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The Nomadic Life

June 24, 2022


Nomad Group Travels North America to Keep Restaurant HVAC Systems Running Smoothly

For the people at Nomad Group, the name is more than where they work, it’s a way of life. Based in Pueblo, Colorado, the company has helped set up HVAC, controls, and other systems for hundreds of restaurants in 49 states and Canada. If in-person troubleshooting is required, somebody will be making travel plans.

“We’ve set ourselves up as a rapid response team at times,” said Bill Burnett, Nomad’s founder, and CEO. “First and foremost, we’re committed to our customers, and sometimes that means getting on an airplane that evening and troubleshooting a problem in person. Not everybody can do that.”

At Nomad, Bill has created a hybrid between a medium-sized company and a small family business. His children – Adam, Alex, Amanda, Christine, and Shane – are all Nomads, as well as his sons-in-law, Tommy Byrd, and Luke Clayton. Nomad Group integrates HVAC, lighting, audio, patio fans and heaters – anything that can be managed from a single wall control system. Like Trane, they are committed to improving indoor air quality, reducing energy consumption, and ensuring the temperature is always just right.

Control Systems Integrate Everything
Bill and his team began installing restaurant lighting setup and control. But as lighting and other features became more automated, he saw how powerful control systems could be to make restaurants more comfortable for guests, save energy and help troubleshoot problems.

“We realized that there was an opportunity with the air conditioning to connect it more intelligently and actually know what's going on,” said Bill. “Chris St. John and others at Trane saw the value, and around 2008 we began integrating the controller with a tablet interface.”

In addition to giving individual companies more insights into their systems, this approach connects Nomad to more than 300 restaurants in North America, giving them critical details to remotely manage problems and keep their systems running optimally. It’s not dissimilar to the computer diagnostics auto mechanics use to help repair cars – except in this case the car never has to leave the driveway. Having designed so many integrated control systems, Nomad has special insights into how they work.

“If a restaurant calls with an issue, we have all of the documentation from when it was built,” said Bill. “We can reference that as we're talking to them or talking to the contractor. We always encourage our customers to call us, even if they’re dealing with an issue that’s not necessarily ours. We have confidence we can solve their situation.”


The Urgency of Customer Service
Nomad and Trane share the common goal of working to solve customer problems

“It's built a real sense of trust,” said Bill. “We trust Trane to help us, and they trust us to move quickly when something goes wrong to help the customer.

Like Trane, Nomad is acutely aware of how important climate control can be in a restaurant. Outdoor air must be heated, cooled, or dehumidified. New air must replace the large volume going up the kitchen exhaust system. Uncomfortable guests may complain or never return. In extreme cases, the restaurant may have to shut down for a time.

“If a high-end restaurant rents out a private dining room, that may represent $5,000 or $10,000 in income,” said Bill. “If the room becomes uncomfortable for any reason, they may comp that check, and that's absolute lost revenue.”

Nomad shows their value, over and over, by expertly diagnosing problems. These issues are often exacerbated in extremely hot and cold climates.

One restaurant in Las Vegas was having trouble keeping its guests cool, even though the equipment appeared to be functioning correctly. Nomad isolated the problem to the linear diffusers, long slots that move cool air into the dining room. Instead of distributing air across the room, the diffusers were directing it straight to the floor and out the door. Adjusting them quickly fixed the problem.

These kinds of issues can be common, as restaurants stress HVAC systems differently than other buildings. A kitchen hood removes 10,000 to 25,000 cubic feet of air per minute. If the restaurant doesn’t fully control how that air is replaced, the comfort level can change in a minute.

“There was a restaurant in Chicago that was absolutely freezing,” said Byrd. “They couldn't figure it out, so we opened up the ceiling and there was huge hole in the wall, letting in 10-degree air all day. No heating system is going to keep up with that.”

Solving Problems Through Good Design
These troubleshooting capabilities pay extra dividends when designing systems for new restaurants. The Nomad team tries to make them as fool-proof as possible.

“You can’t treat every room like a silo,” said Bill, “you have to treat it as part of something larger. We help the engineers think through that to make sure they’re considering what happens if it breaks and how that affects customers. If you put a vent directly over someone’s head, they're going to freeze.”

Nomad is motivated to help restaurants serve their guests as well as they can. They understand that when a customer is eating a $100 steak, they expect to be comfortable.


Managing an Unforeseen Crisis
Because Nomad supports several restaurant chains, they’re also focused on maintaining brand consistency, and the internal environment is critically important to that equation. Customers should feel exactly the same at their favorite restaurant, whether the outside temperature is 100 degrees in Florida or -10 degrees in North Dakota. Nomad ensures all restaurants have consistent temperature controls, regardless of their external environment.

Their ability to help control multiple sites from virtually anywhere came in handy in March and April 2020, during the early days of COVID, when many restaurants shut down or shifted to take-out only business.

“As the world shut down, we were able to respond to 300 restaurants in two days,” said Bill. “We set everyone to a much wider unoccupied set point to save energy.”


The Nomadic Lifestyle
In many ways, the company’s name describes its business, as people travel far and wide to get the job done. Still, Bill likes his people to spend most weekends with their families.

“We've never been a company that goes and camps out for an extended period of time,” he says. “I think I've traveled on a weekend for work, unrelated to airlines messing things up, maybe three or four times.”

The company likes to foster independent thinking, so people in remote locations can get it done. However, they can also benefit from their colleagues’ deep experience for support. The group is full of highly driven people who love to problem solve and always recognize the details are important.

“Being a Nomad is more than taking care of your own systems,” said Bill. “You have to pay attention to stuff that isn’t yours because that might affect the restaurant's ability to deliver to their customers. When that happens, we need to raise a flag and offer a solution. That’s just how we take care of our customers.”