Zulma and Juan Lopez Jr. started J&E Heating & Cooling from scratch in 2008 and now employ 12 people. In 2017, the company moved from two rented shops in Kenosha to its own building in Racine.
BY KATIE MATTESON
When Juan Lopez, Jr. started his heating and cooling business in 2008, the country was entering its worst economic period since the Great Depression. His employer had reduced his hours, his new wife was pregnant with their first child in addition to caring for her two children from a prior marriage.
“I went from being a single guy to a husband and father for a family of five,” Lopez said.
While his wife also worked a full time job, the new family lived in a two bedroom apartment and were living week to week.
Despite the situation, Lopez reasoned that it was the perfect time for him to start his own business. “I figured with all the big companies going bankrupt, I had the opportunity to get jobs and grow my business,” Lopez said. “I was hoping that when the economy came back, I would be at the level of the companies I’d worked for.”
He was right. Now, J & E Heating & Cooling employs 12 people, in addition to Lopez and his wife Zulma, and in 2017 moved from two rented shops in Kenosha to its own building in Racine. The Lopez family of eight also recently purchased a home in Racine.
Lopez said they started the business by saving money to buy tools and making their own business cards. He said he used his Dodge Neon for service calls until 2009 when they were able to purchase a work van.
“Little by little we got up and going thanks to our customers who passed our name around,” Lopez said. “We also lived in my Mom’s house for a while so we could save money.”
After they started to get some subcontracting jobs and steady work from a home warranty company, they hired their first employee in 2009 and in 2014 moved the shop from their garage to a rented shop.
In 2015 they added a second employee and a third in 2016. The old camper that was converted into a trailer to haul equipment was replaced by a real trailer and a growing fleet of trucks, now totalling seven.
Without formal training in business management, the couple taught themselves how to manage and grow their company.
“We learned on the fly on a daily basis,” Lopez said. “It wasn’t easy, but we never gave up.”
Lopez credits his uncle for encouraging him to go into the trades and sees his HVAC business as a niche. “We live in a place with hot summers and cold winters.”
He offers his employees paid holidays and vacations, health, disability and life insurance, along with 401K plans to encourage talented people to view his company as a “point of destination, not a stepping stone.”
He pairs experienced workers with new hires, including his stepson, who started working for the company last year and will begin his studies at Gateway Technical College this fall to gain certification.
Lopez said he and his wife are very proud of their accomplishments, but remain humble.
“When you start something from scratch, you know that it could all be taken away,” he said. “We work hard, provide good workmanship and treat everyone with respect.”
Lopez, whose parents immigrated from Mexico and his wife, who immigrated from Argentina, are proud of their heritage and grateful to their customers in the Hispanic community who have supported their business from the beginning.
Now that they’ve settled in Racine, they want to give back to the community. Lopez hosts a Dad’s Club meeting at the shop and his wife is looking for opportunities to get involved with local organizations.
For more information, call J&E Heating & Cooling at (262) 818-4426 or (262) 672-9844 or visit jandeheatingandcooling.com.