Case Studies

Lee Air Conditioners Inc.: Helping Clients Breathe Easy

  • Written by: Lee Air Conditioners Inc.: Helping Clients Breathe Easy
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Lee Air Conditioners Inc. (LAC) has been providing quality family service in the heating and cooling industry since 1951. Joe Lee, president of LAC, is proud to follow in his father’s footsteps. Joe’s father founded the North Carolina-based company, which has grown over the last 60 years to include a variety of services and products.

LAC serves both commercial and residential clients within a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C. The team installs and performs maintenance on all major brands of heating and cooling systems, proudly sporting LEED certification as well as being a Carrier factory authorized dealer and a Trane strategic partner. With indoor air quality becoming a growing environmental health concern, the team at LAC has completed specialized training to recognize and solve air-quality issues with a range of services and products, from carbon monoxide monitoring to humidifiers and ventilators.

Over the last six decades, LAC has grown beyond heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Joe and his team operate three related companies to perform construction work, custom sheet metal services and insulation. Between all of the divisions LAC employs around 130 people. The staple of the business is HVAC work, but often the extra services come into play during installation, especially for new construction projects.

Service for Life

After installation, LAC provides ongoing care for heating and cooling systems from preventative maintenance to repair and replacement. Regular maintenance plans are available for commercial and residential customers involving a step-by-step inspection, with cleaning and filter replacement when necessary. Customers who subscribe to one of these programs are awarded priority status when something goes wrong. Whether or not LAC-installed systems are regularly inspected, the company’s technicians are on-call 24/7 in case of system problems.

All of LAC’s HVAC services are performed in-house, which means clients never have to wait on third-party contractors for repairs, replacements or installations. The company operates on a full-service philosophy, and each LAC technician is required to pass the industry’s leading certification program: the North American Technician Excellence Exam (NATE). Proper service keeps systems running smoothly and can save clients up to 20 percent on utility costs. Regularly maintained systems can last years longer than heating and cooling components that don’t receive the same attention.

The company has performed projects small and large throughout North Carolina, with one of LAC’s biggest clients being the military. The team has installed and serviced heating and cooling systems on several bases in the area, including Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. LAC keeps military personnel cool or warm in base facilities and housing.

Back to Basics

LAC has adapted well to the economic challenges over the last few years. “We’ve had to change our philosophy,” explains Joe. “Right now we’ve decided to focus on what we do best and to heck with everything else.”
For a long time LAC was participating in multimillion-dollar construction projects, but Joe found himself and his team at the mercy of general contractors that couldn’t keep projects on track. “If it’s a slow-moving job, you don’t make any money,” elaborates Joe. “The margins are very low and you could even lose money on a job.”

With general contractors bidding lower and lower to meet the financial constraints of clients, a project that falls behind schedule can mean excessive labor costs to subcontractors. LAC was often forced to wait around for other aspects of a project to finish and clean up before the team could move in and complete the company’s portion of a project. Typically, these setbacks stem from economic issues like breaks in supply chains or late payments from clients.

The company has resolved the issue by putting a monetary cap on each project the team takes on. “Right now we’re looking at jobs with a ceiling of a half to three-quarters of a million,” reports Joe. “We can go in on a commercial basis, get in, get out, bill it, and there’s a much quicker turnover.”

Joe believes that LAC will return to larger projects, but economic conditions do not permit this type of work. “We just can’t afford to do that right now,” he says. Focusing on small projects not only increases margins and speeds up turnover for LAC, but it also helps the company maintain a standard of quality that was often out of its control on larger projects.

Joe has seen small improvements in the market over the last 18 months. With consumer confidence growing, it looks like many potential clients and their respective financial institutions are starting to free up capital for new projects and long overdue upgrades. Other issues, like changing weather patterns and gas prices, have taken a toll of LAC’s industry in the region, but the team is prepared to make adjustments to keep business going and return to a period of growth. “We’re reinventing the wheel around here,” explains Joe. “If you’re not, you can’t succeed. It’s a fluid market.”

LAC has over 60 years of experience in the business, and team members are continuously adapting with the latest technologies and practices in the business to diversify operations and provide the best service available.

“We’ve been family-owned for more than half a century,” beams Joe. “We’re looking forward to another 50 years.” Lee Air Conditioners Inc. combines a tradition of quality with a remarkable ability to adapt, and this combination has resulted in a regional reputation for excellence and longevity that will carry the company successfully into the future.

Published on: March 16, 2013

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