Craig School of Business
2014 California Family Business Award Winner
Excerpt from The Business Journal
Tulare’s BMI Mechanical, Inc. wins 2014 California Family Business Award
By Ben Keller
A willingness to change has carried BMI Mechanical through hard times and good, across four generations of family owners.
Change is what brought founder Ernest Emmet “Double E” Brott from Burlington, Kan. — where he was responsible for building the town’s first water system — to the company’s current home in Tulare.
Establishing his plumbing and sheet metal operation in 1910, Brott eventually relocated to California in the mid-‘30s soon after installing a powdered milk system for California Dairies in Tipton.
His son Gail, who really prompted the move, helped get his dad’s business through the Great Depression, first setting up Brott Plumbing and Sheet Metal Shop in 1935 and then joining the union to bring in a more skilled labor forced to install pipes and ventilation equipment.
“We made the transition from residential to the commercial marketplace in the early ‘40s. That was a big transition that helped the company grow and expand,” said Dax Brott, general manager and chief operations officer.
“And as we got into the ‘50s with the advent of air conditioning, we were one of the first carrier dealers for Tulare and Kings counties, and adding mechanical cooling to facilities, that was a good change.”
That reach expanded in the 1970s when Gail’s son Garth came to the helm as president, incorporating the company under its current name and taking the mechanical contracting business to Fresno and Kern counties, even doing jobs in the Bay Area later on.
The ups and downs never went away, especially with a declining construction industry, a half-million-dollar lawsuit by the sheet metal union and the difficult decision in 1994 to shut down the construction and fabrication division as a matter of survival.
But BMI Mechanical has sustained a solid reputation among its customers, expanding its maintenance base with service contracts and a decision in 1987 to join the Linc Service Network, an independent group of contractors in North America that ascribe to similar business models and processes.“It hurt, but during the tough times they needed our services even more because it keeps the surprises away from unexpected breakdowns,” Garth said. “Probably, we saved their bacon.”
Under Garth’s son Dax, who joined the company in 2007 after spending several years in accounting and sales, BMI Mechanical has made innovation its new calling for customers, which range from telecommunications companies and banks to health care facilities and many regulars in the dairy and food processing sector.
Energy providers are a big market as well, Dax said, mentioning work on projects like Chevron’s solar-to-steam oil extraction operation in Coalinga and several cogeneration facilities throughout the Central Valley, as well as one customer producing wind energy near Bakersfield.
“Any industry where there’s a critical need for cooling and heating and moisture control, that’s a good opportunity for us,” said Dax, who graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in finance in 1999.
Building automation has become the next big evolution, Dax said, with the ability to control heating and cooling systems through wireless technology.
This focus has helped many facilities throughout the region become Energy Star Certified by reducing energy usage while also making them more comfortable to work in.
With the scarcity and rising cost of water, Dax also mentioned new innovations like loop systems in which water running through chillers or boilers is recirculated instead of dumped into the drain as in single-pass systems.
Customers are also moving toward more centralized cooling systems that can control the temperatures in multiple zones or offices.
Besides being up on the latest technology, it’s the skillset and timely maintenance work that keeps longtime industrial and commercial companies and new players with BMI year after year.
And none of that would be possible, said Garth Brott, if not for the 34 knowledgeable employees contributing to the success of the company.
Christmas parties and gift exchanges throughout the year are just a few of the social occasions enjoyed by coworkers, most of whom are also familiar faces at weddings, baby showers, an annual Thanksgiving and other parties.
“It’s a good family atmosphere here and we wanted to keep it that way,” Garth said. “I think that there’s an open door policy. If there is something that an employee is struggling with in their personal life, the door’s open and we can talk through that and we can give assistance.”
Garth said that same atmosphere is continuing strong under Dax, who will soon take over as president. Already owning the majority of the non-voting stock, Dax is now in the process of buying the company from his parents and older brothers Gavin and Shane, who both gravitated to other careers.
Dax and his wife, Taylor Ann, married in 2012 and are expecting their first child in August.
Photo: BMI Mechanical, Inc. poses for an all-company photo in 2008. Some 34 people work for the company, which traces its roots to Burlington, Kan. in 1910.
Photo: From left, Garth and Dax Brott pose for a photo at a jobsite in Gardena, Calif. They represent the third and fourth generation Brott family members in BMI Mechanical.
2014 Family Business Award Finalists
- Larry Rompal – Agri-Valley Irrigation, Inc.
- Garth, Bernadette and Dax Brott – BMI Mechanical, Inc
- Dale Garabedian – The Garabedian Group
- Joseph F. Pickett – Pickett & Sons Construction, Inc.
- Jan Thomas – Jan Thomas Swim School
2014 Family Business Rising Star Award Winner:
- David H. Salter – Salter’s Distributing, Inc.
Thank you to our Award Sponsors