Home Sections Archive by category Building Trades

Building Trades

Building Trades

Beyond Four Walls

By Emily Thurlow

The Newman Catholic Center

The Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst is among PDC’s notable recent projects.

One of Nick Shaink’s earliest memories with Professional Drywall Construction Inc. was working as a laborer for the buildout of the Target store at the Holyoke Mall. As a teenager, he worked with the Springfield-based commercial drywall contractor on weekends and on summer breaks.

Now, more than two decades later, the firm is undertaking larger-scale projects, like a 900-room dormitory at the University of Connecticut, and Shaink is co-owner and vice president of PDC Inc.

While the company’s name reflects its origins in drywall, PDC offers services in structural metal framing, finish carpentry, acoustical ceilings, wood framing, plastering, toilet partitions, and more. Most recently, the company landed a job that solely involves installing metal panels on the exterior of a building.

“We’re starting to get work that’s not our traditional scope of work — it’s our expanded scope of work,” co-owner and President Ron Perry said.

Founded in 1994 by John Kendzierski, PDC has been affiliated with the local carpenters’ and laborers’ unions since 1997.

Over the course of Shaink’s career with PDC, he’s held nearly every job — from carpenter and general superintendent to vice president of Operations. A native of Connecticut, he had aspirations of running his own business and eventually relocated to Hampshire County.

Perry, who has been with the company for eight years, was previously a construction manager for two decades. In that prior capacity, he often hired PDC for construction projects, which is how he met Shaink. Over time, Perry learned that they shared similar ambitions. After Shaink approached Perry about going into business together, the pair purchased the company in 2018.

“I’ve always wanted to own a business; that’s always been a dream of mine,” Perry said. “So when this opportunity came up, it was something that I couldn’t pass up.”

Since then, the business has expanded its footprint into Connecticut, opening an office in Norwalk in 2018, and into New York, with an office in Malta in 2021. The multiple locations support each other, Perry said.

While PDC’s Springfield headquarters is handling some of the larger projects, such as the interior framing, insulation, and drywall for UConn’s hockey arena, its Malta location is currently working on a Starbucks at Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady. For now, the decision remains to take the growth pattern a little slower at the company’s newest office.

“I’ve always wanted to own a business; that’s always been a dream of mine. So when this opportunity came up, it was something that I couldn’t pass up.”

“We want to make sure that we build the right team. We want to make sure that we have the right manpower, instead of taking the giant job out in New York where we could potentially fail,” Perry said. “We’re starting a little slower and trying to grow responsibly there.”


Piecing It Together

Over the years, PDC has built a name for itself in renovation and new, large-scale construction projects for retail, medical, and educational organizations in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The company also has a bonding capacity of up to $100 million.

Notable structures that PDC has had a hand in include the Bone & Joint Institute at Hartford Hospital, Baystate Medical Center’s Hospital of the Future expansion, Taconic High School in Pittsfield, and Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton.

PDC owners Nick Shaink (left) and Ron Perry

PDC owners Nick Shaink (left) and Ron Perry say they want to keep growing the company gradually and smartly.

The company has also worked on more than 30 projects at UMass Amherst in the last 15 years, Shaink said, from its striking design of Isenberg School of Management to the UMass Design Building and the Newman Catholic Center.

At the campus’s Old Chapel, the company installed pre-fabricated, structural cold-formed metal framing, sheathing, and roof blocking on the building’s exterior, and installed framing walls and drywall on the interior. Workers also installed soffits, which is the underside of part of an architectural structure like an arch.

Work also included the installation of wood stairs, acoustical ceiling tiles, and acoustical plaster systems.

“Our goal is to try to do as many of the things we’re good at under one contract. It gives us more control over costs. It gives us more flexibility … it gives us more work on that job, as contracts are a little bigger,” Perry said. “We’re able to do more work with less — that’s why we want our jobs to be bigger. We want to do a bigger scope of work.”

Drywall — a staple in modern homes and buildings in the U.S., also referred to as wallboard or plasterboard — is made of two paper boards with gypsum, a gray or white soft sulfate mineral, in the middle.

The prototype for the invention was patented by Augustine Sackett in 1894, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. However, it wasn’t widely accepted as a building material until the 1940s.

Taking the art of drywall a step further in customization, PDC uses a unique method to mill a perfect corner, called ‘origami.’ Much like the Japanese art of folding objects out of paper, PDC’s approach enables its employees to shape a piece of drywall to fit a space more efficiently at the Springfield shop beforehand. Instead of using three separate pieces of drywall to make a column, they can use one piece of drywall, fold it, and glue it together in the desired angle, then install it in one piece.

By using this method, Perry explained, the drywall is not only a durable solution, but it is also a more efficient one, as the profiles are pre-fabricated in the shop. “It makes our lives in the field less complicated. It’s efficiency in the field.”

And, as with most contractors, time and scheduling are of the utmost importance.


Leveraging Growth

About a decade ago, the annual drop in temperature also meant a drop in projects. But for the past five years, PDC hasn’t really slowed with the changing of the seasons, Perry said. “It doesn’t ever stop.”

In the months leading up to COVID-19, the company secured a number of jobs, which helped carry it through what were some trying times for other organizations. Despite the uncertainty, Shaink said the company’s workload never really slowed down.

Fortunately, even as businesses across all sectors, especially in the construction realm, have battled persistent workforce shortages, labor has not been much of an issue at PDC, as the company continues to fluctuate between 280 and 300 employees.

The main obstacle during the pandemic — and it’s still an issue — is supply-chain issues for materials. The variety of metal studs the company uses for projects has traditionally been available within a week or two. But in the post-pandemic world, those same metal studs are taking up to eight weeks to arrive. That delay impacts the schedule, which in turn impacts the company’s ability to forecast as accurately as it would like.

“When that lead time is eight weeks and you’re buying material that’s eight weeks away, and it comes, and it turns out you don’t have enough — that’s eight more weeks,” Perry said. “And guys standing around is what costs us the most amount of money.”

One of the hardest-to-get products has been insulation. At one point, insulation, which was typically available within a few weeks, took up to nine months to arrive. In an effort to overcome such delays, Perry said PDC purchased multiple truckloads of insulation in advance and then had to find a place to store it all, hoping the job would still come to fruition.

“It’s complicated to forecast,” he said. “It’s a risk of where to put so much money.”

As for future projects, PDC has been awarded the construction of the new Holyoke Veterans Home. The 350,000-square-foot facility will include a chapel, outdoor gardens, and a pavilion for physical and occupational therapy, as well as outdoor events.

PDC will be tackling the interior and exterior framing, installation of medical headwall systems, drywall installation, and finishing. Once completed, the $483 million project will house 234 long-term-care beds for the medically vulnerable veteran population. Work is slated to begin in the fall of 2024.

In the meantime, both Shaink and Perry still have their sights set on growth, and they’re not getting hung up on a particular volume of work, but rather focusing on sustainability.

“We want to grow the business to be as big as we can and as profitable as we can,” Perry said. “I’d rather do a little bit less work, and make the margins that we need to be sustainable, than to try to take on additional risk and maybe not make as much money. We’re finding that balance between growth and profit.”

Building Trades Special Coverage

It Runs Hot and Cold

Fifth-generation president Ted Noonan

Fifth-generation president Ted Noonan says the company continues to grow and diversify its products and services.


Going back nearly 135 years, Ted Noonan says, the company now known as Noonan Energy has been defined by ambition, innovation, entrepreneurship, diversification, and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness — and ability — to adapt to changing times.

And these qualities continue to describe Noonan today, he said, noting that the company started by his great-great-grandfather in 1890 as an ice-delivery venture continues to evolve and create new business opportunities.

Indeed, Noonan, which moved on from ice after the advent of refrigeration and morphed over more than a half-century into a leading provider of oil and HVAC services, has added two new divisions in recent years, electrical and plumbing services, that give it the ability to provide more services to existing and potential customers — and intriguing growth opportunities.

“We added these new divisions because there was so much synergy with our other services,” he explained. “We were constantly needing an outside plumber or an outside electrician to pull permits and do work, so we said, ‘since we’re hiring one all the time, why don’t we just bring one on and create a new division?’”

The plumbing division was added in 2011 with the hiring of master plumber Mark Gadourey, and the electrical unit was introduced in 2018 with the addition of master electrician Daniel Rollend, said Noonan, adding that both continue to grow, as do other aspects of the broad operation.

