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Master Mechanical Celebrates 50 Years – Succeeding on a Solid Foundation

Master Mechanical’s strong partnerships see the company through changing economic times.

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Master Mechanical Plumbing and Heating (MMPH) is a provider of the complete mechanical scope to building owners, property developers, general contractors and others in the building construction industry.

In 1968, Bill Strong Sr., Gary Hoover, and Frank Wilson approached E.A. Gellhaus with an opportunity to invest in a small plumbing venture. On May 1, 1968, Master Mechanical was launched and has been growing ever since.
The very first project on the books was a 22 suite three storey walk up for R & R Construction on May 13, 1968 – Job #1001. From the beginning, it was apparent that the company was destined to hold a presence in the rental/condo market. Like many humble beginnings, long hours were invested by the owner group managing the day to day operations, growing the business, and working in the field at night and on weekends to complete the installations. As the workload grew, they added to their team.

In desperate need of more space, within two years the company moved from a single bay office/warehouse to a new three-bay office/warehouse facility erected by E.A. Gellhaus at 9535-62 Ave.

Within the first 10 years, the company grew to 250 tradespeople and became a strong force in both Edmonton and Fort McMurray.

While Bill Strong Sr., E.A. Gellhaus, and Frank Wilson were focused on growing the Edmonton market, Gary Hoover was instrumental in the success of the Fort McMurray operation. He spent most of the decade in Wood Buffalo County leading the charge. Plenty of tight deadlines and a lack of skilled local manpower required MMPH to fly in crews from the east coast on a bi-weekly basis, but by the end of the 70s, the company had completed approximately 85 per cent of the rental walk-up apartments in Fort McMurray.

During that time, MMPH operated with the philosophy that having a turnkey operation to include the full mechanical scope enabled them to efficiently encompass the entire project from start to finish. To achieve this, Fort Services & Ditching and Double M Sheet Metal were launched catering to needs in northern Alberta. In addition to the new site service and HVAC divisions, a mechanical engineering arm, Greg & Associates, led by Greg Kroening, was added to the group of companies to provide in-house mechanical design as well as design work for other clients.

E.A. Gellhaus involved his sons, Gary and Wayne, in the family business at a young age. As teens, their father put them to work pre-fabbing at the shop or on the end of a shovel. A typical Saturday morning involved spending time with their dad operating bobcats, forklift and picker trucks as they prepared materials for the upcoming week. This time spent on Saturday mornings quietly instilled a healthy work ethic to lay the foundation for second generation success.

Gary would join the business fulltime in 1974 as an apprentice plumber, followed by Wayne in 1978. The brothers would spend the next several years honing their skills further under the mentorship of Gary, Bill, and Frank with the goal of producing strong leadership in all aspects of their trade ranging from front line work to the management of the operation.

In 1978 E.A. Gellhaus retired leaving a strong, viable operation with a solid ownership group in hand, Gary Hoover, Frank Wilson, and Bill Strong Sr.

Diversification continued to be an important factor in the continued success of the business. Western Poly Gas (Master Mechanical Western Ltd.), the union division was established to facilitate work on high-rise rentals and large commercial projects. This led to key projects, such as: Renaissance Place, Edmonton Space Science Centre (now Telus World of Science), the Van Waters and Rogers Glycol facility, and The Renaissance Phase 1 in Calgary.

With the Alberta oil boom in the rear-view mirror, the 80s began on a sombre note and work in Fort McMurray came to a grinding halt. Fortunately, MMPH had many strong relationships in place that helped the company persevere during those difficult times, relationships that now included: Christenson Developments, Kroening Consultants, Emco (Western Supplies Limited), and Bartle & Gibson. MMPH is happy to continue to rely on these partnerships today, and the company credits these and the many other corporations they work with as key players in MMPH’s continued success.

As always, MMPH focused on their core strengths by continuing to engage in the construction of four-storey walk-ups, completing several projects for Miller Brothers, Can-Der Construction, and Capital Management. With all divisions stretched at capacity, in the early 1980s, a new building to house the expanded MMPH operation was constructed at 18 Street and 76 Avenue.

Then along came the collapse in world oil prices.

Like many companies in Edmonton, MMPH was hit hard by the fallout, but thanks to sound operational practices and key business partnerships, the company was able to retain a highly skilled and abundant (150+) labour force. They were successful in securing several high-profile projects, such as Phase 3 of West Edmonton Mall (completed with PCL), which included: IKEA, Hometown, Cineplex Theatres, Fantasyland Hotel and its Phase 3 parkade. The success with PCL at this project was a key factor in MMPH being chosen as the preferred contractor for the Millwoods Town Centre Mall development.

Gary was welcomed as a partner in 1986 when Frank retired. With the desire to succeed like the others before him, Gary’s effective negotiating and PR skills, along with technical knowledge provided the framework for building strong relationships with developers/contractors.

Over the next decade, MMPH would continue to thrive with more than 2,500 rental/condo units completed for Capital Management, Carrington, Qualico, and Cove Properties. It was also in the mid-90s that Gary Hoover retired, leaving Bill Strong Sr. and Gary Gellhaus to continue the legacy.

