Case Studies

Ryan Baillargeon – Greater San Diego Air Conditioning

Baillargeon brothers stand the heat of a tight schedule

While many commercial and institutional establishments closed to normal business during COVID-19, the buildings weren’t necessarily dormant. Many wise owners and property managers seized the moment for renovations and upgrades, and last year, Greater San Diego Air Conditioning reaped the benefits on the HVAC front, collecting a company-record revenue.

Such projects having leveled off, Ryan Baillargeon’s not expecting the company he co-owns and manages with his brother Ross to reach that benchmark this year. Nevertheless, when Blueprint contacted him in July, he assured business is better than ever and with temperatures finally reaching triple digits in San Diego County, another productive year was well underway.

Even if construction lessens, Baillargeon said there are always many services to undertake for the company’s big-ticket clientele. Healthcare facilities, research laboratories, manufacturing plants and condominium complexes all need to sustain top-notch HVAC and for 40 years the Baillargeon family has owned and operated one of San Diego County’s leading specialists for installation, service and preventive maintenance.

They’ve also responded well to industry changes.

“Before COVID, the industry was all about locating an air conditioner for the best price,” Baillargeon explains. “After the supply-chain issues kicked in, it became a matter of who has the correct size AC, and the cost became the secondary concern. Over the past two or three years, we’ve adapted to these different situations and found ways to work with whatever’s available and at a reasonable price.”

And given how reputations spread in the construction business, Baillargeon said he and his brother feel good about how the company completed some very challenging projects during the pandemic.

Cool under pressure

Hospitals had to take redundant measures to accommodate worst-case scenarios during COVID-19, and the Palomar Medical Center in Escondido wasn’t leaving anything to chance during the summer of 2020. The vacant top two floors of its seven-story structure needed to be repurposed within two weeks for an emergency response unit with 203 beds.

Greater San Diego Air Conditioning was presented with the opportunity to mobilize within 24 hours. The Baillargeon brothers assured the general contractor, Herman Construction, that the job would be handled.  Like a hospital triage team, the company, along with the general contractor and several other trades, mobilized without hesitation.

“We met with our crew that evening, agreed internally we could make it happen, walked the job next morning with Herman and had a crew on site that day,” Baillargeon recalls. “That turned into 13 straight 12-hour days for 40 installers.”

By the last of those days, more than a mile of ductwork had been laid. Helicopters landed eight AC units on the balcony, which were connected to the ductwork and coordinated with the hospital’s automation system. Conscientious as the hired hands were about social distancing, Baillargeon now can concede they may have overlooked some precautions, especially in the cramped freight elevator, but everybody still wore masks.

The work finished one day short of the two-week deadline. The employees took much pride in completing the project when there were so many unknowns about the pandemic at that time.

“I’m most proud that during the pandemic, we as a company kept our 100-plus employees working full-time and providing for their families,” he says.

Father knew best

While Ryan Baillargeon focuses on preventive maintenance and service and his brother, Ross, on construction, they both literally learned the business as 16-year-olds from the ground up. Their since-retired father Randy founded the company in 1983 with their mother, Joan. But being the boss’ son didn’t warrant special treatment.

“We were treated like any other employee and worked in all the positions,” Baillargeon says. “We had to sweep the floor and keep the warehouse clean, detail the fleet of work trucks, and work all aspects of construction installation. We also worked in HVAC service for a decade before we had enough experience to take on management roles. It was on-the-job learning, same as for the other employees.”

And while HVAC might seem like a recession-proof industry in sunny Southern California, Baillargeon emphasized how they can’t take anything for granted and must build upon their reputation and keep adjusting to change.

Though supply chains are returning to pre-pandemic levels, the costs of many materials have soared. Customers also are more discerning, Baillargeon says. They want more details and dollar breakdowns to ensure they’re getting their money’s worth. The brothers nurturing nearly 1,000 customers, there are no slow days.

They have more than enough customers to stay within San Diego County’s 4,000-plus square miles. If each customer feels special, Baillargeon says he and his brother are succeeding. Each customer is assigned a personal account manager and is assured of 24/7 emergency service.

“We’re not in the business of telling them how to spend their money. We aim to provide the customer with options and details so they have what they need to make an informed decision about their HVAC system,” he says. “We are here to be fair and honest with everyone as their commercial HVAC needs change throughout the years. That’s how we have improved our reputation.”

Then there’s recruiting and retaining the workforce, which can be a challenge with fewer young people entering the trades. But with competitive pay, a positive corporate culture, opportunity to advance and mentoring from the veterans, Baillargeon says the personnel is in place and communicating exceptionally well.

As to whether there’ll be a third generation succeeding the Baillargeon brothers, they can’t say but they’d do nothing to discourage it. There’ll always be need for HVAC in these environs. Besides, life in Greater San Diego can be most agreeable.

It is for the Baillargeon brothers whose hobbies include mountain and dirt biking. But when Blueprint contacted them at the height of summer, some of that outdoor fun could be put on hold.

“Business always picks up with the first heat wave,” he says. “We’re there now, having just broken 100 degrees.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. IX 2023 Edition here.

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