“We were constantly needing an outside plumber or an outside electrician to pull permits and do work, so we said, ‘since we’re hiring one all the time, why don’t we just bring one on and create a new division?’”

“We’ve had some nice growth in both of those divisions over the past five to 10 years, and on the service and installation side as well,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the company installs everything from oil tanks and oil burners to air-conditioning systems, heat pumps, and mini-splits, while also undertaking home-energy audits and creating comfort plans. “We have a whole host of … everything.”

As fifth-generation owner, Ted Noonan continues many traditions, if they can be called that, of the owners who came before him. Being entrepreneurial is one of them. Growing up in the business and learning all aspects of it first-hand is another — Noonan recalled riding with the delivery men in his youth and unwinding hose. And filling in, especially in a pinch, is yet another.

“I still drive today when we get really busy in the winter,” he said. “I enjoy it … I always say that it’s therapy for me; I get out of the office, I shut my phone off — or try to — and make deliveries. I’ve pretty much done every territory we handle, so if we get a couple of call-outs in the winter, I’ll step in.”

Mostly, though, he is involved in short-term and long-term planning, creating additional opportunities, and exploring new avenues for growth and expansion. He noted that a trend toward consolidation within the industry, one that has fueled the dramatic growth of this company over the past 50 years, continues, especially as the Baby Boomer owners of smaller oil-delivery and HVAC service companies move into retirement.

Ted Noonan (right) and his father, Ed

Ted Noonan (right) and his father, Ed, have continued traditions of innovation laid down by T.F. Noonan back in 1890.

“We’re still looking at acquisition opportunities and expansion opportunities, while also keeping an eye on what might create great synergy from a diversification standpoint,” he noted, adding that, at present, the company is focused on “shoring up” those new divisions and growing those aspects of the business.

For this issue and its focus on the building trades, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Noonan Energy, exploring its rich history, the continuing of a tradition of entrepreneurship, and the question of what might come next.


Freeze Frame

Flashing back more than a century to company lore that he is well-versed in and relates often, Noonan marveled at how the venture known as T.F. Ice Dealer (named for his great-great-grandfather, Timothy F. Noonan) cut huge blocks of ice from Lake Massasoit (Watershops Pond) in Springfield and, using sawdust as an insulator, kept it relatively cold all through the year for delivery to customers in the Greater Springfield area.

And he continues to be awed by the insulating properties of sawdust.

“We’re still looking at acquisition opportunities and expansion opportunities, while also keeping an eye on what might create great synergy from a diversification standpoint.”

“We have a small barn at our house, and we have sawdust for the horses,” he noted. “You’ll go two months after cold weather, and if we’re digging in the sawdust, we find snowballs. And that always brings me back to how this company started.”

While some things haven’t changed — like sawdust’s ability to keep ice cold — the Noonan company certainly has. Its history is told through a huge photo display in the lobby of the company’s offices on Robbins Road, in the shadow of a 2-million-gallon oil tank. That lobby is also home to an oil-delivery truck circa the 1930s — it was rescued several years ago, refurbished, and painted with the Noonan colors (green and white) to resemble trucks the company had on the road 80 or so years ago.

Providing a quick history lesson, Noonan said the company, while it has remained in the same family, has changed names a few times and added new products and services on a consistent basis.

The first name change came in 1911, when T.F. decided to put ‘Massosoit Lake Ice Company’ over the door and on the side of the horse-drawn wagons. He would sell the company to his son, Edward J. Noonan, in 1923. The entrepreneurial second-generation owner would add kerosene and home heating oil to the products delivered by the company, additions that would prompt a name change to Massasoit Lake Ice and Fuel Co.

Second-generation owner Edward J. Noonan inaugurated the company name Massasoit Lake Ice and Fuel Co.

Second-generation owner Edward J. Noonan inaugurated the company name Massasoit Lake Ice and Fuel Co.

By 1939, with refrigeration chipping away at the ice business, Ed Noonan diversified by opening a gasoline station at the corner of King Street and Eastern Avenue in Springfield, one that also sold paint and wallpaper, which many of those facilities did at that time.

In 1958, Ed Noonan sold the business to two of his sons, Timothy and William, who ran a company that would take the name Noonan Oil Co. Inc., a venture that would slug its way through the oil embargo in 1973 and manage to expand sales and develop new markets. Timothy would become sole owner in 1981.

“We see a bright future … it’s going to be different, certainly, than it was five, 10, or 50 years ago, but everyone is always going to need warming and cooling, and we’ll be there to provide it.”

His son, Ed, would launch his own career in the business by acquiring Palmer Coal and Oil in 1973, while his father continued to grow Noonan Oil. (The two companies were in friendly competition for several years.) Ed Noonan doubled the size of his company with the acquisition of Leonard Oil Co. of Monson in 1978 and continued to grow with other acquisitions, including Dulude Oil Inc., Palmer Oil Co., City Oil in Springfield, Marquis-Rivers in Holyoke, and Tinco Fuel in Ludlow.

He would eventually put all those brands under one name, Noonan Energy, in 1985, and in 1985, Noonan Oil Co., still owned by Ed’s father, Tim, would become part of Noonan Energy as well. In the ensuing years, many other smaller oil-delivery and service ventures would be acquired, including Better Heat Inc., Bolduc Fuel, Royal Heating, National Heating, Canary Oil, Hampshire Oil, Hillside Oil, Davis Fuel Co., Hadley Fuel Co. … the list goes on.

Ted Noonan, Ed’s son, joined the company in 1998, became its president in 2009, and was named a member of BusinessWest’s Forty Under 40 class of 2017.


Hot Takes

During his tenure, one during which Tim has remained active with the business, Ted Noonan has continued his father’s tradition of aggressive acquisition of smaller fuel-oil and service businesses.

In 2011, the company acquired the assets of Whiteley Fuel Oil Co. in Chatham; in 2011, it purchased Ray Kelley & Son of Palmer; in 2013, it acquired East Springfield Oil Co; and, most recently, it added Borsari Oil of West Springfield, Chudy Oil in Three Rivers, and Westfield Fuel to the fold.

All these acquisitions give the company something very much needed in this day and age — size, said Noonan, adding that they also give it a presence in several different markets across the region.

Indeed, the Noonan footprint, or service and delivery area, now stretches to the edge of the Berkshires to the west, several of the border communities of Connecticut to the south (penetrating further into the state is difficult, Ted said), into Franklin County to the north, and into Worcester County to the east. With that acquisition of Whiteley Fuel Oil, it also serves a dozen communities on Cape Cod. Locations in the 413 are in Springfield, Westfield, Amherst, and Palmer.

Noonan Energy is known for heating and HVAC services

Noonan Energy is known for heating and HVAC services, but has become a player in electrical and plumbing work as well.

Beyond these acquisitions and the accompanying territorial expansion, the company has achieved additional growth though expansion of its product and service portfolio, said Noonan, adding that, in addition to the new plumbing and electrical divisions, the company also added a home-energy audit division under the leadership of his sister, Kara Noonan, in 2012.

He said these new divisions, and especially the plumbing and electrical units, were natural additions that came about as need became evident, especially as plumbers and electricians retire in large numbers, and as customers looking for those services continued to ask people from Noonan — who were delivering oil, servicing a boiler, or installing central air conditioning — if they knew a good plumber or electrician.

After years of offering referrals if it could, the company made the entrepreneurial decision to change its answer to those questions to ‘yes … that’s us; we can handle that.’

“It’s similar work to what we do, and it’s a niche we can fill,” Ted Noonan said, adding that the ability to give that answer puts the company in a position to offer a portfolio of services that few, if any, of its many competitors can match. Noonan said many still just deliver oil, while others will also handle installation and service of HVAC systems. Meanwhile, some handle plumbing and HVAC, but not electrical or oil delivery. But very few cover all those bases.

The new divisions enable the company to further diversify and better position it for a future where there will certainly be less dependency on fossil fuels, said Noonan, adding that the company is already making strides in that direction through steps such as the blending of biodiesel and traditional heating oil to create bioheat, continually increasing the blend so it is less carbon-intense.

“We see a bright future … it’s going to be different, certainly, than it was five, 10, or 50 years ago, but everyone is always going to need warming and cooling, and we’ll be there to provide it,” he said, adding that the ability to change with the times — and sometimes see around the corner and anticipate what’s coming next — has kept Noonan viable since Benjamin Harrison was patrolling the White House.

