Reputation lures cool customers

Reputation lures cool customers

Craig Duff was hoping to launch a "nice little business" when the new millenium arrived, hitting the streets in January 2000 to drum up clients for his fledgling refrigeration company.

Duff and business partner Graeme Green had worked for large, multi-national refrigeration companies before - but starting from scratch they didn't have staff, assets, or even a client.

What they did have was a reputation.

"Our original goal was to get to about six service guys. We thought we'd have a nice little business running with a small number of staff," says Duff.

"We have in excess of 90 staff at the moment, and branches nationwide."

Building a company purely on reputation worked. The company once without a client now has industry giants like Fonterra, Tegel, and Hellers on the books.

Active Refrigeration is headquartered in Christchurch. There are few areas in the country the company doesn't reach - soon there will be none.

The company designs, engineers, and services industrial refrigeration equipment for large and medium-sized businesses, and has become the largest industrial provider in its sector in New Zealand.

Since the quakes, they've diversified. Now they deal in air conditioning too, which has helped future proof the company and ensure they remain one step ahead of the competition.

That sort of business savvy is why they've "punched pretty hard" in the market, Duff says. Even though there's still competition, Active Refrigeration has jostled its way to the top.

It's also partly due to the company's internal drive towards sustainability, which was recently acknowledged with a Sustainable 60 award.

"We've always had a sustainability approach. Refrigeration and air-conditioning is a large energy user in New Zealand, so we have focused heavily around engineering systems with efficiency in mind."

With issues like global warming in full swing, the company has experimented with natural refrigerants and innovative energy conserving systems, which Duff says has been key to their position in the market.

Duff, a mechanical engineer, has remained director of the company since its inception. He's used to complex things with moving parts, but the rapidly growing business has provided its own complex challenges.

"It's not like buying widgets off the shelf. You don't buy it, sell it then it's gone.

"A lot of the big project work we do is engineered as a one off, so there's a high degree of engineering in doing project work."

In the contract market - where the country's biggest players lurk - it's not just a matter of showing up with a plan and a smile.

To even get in the same room as a company like Fonterra requires exhaustive preparation.

They're at the top, but the ethos developed in the early days, when Duff hit the pavement looking for his first client, is still there.

It's the reason why the nationwide company won't leave Christchurch, he says.

"There's a difference, I've noticed, operating out of Christchurch. Relationships and taking people on their word and perhaps a handshake means a lot.

"The loyalty and the honesty and the integrity in running a business out of Canterbury has that feel. "