Featured Business: Tech Refrigeration and Air Conditioning
Name: Vincent Weldon, Managing Director of Tech Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, which specialises in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and refrigeration
When brothers Jim and Vincent Weldon were working in close proximity to each other in the mid 1990s and decided to take lunch together to catch up, little did they know that the result would be a successful business.
At the time Vincent was working for a forklift truck company near the O2. His role there evolved from purchasing and materials management to looking after a broader cross section of service, parts and training.
His brother Jim, now the company’s Technical Director, is a refrigeration engineer by trade and was service manager for a refrigeration company in nearby Dublin Port.
At several lunches, over the space of four or five weeks, the two discussed doing something together for themselves.
The result was Tech Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. As Vincent explains, the business is what it says on the tin: sales, installation, maintenance and service of refrigeration and air conditioning systems.
Based in Blanchardstown since 2000, the company was originally set up in Dublin Port because there were a few spare Portacabins available.
Together Jim and Vincent have grown the business at a steady pace, which has allowed them to keep growing through the recession. This was achieved by bringing in new customers and diversifying revenue streams not too far removed from their own business, thereby giving existing customers another reason to deal with them.
When faced with a shortage of trained technicians during the boom time, Vincent was instrumental in setting up the Refrigeration Skillnets training network and, as a result of this, the Institute of Refrigeration Ireland (IRI) was formed.
The company has been recognised over the last year through a number of awards. It was placed in the final six in the Services sector of the SFA Small Business Awards; the Irish Field Service Awards Service Manager of the Year title went to the company’s Service Manager, Declan Seery; and the company also received the Institute of Refrigeration Ireland’s award for Technical Excellence.
Interview with Vincent Weldon
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
We both felt that we were at the stage in our early 30s when we could do something ourselves. We had experience of working in similar companies and believed we could make it work.
How did you initially fund your business?
With a combination of savings and a term loan from AIB, which allowed us to have a little bit of leeway to go and get things off the ground pretty quickly.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
When we set up originally it was a 90% refrigeration business, but within a couple of years we realised the air conditioning side of things was growing substantially. 30 years ago there was little or no air conditioning in Ireland but with the advent of American and multinational companies coming in to locate here, in particular, they specified it as a standard requirement. Very quickly air conditioning became a major part of our business. In the last few years we’ve branched out further into catering equipment, because we found that a lot of the places we were working on with air conditioning and refrigeration – hotels, restaurants, bars – also had hot counters, ovens, grills etc.
What have been the highlights to date?
We’ve been able to grow the business over the last five years while others in our sector, and in Ireland, were struggling. We’ve grown our business substantially during that period of time. Myself and Jim see that as a reflection of the work we put in during the early days; getting all the practices and procedures right. That was particularly satisfying.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I think the opportunity to be able to put your own business ideas into practice is a nice part of being a business owner.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
It’s not always easy. I’m a busy work person anyway, but I enjoy sport. I play a lot of tennis. I’ve got five children, four boys and a girl, and they all play football, rugby, tennis and golf. So I do spend a lot of time around the parks of Dublin, at weekends particularly, going out watching them play sports. However, I feel that I do have a good work-life balance, all things considered.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I certainly enjoy business characters. Internationally, I always had an admiration for Richard Branson. He’s one guy who stands out because he was way ahead of his time, wasn’t afraid to float his ideas out there and built businesses that are hugely diverse. In Irish terms, because of his proximity to where I grew up (Clontarf), John Teeling is a guy who comes to mind. He’s been in the news recently about opening up a new whiskey distillery in Dundalk. I also think he holds the record for floating more companies on the stock exchange than any other Irishman.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
We have a web-based service software management system, which is customer interactive. All of our jobs are logged on the system and all of our customers have access to the system. It really is the hub of how everything works. Since 2005 we’ve placed 80,000 jobs on it. We had a big staff party to celebrate when we reached 75,000. As 100,000 is looming large on the horizon, we’ll be partying again soon.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I believe we have a good idea of what they want at this stage. It’s not rocket science. People want a value product. They want responsive service; and they want quality of service. These are pretty straightforward things but they’re not always straightforward to deliver. We regularly have review meetings with our customers. We also use that forum to get up to date feedback from the customer and we use that to upgrade procedures or solutions we’re offering. Ireland Inc seemed to lose track of that customer familiarity over the last five or six years. We’re going back to the touchy-feely side of things, which is hugely important.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
Our sector has had a number of challenges over the last three to four years; mostly regulatory and legislative changes, particularly from the energy and the environmental viewpoint. We’ve had to do a huge amount of training of staff and certification of equipment we use – and that’s quite expensive to do.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
The lack of capital or finance being made available.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I’m good at planning and organising. I also think my management skills are good; they’ve been pretty well honed over the years.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
Maintaining and increasing employment during the last few years. Also retaining 95% of our loyal customer base over the last number of years – when they’ve come under pressure from competitors offering discounted rates. I think that’s a reflection of how we’ve looked after them. They’re nice rewards.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We’re quite careful about the people we choose to work for our company. They’re generally dynamic, positive people who are themselves looking for ideas, opportunities and revenue streams to grow the company further – because that’s also safeguarding their employment. The retention of profits within the company over the years allows for those ideas to then be put into place.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
There was very poor availability of trained, qualified refrigeration engineers in the country. The Celtic Tiger took off and there was a sudden requirement for a lot more trained, technical people and they just weren’t here. At the time I got involved with principals of other refrigeration companies and we set up a Refrigeration Skillnets Network to bring trainers from the UK and Europe to Ireland to fast track the training. That led to the Institute of Refrigeration Ireland (IRI). It was an obstacle; we solved it and we got benefits out of it in the long run – we now have a professional body representing ourselves.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
It’s mostly from within the business; other people in the business. Our business is quite simple. If you keep it simple and run it properly – according to those basic, fundamental guidelines – it will work well, end of story. You don’t need to overcomplicate it.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
A business is like a child, almost – you’re not going to walk away from it if all other things are equal. You don’t need motivation to keep running a business. It’s part of your life.
What’s your vision for the future?
Continuous, steady consistent growth; reinforcing our position as the leading company in our sector and maintaining our position there.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
I don’t have a mentor per se, as in someone I would go to see regularly about the business. I have plenty of sounding boards within the company and in my own close circle of personal friends there are a lot of business leaders and company owners. I get enough feedback there to reassure myself that I’m going the right way.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
When I left my previous company to set up this business, my old MD called and gave me a written list of 20 pointers. That was his going away present for me. Number one on his list was: “Keep a close eye on your cashflow at all times.” It will always be number one.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Get fully and completely involved in your business. A lot of people seem to start a business and think that it will run itself; that they just need to pop it up there and sit back and enjoy the profits. You need to immerse yourself in your business. Know your product, know your staff, know your customers.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
There’s one I’ve used a few times. Roger Staubach, a quarterback US footballer who became CEO of a real estate business. He said, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I can’t think of any fundamental changes that I would make. I’m very happy with the level we’ve got to and the time in which we got there. I get on well with my customers – socially and businesswise. I think I’m in a good place here.
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