And these qualities will continue to serve it well into the future.


Building Trades

Super Bowls

Michael Preli works on the lathe

Michael Preli works on the lathe in his basement in Suffield.


Michael Preli’s career has been one of constant advancement — not necessarily in title or income, but in job satisfaction. And he’s a long way from where he started, in the auto-body field.

“My father is a frame technician for auto body. And I always thought that’s what I wanted to do,” Preli told BusinessWest. “So I started working in a body shop when I left school. I did that for a couple of years.”

What he didn’t expect was that he’d come to like wood more than metal.

Auto-body work “didn’t bring me the satisfaction I thought it would,” he recalled. “Metal is cold and dirty and dusty — like, the dust sticks to you.”

Meanwhile, his rented house, on the same property he worked at, needed some improvements, including a new door. He did the job himself, even though he had never done any woodworking.

“I got a lot of satisfaction from it. My boss came over and looked at it and said, ‘wow, you did a really nice job on this.’ I said, ‘oh, thanks.’ And that stuck with me for a while. So, when an opportunity came up to do framing for houses, I took it, and I left the world of auto body. Thank God.”

These days, Preli owns his own home-based business in Suffield, Conn., Cellar Dweller WoodTurning, creating and selling a host of artful pieces, including plates, bowls, urns, and decorative pieces. But it took a couple more steps to get there, as we’ll see.

Starting with framing, which he characterized as work with “a lot of brute force, not a lot of finesse. I always gravitated toward the jobs that took more patience, and my overseers saw that and placed me there.”

“It got my wife motivated, too, because she could see that, with a young child, I had an opportunity to do something from home instead of going back to work.”

Indeed, Preli started focusing on finish work, such as crown molding, fireplace mantles, door frames, doors, and windows. “I did that for many years, along with remodeling and renovating. And then I got into doing furniture, which took more patience and required more solitary-type work.”

Even through the decade he spent making furniture out of a rented shop, he never saw himself in woodturning, a craft that uses a wood lathe and hand-held tools to create symmetrically shaped pieces. “I thought I loved making furniture. But now that I’ve stepped away from it, did I really like doing furniture? I mean, I felt like I did.”

He switched gears, however, after his landlord passed away, and he lost his shop and moved all his tools back home, returning to commercial finish work while he and his wife, Kathryn, decided to start a family; their son was born in 2019.

“I was still working very hard, but my wife’s a doctor. She makes way more than I’ll ever be able to make. So she was going to continue working, and I planned to stay home until the kid was old enough to talk, and then go back to work.”

Then a pandemic struck, and that changed everything.


Crafting a Career

Specifically, it forced Preli to be home even more than he had planned to, and introduced a hobby into his life.

In some ways, he said the isolation many people faced during COVID was a blessing to his own household. “We even got COVID — we got colds and got over it — but it gave me a chance to put my tools down for the first time ever. This was the first time ever I hadn’t been working. I mean, I dropped out of high school young to work. Now I was home with my boy the whole time. It was wonderful. That’s when I picked up woodturning, just as a hobby.”

Showing off the lathe in his basement, Preli noted that “it’s a specific type of woodworking. The only thing I can do on that machine is round work, and that’s what I got into.”

Soon, the hobby started filling the Prelis’ kitchen with bowls and other items.

“I always undervalue my work, but my wife was like, ‘man, this stuff is coming out great.’ I’d been giving out a lot of stuff, giving gifts to my family. And of course, they said, ‘yeah, thanks, Mike, it looks great.’ But they’re my family. I could have given them anything, and they would say that.”

items Michael Preli sold

These are some of the items Michael Preli sold at the recent Suffield Summer Fair.

What convinced Preli that they weren’t just being polite was a craft-selling event at a local Tractor Supply Co., where his wife decided to set up shop.

“I said, ‘don’t do it, Kathryn. You’re going to spend the whole day there. It’s hot out. Don’t bother,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ She set herself to it, and she made a killing. We sold so much stuff. I didn’t think anyone would buy anything, but we sold a lot. It gave me some inspiration, and it got my wife motivated, too, because she could see that, with a young child, I had an opportunity to do something from home instead of going back to work.”

After all, he said, commercial finish work can be a six-days-a-week gig, and they both preferred Michael to be mainly home during that time.

“It’s nice to know that something I made with my hands is going to be the object of beauty beauty in someone’s home for a long time.”

“So it just worked out great,” Preli said. “And slowly, we started doing these craft fairs, and the revenue was good. We made it happen. My wife takes care of all the logistics for these shows and fairs.”

Those events take place most weekends and are the main sales source; online sales haven’t been so robust, and Preli believes that might be partly because he sells tactile items that people want to touch — and are far more likely to buy once they do.

“Plus, online, there are so many options,” he said. “I’m not the only guy selling wood bowls there; there are thousands and thousands. And shopping online, you want to save money, so you gravitate toward something less expensive, maybe not the best quality … but to each his own. We do very well in person.”

Michael Preli

Michael Preli says he was surprised when his creations first met an eager reception with buyers.

He enjoys talking to customers, especially when he hears what they plan to do with the items they buy. “I don’t know what anyone would ever do with some of these things I make, but they buy them. And it gives me some ideas, too. It’s nice to know that something I made with my hands is going to be the object of beauty beauty in someone’s home for a long time.”

When he started out, Preli worked with a number of different finishes, but most people gravitated to his half-epoxy, half-wood hybrid pieces that boast a smooth, shiny finish, so that’s the work he focuses on. “People love this stuff. They sell almost instantly.”


Joy in the Journey

While Preli didn’t think of woodturning during his framing or furniture-making days, he said the trajectory seems natural now; essentially, as his work became finer in scope, he loved it more.

“I get a lot of joy from it. My wife is proud of me. My family is proud of me. I have time for my son. I’m very happy with it.”

He said many people come home from work and spend time with their hobby, but he feels like the Cellar Dweller business is a hobby-like experience: something he does for fun that also generates income.

“That thing you’re compelled to do, I get to do that every day,” he said. “And it requires such a high level of concentration and patience. Everything melts away; it’s very much tunnel vision. I get to do that, and I’m so lucky.

“I keep it small, and I would say it’s a good life,” he continued. “The stress from doing commercial work, competing, bidding, dealing with different people — you know, some people aren’t as pleasant as others — and just being stuck in traffic and shopping for stuff at Home Depot … that’s all gone. It’s a relief.”


Building Trades Special Coverage

Current Events

President Jeff Goodless

President Jeff Goodless

Early on, Jeff Goodless knew life wasn’t easy in the world of electrical contracting.

But he also knew his family had built a strong reputation in the field since 1945, so it was always on his mind to one day enter the family business.

“I went to Northeastern University for five years,” he said, studying electrical engineering and business management there in the 1970s and taking advantage of NU’s well-known co-op work programs. “Everybody said, ‘why did you go to the co-op school?’ But I wanted to go through the experience of actually working and doing real interviews, knowing I was coming here, just to have that experience.

“I came back here and thought I was going to take a month off, and my father said, ‘you can have a day off,’” he went on. “So I came right to work, right out of college.”

He knew that was a good decision and knows it even more now, almost a half-century later, with Goodless Electric marking 78 years in business, still serving clients in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, just like his father, Leon Goodless, and uncle, Irving Goodless, did from the start.

Irving launched the business behind his parents’ home in Springfield, and his brother Leon joined in 1957, when the firm took the name Goodless Brothers Electric Co.

They did quite a bit of moving in the first few decades, Jeff said, to Riverdale Road in West Springfield, Worthington Street and then Winter Street in Springfield, then to the current location at 100 Memorial Ave. in West Springfield, alongside the Route 5 rotary at the Memorial Bridge. Irving retired in 1977, Irving retired in 1977, around the time his nephew came on board part-time. Jeff moved into a full-time role around 1982 and eventually took over the firm’s leadership.

“Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

“Believe it or not, the type of work has stayed the same, although maybe on a larger scale later,” Jeff told BusinessWest. “But even way back when, they always did residential, industrial, and commercial work. They ran maybe three, four, six guys.”

At its heyday, Goodless said, the company was running about 90 workers, where now, it boasts about 20, keeping them busy with projects ranging from parking-lot maintenance and upgrades, generator services, and fire-alarm systems to lighting retrofits, swimming pools and hot tubs, and residential and commercial service upgrades, just to name a few.

