By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Randy Ricketts, founder of Southeast Quality HVAC and Refrigeration will humbly tell you that he is a blessed man: he is the first in his family to graduate from high school; the first to graduate from college; has a wonderful family; and along with his sons, runs a much needed business in Alabama and Tennessee. Refrigeration, along with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning can at times be almost like a first responder situation. People need to be cool when it’s sweltering and warm when it’s frigid, and refrigeration can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to preserving medications. When any of it goes out, Southeast gets out and gets to it!
Randy got his degree in biology and chemistry from Athens State when it was still a college. He went to work at Brownsferry Nuclear Plant and was there for 17 years. He truly loved his job in the chem lab and planned to have a long career there, but then there was a massive lay-off in 1997. A friend at Greenbrier Restaurant encouraged him to consider HVAC as a business. He got his associate degree from Calhoun Community College in refrigeration, and started Ricketts Refrigeration in 1998. His boys grew up in the business, and 22 years later Southeast Quality is still going strong.
Randy wanted me to spend some “word space” on the historical building in which the business resides. It is located at 713 S Clinton St. in Athens, and is the old location of Chambers Distribution Company, which back in the day delivered Coca-Cola all over North Alabama. It was built in 1933 right in the middle of both Jim Crow and the Great Depression. Randy’s wife’s name is Canna, and her grandfather and grandmother worked there. When Southeast Quality moved in, the building still had traces of segregated bathrooms, and there are a number of vintage bottles and other memorabilia on old shelves. The floor is made from that hardwood that no one makes anymore, and there are sturdy wooden office chairs that these days would cost a fortune.
Randy likes old stuff, and has a particular fondness for old electric fans. How well he remembers the days when air conditioning was a luxury, and if you were a kid and stuck your finger inside the guard, a fan blade could do some really serious damage! He also loves astronomy, and looks at the heavens with his grandkids through a telescope which was a gift from Canna. I know from having heard her that Canna is a marvelous piano player and accompanies the Heritage Choir of the South. She also has taught school “since forever,” says Randy, and is an anchor for both the Ricketts family as well as Athens High School. Son Chambers runs the lion’s share of the operation, and Jacob is also in the “other family business,” that of teaching. He helps out in the summers when school is out.
For several years, refrigeration was the bread and butter of the business, and they serviced food outlets all over Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, down in the Gulf area, and in Tennessee. At that time, McDonald’s was their biggest customer. HVAC slowly became dominant, and in 2009 they largely let the refrigeration side of the house go. Since that time, they have done extensive work in cooperation with the TVA in programs to help people get HVAC units. First the name of the TVA program was called Energy Rite, and now is referred to as eScore Home Improvement Loan Program. Southeast Quality HVAC and Refrigeration has a 5-star rating on the TVA website. You can go to www.2escore.com to check them out.
Getting that kind of rating is no small feat, and it is Southeast’s commitment to making sure energy is “done right” the first time that has made for such a good working relationship with TVA. When Southeast gets a contract with TVA, the end product and installation is first tested by the designers and installers, and then TVA sends out their inspector, and nothing gets signed off until everything is perfect. Randy designs the systems; Chambers oversees the installation process and also functions as a trouble shooter. Back in the Brownsferry days is when Randy shined, fixing problems that no one else seemed to be able to solve.
So much can go wrong if people try to cut corners and go for the lowest bid. Everything from sky high energy bills to mold poisoning can happen when a HVAC system is not properly configured or installed. In order to be part of the TVA program, the installers must be certified by NATE, (North American Technician Excellence.) “You get what you pay for,” said Randy, and added, “We are not the lowest, and we surely are not the highest.” He also let me know that there have been some “bad apples” in the HVAC industry, and as a result there is a shortage of technicians. Not only does the Southeast Quality crew have the highest certifications, everyone who joins them undergoes a stringent in-house training process. They largely install units made by Amana, and their wall is filled with plaques of industry awards and proofs of training. They also finance installations and have service and prevention contracts which include air filters for a year. “We are always getting new training,” Randy said, and informed me that “We design it, test it, and make it right. We care about the outcome, and TVA keeps us at the highest standard.” Randy also really enjoys supporting the local economy and the Athens-Limestone area.
We talked at length about the building boom that is underway, and how the growth of our area is affecting them. “We are always looking for new guys, and we need them now.” Randy told me further, “HVAC is not for dummies. My guys know that the process is one that involves what I call PACE. That stands for Plumbing, Air Conditioning and Electrical. The duct work HAS to be excellent, and we do our own.”
When Randy was first in business, he received some wise counsel which I feel bears repeating. “Work to your most dissatisfied customer in order to make them happy.” And while that doesn’t happen very often with Southeast Quality HVAC and refrigeration, exceeding customer expectations is what has set them apart. He has instilled that in his sons and his crew, and that’s why they are still here, going and growing strong, and gearing up for what’s ahead. He is glad to be in a brick-and-mortar business where people can sit down in the same room and meet with him face-to-face. And, as Chambers said to me at another meeting, “What sets us apart is ‘personability.’ We are a family-run business, top to bottom.”Over the years, they built up a large base of repeat customers, have several new ones, and as Randy says, “We stay with our customers. We register everything we sell. Over the years we have learned a lot, and have moved with the market.”
If you are looking for old-time-style service that is thriving in the 21st century, then call Southeast Quality HVAC and Refrigeration at (256) 232-2077 today and let them show you what it means to have “energy efficiency done right.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner