By Doug Picklyk
The HVAC and plumbing business is personal for Julie Berdin, and although she doesn’t ply the trade with pliers and wrenches, she’s attached to every service call and installation carried out by Arpi’s Industries in Calgary.
As president of the company her father founded 60 years ago, Julie takes pride in how the business has evolved and where it’s at today. Operating a large fleet of vehicles covering the greater Calgary area, she sees a bright future for a company like Arpi’s.
Arpi Berdin came from humble beginnings. Escaping his communist homeland in the middle of the night, he arrived in Canada in 1954 at the age of 19 with hopes for a better life. “He’s one of those stories,” says Julie Berdin.
After spending some years in Alberta’s oil patch, Arpi moved to Calgary and earned his sheet metal ticket, which led to him to eventually starting up his one-man business, Arpi’s Heating, in 1963.
He began on residential installations and working with new home builders. “Back in the day, work was done on a handshake, and he grew the business one small project after another,” says Julie. The operation grew, and he added a plumbing component and then expanded into commercial work. That led to changing the company name to Arpi’s Industries.
Sold and Bought
In 1999, the furnace manufacturer Lennox Corp. was acquiring HVAC service companies in both Canada and the U.S. Arpi’s had been a long-time Lennox dealer, and as he was approaching his mid-60’s Arpi decided to sell the company.
Julie Berdin grew up in the company, working summers in various office positions, and at the time of the Lennox acquisition was involved in management and finishing her MBA at the University of Calgary.
Under the new ownership she was promoted to president. “They wanted continuity, and dad was ready to head to his house in Kelowna and tend to his fruit trees,” recalls Berdin.
“My father said, you don’t have to be a chef to own a restaurant, but it helps. I don’t have a trade ticket, but once I started here my father had built the company to a point where other business skills were required. All of our top managers are tradesmen, and what I brought to the to the company was that business acumen.”
The Lennox ownership lasted a few years, but ultimately, they wanted to divest the commercial segment of Arpi’s business. So, in 2004, at the age of 70, Arpi asked for the opportunity to buy back the entire business, and that’s what he did.
Julie has continued to run the operation ever since. Arpi passed away in 2015. He was 80.
Slow and Steady
It’s been over 20 years now that Julie has been at the helm—a third of the company’s existence.
At one point, while under her father’s leadership, Arpi’s operated in multiple cities in Western Canada and had over 500 people.
“We’ve contracted now. Calgary is big enough,” says Julie. “I don’t believe in this myth about growth—that you have to grow more and more. We’re a much smaller company now, and that’s just fine.”
Today Arpi’s Industries is split about half and half between residential and commercial. “We’re unique in the sense that people will ask, ‘Who are your competitors?’ Well, where do you want to start?” says Berdin.
Arpi’s operates in the competitive residential service market, commercial service and maintenance space, and on new construction—from residential developments to mega projects like the Calgary Public Library or the current BMO Event Centre expansion.
Keeping the business evenly split is how Arpi designed it—built-in resiliency. If one segment of the economy is slowing, new construction for example, then the repair and replacement side can compensate. “But we have to be careful,” she says, “We don’t want to go too far in any new direction. We know what we know, and we stick to that.”
With a large facility on a few acres of land in southeast Calgary, Arpi’s Industries operates its own sheet metal fabrication shop with a coil duct line machine, metal cutting, welding and five-ton cranes to deal with large skid packages and pipe assemblies.
Their in-house expertise allows the company to maintain quality control and manage its timelines.
Arpi’s technicians are trained, certified and licensed, and the company continues to add specialists to improve its offering.
Within the last two years they brought in a residential hydronics design specialist for their growing hydronics business.
“Parts of our industry are so fragmented, and it can be a challenge to ensure the industry is adhering to the proper way things should be installed and maintained,” says Berdin. “Residential hydronics is an area that we wanted to dedicate a specific team to because those projects are unique. They are true craftsman that need the right skill set to walk into a home and understand what’s going on.”
Marketing and Community
With its broad service offering, Arpi’s markets to its audiences differently. On the commercial side the outreach is very network based. “We’re talking to architects, engineers, general contractors and always learning about what’s coming next,” explains Berdin.
Residential marketing is multi-pronged, including online with search engine optimization, radio, and of course its large fleet of vehicles on the road.
Community outreach is also important, as they engage with the city, apprenticeship programs, curriculum development initiatives, industry associations and more.
A long-time Lennox dealer, Arpi’s is often the only Canadian company to win the top Dave Lennox Award that recognizes customer service and technical competence, an honour given annually to only 25 companies across North America. Arpi’s has won it 16 years running.
The company also participates in the Lennox Feel The Love program, where a local community hero is rewarded with a free furnace and install.
“We have some equity in the marketplace, but like many Canadian cities now there are a lot of new folks to our city, new to the country,” says Berdin. “They don’t care about 60 years of tradition; they want you to be on time and get the job done.”
Reflecting on the 60-year legacy, Berdin acknowledges they weren’t all easy, and some years were more successful than others. “It’s been a challenge, and you never take anything for granted,” she says.
For her, the business revolves around the customer, and she recalls one time when everything they were doing for one customer seemed to be going wrong.
“One of my colleagues said, ‘Julie don’t take it so personally.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, don’t take it so personally? This is the work we do. It’s a reflection of who we are. It is personal.’”
As for the future, and the key to Arpi’s continued success, Berdin looks at the challenges of the last few years—COVID, rising interest rates, inflation, supply chain issues—and she sees no other option than to just get back to business.
“Let’s continue to raise the bar of our industry, embrace new technologies and all of the wonderful things happening. I still think—and my father believed greatly—that Canada is a great place to be, but there is no silver bullet to success. It’s hard work.
“Surround yourself with great people, do a good job, and charge a fair price. Do it honestly, and then do it again and again and again.” <>