“There’s a lot of jobs with UMass Amherst, a lot of state work, some city work, fire stations, DPW facilities, a little bit of everything. A lot of work for the housing authorities throughout the years, too,” he said. “We don’t do new homes, but I do additions and a lot of repair work. Out of our service department, we run about four vans, and we roll basically 24 hours a day.”

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020, a major milestone for any company.

As the firm celebrated 75 years in business in 2020, an emerging pandemic posed serious challenges, especially since it was performing work at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where COVID killed 84 residents.

“I couldn’t get my people to go up there, and I couldn’t really blame them,” Goodless recalled. “People didn’t want to work; people were scared. I had an outbreak in my office. It was challenging.”

What made a difference, he said, was the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which poured funds into businesses to keep their teams employed. “We took advantage of that; it was so helpful. We used it right. We used it responsibly. We kept guys going. In fact, we didn’t have to let anybody go through the pandemic at all.”

“I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.”

The economic ripple effects from the pandemic — particularly higher costs and supply-chain issues — still resonate, however. Goodless was able to stock up on things like 100-amp and 200-amp panels to keep housing projects moving, but said customers are still shocked to hear it might take nine to 10 months to get switchgear in.

“We say it over and over again: we’re not the chef; we’re the waiter. We don’t make the stuff,” he said. “It’s still a very difficult message to get through, though.”


The Next Generation

Goodless said the company’s reputation for fast response and competitive bids has helped it earn multiple awards for customer service.

At the same time, though, growth is challenging at a time when building trades of all kinds are beset with a talent drain.

“The workforce situation is awful,” he said. “You can get people, but it’s very hard to get good people in. But I’ve been pretty fortunate; I’ve been able to pick up a few people along the way during the past couple of years, and I’m working on a third one right now.”

Part of the issue has been the pipeline of new, young talent not keeping up with the pace of retirements, but Goodless said that might be changing.

Jeff Goodless’ first projects

This wall represents some of Jeff Goodless’ first projects for clients in the late ‘70s.

“Over the years, we noticed a huge decline in the electrical trade,” he said, referring to the programs young people were choosing to study. “Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

He’s gleaned as much through conversations with teachers at the trade schools in Springfield, Westfield, Holyoke, and others, who say students are more serious than before about entering the electrical field and other trades. Part of the reason may be the talk of graduates of four-year colleges entering the workforce with six-figure debt and a cloudy career path.

“A kid in a trade, they’ll pay their dues and go through the program, and at the end, you can make well over 100 grand a year. And you’re going to do your side jobs like everyone does and make another 25 grand,” he said. “I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.’”

And work hard Goodless has over the past four-plus decades, outlasting many former clients whose companies are no longer in business. And it’s work he relishes.

“Everybody will have something different to say,” he noted when asked what he enjoys about running this 78-year-old business. “I love going after a bid, going over the numbers, and winning the bid. That gives me a thrill. My second-biggest thrill is going out and doing the buys.”

He’s also got his eye on making sure Goodless Electric continues to be a force for many years to come, even after it moves past family ownership.

“I always think about what I’m going to do with this business as I’m getting older. My ultimate goal is to turn it over to the employees, or half to the employees and maybe sell the other half, something of that nature,” he said. “I just want to keep the business going, keep the name going.”

Building Trades

Generation Next

Nicole Bercume

Nicole Bercume stands outside one of her current projects in Hadley.


When Ron Bercume passed away in 2021, his daughter, Nicole Bercume, said there was never a doubt that she would pick up the mantle of leadership in Bercume Builders, the company he started almost 40 years ago.

But it was a winding road that brought Nicole to that point, along which she settled in Florida, got married, built a law career with her husband, Andrew Bass, had kids, and returned home to Hadley.

Before her father succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October 2021, Bercume was already helping him build the final seven homes in a 28-home development in North Hadley called Shattuck Estates and Sapphire Estates; when he passed away, she stepped in and worked with the company’s longtime subcontractors to finish the job. By that time, she had already decided to stay on and continue Ron’s work.

“My dad had created such a fantastic company,” she told BusinessWest. “It would be a shame if it didn’t continue.”

Today, those 28 large homes on Crystal Lane, Indian Pipe Drive, and Nikki’s Way stand as the last success story in Ron’s career and the first in Nicole’s new one. Beyond that development, she is currently building her third house on a lot on Colony Drive, right across Shattuck Road, with a goal of creating a constant flow of residential projects, and even expanding the business beyond her father’s traditional focus on Hadley and Amherst.

“My dad had created such a fantastic company. It would be a shame if it didn’t continue.”

“Forty years is a long time,” Bercume said as she and Bass took BusinessWest on a walking tour of the development. “My parents started it together right when I was born, and they just went from there. Once I got older, I realized how talented of a businessman and builder my dad was. It’s not just that he would build homes; this was all wooded land, so he would design the actual subdivision. He would design the roads, and that takes a lot of skill.”

When he died at age 81, “he was still plugging away,” she added. “He always loved to work. All his subs worked for him for a long time. All the guys have known me since I was little, and I was very lucky to have learned from my father.”


Winding Path

Bercume had interest in the family business, but in her early 20s, the timing wasn’t right. “He was still working aggressively, and at that point, he was doing everything himself, so there wouldn’t have been a substantial role for me.”

So she went to college and law school in Florida, met Bass, and moved back to Hadley in 2015 and passed the Massachusetts bar. She started working at a firm in Northampton, while Bass started his own firm; in 2019, they bought a building on Route 9 in Hadley, which today houses Bass/Bercume Law Offices. Bercume handled the firm’s real-estate practice, while Bass handled the litigation practice.

Bass started out in consumer-protection work, particularly around Massachusetts’ lemon law. “That was really strong, so I started doing those cases all over the state; they mostly went to litigation because the dealerships wouldn’t resolve the cases, so that’s how I got into litgation,” he recalled. “After I got rolling, I got into construction litigation because Nicole’s dad had a lot of cases, so litigation became my core focus.”

Nicole Bercume and Andrew Bass

Nicole Bercume and Andrew Bass live in the 28-home development in Hadley that Nicole’s father started and she completed after his death.

Cases in that realm include land-use issues, contracts, and purchases of land; at one point, Ron settled a notable case with Tofino Associates of Hadley over a roadway issue in the Amherst Hills development near the Belchertown line.

Bass was recently recognized by Lawyers of Distinction as one of the top 10% civil-litigation attorneys in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, over the past couple years, Nicole was transitioning away from the practice into her new role leading Bercume Builders. “My father did teach me everything; once we had our kids and moved back here, that’s when he taught me everything.”

Ron typically built large homes with “classy, simple interiors, not a lot of clutter,” Nicole said, noting that homes in the new development start at 3,000 square feet, and typically feature open floor plans, high-end appliances, and maple flooring — and each was built in just four months. After her third house on Colony, she said she’s on the cusp of buying more land to develop a subdivision like the Shattuck/Sapphire project.

Woman’s Work

At a time when it’s still uncommon for a woman to lead a building firm (see related story on page 25), Bercume doesn’t particularly care if people question her abilities, noting that the subs who worked with her father for, in some cases, decades know what she can do — and they know she’s committed to her father’s values.

“My father really had such a great process. Even if you didn’t like my dad, you definitely respected him because he was an astute businessman, and he was just on top of it.”

“My dad’s greatest skill was that he had good taste; he picked out all the plans himself. People always say you know when a home is a Bercume home because they’re attractive and clean and classy-looking,” she said. “Construction defects were never an issue for him because, the second there was a problem, my dad, who could never sit still, would take care of it.

“He always did higher-end homes for whatever the era was,” she continued. “He liked big homes; the bigger he could build, the more fun it was for him.”

And when she got her Massachusetts construction license and reaffirmed her working relationships with those longtime subs, she knew it would be fun for her, too.

“My father really had such a great process. Even if you didn’t like my dad, you definitely respected him because he was an astute businessman, and he was just on top of it. All his subs respected him, and that transferred to me nicely. He taught me a lot, so I know what to expect from everyone, and it was very fluid.”

It’s just another way Bercume Builders has been a generational success story — one that occupies Nicole’s earliest memories, when she’d visit Ron at job sites. “And now, our three kids are always on the job sites with us.”

Because it’s never too early to introduce them to the family business.

