Tetra Mechanical Today
From the beginning, the company has been in the commercial refrigeration business. As time went by and air conditioning became affordable by homeowners, the company focus evolved to include this relatively ‘new’ part of the industry into its offerings. Today Tetra continues serving both the commercial and residential marketplace, though Kent says most of it is now in air conditioning.
‘The refrigeration business is very demanding and very hard,’ he explains. ‘It requires dedicating long hours and lots of supervision. Frankly, it was too grueling, and I just couldn’t teach people how to do refrigeration fast enough. Plus, there are other companies dedicated to the refrigeration business that can do a much better job than us.
‘So, we focus on commercial and residential air conditioning.’
Tetra’s revenues are split 50-50 between them. Almost all of that is service/replacement work with maybe 1% from new construction. The company has 10 vehicles (though they are down to nine right now because one of their heavy-duty trucks was recently stolen). Of the nine, five vehicles are currently active.
Three of the active trucks are dedicated to commercial and the others are a blend. ‘That,’ says Donnelly, ‘is fluid. We change it around as we need.’
Struggling to Break Barriers
Kent Donnelly describes himself as always having a great love of figuring things out and was keen to measure and test out whatever he was working on. Even as a 17-year-old, who took over the business after his father suffered a heart attack, his love was on the tech side of things and he says he had no idea how to run a business.
‘This is my biggest weakness and I struggle with it to this day,’ he says. ‘I looked at what I did as a craft and absolutely loved it. I often worked for free, doing favors for clients and friends. It was fun! It never dawned on me during the early years that I had skills that very few others did, and those skills had a value.’
But taking on the business side of things was, in his words, a baptism by fire, forged in the crucible of hard knocks. The day he took over, he was thrown into the middle of a very large commercial refrigeration project and had to learn on the fly how to price, project-manage, and keep control of the job site.
‘One of my biggest struggles today is how to sustain growth. We vacillate between $5 and $8 million in gross revenues annually. Then I stumble. I get knocked down to around $1.5 million and have to start over. This has caused me to focus, in the last five years, on learning how to be a better business person.’
This resulted in the business being on track at the beginning of 2020 to hit $5 million in revenues. Donnelly says he runs a staff of 12 people.
Then, like every other business in America today, the COVID Pandemic combined with the shelter-in-place directives changed everything. Now he says he hopes to hit $3 million in 2020.
‘Every year it’s like I get to a point and then hit a barrier or a wall.’
To overcome that barrier, he says he knows that both business and technical training are a must and he is committed to making that happen for himself and his co-workers.
Education and Training
While still working for his father, Kent says his Dad encouraged him to attend college and study computer/electrical engineering. Reluctantly he did but says it didn’t grab him the way mechanical work did. Even though he earned an associate degree and later attended UCLA for mechanical engineering, he says that his best education was from professionals in the field, from on-the-job experiences.
‘Back then, field technicians were craftsmen and from them, he learned that everything had to be measured, baselines established, and understanding the meaning behind those measurements was vital.
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