Cooling Systems Caribe
Location: Aibonito, Puerto Rico
Member Since: 2016
The city of Aibonito sits in the heart of Puerto Rico nestled between the Cayey mountains. According to one local legend, back in the 17th century, a Spanish soldier hiked to one of the highest peaks, and once he saw the gorgeous view, he exclaimed, “Ay, que bonito!” (“Oh, how pretty!”)
It’s a special place for Cooling Systems Caribe owner Bobby Duran. His mother was born in Aibonito and lived there as a child before the family moved to Jersey City New Jersey in 1956.
It was in New Jersey where Duran first learned about the radiator industry. “My dad started S&F Radiator Shop in 1973. “I worked there as a kid, just cleaning up, soldering. Then, I would do deliveries,” said Duran. After college, Duran got involved in municipal bond trading. But after a couple of years, he realized working on Wall Street wasn’t for him, so he booked a ticket to Vietnam and spent the next few months traveling Southeast Asia on a motorcycle.
“When I came back after the tsunami hit in Thailand, I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore,” said Duran. “If I could travel solo around Southeast Asia, I was like, let’s go.”
“NARSA put me in the room and allowed me the opportunity to exchange ideas and meet people.”Bobby Duran / Cooling Systems Caribe
With 42 employees, Cooling Systems Caribe manufactures radiators for the generator and industrial markets and distributes automotive and truck radiators. The business also offers DPF cleaning services. But Duran says Cooling Systems Caribe’s niche is custom work. “We’re never looking to compete against areas that have very low cost of production,” said Duran. “We are looking to be a niche manufacturer with high quality and the fastest lead times.”
Bobby Duran became a 50/50 partner in Cooling Systems Caribe in 2017. He and his family were getting ready to move to Puerto Rico when disaster struck, and two major hurricanes hit the island. On September 6, 2017, Irma swept through as a Category 5 storm. Just two weeks later, it was rocked again by Hurricane Maria. Both storms proved deadly and knocked out power to most of the island for months.
“We didn’t know if our factory was even existing for four days, because there was no communication,” said Duran. Thankfully, someone in the community recorded a video on their cell phone surveying the damage. They were able to drive about an hour and a half to San Juan to upload it to Facebook. That’s when Duran and his family knew the radiator shop had survived. And not only was the business intact, but it was still operating. “Our people were already producing radiators by themselves for the hospitals and all the critical facilities that were down after Maria,” said Duran.
Ultimately, Cooling Systems Caribe lost some inventory and had some minor damage. But the challenges were mounting. Duran was flying down to Puerto Rico every 2-3 weeks bringing generators and essential parts in his luggage, because UPS, Fedex and the US Postal Service were only allowed to be used by FEMA.
More recently, the southern area of the island has been dealing with a series of earthquakes that damaged hundreds of homes and left thousands of people displaced. Despite all this, Puerto Rican people are resilient, and they take matters into their own hands. Many churches, organizations and businesses like Cooling Systems Caribe have taken truckloads of supplies like toiletries and food to earthquake victims. They believe neighbors should help neighbors.
Duran has been actively involved with NARSA as a board member since 2009. “NARSA put me in the room and allowed me the opportunity to exchange ideas and meet people,” said Duran.
“Just today, I contacted someone in NARSA about an after cooler that I wasn’t sure how to handle. They explained how to service the unit, and we were able to solve our customer’s problem. That’s NARSA.”
Duran’s advice to NARSA members is to stay active. “You only get what you put into it. Sometimes, it seems like everybody knows each other. That can be really intimidating to some people, but it’s really a small community. If you make a little effort to get involved, people are happy to help.”
And while his passion is growing his business, Duran says what he loves most about this industry is the people and the relationships he’s made.
“I love being able to provide jobs and opportunities for people in the town where my mother came from. That’s awesome, and no other industry is going to give me that opportunity,” said Duran.
By: Linda Nguyen Skoglund