Building Trades

Building Trade

Chicopee Mayor John Vieau joins, from left, Revitalize CDC Executive Director Colleen Loveless; Director of Programs Ethel Griffin; and Moyah Smith, board clerk.


On Sept. 29, Revitalize Community Development Corp. (CDC) brought its #GreenNFit Neighborhood Rebuild to Chicopee. About 100 volunteers worked on four homes on one block, all in one day. Two of the four homes are owned by U.S. Air Force military veteran families.

“We are so grateful to the city of Chicopee for welcoming us with open arms and supporting our initiative to help make homes safe and healthy for those in need,” said Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize CDC, noting that the work the volunteers and building contractors tackled included replacing rotted porches and steps; repairing accessible ramps, roofs, and decks; installing a new shed, windows, storm doors, and gutters; power washing; painting; and yardwork.

Contractors and volunteers get to work.

Contractors and volunteers get to work.

The work was supported financially and with volunteers from American Red Cross and the Chicopee Fire Department, the city of Chicopee, Baystate Health, Berkshire Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Center for Human Development, Country Bank, Go Graphix, the MassMutual Foundation, M&T Bank, Ondrick Natural Earth, PeoplesBank, Rocky’s Ace Hardware, TD Bank, and Westfield Bank.

“Our #GreenNFit Neighborhood Rebuild goal is to work on hundreds of homes in targeted neighborhoods, clean up vacant lots, improve playgrounds, and create community gardens,” Loveless said. “Revitalize CDC focuses on making meaningful improvements on homes to help reduce energy use, save money, and create a safe, healthy, and sustainable living environment for our residents and the community.”

Improvements have included installing or retrofitting HVAC systems to allow for oil-to-natural-gas heat and solar conversions; new roofs; energy-efficient windows, doors, and appliances; water-saving plumbing fixtures; electrical upgrades; mold remediation, lead abatement, and pest control; interior and exterior painting; and modifying homes for aging or disabled homeowners, such as building exterior access ramps.

Since Revitalize CDC’s inception in 1992, the organization has repaired and rehabilitated more than 1,100 homes with the help of 10,000 volunteers, investing $42 million into Western Mass. In the past year, Revitalize CDC completed 72 home-repair projects on the homes of low-income families with children, elderly citizens, military veterans, and people with disabilities.

The organiation’s JoinedForces, in partnership with businesses, civic organizations, and other nonprofit agencies, provides veterans and their families with critical repairs and modifications on their homes.

Building Trades Special Coverage

Making the Circuit


High-school students train at Elm Electrical as part of its summer First Step Futures program.

High-school students train at Elm Electrical as part of its summer First Step Futures program.



Over the summer, three cohorts of high-school students attended four-day training seminars, two in June and one in August, at Elm Electrical in Westfield.

Monday through Wednesday, the students received instruction and training in the state-of-the-art Elm University multi-media classrooms and hands-on lab. Thursday, the final day, was Challenge Day, when students applied what they learned and completed a project board challenge. Elm project managers evaluated their work, offered feedback, and got to know the students.

It was, no doubt, an enriching experience for many. But First Steps Futures, as Elm calls it, is more than a summer camp. It’s a program, to be repeated each summer, with an eye firmly on the future of the electrical industry.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase and utilize our training facility, expose kids to the electrical field, as well as instruct our current and future workforce,” instructor Paul Asselin said. “At the same time, we can get them excited about the field and see what the kids can do. Do they follow our strict safety protocols? Do they ask questions? Do they work well with others? Is their work accurate? Do they have a positive attitude? This gives us a snapshot of what they’d look like as potential co-op students on the job.”

The students, in grades 10-12, were recommended by their teachers or Elm employees to attend the free training seminar. Some were, indeed, invited back as co-op students, to get a better look at the field, and give Elm a better look at what they can do.

“This program also gives kids who don’t attend a technical school the chance to see if the electrical field is something they may be interested in pursuing,” Asselin added. “Oftentimes, students who go to a traditional high school think it’s too late to go into a trade. We make sure they know there is still an opportunity to pursue a career in the field.”

“Oftentimes, students who go to a traditional high school think it’s too late to go into a trade. We make sure they know there is still an opportunity to pursue a career in the field.”

The Elm University classrooms and lab weren’t created with young people in mind, however; they’re used year-round as Elm’s in-house training facility. Employees who want to become licensed electricians can opt into the company’s four-year apprentice program, working their jobs Monday through Thursday and then, every other Friday, attending school at Elm University for free, as an alternative to night school.

“We started our own training because we weren’t happy with the training we were getting, the conventional way of going two nights a week, three hours a night; most of these night classes are in a classroom setting and don’t have a hands-on component. They get what they need to pass the test, of course, but the hands-on component makes a big difference because that’s what their supervisors see out in the field. That’s what they need out in the field.”

In short, Elm has created a way to cultivate a pipeline of young talent at a time when older electrical workers are leaving the trade faster than they can be replaced. It’s a trend being observed in all construction trades, in fact, and it sometimes requires innovative solutions.

“We can complain like everyone else or do something about it, and we’ve chosen to do something about it,” Asselin said, noting that the effort and financial investment are paying back in the quality of workers the company is putting into the field. “It’s apparent it’s working.”

Jean Pierre Crevier, co-owner of M.L. Schmitt Inc., a 99-year-old electrical contractor based in Springfield, agrees that companies need to stay connected to the potential pipeline of young talent. He does so by participating in the interviewing process of the Joint Apprentice Training Committee of the Local 7 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, bringing new students into apprenticeship programs. “I was pleased with this year’s turnout — we had a lot of great candidates to choose from this year.”

Putnam Vocational Technical Academy teachers

Putnam Vocational Technical Academy teachers Michael Poole (far left) and Charley Jackson (far right) and senior students are joined in the electrical shop by M.L. Schmitt’s Bobby Williams (back left) and Pete Coppez (back right).

But he also does so with efforts like a recent partnership between M.L. Schmitt, Exposure, and two local electrical manufacturers, Legrand and Fidelux Lighting, to provide donations to the Putnam Electrical Shop at Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield.

The Putnam Electrical Shop works on a fixed budget, and donations like this give them additional supplies and equipment for student lessons, said teacher and master electrician Charley Jackson. “I share my work experience and testimony with my students, and it really helps them with their desire to learn. Our recent visit from M.L. Schmitt and donation of supplies really encouraged our students to keep pushing.”

The materials that the school received include low-voltage and line-voltage training kits, a variety of light fixtures, blueprints, surface raceways, disconnect switches and more. More donations are expected to take place this fall, and M.L. Schmitt has hired many Putnam graduates over the years.

“We’ve been conditioned to think you have to have a college degree to have a successful career after high school,” Crevier said. “But a lot of people struggling with college and looking at alternate solutions can make really good money in the trades. I know borderline geniuses who don’t have a really strong formal education behind them, but they can use their hands, and they’re virtual artists, interpreting visual drawings to see what the designer’s intent is. It’s a great career path.”


Mind the Gap

The workforce issue isn’t unique to electricians. A recent survey by Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) found that, overall, construction firms are still struggling to recruit employees. Ninety-three percent of respondents say they have open positions that they’re trying to fill, and 91% indicate they are struggling to fill at least some of these roles. This issue is particularly pronounced among craft positions, which make up the bulk of construction work on job sites.

At the same time, AGCA reported, more companies are waking up to the fact that the future of the construction industry lies in youth, which is why firms are increasingly taking steps to engage younger generations. Fifty-one percent of survey respondents say they’ve gotten involved in career-building programs at the high school, college, and technical-school level in order to encourage students to consider a career in construction.

Jean Pierre Crevier

Jean Pierre Crevier

“But a lot of people struggling with college and looking at alternate solutions can make really good money in the trades. I know borderline geniuses who don’t have a really strong formal education behind them.”

It’s a task facing serious headwinds. Tallo, an employment and scholarship platform geared toward younger workers, issued a report in the spring analyzing survey responses from more than 29,000 high-school and college students about the brands, industries, and career paths they desire. In a ranking of 22 industries, construction attracted the interest of just 16.7% of respondents; only forestry ranked lower. In contrast, 76.5% want to work in technology.

What those who are looking at the trades are finding, however, is opportunity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrician jobs are expected to grow by 9.1% from 2020 to 2030, higher than the 7.7% growth rate projected for all occupations. The increase in demand is largely driven by an increase in devices, buildings, and vehicles that rely on electricity; from 2021 to 2022 alone, total electricity consumption in the U.S. is expected to grow by 1.4%. Meanwhile, as noted earlier, Baby Boomers are retiring at a faster rate than members of Gen Z are choosing careers in the trades.

