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Sub Zero Refrigeration: Keeping the Southland Cool and Toasty for 40 Years

Bud Wagner built his business Sub Zero Refrigeration on customer service, consistency and courtesy. It's still going strong at 40 years—and he figures he must be doing something right.

resident Bud Wagner is a modest businessman. His "keys to success" should be considered givens in any industry based in customer service, he said. It's just common sense.

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"Honesty and quality," Wagner said. Those, definitively, are a large part of what has made his business venture—Sub Zero Refrigeration—a personal and business success story going 40 years strong. 

Wagner, 72, started his career in the heating and cooling business as a service technician, then climbed his way up the business ranks. In 1972, he decided to chase down his dream. With limited management knowledge but an abundance of skill and heart, Wagner led a small crew of technicians in his own business, as he reached out into the surrounding communities for customers.

"After a while, I just decided to hang my own shingle up," Wagner said.

Slowly (but surely), he found his way in the business world, building a loyal customer base with his high-quality work, skilled technicians and extensive knowledge. His own personal dedication played a part, too. Wagner is known for coming to the rescue of neighbors in need of heat at a late hour.

As he has aged, he has backed away from his role as technician and now mostly manages his business that serves 4,500 customers throughout the south suburbs. His tight-knit team of nine employees, including sons Tim and Ted, help keep the business running smoothly. The company specializes in heating and cooling, commercial refrigeration, heat pumps, and ice machines. Many workers build a strong skill base and stick with the company for years, Wagner said. 

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Office manager Gina Ames thinks it's the family atmosphere that makes employees want to stay.

"It's comfortable," Ames said. "He gives me a chance to give my ideas, without fear of being shot down. He does not micromanage."

Wagner treats customers with respect and a sense of family, Ames said. It's what keeps them coming back.

"Our customers stick with us," she said. "It takes extreme circumstances for our customers to leave us."

Over the years, Sub Zero has serviced the systems at Oak Forest and departments. One of their longest standing customers is Before it shut its doors, Wagner and crew worked often at Community Motors. The business grew in popularity and customer base, becoming high-standing members of the Better Business Bureau, Midlothian Chamber of Commerce and Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

Eventually, Sub Zero's customer base and business outgrew its Oak Forest location and moved to Midlothian.

But Wagner has remained in Oak Forest, his home since 1965. He chats about his time as a volunteer firefighter, making .25 for every fire extinguished or ambulance call answered. Nowadays, he enjoys a good movie, woodcarving and spending time with his family. He recalls Oak Forest businesses that have come and gone over the years, but also about a few staples that remain the same to maintain a successful business. Entrepreneurs should consider all angles of a business before jumping in.

"Take management classes," Wagner said. "Learn everything you can before you hang up a shingle."

For more information on Sub Zero, call (708)385-2418 or visit the company's website.

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