Fifty Years, Three Generations, and a Growing Flock
Bird Mechanical Ltd.
Hybrid retrofitting can be a genuine pleasure when working with the right team. Guided by a pragmatic yet modern approach and tenacious industry experts, Bird Mechanical Ltd. offers much more than just the right team and hybrid retrofitting expertise.
Business is first and foremost about people. With a clear mandate to serve, Bird Mechanical Ltd. is a mechanical contractor that offers sincerity and a genuine concern for its customers’ problems and needs regarding turnkey mechanical piping, installation, and a host of maintenance contracting services provided to the industrial, commercial, and institutional markets. To ensure top quality at all times, its qualified and experienced plumbers, welders, steam-fitters, refrigeration mechanics, and installations staff perform as much work as possible in-house.
Based in Toronto, Canada, the company established a fast-expanding office in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2018 from which it serves the East Coast. The Toronto office mainly works as far afield as Barrie, Midland, Hamilton, but occasionally signing projects beyond this general region.
The well-equipped and able company specializes in supporting, upgrading, and expanding mission-critical facilities like data centers, hospitals, as well as municipal and government amenities. Generally, there is no such thing as shutting down for the work. As a result, the team is experienced with going about tasks in fully operational facilities, so customers can get on with their missions relatively unhindered.
The company prefers to secure everyone’s safety by being the prime contractor on large projects, ensuring open, direct communication with project owners. It also takes the safety of its people seriously. It received a Certificate of Recognition or COR certification for the Nova Scotia region in January this year. This makes it more competitive, guaranteeing that the team comes to work knowing that the company upholds some of the highest safety standards in the industry. In addition to the Nova Scotia certification, the arrival of the same certification for Ontario is imminent.
From re-siding and reroofing buildings to re-paving parking lots and heavy civil excavation work, Bird Mechanical Ltd. is always ready to step in with outstanding execution and professional service. “We do everything from heating, air conditioning, and emergency systems, like backup generators, fuel systems, rooftop units, chillers, equipment maintenance, and emergency support. These are all part of our everyday service offering,” says Brandon Bird, Chief Executive Officer.
The company started in 1971 when Brandon Bird’s grandfather, Jack Bird, opened its doors as a residential and light commercial plumbing outfit. The business went from strength to strength, eventually welcoming Brandon’s father Brian Bird sometime during the mid-1970s. Just as his father started from scratch, Brian also began as an apprentice plumber, becoming chief executive officer during the grinding 1991 recession. He turned the business toward bigger things, incorporating services needed in industrial, commercial, and institutional markets. Bird Mechanical Ltd. pulled through and soon it started shining in its new role.
Brandon joined the outfit in 2002 as a school kid, spending his weekends and summer holidays getting to know the business. He remembers assisting where he could after when the company won a $7.7 million project for a large chiller upgrade at the Hospital for Sick Children. Nobody could believe that a company its size was awarded the job. But, as always, Bird Mechanical Ltd. completed the project, making an impression on the youngster.
After completing studies in film, Brandon returned several years later and assisted in setting up the new piping prefabrication facility. Only six months into the gig, he was smitten with being back. “I walked into my father’s office and said: ‘Okay, sign me up, and I’ll do the plumbing apprenticeship, and be the third generation of plumbers in this family,’” Brandon says. “To this day, I haven’t forgotten the smile on his face when I walked in and said that.” The proud grandson took over the chief executive chair in 2016 when his father retired after four decades of service. At just over thirty, Brandon may be one of the younger members of the team, but he knows this business. And, as the next generation starts filling positions, he foresees great opportunities in skilled trades.
To run any operation smoothly takes skilled workers, diligence, planning, and really good communication. “Our project managers are more involved than usual. They have a good understanding of the mechanical systems and the overall construction process because we quite often act as a general contractor,” says Brandon. Project managers and coordinators work side-by-side with field staff during every step of every construction phase.
If COVID-19 has taught the world anything it is the importance of community, and this company creates a sense of belonging, affectionately referring to its people as the ‘Flock,’ reflected in hashtags like #ourflockisbest. It holds its people together with group activities and lets them grow together, only one of the reasons that people are known for looking forward to arriving at the office every day.
Its approach works, as twenty percent of its team has been with the company for ten years or longer, and two employees are celebrating their twentieth year in 2021 and 2022. In a transient market, this is an undeniable achievement. With this lesson in solidarity and the firm’s obsession with great work and quality as principles, the Flock is focused and determined to keep growing and improving with the full support of the company’s management.
Diversity is another driver of its success. “Having people with solid backgrounds and depth of knowledge makes it a lot easier for clients. With us, [project owners] are getting the people with technical skills at the table in stakeholder meetings, so they can consult with our project managers and foremen who guide them through the process,” says Brandon. Several generations contribute to the unique solutions that the market has come to expect of it.