“I was one of those people who went to a private high school, four-year college, got a bachelor’s degree in marketing, sat behind a desk every day, and decided it wasn’t for me and turned to the trades,” Crevier told BusinessWest. “I decided I was one of those visual people; I like to work with my hands, see my accomplishments at the end of the day, and be proud of what I did.”

One of his pitches to young people is that, particularly for those who enter a union apprentice program, they’ll get paid to learn a career path, rather than go into debt. “Instead of investing tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, into an education, you’re actually getting paid to learn, paid in the field, as you go to night school, at least on the union side.”

Bobby Williams, a purchasing officer at M.L. Schmitt, graduated from Putnam and is gratified to see more of its students become the future of his field. “Without our young, upcoming electricians, we won’t have a future workforce of skilled tradesmen and women.”

Which is why Jackson is gratified by the continued connection betweeen Putnam and area businesses. “These donations and visits from M.L. Schmitt let our students know they’re included,” he said. “It certainly motivates and keeps them encouraged about entering the trade.”

Michael Poole, who chairs the Electrical Department at Putnam, added that the donation gives students an opportunity to see and work with specialty items that they would otherwise not be able to afford. “It also shows them that the community cares about their future success in the electrical trade. I am grateful, and I know that our students are as well.”


First Steps on a Rewarding Path

Still, Asselin noted, with the manpower shortage, vocational schools can only put out so many students, which is why programs like Elm’s First Steps Futures, is so important, as the company brings in young talent who might otherwise have never thought electrical work was something for them.

“I’ve got them for four days, so I get a pretty good idea what kind of student and what kind of employee they may be. It was really eye-opening for us to see the quality of some of the students out there,” he said. “Some kids who go to a traditional high school or some other alternative school think they can’t go into a trade because they didn’t go to trade school. That’s not the case. Companies like ours will train them both in the classroom and hands-on. We have that ability to get them up to the same level as, say, a vocational student that went through a three-year vocational program.”

Moving forward, Asselin said Elm might open the week-long program to veterans looking to get into a trade. “It’s a different way to approach the problem.”

But Elm University itself, where current employees skill up for better career opportunities, has been a crucial element, he added. “This is what we should have done a long time ago. We kind of had our hand forced because certain jobs require traveling, guys are out of town for a week, and it’s hard to be in school during the week and also be at work. Now, they can travel during the week and get back for class.

“This is a great option for those who don’t want to have to go to night school,” he added. “In four years, students will be ready to sit for their exam to be licensed electricians. Adding our First Steps Futures program to our Elm U program really allows us to groom our future workforce from the very beginning.”

Offering young people pathways into a career is important, but so is showing them how much satisfaction can be found in the work.

“Really, it’s a tangible thing. I tell students, there is a tangible output from what you do,” Crevier said, adding that he tells students about area jobs his company has worked on, from Union Station to the light and visual displays at Thunderbirds games to hospitals, which rely on electrical networks to save lives. “These things might last decades or hundreds of years, and people will always see the product of what you did. Kids today have never thought about that aspect before.

“We can all find people,” he added. “It’s a matter of finding qualified candidates who have the initiative, the drive, and the desire to differentiate themselves and be leaders. Too many people in the workforce today are complacent to show up and participate and don’t want to do more.”

But Schmitt, a company that’s been around for 99 years and doesn’t plan on going anywhere, won’t always have Crevier and his team at the helm, so a job there, as at many companies, is a chance to grow into higher roles.

“We’re not going to be here for 30 years, but we’re looking at the next 30, 40, 50 years, and even beyond that,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity for the right individual.”

At a time when electrical and all other building trades are scrambling to find talent and restock an aging workforce, it’s just one more factor that might draw a Gen-Z student to a career he or she might never have considered before.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Building Trades Sections

Flush with New Ideas

Craig O’Connor says bathroom makeovers by Affordable Bath

Craig O’Connor says bathroom makeovers by Affordable Bath can include deep soaking tubs, which are growing in popularity.

It’s one of the most important rooms in the house — resale-wise, and otherwise. And yet, many people live with something that’s been outdated for 20 years or more. New materials, products, and techniques provide an array of creative and often-affordable options for giving the bathroom a new life.


A bathroom makeover can be functional and involve a simple update, or turn the space into a spa-like retreat with recessed lighting, a heated floor, a spacious tiled shower with multiple shower heads and built-in benches, or a deep soaking tub where the water vibrates in response to soft music.

The choices are almost limitless, and thanks to new materials and technology, there are solutions for every budget that result in a fresh, clean, updated look.

“The two rooms that affect resale value the most are the kitchen and the bathroom; they tend to be most expensive to remodel, but are also the most important,” said Jason Cusimano, owner of Bathfitter of Western Mass. in Greenfield, which specializes in customized acrylic tub liners, wall systems, and shower-to-bath conversions.

Jim Belle-Isle agrees. “The bathroom is the first thing people see in the morning and the last room they see before they go to bed,” said the owner of BathCrafters in Chicopee, which also specializes in custom acrylic tub liners, wall systems, and conversions.


The two rooms that affect resale value the most are the kitchen and the bathroom; they tend to be most expensive to remodel, but are also the most important.”


Affordable Baths Inc. in Springfield, meanwhile, does complete makeovers that begin with gutting the entire room. The existing footprint can be replicated, or the room may get an entirely new design, which allows a homeowner to be as creative as their budget and imagination allow.

“Many people are suffering with bathrooms that have been outdated for 10 or 15 years; they wait to remodel until they are ready to put their house on the market, but if you are going to spend the money, you should do it at least a few years before you sell so you can enjoy it,” said Craig O’Connor, owner of Affordable Baths, adding that a remodeled bathroom adds instant equity to a home.

Local bath remodelers say the majority of their clients are 35 and older, and are remodeling or making changes because the room is outdated or has problems due to mold and mildew. Baby Boomers also make up a large part of their business, and those who plan to stay in their homes often want the bathtub converted into a spacious shower stall with grab bars, a seat, and recessed soap holders.

“Twenty years ago, we did one shower conversion for every tub makeover. Now the ratio is one-to-one,” Cusimano said as he spoke about the growing trend. “The bathroom usually has a small footprint, but eliminating a tub can make the space seem amazingly larger.”

Trends and styles come and go, but white fixtures are the most popular, followed by neutrals that include beige and gray. Although many remodeling shows on TV feature bathrooms with intricate tiles and daring designs in shower stalls, grouted seams require maintenance, and most New Englanders want surfaces that are easy to clean and prefer wall surrounds or large, block-style tiles.

For this edition and its focus on home improvement, BusinessWest explores options offered by local remodelers that range from complete makeovers to less-costly renovations that include relining and resurfacing tubs, sinks, wall tiles, and bath surrounds, extending their life and giving them a clean, updated look.

Changing Trends

O’Connor’s Springfield showroom contains tiles, vanities, showerheads, shower stalls, faucets, lighting, countertop samples, flooring, and everything else needed for a complete bathroom remodel. The typical cost of a job in New England is $14,000, but Affordable Bath can usually do a complete remodel for $10,000, as long as the footprint isn’t changed. However, the price rises if people choose costly options such as heated floors, custom tile bath surrounds, or vanities larger than 36 inches.

The room is gutted down to the studs, and the remodeling takes a week or two to complete. It can be inconvenient for homeowners who have only one bathroom, but the new bath or shower is ready for use by the end of the first week, and clients are offered Porta Potty units.

Gunmetal-gray-colored vanities are growing in popularity, but most people choose shades of brown, and quartz countertops are replacing granite; the material is slightly more expensive, but doesn’t require maintenance and resists stains.

O’Connor told BusinessWest that many people whose master bathrooms have Jacuzzi tubs are eliminating them or replacing them with deep-soaking or claw-foot models.

Jim Belle-Isle

Jim Belle-Isle says BathCrafters can install a new bathtub liner and wall system in one or two days to give the room an updated look.

Claw-foot tubs come in cast iron, which retains the temperature of the water for long periods of time, or acrylic, which weighs less and is a good choice for second floors.

Some Baby Boomers and seniors are also looking toward the future and choosing walk-in tubs.

