Polar Bear Air Conditioning
Specialists in cool, clean, crisp air
Business View Caribbean interviews representatives of Polar Bear Air Conditioning for our focus on Best Companies in the Cayman Islands
Founded in 1988 by Betty Ann and Chuck Mobley‚ Polar Bear Air Conditioning has grown from just a pair of technicians and two trucks into the leading provider of air conditioning and refrigeration services for homeowners and businesses throughout the Cayman Islands. At Polar Bear, weekly technical and customer service training sessions are provided, and team members are regularly sent abroad to learn about the latest equipment and techniques. Not surprisingly, the company is well known as the specialists in residential air conditioning and indoor air quality, as well as offering appliance sales and repair.
Chuck Mobley, Founder and General Manager of Polar Bear Air Conditioning, recounts, “I came to Cayman from Texas in 1984 for five months and I’ve now been here for 37 years. My wife and I started Polar Bear on Feb 2, 1988 and today we have two locations – our office and a warehouse in George Town, as well as a remote warehouse on the other side of the island where we have a dual technician station and we service the eastern district from there. We started with four people, then my wife and I bought out the other three in the first couple years of business. Now we have close to 40 employees. It’s still a proud family business – my son, Brett, is the Operations Manager and I’m sliding into retirement.”
Dwayne Ashley who has worked at Polar Bear for the past 17 years. He shares, “It’s been a wonderful journey working for the Mobleys. I started in 2004, about a week after devastating Hurricane Ivan almost demolished the island. I’ve been with the company through my apprenticeship program, I’ve done training online, in the field, overseas. Worked my way up from a service technician to senior technician. I’ve been dispatcher. I’ve dabbled in service management and I’m now the Install Coordinator and Quality Control Technician – so I’ve worn a lot of hats for the company. The only hat I haven’t worn is ‘owner’ and that’s a very important hat. Working at Polar Bear has been a life experience. I’ve learned a new trade, and so much about being a man from Chuck – how to be a father, how to understand the business, just everything in general.”
When it comes to workforce recruitment and retention, Polar Bear’s unique company culture differentiates them from other air conditioning businesses in the region. “Everywhere you go on the island, someone wants to work for Polar Bear,” says Ashley. “As a leader, it is challenging to get people to understand our ‘why’… why we’re in business, why we do what we do, why do we set ourselves apart from the competitors. It’s a work in progress but we do that every day in our morning meetings and our training, and it’s growing along with our growth.”
There is always new technology that the Polar Bear team needs to be up to speed on, in terms of equipment and systems that they’re installing. They have to understand and adapt to the products that they’re selling, in order to educate customers that a specific product will work for them. As a service-oriented company, Polar Bear thrives on delivering 110% customer satisfaction. It’s a core value, a stable footing that the company leadership strives to maintain, consistently, with their dedicated employees.
When Hurricane Ivan hit the Cayman Islands in 2004, it was a devastating blow. Ashley recalls, “Just imagine, after a hurricane you’re on an island, there is no water, no electricity, and you still want your comfort. So we were out and about for 12 to 15 hours a day, on roofs, getting air conditioning up and running. Dealing with our customers, dealing with all the emotional aspects. It was a challenge for everyone on the island. We had to adapt to what was almost a new norm of living. There wasn’t any high class, low class, middle class at that point, everyone came together to ride out the storm.”
Mobley chimes in with a different – yet similar – anecdote from 2020. He explains, “COVID was kind of the same thing, it was a lot of unknowns, a lot of fear. So as a leadership team, we decided to look at it in a positive way. People are going to be in their homes all the time, so they’re going to need cool, clean, and crisp air – which is our motto. And so we assured our employees that they would get paid. We had meetings and check-ins once a week, and I did a rotation of calling each employee (about 10 a day) just to make sure they were all right and had their basic needs met. We got a government exemption as an essential service, so we could work, and slowly people started calling. They were surprised that we were able to go out and help them.”
The Polar Bear team obeyed all the COVID protocols with masks, gloves, booties on their feet… they sanitized all their tools and took very good care. The fact that they could offer sanitization for duct systems, along with regular servicing, was a true blessing for the company. But Mobley wanted to share his own feel-good kind of message during very troubling times. He reports, “We made the best of COVID and we sent out to each of our customers a clear, 1 gallon plastic kitchen bag with a smiley face on it. Inside was a sanitizer, a mask, and a roll of toilet paper. A lot of our customers got a kick out of that – it was back when toilet paper was a scarce commodity. We actually doubled our sales after the hurricane and with COVID we increased our sales, but the most important thing is that everyone was ok and we’re all stronger for it.”
Mobley counts his employees as Polar Bear’s biggest asset, noting, “We have some really great people that we work with and one out of every four is a different nationality. We are very diverse.” Polar Bear Consultant & Service Technician Kieran Stirling, who hails from South Africa, is a prime example. He shares, “I’ve been here two and a half years and I diagnose and do maintenance on systems, as well as do quotations for replacement jobs that I find or get allocated to me. I came in with enough knowledge to do installs and be an apprentice and help out, and I was lucky enough with the training they offer to step up the ladder to where I am today. I find it very worthwhile in the sense that it’s very family oriented and if there are any issues, it’s really open door, whether it’s a business or personal question. In the field, there are numerous experienced people you can phone and they’re always willing to help out with the answers. It’s a very fun place to work, as well. We work hard but we also play hard, so I quite enjoy it.”
One of the biggest challenges Polar Bear is currently facing is a significant shortage of equipment coming from the U.S. However, the company has a great relationship with local suppliers that has served them well. According to Ashley, “They were very instrumental in getting us equipment and material and parts throughout the four to five months lockdown and that contributes to the success we had during that time. There were a lot of air conditioning companies that were basically shut down, but while we were out, one of the services we offered was over-the-phone diagnostics with our customers and that was a ‘wow’ factor for us. We would have customers go out in the middle of the night, open up their condenser in the alley, and we would walk them through what was wrong and help them fix the problem while they were on the phone.”
Giving back is another attribute that sets Polar Bear apart. The company is heavily involved in helping the community, and they are about to ramp that up. When they go into the local Boys Home for troubled teens every quarter to do maintenance at the facility, they will also be training the youth to be self-sufficient, so they can do their own maintenance. Mobley and his team will take them on a beach outing each quarter, as well.
Looking ahead, Mobley has some important items on his wish list. He states, “I would like us in a brand-new building – quadruple the size that we have now – with ample parking, a gym, and a state-of-the-art training center where our warehouse isn’t remote. I would like to see us with all new electric vehicles for the company, and I would also like to see the majority of our employees owning their own homes.”
Ashley, too, has a great vision for the future, noting, “I have a passion for training, and I would like to see this company develop a national training program, like a school, where people can learn air conditioning, learn a skill, a way to earn a living.”
Polar Bear is indeed a company that cares – and that is very cool.
AT A GLANCE
Polar Bear Air Conditioning
What: Leading provider of air conditioning and refrigeration services
Where: George Town, Grand Cayman
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Saez Distributors is a Miami-based & family-owned company that has been a key player in the development of south Florida supporting distributors, technicians, and contractors. We also work closely with our export customers in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.