Business has changed in the last 100 years for Tessier’s.
But everything else — the core values of the company, the company’s First Avenue and Kimball Street location in Mitchell and the dedicated nature of its work — remains at the heart of the operation.
The company, which has become a mechanical contracting, sheet metal fabrication and heating, ventilation and air conditioning stalwart, is marking a century in business, now spanning the Midwest.
Tessier’s Chairman Gopal Vyas, who has worked for the company for 42 years, said the dedication to workmanship, meeting customer’s needs and staying on the cutting edge of technology have been keys to the business.
“There’s certain things we do a lot better than other contractors, and that’s something we showcase,” Vyas said.
To celebrate, the business will have a 100-year open house on July 25 from 4 to 7 p.m., with a short program at 5:30 p.m. at its 218 E. First Ave. location.
Vyas credits much of the company’s success to its 200-plus employees, which span offices in South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota. About 75 of the company's employees are based in Mitchell.
“We believe in teamwork; we know that a team is always better than an individual,” he said. “You wouldn’t be able to have 100 years of operation if we didn’t have great employees, and we have that.”
The company was started in 1919 by Roy Tessier as Tessier Sheet Metal Works, with a focus on roofing, and it has been located at the corner of First and Kimball for all 100 years of its existence, slowly expanding on nearby property as the opportunities arose. Gus Splitt helped Tessier build the business, and in the mid-1940s, their sons, Evan Tessier and Doug Splitt, each worked alongside their fathers, eventually becoming owners themselves.
It was in the 1950s that Tessier’s business would change forever. Prior to then, the company did a lot of sheet metal and roofing work and selling oil furnaces. That was when residential air conditioning began to be introduced, and it wasn’t long after that Tessier’s changed the course of its business from roofing to HVAC.
In 1983, the company shortened its name to Tessier’s Inc., and Vyas and Evan Tessier’s son-in-law, Mark Buche, each became owners in 1986. Buche, the third generation of the Tessier family to have ownership in the company, retired as president in 2010 after 38 years of service to Tessier’s.
In 2007, Tessier’s was sold to API Group, which is based in New Brighton, Minnesota and is the parent company of more than 40 independently managed specialty construction companies. Tessier's remains headquartered in Mitchell, something Vyas said has always made sense because of the company’s roots and heritage here.
Vyas and Tessier's also stress safety, and reminders are apparent all over the company’s main factory floor, including a large banner that declares “safety as the No. 1 priority” for the company.
Today, Tessier’s sells air conditioners and furnaces — it has sold Lennox products for 65 years — but a large part of the business is the company’s commercial and industrial work, which can span from the design, building and installation phases. The company’s notable work has included the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, the Cathedral of St. Joseph’s and the Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Other projects include schools, hospitals, government buildings, manufacturing facilities, prisons and office buildings.
Big steps forward
Tessier’s has an advanced set of technology, starting in the design area. Sandy Neugebauer works as the company’s computer-aided design building information modeling coordinator. At her office, she works in front of two 48-inch monitors that can 3D map and model a particular project and fit together all of the various elements that go into an HVAC setup, from air systems to heating and cooling units to vents and pipes.
She’s also looking for any possible conflicts where items can’t fit or conflicts with plumbing or electrical work, and her mapping is precise down to the exact hanging pieces to install each item. All of that work makes installing items on site much easier.
“Technology is awesome,” said Neguebauer, who is in her 15th year with Tessier’s and joked that she commonly has to fit 5 feet worth of equipment into a 3-foot space. “We’re the only contractor in South Dakota that has the capability to do this.”
Vyas joked that Neugebauer is the boss on a lot of projects, because she’s positioning ductwork that is frequently the bulkiest part of a project plan and has to fit. The computer-aided design — something Tessier's has done for nearly 25 years and 10 years in its current format — also helps cut down on time.
Her work for the Avera On Louise health care campus in Sioux Falls — which includes $174 million in building projects — was mapped out in about four months. Vyas and Neugebauer estimated that advance planning saves years on a building project of that size, and Vyas said it’s a great example of how much the business has changed in his 42 years.
“You had a pencil and a ruler, and you took those jobs off by hand, and you’re putting it all together and calculating materials and labor,” he said. “It took such a long time, and everything in the shop was hand-operated.”
That is no longer the case in the shop. Tessier’s shop foreman Brian Oftedahl, himself a 41-year veteran of the business, estimated that as much as 40 percent of the shop work is now automated. Those advances include an automated coil line, which can shape sheet metal for projects like ductwork and venting in 7 to 10 seconds. The coil line machine holds 10,000-pound coils of sheet metal, each of them 5 feet wide.
The large rolls have replaced dozens of racks that previously held sheet metal, which were large, cumbersome, and led to a lot of waste. Laser and plasma cutters, many of them automated, cut down on much of that waste today, Vyas said.
The facility, according to Tessier’s, can produce more than 1.2 million pounds of galvanized ductwork annually, and automation has helped Oftedahl and his crew send multiple semi-truck loads of product out each week, something that didn’t used to happen.
The company’s fabricators and welders can build a number of different and customized products as well, from catwalks and ladders to stacks to industrial fan silencers, chutes, tanks and bins. Oftedahl said one unique project they’re working on currently is a custom support system for a deck that will wrap around a house in the Black Hills.
“The deck is probably as big, if not bigger than the house,” he said.
Vyas said it’s hard to know what the future of the company will hold, but he said knows the first 100 years of business can be a pretty good guide.
“You have to take calculated risks, and if you take the risks that are undue, that will take you out of business,” he said. “You have to be resourceful and stable. ... I know we will always take care of our employees first.”