“The surfaces are heated, and the jets can be positioned to hit the knees, hips, or lower back,” O’Connor said, adding that roll-in showers with fold-down seats and grab bars are another option that eliminate the need to step over a wall to bathe.

“We’ve created bathrooms that range from a basic remodel that meets practical needs to spaces that provide the comfort of a private, spa-like retreat,” he continued, noting that the company recently remodeled a master bathroom and installed an oversized Jacuzzi tub and separate shower with multiple showerheads, custom tiles, a built-in bench, and a frameless glass exterior.

Although a complete makeover is the ultimate choice, there are many options for people who don’t need or want that option or can’t afford it. They include having a custom-made acrylic tub and liner installed over the existing one. The liners usually have lifetime warranties, and the entire job can be done in about two days and enhanced with a new sink with fancy faucets and a new toilet.

“We have more than 1,000 acrylic molds that fit every cast-iron or steel tub, along with multiple designs and colors,” Cusimano said, adding that bronze or brushed nickel drains or overflows are popular and an average job costs $3,000 to $4,000, although prices for tub-to-shower conversions range from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on factors that include how much plumbing is required and whether the homeowner wants built-in seats and other high-end features.

He told BusinessWest that acrylic is a very high-end plastic and far more durable than old bath surrounds that tend to be made of fiberglass. The material is easy to clean, and the finish never wears off, as acrylic is not a coating.

Many bathrooms remodelers are called upon to change have baby-blue or pink tubs and fixtures, and tiles that were also used as wainscoting and were popular in the ’40s and ’50s.

The tiles are often removed before a new wall system is put in place, and water damage caused by small cracks in the tiles or grouting behind them is repaired.

“There can be hundreds of seams in a tiled bathroom where water can get in,” Cusimano said, adding that some people have no idea that this has been happening.

Most tub liners and wall systems need beading where the edges meet, but new barrier materials are infused with mildicides and antimicrobial additives.

The wall systems Bathfitter uses don’t come in pieces, but are custom-made after taking measurements with a laser. They extend from the edge of the tub or shower to the ceiling, and the corners are bent so there are no seams inside the tub.

Soap dishes and corner caddies can be added, along with acrylic on the ceiling, and bowed rods are gaining popularity as they make the area seem more spacious.

BathCrafters also makes custom tub liners that are formed to fit perfectly over existing tubs, and if tile walls are in excellent shape, Belle-Isle said, they can be covered with acrylic liners, which reduces the cost of removing them. In addition, tile wainscoting in dated colors can be covered with tile-shaped acrylic.

“The biggest decision they have to make is whether they want a shower door. It does pose a maintenance issue, but some people want glass doors without metal frames,” he noted.

Although tub surrounds come in many colors and designs, neutral palettes allow people to change the look of the bathroom in the future without having to spend a lot of money. “People can get creative with floor tile, vanity tops, and paint colors,” Belle-Isle said, adding that he often reminds customers that it is much easier to redo a floor than a tub and surround.

“Remodeling can cost a lot, but the main issue in a bathroom is usually the tub or shower. Many don’t want to completely gut the room, but they do want a look that is modern and doesn’t require much maintenance, and we can provide that,” he continued, adding that everything he installs is customized to fit.

Miracle Method of Ludlow offers another option that is the least expensive choice but completely updates the look of a bathroom, tub, or shower area and extends the life of existing tubs and showers that are scratched, chipped, or contain outdated colors. After the tub or wall surround is professionally cleaned, a high-end coating is applied, which contains a bonding agent that fuses with the old surface.

Owner Jim Kenney says the entire process takes five to six hours and cures overnight. Prices start at $585 for a standard bathtub, and sinks, countertops, and tiled walls can also be sprayed.

“We can change the entire color scheme and use the same acrylic on tile walls, which will give the room a fresh new look and bring it up to date,” he explained.

In addition, Miracle Method does step-through cutaways in bathtubs that turn them into shower stalls and are popular with seniors. “We cut a 24-inch wide step into the side rail so it is easier to get into,” Kenney explained, adding that he leaves five inches on either end of the cutaway and can install grab bars and apply a non-slip surface to the floor before the coating is sprayed onto it. The cost of this makeover with grab bars is about $1,450, and it is a growing part of his business.

Modern Look

Bathrooms are used on a daily basis by homeowners as well as their guests, and can reflect a person’s decorating style or simply serve as a functional room that meets basic needs.

But the look and age of the tub, sink, toilet, and walls can make it a place to avoid or one that is enjoyable to visit, Belle-Isle said. “When the environment in a bathroom is pleasant, it makes a big difference in a person’s overall mood.”

Building Trades Sections

Scaling New Heights

Fran Beaulieu

Fran Beaulieu says it’s a challenge to attract young workers, but those with a passion for the home-improvement trades can build gratifying careers there.

From the time his father first hung out a shingle — and then installed a whole lot more of them — Fran Beaulieu says the secret to this 50-year-old company’s success is almost too simple to be true.

“The key here is we outwork everyone,” he said. “We’re here at 7, we’re open on Saturdays, we’re always on top of it, always focused on every job. We outwork everyone. It sounds corny, but it’s true.”

That legacy of hard work began in the mid-’60s, when Fran’s father, Phil Beaulieu, a French-Canadian immigrant, arrived in Western Mass. looking for a job, and found one at Fisk Rubber in Chicopee, which later became Uniroyal.

At one point, Fisk’s unionized workers went on strike, and while on strike, the elder Beaulieu met a couple fellow French-Canadians who hung siding, and went to work for them.

Decks are among the many home-exterior projects tackled by Phil Beaulieu & Sons.

Decks are among the many home-exterior projects tackled by Phil Beaulieu & Sons.

“They would go out on Saturdays and on Sundays after church and knock on doors to generate work,” Fran said. “The first time he did that, he got three jobs, and he never had to look back.”

Beaulieu officially launched his home-improvement business in 1967, gradually adding other skills beyond siding, from roofing to window and door installation. His son Al came on board in 1984, and Fran followed in 1988, eventually taking Phil Beaulieu & Sons Home Improvement to new heights.

“My brother and I have been operating the business since 2008,” Fran Beaulieu said, noting that the company recorded $1.8 million in gross sales that year, but $7 million last year. “We are, from what our supply houses tell us, by far the largest exterior remodeler in the area, but we’ve done it quietly — 90% comes from past customers and referrals.”

That testifies to high levels of customer satisfaction, he went on.

“As soon as you call here, we don’t drop the ball; we make an appointment and show up on time. Unlike a lot of home-improvement companies in the area, we aren’t about marketing; we’re about the trade. My brother and I, and the key guys here, are all about the trade and the craft. If that’s where our focus is, we don’t have to worry about what the competition is doing.”

Today, Phil Beaulieu & Sons specializes in all manner of exterior home improvement — tackling about 600 projects a year — including roofing, siding, windows, doors, decks, and masonry, with occasional light interior work related to an exterior project, like repairing ceiling damage caused by a leaky roof or installing interior trim on window jobs.

Products have evolved over time; for example, Beaulieu said new energy codes have put many window makers out of business and consolidated business among fewer manufacturers. He said he chooses product lines with a long track record for quality, and for good reason.

“We choose manufacturers that stand behind their products,” he told BusinessWest, rattling off names like Mastic siding, Harvey windows, Therma-Tru doors, and Trex decking. “We get every salesman in here, wanting us to sell their product, but we’re cautious about what we sell. If we select an inferior window to save a few bucks, we might put in a couple thousand windows in a year, and if they have a problem, it could destroy our reputation. So we have to be very careful. We use products that are time-tested and generally leaders in their industry.”

For that reason, Beaulieu said, his company tries to be up-front about pricing, but customers appreciate the candor. After all, while a generic product might cost 10% less, “if something goes awry, people don’t remember what kind of window is in their house; they remember who put the window in. So we don’t want callbacks — unless, of course, you want more work.”

Weathering Change

At peak times, Phil Beaulieu & Sons may have 60 people working, including eight office staff, three on the sales team, and professionals scattered at job sites throughout the region.

“It’s a struggle to find labor,” Fran Beaulieu said. “We have a young crop of guys coming through the system, along with reaching out to other guys in the industry. They might have been a small-time contractor, and we say, ‘listen, come work here. You won’t have to chase leads and make calls; here’s your next job.’ We’ve been able to bring in some guys that way. We’re always looking.”

That said, some Beaulieu employees have been there 30 years or more, crafting the sort of long-term, successful, and satisfying careers that many young people mulling career choices may not consider.