The CFB Namao project was instrumental in allowing the company to weather the mid-90s recession. The project was classified as design-build fast track, and spanned nearly three years. The project entailed MMPH coordinating the work with three general contractors: PCL, Ledcor and Stuart Olson. At any one time, in excess of 100 tradespeople were involved in the mechanical scope on site during construction.

The company’s strong foundation allowed for expansion at a time when the economy was shrinking. Led by Gary Gellhaus, MMPH’s Calgary operation was launched in 1995. Mainstreet Developments was a key client in ensuring a healthy start to the new division. A connection with Swan Homes further enabled entrenchment in the multi-family housing niche in the Calgary area.

In addition, a long-term relationship with Clark Builders began with the conversion of the Churchill Building. Several more projects with Clark Builders would follow in the years to come.

As the century turned, Wayne joined the ownership team and he realized the need to maintain the quality of work while competing in a tight market. Led by Wayne, MMPH began to look at alternate methods, steering towards the out-of-the box philosophy they are known for today. The new millennium also ushered in long-term relationships with Abbey Lane Homes and Reifel Cooke Group of Companies. These new partnerships, combined with past relationships, ensured business flourished as 3000+ rental/condo units were completed by 2005.

In the mid 2000’s MMPH teamed up with Abbey Lane to construct the development known as One River Park, and WAM Developments/Dawson Wallace to construct Lessard House, a high-end luxury condo building. Both are still regarded as some of the most sought-after residences in the city.

The new century brought Alberta prosperity – at first. Then in 2008, the American economy crashed hard, sending a shockwave into Canada and touching off what many describe as the “Great Recession.”

The global financial crisis in 2008 had deep, lingering effects that would last some time, the company admits. However, strong ties established with clients allowed MMPH to prevail. With the Grey Cup to be hosted by Edmonton in the fall of 2010, the company successfully completed the addition of the Commonwealth Community Recreation Centre and the renovation to the Edmonton Eskimos Locker Room on a fast-tracked schedule. For Master Mechanical there was a deeper connection to the project in that Fort Services & Ditching completed the civil site services for Commonwealth Stadium when it was originally constructed for the Commonwealth Games held in 1978. The Stadium and the Rec Centre together stand out as an iconic landmark for the City of Edmonton.

Operations in Calgary continued to grow as new relationships emerged with Instautor Group, Leader Contracting, Stuart Olson and Graham Construction. The operation also expanded its reach into Canmore, with the Spring Creek Mountain Village development, and Invermere, BC., with Sable Developments Inc.

As the province climbed out of its latest recession, a new and more industry-diverse economy started forming, but it was business as usual for MMPH. The company continued working with its industry partners while forging new relationships with Traine Construction & Development, Shanghai Construction Group, Rescom Inc., ITC Construction Group, Regency Developments, Morrison Homes, Cedarglen Living, Sarina Homes, and HomeSpace Society.

Which brought things to 2015 and – you guessed it – another recession.

The 2015 crash stalled growth in oil sands production. With unemployment at a high, increased competition became a challenge to overcome on a daily basis. Once again, MMPH found themselves engaging in creative thinking to maintain the quality of work while still remaining competitive. In an effort to further diversify, a new operation, Master Mechanical Systems Ltd. was launched in the fall of 2015 to provide clients with comprehensive preventative maintenance and repair services.

Alberta is built on a boom and bust economy, and it’s a cycle that has seen many strong companies falter. MMPH, however, employs an operational strategy, a family based corporate culture, work ethic, relationship-building values, and a relentless drive for excellence that never fails to see them through. It also helps that the company remains true to its origins. Its grassroots business of four-storey walk-ups and high rises continues to be part of the big picture. MMPH also credits its many subcontractors for assisting in successfully turning over each project to the standard expected by the client. Most importantly, Master Mechanical’s employees have and continue to play a vital role in the success the company has achieved thus far. This would not be possible without the loyalty and dedication of so many valued individuals, both past and present.

The company is always busy, but MMPH still ensures it makes time to give back to the community by supporting causes such as: Ride Don’t Hide, the Semicolon Tattoo Event, Ronald McDonald House, Adopt-A-Teen, A Christmas to Remember, Kelowna Futures Tennis, local minor hockey teams, and more. Donations are made on a regular basis to several charities, including: Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, MS Society of Canada, Alzheimer Society of Canada, and STARS Air Ambulance. MMPH is also proud to lend support to veterans through the Royal Canadian Legion – Alberta and the Canadian Fallen Heroes program.

This year, Master Mechanical is celebrating its 50th year in business, all based on its philosophy to apply out-of-the-box methods as they strive to exceed customers expectations. The total service mission means presenting a complete, turnkey process from design to occupancy that is delivered at a high standard, on time, and on budget.

MMPH has a strong past and an exciting future. What comes next is to position the company properly by providing the next generation with the tools to succeed. Like the generations before them, no matter what Alberta has going on, MMPH is poised to remain steady and stay their course.

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