When asked about his fifth year as CEO during such a significant time in history, the dynamic young leader is positive. “It’s going to be a good year. It’s definitely an exciting time with it being our fiftieth anniversary and in the way we see the year starting to shape up for us. It will be our biggest year ever,” he says. He points toward construction and skilled trades being deemed essential services as what fuelled its success during the pandemic.
Bird Mechanical Ltd. saw a marked rise in its support services for medical facilities, permitting it to operate during a period that saw many businesses shut down. Another major emphasis was on preventative maintenance. This allowed facilities to keep running during a time when replacing infrastructure and equipment was not achievable for many, resulting in healthy growth for the company’s service divisions as their expertise was suddenly in even higher demand than usual. “Our service side boomed throughout [the pandemic] because everything became more budget-conscious [but with the need to] keep things moving,” Brandon says.
“It was an amazing time for us because we got to see how strong and tight-knit our team is from both the field operation side and the office side. It was refreshing to see because everybody came together to overcome challenges and hurdles. Everybody worked together,” Brandon adds. Despite the company initially having to temporarily lay off a few people, others still pitched for meetings while others volunteered to take salary cuts. “It was unbelievable to see the spirit of the whole team through [this] challenging time. Now it is only onwards and upwards from here,” he says.
After the bleak prospects of last year, the company is hiring more skilled tradespeople than before. Opening in Atlantic Canada came with a set of trials for which this respected Ontario firm was not quite prepared after being rooted in the same place for fifty years. Being new placed it in unknown territory. Bird describes the early days as something very close to starting a new business where performance is needed to secure new contracts. That is exactly what it did. The Flock started performing, and the rest is history.
While the Atlantic operations are ballooning, the company recently won another bid in the region doing the $6 million, early works piping infrastructure installation for Cape Breton Hospital in Sydney, Nova Scotia. “It’s not only the largest project that we’ve taken on to date in Atlantic Canada. It’s also a game-changer for that office because it will showcase the amazing abilities of our team and what we’ve done [in a similar style of intricate, challenging work] here in Ontario,” Brandon says.
This year, the company is completing work on an $8 million ice rink complex update for the City of Mississauga. Alongside this project, it is working on a project for the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH), where it is replacing a complete induction system with individual units in each suite. It has been a completely new struggle to partner with clients to ensure staff safety from COVID-19.
“This has been particularly challenging for Dan and his team because there are active outbreaks in the facility,” says Brandon.
Escalating from $ 1 million to $2 million to $6 million, annually, is certainly a robust expansion. This has given rise to what started as an office challenge made by Rey Galac, Vice President of Estimating, Service and Atlantic Canada: the goal of attaining $50 million in revenue for the company’s fiftieth year. The good news is, it is well on its way to hitting the mark.
To ensure that it can select from among the top tradespeople to help build the business in the future, the firm recently made a generous pledge to donate $150,000 to Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario. The college is currently in the process of bringing to life a new plumbing lab. Considering skilled trades-shortages and the fact that half of the company’s apprentices qualify at this school, this investment in around 750 newly-qualified plumbers every year is well worth it.
But the company’s East Coast operations are not its only growth. Bird Mechanical’s refrigeration and heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) department has also expanded by leaps and bounds since our last conversation in 2018. As more facilities slowly start to install new ventilation equipment to ensure better air quality, the HVAC department has expanded from mere service and maintenance into performing large, fully-fledged, complex construction installations. “Sales-wise, we’ve pretty much doubled on what we were looking at last year when it comes to projects and service for the HVAC side. It’s been busy,” says Rey.
“We have two managers on the HVAC side continuously looking for work and opportunities outside, new clients that are coming in,” says Dan Lewis, Vice President of Construction. The company has also been upgrading equipment, adding a plasma table for specialty cutting, new welding machines, and a host of other machines to remain up-to-date with the latest trends in technology.
True to this philosophy of moving forward, Bird Mechanical Ltd. acquired a civil contracting company in 2018 so it could add civil engineering to its services. Now it can complete new tasks like wall openings, concrete work, drywall, and ceilings, all in-house. “This gives us better control and flexibility to take on projects for our clients, especially because we’re so focused with about ninety percent of our work being direct-to-owner,” says Brandon.
Despite adding a considerable amount of civil work to its portfolio, the firm remains a general contractor. Heading up challenging projects makes for a resilient niche market that it intends to grow.
Sitting comfortably at one hundred staff members, Bird Mechanical Ltd. will undoubtedly increase that number considerably as it nears and exceeds its $50 million goal, and is aiming for 150 people within the next few months. “To be on track for our strongest year ever in our fiftieth year is just unbelievable. [Having said that] we want to be the best, not the biggest,” says Brandon. And we concur, wishing the Flock the greatest year in the company’s history.