“The trades are great, and they’re not what they were 25 years ago,” he said. “If you take it as professionally as, say, a banker does, you can do really well.”

But it’s also hard work, he added. “You have cold days, hot days, rainy days, but also beautiful bluebird days. Working in the fall is amazing. Working in February and March … not so fun. But you become accustomed to working outside in the elements. You learn how to dress in layers, how to eat properly, and how your body reacts.”

While job volume remains strong, he told BusinessWest, large projects tend to be fewer than in the past.

“People tend to nickel and dime on their house, but if they’re comfortable with our work, we’ll get more projects from them,” he explained, noting, for example, that it was common 20 years ago for homeowners to order 32 windows at once, where now they’ll order a few at a time as they can afford it. Tax season is a healthy time for orders, not only because people like sprucing up their properties with the warm weather, but they see a hefty tax refund as an opportunity to reinvest in their homes.

“That’s when we get a lot of repeat business — ‘you did our roof last year; this year we need a rear sliding door, and take care of that hatchway.’”

Over the years, the company has become increasingly involved in the communities it serves, lending energy and resources to organizations such as Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, D.A.R.E., the Ludlow Hockey Assoc., and many local schools and youth sports groups.

Fran Beaulieu also sits on the executive board for Revitalize CDC, which is dedicated to performing home repairs and modifications for low-income families, the elderly, military veterans, and people with special needs. “We do a number of projects with them each year. We did a big Veterans Day project. When they came to Holyoke, we closed an entire block at Beech Street and worked on about 15 homes, all in one day. That was a great day.”

This year, Phil Beaulieu & Sons struck an affiliation with the Valley Blue Sox, with a billboard in left field reading ‘hammer it here,’ and making a donation to Revitalize CDC with each home run.

Beaulieu also sits on the board of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass., which, among other roles, helps members comply with new building-industry codes in the Bay State.

“All that regulation has eliminated a lot of the little pickup-truck guys; they’re harder to find,” he said. “We used to bid projects against the small-time guys who were uninsured, unlicensed, and, if there was a problem, the homeowner probably couldn’t find that guy again. That’s changed in Massachusetts, which has become increasingly progressive about regulating our industry. A lot of it has to do with consumer protection.”

Next Generation

Fran and Al Beaulieu are already looking down the road to the third generation of this family business, as Al’s son will soon graduate from American International College and has decided to make home improvement his career.

“He’ll wear a tool pouch for a while,” Fran said. “You can’t manage it if you can’t do it. You’ve got to appreciate your employees.”

That said, he added, “we’re always looking for young talent. Any time someone wants to be a carpenter, sider, or roofer, we’re always willing to listen. We try to find guys who are into the trade and have the same passion we have for it. I’ve talked to young guys after their first cold day and said, ‘this trade isn’t for you. Not to make you feel bad, but you’re only 21, and you should know it now.’ If you don’t have the passion, this isn’t for you.”

For those who embrace the challenge, however, there are plenty more ladders to climb, on days both cold and gray, and when the bluebirds are happily singing.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Building Trades Sections

Floor Plans

The team at Best Tile in Springfield

The team at Best Tile in Springfield includes, from left, Sarah Rietberg, showroom manager; Chad Hart and Beverly Gomes, design consulants; and Karen Belezarian-Tesini, store manager.

Harry Marcus started installing tile way back in 1955, so Karen Belezarian-Tesini considers herself lucky to have known him.

“Harry would say, ‘why are you here? Why do you like the business?’” said Belezarian-Tesini, manager of Best Tile in Springfield — one of some 30 locations that have sprung from Marcus’ original business 60 years ago. “I said, ‘I have a passion for it.’ Harry said, ‘that’s why you’re going to last. You have to have a passion for what you do.’”

Marcus Tile was born in the City of Homes, but there were no tile distributors in Springfield, meaning he had to travel to Hartford almost every day to pick up tile for his four-man team of installers. So he and his wife, Mollie, decided to start their own tile-distribution business. They sold their installation business and partnered with the Wenczel Tile Co. to open up Standard Tile Distributors in August 1956.

“It was a true rags-to-riches story,” Belezarian-Tesini said. “He was selling so much and so well, Wenczel asked him, ‘if we got you a bricks-and-mortar shop, would you open a store?’ He said yes and opened up his store.”

That’s where the story began — a story that has since expanded well past the Springfield-Hartford corridor, across the Northeast and down the Atlantic Coast. The Marcuses’ oldest son, Steve, eventually entered the family business and, after managing the Hartford branch, opened a new location in Albany, N.Y., naming it Best Tile — the word ‘Best’ representing the first two letters of his first name and that of his wife, Beverly.

By the early 1970s Best Tile was importing tile from around the world, and Steve Marcus and his business partner, Bob Rose, had expanded well into Central and Western New York. Meanwhile, Steve’s brother, Brad, expanded the company into the Boston area, and Steve Marcus and Rose later expanded into Pennsylvania with another partner, Chet Whittam. Following that, the company set up shop in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and more recently Vermont and North Carolina.

Karen Belezarian-Tesini

Karen Belezarian-Tesini says a slowing of the building boom over the past 20 years has coincided with an uptick in remodeling, which certainly benefits Best Tile.

“They’ve done very well managing and growing the business. It’s a great company to work for,” Belezarian-Tesini said. “They’re smart investors, and they direct-import everything, buying direct from factories. They’ve kept a great relationship with these factories over the years, which gives them great buying power.”

Those factories are based in countries as far-flung as Spain, Italy, Brazil, England, Turkey, Mexico, and the U.S., she added. “We pride ourselves on quality. In all the years I’ve worked here, no one’s ever come back and complained about quality of the tile, which is huge.”

Hitting the Wall

From her position managing the bustling shop on Belmont Avenue — where customers come looking to inject new life into their kitchen and bathroom floors and walls, among other areas — Belezarian-Tesini has seen a number of changes in the tile business.

“Twenty years ago, it was a contractor-driven industry, big time. It’s now more of a remodeling industry, with maybe 50% of the business retail — years ago, there was not as much retail,” she explained. “The building boom isn’t there like it used to be; you don’t see big tracts of homes going up. There’s a lot more remodeling going on.

“It’s still the City of Homes; I do believe that,” she went on. “You can tell by the remodeling going on in our neighborhoods. People are retiring to over-55 communities, and the younger generation is moving in and remodeling the home. That’s where a lot of our business is coming from nowadays.”

She noted that the contractors working in this field are an aging lot. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I wish trade schools would introduce more tile-related careers, because it’s an industry that should continue to grow.”

It’s growing in part through social media, websites, and especially home-improvement networks like HGTV and DIY, which showcase transitions that inspire viewers to tackle tile jobs themselves or hire someone to bring their vision to life.

“That’s what’s driving people, opening their eyes to what’s current, what’s hot,” she said. And that means Best Tile needs to stay on the cutting edge of what shoppers are looking for.

“Flooring has gone from a marble look to a wooded look,” she noted as one example. And large-format floor tiles are extremely popular, like 8-by-48-inch floor sections and 12-by-24-inch wall tiles; 12-by-12 pieces have become a bit passé. Meanwhile, “mosaic is hot, hot, hot — glass mosaic, glass and stone mixed, all stone, stone and ceramic. It can be for a floor, wall, backsplash, bathroom, kitchen, you name it. It’s everywhere, and it’s beautiful.

“The industry has come a long way,” she added. “The digital imaging, the handcrafted tile, so superior to what we had years ago. It’s beautiful.”

Happy Wife, Happy Life

Since the 2000s, the third generation of Roses and Marcuses have led the company through continued growth, showroom upgrades, and product expansion, under the umbrella of the East Coast Tile Group of companies.

But that’s the big picture; Belezarian-Tesini is more invested in the individuals — and, more often than not, couples — that show up at Best Tile looking to realize their vision of a beautiful bathroom or kitchen.

“You do this with your spouse; it’s not usually something you do alone. Husbands and wives make decisions together. And when they shop, they’re generally shopping together,” she said, adding, however, that some husbands embody man-shopping clichés. “Most of the time, we offer the husbands coffee or water, or ask if they want to sit down somewhere. Some spouses are very involved, and some are just here for the ride.”

It’s a ride that began with Harry Marcus’ vision, and passion, for building a business from the ground — well, the tile floor, anyway — up.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]