Paul Allen, CEO of Allen Refrigeration Services, Inc., Avon Lake, OH, does some of his best work on the night shift. Those are the evenings when he comes back to the office afterhours to complete some of the myriad duties that help keep many a small business in business.
“My secret to success is coming in at night to get my thoughts together and get the paperwork done,” Allen says. So while the crickets are chirping outside, you can often find Allen working away inside, carrying on the business legacy of his parents, Jim and Dottie Allen.
The Allens founded Allen Refrigeration in 1974. Jim had learned refrigeration in the Navy, and had spent many years with a large refrigeration firm upon reentering civilian life.
After striking out on his own, it didn’t take long for the business to hit its stride. Within 10 years of starting the company, the Allens had grown the business to 15 employees.
Eventually, Allen’s residential HVAC and fabrication business declined, but the commercial refrigeration division remained strong. Residential technicians learned commercial refrigeration, and the core business — commercial refrigeration design, engineering, and service — has prospered. Major clients include industrial facilities, fast food restaurants, many Dairy Queen stores, and the retail stores and chocolate factory for Malley’s Chocolates in Brook Park, OH. Recently, it obtained a contract to refurbish and service a 100,000 sq. ft. ammoniacooled food warehouse for an existing customer, the Marc’s discount grocery chain.
Allen Refrigeration’s estimated installation and service sales rocketed from $1.9 million in 2004 to approximately $3 million in 2007. Paul Allen projects about $3.9 million in sales for 2008. The company maintains 22 service and installation vehicles.
Technology the company has embraced includes remote monitoring systems — Paul is a certified Honeywell automation and control specialist — and products from Emerson’s Computer Process Controls division.
“Remote controlling helps eliminate costly ‘ghost’ service calls,” Allen says. “Seven of our technicians carry laptop computers in their trucks. We can determine what’s wrong with a customer’s system before they do. Energy efficiency is also improved. You can cancel a defrost if the system doesn’t need to be defrosted.”
HVACR School Started Early
HVACR was like another school subject for the young Allen brothers, Paul and Chris. Paul would run service calls with his dad after school. Older brother Chris — the company’s installation foreman — also started learning the business at a very young age, and has been with the company full time since high school. Paul attended Ohio’s Muskingum College, earned a degree in economics and business administration, and returned to the family business in 1994. He was named CEO in 1998.
Paul’s combination of business management training and technical know-how is a valuable asset, as is Chris’s expertise in installation and crew management.
“Chris is amazing. He can make anything,” Paul boasts. “He has the installation knowledge, and can handle refrigeration engineering.”
Paul’s wife Jennifer, an ex-employee of Fidelity Investments, manages human resources and employee benefits. And mom and dad still contribute. Jim Allen — described by Paul as “a soft-serve wizard” — services the company’s Dairy Queen accounts. Dottie manages accounts payable.
Paul Allen also credits service manager Bill Hathaway and salesman Bill Vittore with much of Allen Refrigeration’s success. And, of course, there’s the technician team that never disappoints. They’ve all been trained to lose old habits, and do everything according to Allen standards.
On the employee front, a family atmosphere thrives. “I treat each employee I’ve ever hired as I would want to be treated,” Paul says. “Our retention is phenomenal, which is another reason we do so well. Our employees’ loyalty means a lot to us. We wouldn’t be able to do the things we do without them. A company is only as good as its employees.”
New business is based strictly on referrals from satisfied customers, which Allen saves money that can then be used to finance sales efforts.
When Contracting Business visited with Paul Allen, the day included a stop at the Malley’s Chocolates facility, where the Allen team had recently installed a pair of Trane 15-ton rooftop chillers.
“I’ve worked with several refrigeration companies in Ohio, and I’m very impressed with the service Allen Refrigeration provides,” says Joe Masak, maintenance supervisor for Malley’s Chocolates. “The chocolate business is a high-demand service. As busy as they are, they’re always here when we call. They’re very meticulous, neat, and quick. There’s no problem I bring to them that they don’t have an answer to.”
Allen Refrigeration’s signature service trait is its commitment to customers and a fast response time that Paul Allen says is missing from many service companies.
“It’s simple: take care of your customers,” Allen says. “Companies often can’t grow fast enough to take on that quickresponse responsibility. You have to make time for it. Even in the early days, my father would never let a customer have a problem any longer than necessary.”
Allen Refrigeration Service’s success is built on a foundation that won’t budge an inch: skilled workmanship, comprehensive training, on-time service, and quality products.