A Refrigeration Master Tames the New York Market

May 1, 2007
Eggert has built a successful refrigeration business in the heart of the nation's busiest metropolis. He's a tireless champion for the industry, a firm believer in training and certification, and a businessman who provides many diverse customers with a tremendous range of refrigeration and other services.

Refrigeration giant Kurt Eggert serves a giant of a market, Metro New York.

Administrative Assistant Andrea Rivera, left, and Kurt's wife Lisa help Kurt and James hold down the fort.

Eggert is an expert at servicing and rebuilding Vogt Tube Ice machines.

Kurt Eggert analyzes the details of an ice bin installation with, from left, Jose Cano, service technician, Anthony Decola, project manger, Natuzzi Bros., James Eggert, service manager, and service technicians Manny Alvarez and Santiago Carillo.

Jim Ehrlinger, left, branch manager for United Refrigeration, and Ark Kastelnik, president of K&K Group, join Kurt and James for a celebratory lunch in midtown Manhattan. "Kurt remains current in all aspects of the industry," says Ehrlinger.

Kurt Eggert journeyed to America in 1963 in pursuit of the great American dream. He came, he saw, and he conquered.

As president and CEO of Fire & Ice Mechanical, Inc., New York, NY, Eggert has built a successful refrigeration business in the heart of the nation's busiest metropolis. He's a tireless champion for the industry, a firm believer in training and certification, and a businessman who provides many diverse customers with a tremendous range of refrigeration and other services.

For those reasons, Kurt J. Eggert has been selected as Contracting Business magazine's inaugural Refrigeration Contractor of the Year.

Testimonials to quality
When CB visited Eggert, he was in the middle of coordinating the installation of a 40-ton rake bin for Natuzzi Bros., ice purveyors for the New York tri-state area, with customers as large and demanding as Shea Stadium and JFK International Airport.

"Kurt does great work," says Anthony DeCola, production manager for Natuzzi Bros. "Other ice people are not as well trained; he gets the job done no matter what it takes."

Bill Black, manufacturer's representative for Vogt Ice Machines and MGR ice bins, has worked with Eggert for 10 years, and was on hand at the ice bin project.

"Without question, Kurt's our top man in the Northeast," Black says. "It's not every day you find someone who can install a 40-ton rake bin. The average refrigeration contractor is used to smaller machines. You need someone who's willing to take the time to learn about them, and service them."

Walt Rabeiro, president, IPECO, Philadelphia, PA, helped design the layout for the ice bin installation.

"When you work with Kurt, it always comes together well," Rabeiro says. "Many contractors don't work cleanly, or in an orderly manner. There's too much involved in this type of equipment not to be extra careful. His piping is professional, and his technicians are very good."

"Kurt will take on special projects other contractors will not,"attests Jim Herlinger, branch manager for United Refrigeration distributors, Philadelphia, PA.

"He'll explore a challenge, and I've found him to be continually pursuing knowledge to stay updated in all aspects of the industry," Herlinger says.

"That also applies to his service technicians. Fire & Ice is progressive, and strives to be a step above others in providing unique solutions to technical challenges."

Ark Katselnik is president of K&K Group, a high-end construction management and general contracting company specializing in interior and exterior construction and renovation. He and Eggert met about four years ago, when Kastelnik was looking for a contractor to work on a new development on Hudson St.

"Fire & Ice has a fire burning inside, and Kurt's personality lights up our office," Kastelnik says. "He's part of the K&K construction family. We have few subcontractors like Kurt. He makes us look good."

The adventure beginsEggert was born on the island of Föhr, off the coast of Denmark in the North Sea. At age 14, as was the custom, he attended a trade school. He chose cooking, intending to someday become a chef.

At age 17, he boarded a ship bound for America, and after a 14-day journey, set foot in New York City on February 1, 1963.

Eggert was motivated to make the journey to America due to limited career opportunities at home.

"Föhr is a small island, and there's only so many people who find work there," Eggert says. "In fact, in the late 1950s, there were more people living in New York who had come from Föhr, than were living on the island at that time."

