Joseph Matthews has an impressive resume of successful business experience, as both a dedicated employee and a formidable business owner. So when he decided to start a refrigeration and air conditioning company in Hernando County, those who knew him had no doubt he’d make it happen.
Part of the Five 5 Star Team, Branch Manager Ed Kelly, Owner Joe Matthew, Operations Manager Gwen Lahera and Sales & Marketing Manager Gary Reed. KIM DAME
“I had bought into a company in the late 80s, early 90s called Sunbelt,” Matthews explained. “It was the same kind of business.”
Matthews was an active partner in Sunbelt for 10 years until the company became part of a conversion of several companies, reformatted, and was renamed United National Refrigeration Services.
Matthews moved on, tinkered in a few different endeavors, then decided to start fresh with a brand new company, Five 5 Star Refrigeration & Air Conditioning, from his home. He conceived the new business with is son, Joseph, and brought on colleagues he’d worked with at Sunbelt.
Five 5 Star Refrigeration & Air Conditioning was born in August 2007, inside a 10-foot by 10-foot room out of Matthews’ Weeki Wachee residence. Gwen Lahera, Five 5 Star operations manager, came on board in October, and worked from her own home.
The company would focus on commercial refrigeration, HVAC and water filtration equipment and services to the supermarket, convenience store and food service industry.
“We were able to keep it to where our suppliers never knew we were working apart,” Lahera said.
Matthews’ connections to skilled people in the industry he’d worked with before helped him build his foundation team, which included bringing on Ed Kelly, his branch install manager, Mike Aussendorf, his service manager, Gary Reed, his sales and marketing manager and Lahera.
Five 5 Star moved to its first location on Aviation Loop in the Airport Industrial Park shortly after and the facility was quickly molded to fit their needs. Faith was present in that transaction, Matthews said, describing how he’d purchased the building.
He had stumbled on a sign notifying the public of an auction the following day, Matthews said. That morning, he made some calls, decided on a bottom line price he was willing to pay, and at auction’s end, had a signed the title.
Five 5 Star stayed in that location for six years, building a foundation despite the dramatic change in the economy.
“But I always did the opposite of what the world was doing,” he said. Instead of hiring on more technicians to grow the business, Matthews scaled back and modified the facility into several independent offices that he leased out, to accommodate his growing staff.
“We capitalized on those offices,” he said.
Five 5 Star regrouped and changed their direction at the end of 2009 and into 2010, broadening their customer base into other avenues.
“We had a certain percentage of our eggs in one basket,” he said, and that made him nervous. But opening up to a broader scope of diversified clients exploded the business, growing 500 percent by 2014.
“A lot of our competitors have 90 percent of their business with one customer,” Matthews explained. “It’s kind of the nature of the beast in our industry. But it’s not in our business model.”
They were able to bring on a number of skilled service technicians and reinvented the industry in a sense by hiring the best with incentives, like roomy company vehicles, laptop computers and a pay-scale that equaled their work caliber.
Now celebrating its move into a 24,000 square foot facility on Cortez Blvd. in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant, Five 5 Star is embracing its roots as it spreads out into its new digs. The company now employs 85, including a support staff and a fleet of highly qualified technicians.
Each new team player costs the company quite a chunk to put on board, Matthews said, because each is equipped with state of the art tools and equipment. They are highly trained and skilled in their categories and offer a strong testament to clients of Five 5 Star of the quality of workmanship in installation, service, and sales in the industry.
The new building was aesthetically remodeled from the inside out, requiring five months to bring it up to its present condition.
“It had been sitting vacant for three years,” Gwen Lahera said.
Five Star also helped facilitate a technical school, SunScan Tech, inside Nature Coast Technical High School. Students can begin early training toward their degree.
Matthews is also in the early stages of helping to facilitate an advanced 240-hour course for students which will bring skill-levels from C and B techs to A techs. The nonprofit is called S.T.A.R.S. (Supermarket Technology and Refrigeration Specialty).
It isn’t just for Five 5 Star’s benefit, he said, but to provide skilled workers to the community. It is all part of Five 5 Star’s contribution to the industry it helped grow.
On Friday, Five 5 Star Refrigeration & Air Conditioning will hold its ribbon cutting through the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce beginning at noon. Matthews plans to tell a few anecdotal stories about the company’s beginnings.
And he will speak about his vision, leading to a 100,000-square-foot expansion in the very near future.
Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at email@example.com.