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Temperate summer chills local business

Profile: Lower temperatures, weak economy affect air conditioning company

Posted: September 13, 2010 10:34 p.m.
Updated: September 14, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Jeff Frank, a technician for Nicholas Aire Systems, installs an air conditioner at a Saugus residence. Jeff Frank, a technician for Nicholas Aire Systems, installs an air conditioner at a Saugus residence.
Jeff Frank, a technician for Nicholas Aire Systems, installs an air conditioner at a Saugus residence.

Working a job at a historic Hollywood mortuary gave the Nicholas Aire Systems team more than a fright when the mortician informed the crew that one of the deceased was missing.

The body had disappeared from an embalming table.

Members of the air-conditioning team, alone on the premises at the time, were already uncomfortable working around the deceased, said owner Nick Frank.

Frank searched the building with the mortician. Locating a body had not been on the list of services he intended to provide that day. 

As all good mystery stories end however, the body was found in another area of the building. No, it did not get up and walk way.

Apparently one of Frank’s technicians accidentally activated a tilt lever when leaning a ladder against the wall, which moved the corpse from the table to another location as efficiently as the air conditioning system cooled the mortuary.

“My crews won’t do mortuaries anymore,” said Frank.

Unseasonably cool summer
Frank, 53, a licensed contractor, has been in the trade for more than three decades. Both a product and service provider to residential and commercial properties, his company has built 80 percent of its customer base on word-of-mouth referrals.

“I would rather see somebody be more comfortable with a system that will save them a lot of money and not have all of the bells and whistles they may not need,” said Frank.

A third-generation family business, Frank’s son Jeff and wife, Donna, also work in the company, along with his other technicians, all local residents.

An unusually cool summer and weak economy have significantly changed the buying habits.

“Air conditioning is not so much of a necessity with these trying times. People are treating it as a luxury,” said Frank.
Frank said the company has changed its business plan altogether by giving more for the same dollar. Manufacturers raised product prices three percent in July, but Frank said that he can’t pass that increase on to the customers so he manages his labor costs to keep expenses down and maintain value for his clients.

The cool summer hit the industry hard, driving demand down. From April 1 through Sept. 9, the Westfield Valencia Town Center area recorded only 13 days where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees, according to an Internet weather data provider.

Of the 162 days reviewed, only 50 days were in the 90-degree range and nearly half of those days were in the low 90s.

Cash for appliances
Nicholas Aire Systems provides a service Frank says many contractors do not offer.

California’s Cash for Appliances rebate program can be very cumbersome for a customer seeking rebates. The program offers rebates on energy efficient dishwashers, freezers, water heaters, and heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems.

There are multiple pages of government forms to complete, and as evidenced by the only one-third-approval rate to date, many forms are submitted incorrectly.

Nicholas Aire Systems not only completes all the paperwork on behalf of the customer, the company also brings the old system to an approved recycler for a certificate, which must accompany the application to be eligible for a rebate.

“I keep on top of all the rebate plans, process the state paperwork and pass the savings on to our customers. A customer can save 25 to 30 percent  on out-of-pocket costs,” said Frank. “Right now most are getting rebates and tax credits from $2,500 to $3,000 on a new system.”

The rebates can bring the cost of a new system down to the level of 1980 prices.

Staying informed
Frank has been a member of the Refrigeration Service Engineer Society his entire career.

His son Jeff routinely attends training classes provided by the North American Technican Excellence Inc. The foundation was created by the industry to enhance, raise and test the skills of technicians allowing the members to stay up to date on new products, technology and laws.

The continual training also allows Frank’s company to service systems with the new refrigerants required today, which he says some contractors won’t touch.

“Our team meets for informal breakfast meetings,” said Frank. “We develop ideas for improving. It’s been a great success helping us survive in a tough economy.”


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