Tibbetts didn’t establish T&O Refrigeration hoping to just “get by.” From the very start, Steve and his wife Denese fully intended for T&O to be a major player in the region, with specific growth targets year-upon-year.

“Once we committed to it, we were determined to make it work. We were going to see it through because we knew we could develop this into a successful business" says Denese.

“We really didn’t ever consider quitting. Steve had such a good reputation at Kroger that we knew their work was available to us if we could get our price right. That got us started and we were able to use the money we made in the beginning wisely in order to build our business. “

Denese had administrative experience gained through a job with the federal government. While Steve handled the technical details, she set up an office and gradually introduced best practices that provided a firm financial footing. “We were small and could have done things the old way a bit longer,” Denese says, “but we thought about growth, and to grow you have to have some procedures, policies, and organization. That’s what I brought to the table.”

 “She was as particular about getting things right in the office as I was about getting things right in the field. She wanted correct spelling and correct balances down to the penny!” Steve says.

Things got tougher around 1990, as installation jobs were drying up. “Kroger was going through a hostile takeover, and shut all their construction down for a while. It was one of those ‘perfect storms.’ That’s when I realized, in order to be consistently successful in this industry, we needed to have a service component."

"That slow time gave me time to learn the business side of things instead of just handling the technical part of it," he recalls. "It also gave me time to focus on getting our service department up and running."

They earned their stripes by servicing stores for Cub Foods in the early nineties and then they landed their biggest service customer. “When Publix moved to Georgia, they contracted out their service, and we were in a good position to fill their needs.  A lot of it was good timing.” After landing its first installation for Publix in 1992, they were able to start servicing the stores that they installed for Publix, and eventually, the service department grew to be a consistently profitable arm of T&O. Today, T&O services approximately 175 supermarkets across the Southeast.