There have been a lot of changes in the refrigeration business in the recent past — most notably the introduction of new refrigerants like R-410A and energy-efficient products that carry the Energy Star label. But while changes are a natural part of the refrigeration business, there are some constants that remain the same, namely the importance of timely customer service, parts availability, and technical expertise.

These three elements are staples of a successful refrigeration contractor’s business model, in particular, a refrigeration contractor who services and sells restaurant equipment. Some members of ABCO HVACR Supply + Solutions of New York City recently gave some keys to being successful and in demand.

First and foremost, contractors should be good listeners, according to Gary La Fata, ABCO assistant vice president, refrigeration sales & engineering. “A lot of restaurant contractors don’t know what they need for their project,” he said. “For example, what should the temperature range be of the equipment? Is the product coming in fresh or frozen?”

La Fata noted that distributors, like ABCO, help contractors understand what their customers need — via education and engineering experience. “We educate people on the changes in laws and how they can remain compliant,” he said. “We supply engineering capabilities. There are a lot of smaller refrigeration contractors out there, and the owner often wears a lot of different hats. They often need us to help them through the design phase of the project.”

La Fata listed a couple key areas that contractors should be aware of:

• There is more to refrigerants than just R-22 and R-410A. “Contractors should be familiar with the landscape of refrigerants.”

• Take a capacity approach to sizing a job. “Take an approach to selecting equipment based on capacity and not necessarily tonnage or horsepower.”

Not only do contractors need training and backup, so does their field staff. And lack of training can be a real deal-killer. “One of the biggest complaints from contractors is the lack of available training,” La Fata said. Therefore, another key to success is finding a supplier who can not only provide educational training, but can also lend its expertise to satisfying end user’s needs.

Bob Cesiro, ABCO chief marketing officer, said that support “might be the single most important part of the process, not just having the inventory.”

Training is a two-way street, and refrigeration contractors have the opportunity to educate their customers on some of the newer trends in the trade, namely the benefits of energy-efficient equipment. The Energy Star label can be found on many refrigeration products such as ice machines and glass doors, to name two. “Restaurant owners tend to know little about their equipment until it breaks down,” said Bob Lapides, ABCO vp marketing & communications. “The industry is evolving into the use of more energy-efficient products, including new controls. It is completely different from what it was 10 years ago.”

Product information can also lead to more service agreement contracts, too. “An educated customer knows the importance of equipment maintenance and service,” said Lapides. “That can lead to more maintenance agreement contracts, too.”

More maintenance agreement contracts can also turn into sales leads, too. La Fata said, “Refrigeration contractors should look into becoming authorized services agents for various manufacturers. They can get warranty service work, which could lead to other sales leads, such as replacement equipment or add-ons.”

Refrigeration contractors can have all of the expertise and support available, but they need to make themselves available to their customers. Refrigeration service is a 24/7 business, and it takes a dedicated team to work under emergency situations and have 24/7 access to parts and supplies. “It’s not unusual for suppliers to open their shops up after regular hours,” said Scott Groleau, ABCO v.p. sales management.

It’s also not unusual that there are fewer refrigeration contractors servicing restaurant owners, according to La Fata. He said the numbers are getting smaller, in part because of the 24/7 nature of the business and the lack of experienced workers. “There are a lot of contractors who are afraid of installing a walk-in refrigerator,” he said. “It is basically like constructing an erector set. It isn’t that hard.”

If there are questions, suppliers like ABCO are often available for face-to-face meetings with customers in order to make on-the-spot decisions. “Often we can service the contractor’s customers by getting equipment shipped to them — virtually the next day,” said Cesiro.

To sum up, the successful refrigeration contractor who installs and services restaurant equipment should:

• Partner with a supplier who provides education, support, and after-hours accessibility;

• Share product and industry information with customers;

• Become authorized service agents for manufacturers; and

• Sell maintenance agreement contracts.

To find out more information about what ABCO does for its contractor customers, visit

Publication date: 08/29/2011