Saturday, December 10 , 2016, 9:13 pm | Fair 62º



AJAX Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Marks 65 Years in Santa Barbara

The business, family owned since its founding, continues its growth and has a little fun with its new 'penguin mobile'

Making refrigeration fun was a tough task, but somehow a smiling, green-scarf wearing penguin balancing ice cubes on his flipper has done the trick.

That’s the new logo seen zipping around town on the maintenance van of AJAX Santa Barbara Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, a locally owned and operated business since 1949.

The “penguin mobile” was unveiled last year to revamp the brand of the company that in 2014 marks its 65th anniversary.

“Kids love it,” said AJAX owner Christopher Montigny, who took over the business from his father, Bernard, in 2008.

And adults remember it.

All the more reason for AJAX to thank Sidekick Creative for that new design and loyal clientele for keeping the company in business when many others have folded or left town.

More than 3,000 clients in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — mainly restaurants, hotels and other businesses — rely on AJAX for their commercial refrigeration repair, installation, maintenance and air conditioning needs.

Bacara Resort & Spa is AJAX’s largest hospitality client, while Brophy Brothers is its biggest restaurant.

The business has been family owned from its founding by James Hollander. Bernard Jean purchased it from Hollander’s son in 1992. He then handed the reins to his son, who began working full time shortly after graduating from San Diego State University with an international business degree in 1995.

AJAX anniversary
AJAX owner Christopher Montigny, center, is surrounded by his service team. (Gabriel Knapp photo / Gabriel Knapp Photography)

“It’s too expensive,” the elder Montigny said of why many companies move away.

AJAX made it work by emphasizing customer service and staffing after hours and weekend shifts that mirrored the operations of its customers.

The shop moved from the corner of Cota and Garden streets to its current location in 1998 at the dead end at 401 E. Montecito St. The spot puts AJAX close to 70 percent of its clients, those in downtown.

AJAX also grew, adding management staff for 14 total employees, eight of them technicians.

“It’s something of a testament to who and what the business is,” Chris Montigny said. “Santa Barbara is a tough town to do business in.”

The company has a leasing program, mostly ice machines, and 80 percent of business is refrigeration related.

Sales and leasing manager Mike Gardner said AJAX implemented pricing to compete with the Internet — AJAX charges sales tax on a $2,500 refrigerator, whereas online companies don’t — and pushed quarterly maintenance instead of waiting for something bad to happen to equipment.

AJAX hopes to grow by building clientele, switching to paperless billing and selling equipment in San Luis Obispo County.

If all goes well, the company will soon have a fleet of penguin mobiles instead of just one.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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