By Deb Boucher Stetson
Before there was Robies Heating and Cooling, there was “Robie,” aka Gerry Robichaud, who back in the 1950s began helping local restaurants and other businesses with refrigeration. Having worked with another local firm, the Cape native launched Robies Refrigeration out of his Yarmouth home, and soon he had enough business to hire a couple of friends to help out. Fast forward to 2018, and Robies is a thriving operation with 45 employees, a fleet of 35 vehicles and a newly-redone headquarters on Yarmouth Road in Hyannis. In addition to refrigeration, it sells, installs and services heating, air conditioning and air quality systems as well as automatic standby generators. Cape Cod’s only factory-authorized Carrier dealer, Robies has won the Carrier President’s Award for the last two years.
“Robie” and his wife of 60 years, Virginia “Ginny” Robichaud, who was also involved with the business, have both passed away, but they would be proud to know Robies is still very much a family business. Gerry’s son John Robichaud, who joined the business after graduating from college, serves as president. His brother Jim is a veteran sales associate with significant expertise and experience in the field and John’s two sons Michael and Stephen are in key positions as well. John says the family members work well together. “I haven’t come across any downside. Both kids have been very easy to work with,” he says. “It’s about temperament and patience.”
His son Stephen, who joined the firm four years ago, says he enjoys working with his dad, his brother and his uncle. “I know it is rare for a family business for everyone to get along, but we really do,” he says. Having worked in sales for two other local firms, Cape Cod Broadcasting and Hyannis Marina, Stephen joined the family business in 2014. “I don’t think I would have made the move if my dad wasn’t running the company,” he said, adding that his mom, Joanne, encouraged him to go for it. He was also eager for the chance to work with his brother, Michael, who is the firm’s lead duct work installer. “He was born with tools in his hands,” John says of Michael. The two young men are part of a team that John is very proud of. “I can’t say enough about the team members we have now,” he says. “What a great group of people we have.” Key among them, John says, is General Manager Curt Donelan, who has been with the company more than 16 years. “I wouldn’t be able to run the company without him,” John says.
He notes those team members have a broad age spectrum, from 16 to 60s. The youngest are interns, part of a program Robies has developed to nurture the next generation of HVAC techs and meet the challenge of maintaining a qualified labor pool. Feature Story The Robies team. “We are very involved with the local schools,” Stephen says, especially Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich. “We had three interns this summer. They are the future.”
Among the company’s year-round employees are some up-and-coming young professionals. John reports that Installation Manager Cameron Natale, 31, was recently recognized as one of 40 under 40 top HVACR (Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration) professionals in the nation. Service manager Lindsay Dillon, at 30, is “one of our rock stars,” Stephen says. “A female running the service department with an army of men—it’s phenomenal to see the great relationship she has with them.” Talking about his own role, John says he is a big-picture leader. “Curt handles most of the day-to-day operations,” he says. “My role is to see trends. I believe in being proactive and keeping up with all the technology the industry has evolved into. And we’re probably top on the Cape for companies that introduce technology into homes.”
Robies has always strived to keep up with the times, John says, noting that his father, having Feature Story started with refrigeration, “decided to branch off into air-conditioning,” which was key to the company’s growth. It was, he explains, a natural pairing. “Refrigeration and air-conditioning go hand in hand; it’s the same technology, the same physics,” says John, who studied electrical engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology before deciding to join the family business.
In the 1960s, he notes, “The airconditioning business just took off.” Just as his father expanded from refrigeration to air-conditioning, John added generators to the company’s repertoire. “As we’ve evolved, one of the biggest things has been standby generators,” John says. “I made the decision 15 years ago to get into that. Now I can’t keep generators in the building. It’s like air conditioning 50 years ago—look at how that’s evolved.” Whether it’s a heating system, air-conditioning or a generator, John says, the company is guided by a philosophy of quality and efficiency. “It’s very important for us to put in the highest technology, the highest efficiencies, because they have the highest rebates,” he explains. “We have to educate customers.
They get sticker shock when they see the price, but then when you start to factor in rebates and incentives it brings the price down … and you reap the benefits day in and day out.” The company works mostly with individuals, plus “a handful of excellent builders and contractors,” John says. And, true to its roots, the company still services commercial refrigeration “for a select group of restaurants and resorts.” In the firm’s early days, its vehicles were yellow, because “Robie” first worked with Rusty’s, another long-time heating and airconditioning company on the Cape. “When he and Rusty went their separate ways, that’s when he added the red,” John says of his father.
Today, Robies is known for its fleet of bright yellow and red trucks, on the road to serve customers from Truro to Plymouth. While the firm may be known for its distinctive trucks, John says it is also known for its history and integrity, or as Stephen puts it, “Doing what we say we’re going to do.” “We offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee,” says John, “and we mean it.”