.

The system cycles evaporator motors. Instead of running them continuously, it runs them on a “call for demand” cycle. It provides a maximum 40-minute override to kill the refrigeration circuit while the case is being loaded, which eliminates freeze up. If the box is open for a period of time, the unit is forced to cool the outside space, which frosts the coil. Among the local energy incentives available, Hudson says Boston-area municipalities are offering additional incentives for installing ECM motors in walk-in coolers.

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