This week I got to experience a bit of local history by sitting in the office of Southeast Quality Refrigeration and learning about everything from the business to the building in which it is conducted. Randy Ricketts, who started the business in 1998, used to come into the office as a kid and watch his grandfather operate the local Coca-cola distribution center located at 713 So. Clinton Street in Athens. He has an extensive collection of antique Coke products as a reminder of what it means to be a truly family owned business, and his sons Chambers and Jacob have joined him in that endeavor.
Randy has a science degree from Athens State University, and thought he would have a long career at Browns Ferry working in the chem lab. Then there was a huge lay off of more than 600 people, and he knew it was time to strike out on his own. The original name of the business was Ricketts Refrigeration, and more recently they changed the name to Southeast Quality Refrigeration and HVAC. (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning.)
Chambers told me he has always worked with his dad, and always plans to. He has an AA degree in refrigeration from Calhoun. Jacob is pursuing a degree in secondary education from Athens State, and will work full time in the summers.
As I sat and listened to their story, I gained a great deal of appreciation for the fact that Randy did what fathers used to do with their sons: pass down a trade while instilling a sense of satisfaction at doing the job right. Southeast Quality has two “arms,” designing and installing refrigeration and HVAC systems for businesses and homes, as well as servicing commercial beverage machines and refrigeration systems. “Our biggest customer is McDonald’s,” he told me. They have installed and serviced McDonald’s nearly proprietary beverage dispensing systems in Tennessee, Mississippi, down in the Gulf, Arkansas, and Georgia. “Beverage gives us a niche,” Chambers mentioned, but Southeast Quality does much more. Since McDonald’s has gone to having much more of their supplies needing to be frozen, walk-ins have had to be completely remodeled.
They deal with ice makers and other specialized equipment, do walk in coolers and freezers, retrofit old coolers, and contract for Multiplex and Manitowoc. In recent years, EPA guidelines have gotten much more stringent, and they must keep abreast of what kinds of new refrigerants are being used and the technology involved in keeping systems running smoothly.
In regard to HVAC, they most often install systems made by Amana, and the installations are all custom designed. I learned that airflow has to be engineered for efficiency and savings, and one of Randy’s other job descriptions is that of a troubleshooter. He pulls from his experience at Browns Ferry to solve problems with systems that no one else seems to be able to. People will pay big bucks to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and there is much that can go wrong if the installation is poor. Everything from sky high energy bills to mold poisoning can happen when a HVAC system is not properly configured or installed, and Randy said, “Most contractors try to low bid the HVAC system, which is a big mistake.”
The TVA has a heat pump program that makes it possible to upgrade one’s HVAC system at a marginal cost, and Southeast Quality does many of those installations. In order to do so, the installer must be certified by NATE, (North American Technician Excellence), and it is also very important to be a tech certified by RSES, the Refrigeration Service Engineering Society. Southeast’s techs are that, and Randy and Chambers will be completing their Master Technicians certification with RSES soon. They are also on the board of the TN Valley RSES organization.
I asked, as I always do, why I should come to them when there are a number of local companies from which to choose. “We are family run from top to bottom,” Randy said. Chambers added that what sets them apart is their “personability.” They have a wall full of awards, and would not have grown over the years without ongoing customer satisfaction. They have a retention rate with their crew that is in the 90th percentile, and Randy says, “We try to instill in them the desire to be their personal best.” Chambers concluded our time by saying, “We started off small, we have grown, we are going to ‘be there,’ and we have a good presence in the community.” If excellence, talent and craftsmanship in regard to everything about refrigeration and HVAC are important to you, then Southeast Quality is the place you’ll find it.
Southeast Quality Refrigeration and HVAC
713 South Clinton Street, Athens, AL 35611
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner