Over the course of its 31-year history, the mantra for GBPCA member, P.J. Dionne Company, Inc., has been slow, but focused and steady growth. The shop recently relocated from Wilmington into a new, larger building in Woburn that includes a dedicated space for 3-D coordination and prefabrication as well as room for future expansion.
“I never wanted to take on more than we could support,” says Paul Dionne, the company’s founder and president, explaining his careful, calculated business approach. At the same time, he recognized that the industry was evolving and that his shop needed to change with the times. “I knew that if we didn’t get on board with prefab, we were going to miss a segment of the market. We’d be limited, and we wouldn’t be able to compete.”
A third-generation plumber, Dionne graduated from Local 12’s apprentice program and got his license in 1987. He worked for GBPCA contractor, J.C. Cannistraro, but was laid off amid the recession that plagued the early 1990s. He decided to open his own business in 1991.
As with many contractors, Dionne started small as a one-person shop. Early on, however, he turned to his family for assistance. His sister, Karen McCarthy, who serves as senior financial manager, has been running the office almost from the start. Soon after, his brother, Mike Dionne, joined the team as chief estimator. His father, Paul, who is also a Local 12 member, assisted in the office as well but has since retired.
In the 1990s, the company focused largely on tenant fit outs, public construction, and service work. As the projects got bigger and the company began diversifying, the crew of Local 12 plumbers and office staff grew as well. Among the industries the Dionne Company added to its capabilities are healthcare, higher education, and hospitality. The shop has also been doing a lot of work in the burgeoning life sciences field.
In the early 2000s, Dionne says that he started talking about incorporating prefab and exploring the concept. In 2016, the company began investing in coordination and fabrication and brought on a manager with extensive experience to develop and manage the prefab process. As the shop ramped up and began taking on more and bigger projects, it began bursting at the seams of its 12,000-square-foot facility in Wilmington. That precipitated the search for a larger property.
The company’s new site in Woburn is 25,000 square feet, or more than twice as big. Of that, the prefab shop inhabits about 6,000 square feet. According to Dionne, it was important to include all departments, including fabrication, coordination, and the office, under one roof. “We want that connection,” he says. “It’s important for people to be able to physically interact with one another.”
As for taking the financial leap for the expansion, Dionne says he did not consider it a risk. “I saw much more upside than not making the move.”
Case in point: By adding the increased capacity for coordination and prefab, the company has been able to take on jobs such as Seqirus, a lab under construction in Waltham. It would not have been able to meet the large project’s aggressive schedule without the ability to fabricate. Likewise, fabrication allowed the Dionne Company to be competitive for an MIT dormitory project on which it successfully bid and completed.
“Even on jobs that are traditionally built in the field, we always find ways that we can build parts of them in our fab shop,” Dionne notes.
What does his father make of all the prefabrication? “He can’t believe it,” says Dionne, adding that the concept was new, and a few contractors mostly dabbled in it back in his dad’s heyday. “He looks at all the computers in the office now and just shakes his head.”
Dionne says that he is renting out an additional 20,000 square feet in the Woburn building to a tenant but can expand into some or all the space down the road. Not that he is in a rush.
“We want to become as efficient as possible before we take the next step,” says the company president. “There will be future opportunities for growth, but we want to do the best we can with what we now have before we take on any additional challenges.”