Three days after landing, Eggert used his chef training to acquire a job as a cook in Luchow's Restaurant on 14th St. near Union Square. Citizenship soon followed, and in 1964, he entered the Army and became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Benning, GA.

After his service, Eggert worked for three years as a cook and counterman for several New York City delicatessens. In 1971, Eggert and his wife Lisa purchased a delicatessen in Bellerose, Queens, NY. They purchased a second delicatessen, in Forest Hills, in 1974. Both businesses were eventually sold, and Eggert became a general contractor in 1985.

"I realized that, in order to succeed, I needed to have a specialty," Eggert recalls, "and decided to concentrate on refrigeration, based on what I had learned in the delicatessen business. I went to Garden City Community College in Kansas to learn refrigeration. I took any course I could find, through the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), LaGuardia Community College, or whatever was available from manufacturers, because I knew I had to be good to be succeed. I didn't want to be mediocre."

Eggert is anything but mediocre. Since his career began, he has understood the importance of education and training as the only way to succeed in a tough, competitive business. He eventually took Fire & Ice from a service-only business, to what it is today: a multi-faceted company serving the refrigeration, commercial ice production, HVAC and radiant heating needs of many significant industrial and institutional clients.

Fire & Ice Mechanical's full line of services is comprised of commercial ice machine service and installation, refrigeration, refrigerant recovery and recycling, heating, hot water steam systems, chilled water systems, compressor application, steam and condensate, co-generation power stations, radiant heating, and incremental heating and cooling for single-room occupancy.

Its territory extends from Boston to Delaware, and includes all of Pennsylvania for ice machines service and equipment. Its refrigeration and HVAC market is restricted to within 100 miles of New York City.

The company generates seven-figure revenue, and Eggert plans to increase its refrigeration business by $500,000 over three years, by further expanding its Vogt ice machine sales, installations, and rebuilds and ice plant assemblies, and by venturing further into high efficiency heat pumps, indoor air quality (IAQ), and water quality.

The majority of Fire & Ice's referrals come from architects, engineers, and customers who are thrilled with the company's work, expertise, and positive and professional approach to all projects.

"I emphasize that we provide good work and practice good customer relations," Eggert says.

"We stand behind what we do. If there's a problem, I make sure it's taken care of. The customer has to be comfortable with me, and believe that they can rely on me, and that I'll do what I say I'm going to do, without short cuts. Price is the least of my worries. If we lose a little money, that's not important. It's more important that the customer believes he got his money's worth."

It works: 60% of the company's sales are derived from repeat business.

Thriving in a busy market
Fire & Ice's stated mission is "to meet the extraordinary and complex environments that continue to occur in the industry." In New York City, on any given day, those complex environments Eggert serves include an Olive Garden restaurant and a Hard Rock Cafe in the heart of Times Square, a Wall Street office building, the Manhattan Medical Center, or ice-making business that needs a 40-ton rack bin installed in less than 15 business days. In addition, Eggert estimates there are at least 3,000 refrigeration contractors fighting for business in the area around New York City.

Fire & Ice remains strong in the ice production and refrigeration markets by providing unique services, total installation support, and most importantly, thoroughly-trained technicians. It has established a reputation as a diversified contractor committed to quality, energy management, and the environment.

Kurt Eggert thrives by seeing problems as challenges. He prefers out-of-the-ordinary projects which require extensive problem solving.

"That's the kind of work I like to do, something that nobody else is really into," Eggert says. "Give me something I can really think about and develop from the ground up."

Kurt's son James is Fire & Ice service manager, responsible for installation and service on new systems, and emergency service. He joined the company in 2000, and has more than 18 years of experience. His specialty is troubleshooting diagnostics.

"Lisa and I raised James to be an independent person," says Eggert.

"It's not easy to have two bosses in the company, and we oftentimes disagree, but I'd rather he be a leader than a follower."

Eggert expects James to someday take charge of the business, however, he's not slowing down just yet.

The training advantageEggert employs only factory-certified technicians, and the company is EPA-certified for refrigerant recovery and recycling. NATE certification is mandatory, and Eggert also serves as a proctor for regional NATE exams.

He finds technicians by referrals, and from among people who are changing or in-between careers. A person's desire for training is his top-of-mind concern.

