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When the Going Gets Hot, They Get Going

22 May 2014 Bookmark and Share

LEICESTER — Lee Morse jokes that while other people watch TV shows like "CSI Miami," he and his friend and business partner, Tim Johnson, have their eyes glued to the Weather Channel.

"I think we're the only two people who like the polar vortex," Mr. Morse said with a laugh.

That's because their business, American Spot Cooling in Leicester, relies heavily on keeping customers comfortable during extreme temperatures.

American Spot Cooling rents out portable air-conditioning and heating units primarily to commercial customers including schools, government buildings and hospitals.

Mr. Johnson, the company's president, said post offices are frequent customers.

The post office has an older infrastructure, and "when their systems break down, they can't get parts or replacements for four to six weeks, and that's where we come in," he said.

Similarly, when temperatures soar and restaurants lose their air-conditioning, owners realize that diners won't tolerate eating in 100-degree heat. That's when American Spot Cooling gets a call. Business is generated when establishments are in "emergency crisis mode," Mr. Johnson said, and though his office hours are technically 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the company is actually an on-call, 24-hours-a-day business.

American Spot Cooling recently renovated the property at 210 Main St. in Cherry Valley that had once housed the Alpine Restaurant but had been vacant and decaying for 25 years. The town had contemplated taking it by eminent domain, but it never happened.

"It was completely run down," the younger Mr. Johnson said, of the building. "We took a concrete shell and transformed it in four months."

They encountered a former bar still intact, complete with booths and two dumpsters' worth of old restaurant equipment. Cleanup required an additional 10 dumpsters for removal. Demolition took up the first month, and the process involved asbestos removal, a complete gutting to concrete and an all-systems overhaul.

Founded in 2011, American Spot Cooling moved to Leicester after outgrowing its previous space in Auburn. Sometimes, the owners had to use their garages, basements and yards for overflow storage.

Storage space at the new Leicester location totals 3,000 square feet, better than the 1,000 square feet in Auburn. It was Mr. Johnson's father, Tom, the third owner, who selected the Leicester property while driving by it daily on Route 9.

What makes American Spot Cooling stand apart from its competitors is its close relationship with customers, Mr. Morse said.

"When people call, they talk to the owners … not some national answering service in the Midwest or a person who redirects them five times before they can get the information they need," he said.

The service area includes New York City and all of New England. A second office in Atlanta services all of Georgia as well as South Carolina, Alabama and a portion of Tennessee. The local facility is in the Cherry Valley portion of Leicester, with four employees, while the Atlanta office has one. Temporary help may be hired during the summer.

Along with servicing commercial enterprises, rentals are available for events like graduation parties or tent weddings. Mr. Morse compared the expense for a cooling system to other wedding costs such as photography or flowers.

Although the units are temporary solutions, the rental time can vary from a few days to several years. For example, a school system near Boston kept three units for two-and-a-half years.

Mr. Morse, a Sturbridge resident, is a National Guard veteran who worked in the field both in the military and across the country. Mr. Johnson, an Auburn resident, brings five years of experience and also serves as a contractor with his father.

"It's an interesting niche business that we got into," Mr. Johnson added. "Other people do it but we figured we could do it better and help customers from A to Z."

"We're a couple of young guys trying to make it," Mr. Morse said.

Source: telegram.com

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