A Name That Ranges Wide

June 5, 2006
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Hank Saye is owner of Republic Refrigeration in Monroe, N.C.
What's in a name? Back in 1983 when Hank Saye and his wife Jane were planning to open their own refrigeration contracting company, they were looking for a name that connoted the nationwide scope they hoped the business would have.

"American Refrigeration and National Refrigeration were already taken," Saye recalled. "Then a friend was flying over Texas and he thought about that state being called the Republic of Texas."

So that's how Republic Refrigeration got its name, even though it is headquartered in Monroe, N.C., near Charlotte, in Saye's native state. It started as a two-person business (Saye and his wife) and has grown to more than 200 employees and a second office in Hammond, La., as well as a presence in Monterrey, Mexico (where it does business as Carolina Refrigeration).

Like many industrial refrigeration contractors, Republic's territory has few geographical limits. The company is registered in 35 states, and while much of its work is throughout the Southeast United States, it has projects as far away as the state of Washington.

STARTING OUT

Saye's road to refrigeration contracting involved a series of jobs that drew him closer and closer to his current career. He was first employed as sales engineer for Cutler-Hammer in the late 1950s, and then served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After completing his military service, he returned to Cutler-Hammer and was appointed branch manager of the Knoxville, Tenn., office.

He called on HVACR OEMs and that led in 1967 to a branch manager position in Charlotte for the Frick Co. and formal entry into the refrigeration industry.

"Getting into refrigeration meant I had to do a lot of studying," he recalled. But it was worth it because a year later, in 1968, he gained a sales manager position with Frick's Factor Piedmont Engineering Co., and Saye found himself in the contracting business. He eventually became Piedmont vice president.

The chance for personal growth and a desire to face the challenges as an independent contractor caused Saye to start Republic. Today he holds the titles of chief executive officer, director, and treasurer while his wife is executive vice president, director, and chief financial officer.

Projects involve the design, installation, and maintenance of industrial refrigeration systems for the food processing and distribution industries as well as for specialized chemical process applications. In addition to these services, Republic offers the sales of machinery parts and supplies for refrigeration systems.

Customers include such names as Coors, Kroger, Sanderson Farms, Sysco, Nestle, Wal-Mart, and Winn-Dixie. In most cases, there are multiple projects for each customer.

One current project is in Reno, Nev., where the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration recently held its annual conference at which Saye was recognized with an Honorary Life Membership in IIAR.

When talking to potential customers, Republic officials point out that their staff includes seven graduate engineers and 12 construction managers, and that the company has an extensive safety program, quality control, and competitive pricing.

FINDING AND RETAINING

Like most contracting companies, Republic faces the challenge of finding and retaining good installers and technicians. "Welders and fitters are tough to come by as are good techs," said Saye. He said such people might come from related trades. "And we try to train them ourselves."

The geographical expanse of Republic projects means at times techs and engineers will head to the local airport and fly to a jobsite to deal with an issue.

Saye's long involvement with IIAR, as well as being an ASHRAE member, is a reflection of his commitment to the industry that extends well beyond office hours.

It has also made him sensitive to the dynamics of the industry. As Republic looks to continue to expand, Saye also said he sees the ammonia refrigeration sector as coming into a time of consolidation in which there will be fewer but larger contracting companies.

A further commitment on his part is to promote the viability of ammonia as a refrigerant. "There are not that many manufacturers of ammonia," he said.

"So most of us in the industry - whether we are contractors or equipment manufacturers - are promoting a product we don't make. We just know it is a good refrigerant for the industry and a good refrigerant for the economy."

Publication date: 06/05/2006

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