"All I require is that you be willing to work, willing to learn, and willing to go to school," Eggert says. "Our technicians distinguish themselves by knowing everything there is to know. And we cross-train, so that everyone is familiar with the technology, even if they don't use it each day. In the ice production arena, having all certified mechanics affords us the support of the original equipment manufacturers, and therefore, we have an additional edge."

Eggert was recently named Deputy Director of RSES Region 2, and he serves with interest and vigor. He wants to make a difference, and serve as a positive role model for less active or disinterested contractors.

William Parlapiano — president of BP Consulting, past president of the Building Performance Institute, and past Deputy Director for RSES Region 2 — nominated Eggert for this award, largely due to his commitment to training.

"Kurt continues to educate himself and his employees," Parlapiano says. "He holds regular meetings with his employees, and trains them in all the latest technological advances. Kurt and Fire & Ice are always looking for ways to grow and improve. They're always willing to share, and give back to the industry."

Applying new technologyEggert upgrades his office and field equipment as needed. He recently purchased a new Auto CAD Lt 2007 for extensive project designs and layouts. The tool enables him to design or modify proposed equipment installations based on drawings from architects and engineers.

"Carbon dioxide for low temperature applications is the wave of the future," Eggert says.

In April, Eggert traveled to Chicago to complete a certification course that will permit him to install the Mitsubishi CityMulti air conditioning systems.

As a factory rep for the Vogt Tube Ice, Eggert can't say enough about the system's quality and efficiency, and the folks at Vogt are immensely pleased with Eggert's work. Bob Stackhouse, Vogt aftermarket services, says Eggert is a man of his word.

"If you know Kurt, you know that if he says he's going to do something, he does it," Stackhouse says.

"He enjoys what he does, and will travel 200 miles in any direction to work on our equipment. Everyone he has serviced says great things about him. He's extremely good at what he does, and knows the equipment very well."

Advice for new contractorsEggert says new contractors with smaller businesses must cherish knowledge if they want to grow.

"Learn everything you can about pressure, temperature, and air movement in a closed display or walk-in cooler. Know your air movement requirements per ton. Wrapped product, for example, requires a different type of air movement. Consider how temperature relates to product freshness. The product has to become cold quickly, without losing moisture."

"When you service a small deli, grocery store, or diner, you have to provide a variety of service. You must possess an understanding of the entire comfort concept. A small business owner wants to make one phone call."

Eggert has lived a rich and fulfilling life up to this point, and it's clear that he believes there's more work to do.

"I think anybody in this country can be successful," Eggert says. "You don't have to be the smartest, you just have to be willing to work, and willing to learn."

Fire & Ice Mechanical, Inc. At-A-GLANCE

  • Founded in 1985 by Kurt J. Eggert.
  • Services include refrigeration, HVAC, radiant heating, refrigerant recovery and recycling.
  • Average project size: $40,000-$60,000
  • Employee profit sharing plan
  • Memberships: board of directors, Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES); Deputy Director, RSES Region 2; RSES Empire Keystone Assoc.; Radiant Panel Association.
  • NATE-certified technicians.
  • Licensed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for universal refrigerant recovery and recycling, and industrial ammonia refrigeration.
  • OSHA "first responder" for hazardous material.
  • Extensive training in many disciplines, including Honeywell gas ignition; Honeywell controls; RSES boiler room technique; Tecumseh refrigeration applications.
  • Ice machine training: Arctic-Temp, Hoshizaki, Kold Draft, Manitowoc, Morris, Scotsman, and Vogt Tube Ice.

About CB's Refrigeration Contractor of the Year Award
Following in the tradition of the Contracting Business Commercial and Residential Contractor of the Year Awards, the Refrigeration Contractor of the Year Award is presented to a leading commercial refrigeration contractor who demonstrates a commitment to quality installation and service, industry and community involvement, and customer relations.

The company will be on the cutting edge of technology, and hold itself to the highest standards of training and employee skill, as well as employee presentation and character.

The company will have at least 10 years of consistent growth, and have a business plan and solid financial base from which to grow into the future. Nominations for 2008 may be submitted to Mike Weil, editor-in-chief, at [email protected].

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.