Carl Roberts decided to leave full-time employment as an air conditioning technician eighteen years ago to launch his own business in an attempt to raise his income. Today, as the owner of HVAC Shack—Bermuda’s distributor of the world’s largest AC manufacturer Gree—and its sister company Cold Snap Services, it is evident that his leap of faith paid off.

While he has managed to continue growing the business steadily through economic cycles, the road has sometimes been rocky. When he started Cold Snap as an AC service and repair business in 2005 after a decade with AirCare, he worked out of the back of a station wagon for the first eight months, as it took that long for the Transport Control Department to approve his application for a van licence.

In 2008, Roberts rented a place in Canal Lane, Hamilton, which remains home to Cold Snap to this day. Frustrated by the difficulties in acquiring the parts he needed from BAC and AirCare, the major players on the Bermuda HVAC scene, he started sourcing direct from Watsco, the largest AC supplies distributor in the US. That trading relationship led to bigger things. “Watsco got the Gree brand and asked if we’d be interested in selling it,” Roberts says. “Gree is the largest manufacturer of ACs on the planet. It’s a Chinese company and about one out of three systems in the world comes out of its factories. We were happy to get them.

“Most people in Bermuda had not heard of Gree before, even though Gree made parts of AC systems that are well known here, so it took some convincing for people to go for it. But it’s a great manufacturer, very cost effective and energy efficient, and it’s gaining in popularity.” The Gree deal took the business to a new level but created a storage challenge. With Cold Snap’s retail store and small office being the only business space, “we stored everything in shipping containers all over the island,” Roberts says. After years of minimising overheads to save up funds, the business was able to buy a property at 7 Camp Hill Road, Southampton, close to the junction with Middle Road, as HVAC Shack’s headquarters, easing the storage issue.

Today the business employs sixteen people in the peak summer months and a few less at the quieter times of the year. With a team led by general manager Wayne Clapham, service manager Nick Walker and sales manager Brian Smith, the company’s overarching focus is on customer service excellence. It has made headway in the residential market, in which its Gree 4Liv entry-level model and Sapphire high-end product are proving competitive, as well as central AC systems and productions built for the commercial market. HVAC Shack supplies Gree equipment to a network of 15 independent contractors on the island.

Cold Snap, the servicing arm of the business, offers flexible maintenance agreements, giving participating customers favourable rates and “preferred” status that ensures they will have priority for service during busy periods. Electronic service reports offer greater efficiency than traditional paper-based billing and are time-stamped on phones to ensure accuracy of hours worked. When the weather warms up each May or June, the company inevitably gets a glut of calls from customers who switch on their AC for the first time in months and find it has a problem. Roberts says a regular maintenance regime throughout the year—changing filters regularly, fully stripping and cleaning down occasionally—is the best way to look after systems. BGA is the largest refrigeration services customer for the business, which also maintains the Hamilton Princess’s ice machines and refrigeration systems.

Roberts would like to see his business find more opportunities in the commercial space. The construction business tends to be a “closed circle,” he says, in which contractors use their preferred subcontractors for HVAC work, which tend to be the two dominant players. “The only time we get a construction job is if someone building a house says, I want him to do it,” Roberts says. “Some commercial customers seem to have a ‘better-the-devil-you-know’ mentality. If they give us an opportunity, they may well be surprised at the high level of service they receive.”

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Address: 7 Camp Hill Road, Southampton

Services: HVAC hardware and services