Gartner Refrigeration & Mfg. Inc.
Herb and George Gartner established Gartner Refrigeration & Mfg. Inc. (Gartner) in 1945 out of a small building just south of Minneapolis. The 3,000-square-foot space provided just enough room for the small team to perform ammonia refrigeration installations and services for customers in the surrounding areas.
Over the course of nearly 70 years, Gartner has evolved with the constantly changing refrigeration industry. Today, the company operates from a 28,000-square-foot facility in Plymouth, Minnesota.
Gartner is now in its second generation of family ownership. Herb’s son-in-law, John Hendrickson, operates the business as company president. John started working for the business in 1965, his first foray into the refrigeration industry.
“I had the choice of going in three directions,” John recalls. “My father-in-law asked if I would be interested in joining the company and I said yes.”
Now, 50 years later, John leads a team of 45 employees, as well as additional labor hired on for specific projects. He notes that the crew can reach upward of 100 professionals on larger contracts.
Over the years, the crew has established a strong niche in industrial refrigeration. Gartner provides a full design-build service and bid-spec work for clients, which include major frozen food companies, grocers and other food- and beverage-related facilities. Customers can also count on the team for its comprehensive parts and service department, taking the Gartner crew from infancy through operation with any given project.
The company is a privately held franchise of the Frick Company, working with Frick brand equipment, known in the industry for quality and durability. Gartner operates coast to coast within the continental United States, although work tends to be centralized in the Midwest.
“We work out of a single location, though we have representation on the East Coast and West Coast,” John notes.
Recent work includes a range of clients all over the country. The crew finished up a project for Target in Rialto, California, in late 2014. Ongoing work includes a recently completed job for Schwan’s Foods, a repeat customer, in Salina, Kansas.
The business has also performed repeat work for McLane Foods in Minnesota, Stater Brothers in San Bernardino, California, as well as C&S Grocers, based in Keene, New Hampshire.
Relationships with repeat customers make up the backbone of the operation. Gartner has proven capable of building lasting partnerships over the years. For example, the business has been providing installation, replacement and repair services to the same dairy operation since the Gartner family first opened the doors.
Customers appreciate the experience and expertise that John and his team bring to the table. While quality service and professional performance are company traditions that date back to 1945, the business has also been open to evolution over the years.
“There is a movement in the industry to use CO2 as refrigerant,” John explains. “We have done a few already, including Circle Foods in San Diego, California, and we have a few upcoming projects, as well. This type of system has several advantages. First, ammonia has a noxious odor, which is scary to people. In some cases, if there is a leak, ammonia can also damage products. CO2 systems have been popular in Europe and are catching on more in the United States.”
Managing a broad market
With a strong dedication to customer satisfaction and innovation, the business managed to weather the economic downturn with little damage done. “We lost some money and we have had to build back up,” John admits. “We were able to maintain our core staff. We had some reserves available and were happy to keep everyone working.”
Managing expenses has been a major focus for Gartner, like other businesses. John notes that his largest costs are equipment, materials and labor.
Over the coming years, John is looking forward to steady growth. He is proud of the company’s success, which he measures based on financial factors and customer satisfaction.
With the market on a trajectory of steady improvement, the business has a strong opportunity to expand, infiltrating new markets and making up territory where other companies have fallen out in the wake of the market downturn.
“We are happy with what we have now,” John clarifies. “We had considered setting up pilot offices, but we can increase our market share from one location for now.”
Through level-headed management and strong customer relationships, the company has been able to outlast competitors in the regional market. In the Midwest and beyond, Gartner Refrigeration & Mfg. Inc. will continue to grow as a strong contender in the refrigeration industry.