Whether its students attending the vocational classes he teaches, or the customers he serves through Air Comfort Mechanical Inc., John Kuefler, 53, has made a golden career out of treating others the way he wants to be treated.

The Beginning

“One day I said to myself, ‘Man, anyone can do this,’ ” said Kuefler, referring to his job as a forklift operator for a southern Florida supermarket chain. “So, I went home and had a talk with my father.”

His father tossed around a few career ideas before asking, “Why don’t you get into the air conditioning business?”

“I don’t know anything about air conditioning,” said Kuefler, befuddled at the thought.

“Well, go learn,” he said.

Kuefler did just that, enrolling at RETS Technical School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1985 and then Thermo King School in Bloomington, Minn., before accepting a job as a transport refrigeration technician from 1986-1993.

In 1996, Kuefler took his next career step, gaining a state contracting license in Florida. After some careful planning, he opened the doors to John’s Air Conditioning Services Inc. in 1997 in Plantation, Fla. The business eventually grew to become Air Comfort Mechanical Inc., which remains a South Florida fixture, serving residential and light commercial applications across the Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach areas.

Surviving Industry Challenges

Air Comfort Mechanical Inc. currently employs three technicians. The company has no corporate manufacturing ties, but generally recommends Rheem, Ruud, American Standard, and Goodman products.

In 2000, the company employed five employees. Staffing cuts became a necessity following the recent downturn. “The economy dictates how many guys you can keep on the road without going broke,” said Kuefler. “Unfortunately in southern Florida, business is pretty cutthroat. Our company may be small in comparison to a lot of companies down here in Florida, but I keep plugging away, every day. I want it to be a good day each day, and at night, I just want to make sure I’m doing my part to give back.”

In addition to economic setbacks, Kuefler said his company faces numerous other obstacles. “With all the refrigerant changes, new regulations, and stiffer code requirements, it has made the trade interesting,” he said. “But I’m always up for a challenge.”

Accreditation and Education

Kuefler acknowledges that knowledge is power and has consistently sought to expand his educational base. In addition to Thermo King School, he attended liquid ammonia training school in 1993-1996 and was hazmat trained.

He earned his Broward County teaching license in 1996 and his HVAC Excellence Certified Master HVACR Educator (CMHE) accreditation earlier this year. He is one of 33 individuals in the country who can claim the CMHE title.

To earn the CMHE, an applicant must score 80 percent or higher on CSME exams concentrating on electrical, air conditioning, light commercial air conditioning, light commercial refrigeration, electric heat, and either gas heat, oil heat, or heat pumps. In addition, an instructor must pass the capstone exam covering technical education methodologies, principles, and practices, which attest to his pedagogical skills.

“The CMHE credential is a terminal certification and the highest credential that can be conferred upon an HVACR educator,” said Howard Weiss, marketing director, HVAC Excellence. “John now joins an elite group of dedicated instructors who lead the way in training the next generation of HVACR service technicians. Having this title bestowed upon him is a great accomplishment that helps his students know that their career is on the right path as quality training begins with a great instructor.”

After tending to the ins-and-outs of Air Comfort Mechanical during the day, Kuefler spends his evenings inside a classroom, preparing the next generation of HVACR service technicians as a teacher at Atlantic Technical Center in Coconut Creek, Fla., and ATI Career Training Center in Oakland Park, Fla.

“To be able to give back to the trade by helping out these future technicians is key,” he said. “Teaching at night allows me to bring my unique aspect of the trade to those interested in learning about the industry and I like the fact that my teaching hobby is helping.”

Kuefler also feels his business benefits from its affiliation with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). “ACCA is quick to help out all contractors regardless of how long they’ve been in the trade,” he said. “They help keep us up-to-date with all the local and national code changes. It’s like a brotherhood, if you will.”

As time ticks by, Kuefler hopes to continue offering area residents a fair service. Additionally, he plans to continue sharing his down-to-earth explanation of the business with the students he “knows will shape the future of the industry.”

“I try to give customers all the options available. Then, with my help, it’s up to them to make the best decision possible for their needs or circumstances,” he said. “Some contractors are pretty ruthless in the way they handle their customers, using every trick in the book just to get the sale, but, at the end of the night, I sleep pretty good knowing that I did the best I could for my customers.”

Publication date: 7/30/2012