By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
Mike Brestle’s great-grandfather did some work with Thomas Edison. That’s some pretty good pedigree to have on your side when you’re running an electric company.
Brestle, who himself has some notoriety as a former all-state football player at Holy Spirit High School, has been running Calvi Electric for a long time now after taking over for his father, George Brestle, who remains the company’s CEO. Mike Brestle is the president, and he recently made a big announcement — for the first time ever, Calvi Electric is serving residential homes.
Part of the decision to launch a brand new residential division is because Calvi Electric — like just about every other business in South Jersey — has had to adapt to the changing landscape that is the COVID-19 pandemic. Casinos were, for decades, a staple of Calvi’s business model, but with Atlantic City’s casinos shuttered for so long last year, Calvi has had to adapt. It has done so by adding a sign division and a solar division, and now a residential division that Brestle hopes can capitalize on the booming housing market.
“We’ve been around for 112 years, four generations, and the relationships you make along the way, quality work and attention to detail. Our name is an acronym, actually — CALVI, Cooperative Attitudes Lead to Valuable Impressions. We’ve prided ourselves on that, which is why our service is probably the best around,” Brestle said. “This is something new for us. We’ve been around for more than 100 years (but never went residential). For years, we never had to go residential because we helped build the casinos, and 80 to 90 percent of our work was in the casinos. But in 2013, we knew they weren’t going to keep building new casinos, so we expanded out all the way to the bridges (in Philadelphia), over to Cumberland County.”
Nothing is what it was 20 or 30 years ago with Atlantic City’s casinos but Calvi has the kind of staff and leadership that can adapt to changes in the business landscape.
There isn’t a better time for an electric company to dive into residential service. Home builders are struggling to find electricians, Brestle said, because they are so busy. There are several factors that have played into that scenario, from low interest rates to people flocking from cities to the South Jersey suburbs because more people are able to work from home because of the pandemic.
“We’re hoping we can fill a need and see where it goes,” said Charles “Chick” Deveney, who was recently promoted to Calvi’s vice president. “This is another venture that gives our business some diversity. People are leaving the cities and buying homes and making that their home office and working from there. We saw a need for dependable, reliable electrical work from a company that has been around for a long time — and we’re it.”
“Home building is blowing up right now. If you take a ride down Absecon Island, there are new houses going up on every block it seems. The builders are all saying they are having a tough time getting electricians because everybody is so busy. It’s a COVID thing — a lot of people are putting money into their houses. They have their house and might have to be in it longer than they anticipated, so they want to make it more livable, or they want to expand a little bit,” Brestle said. “A lot of people are getting rid of their apartments in New York and moving to the Hamptons, Florida, the South Jersey suburbs. Especially now that so many people can work virtually, a lot of them are doing that. People know we are a dependable, reliable company that is not going to do something the cheap way. People know we’re going to do it right the first time and live up to the Calvi standard.”
So much about business success these days is the ability to adapt and explore new ways to generate income.
“If you’re not strategizing and making moves, one ahead of the next, you’re going to fall behind. We’re always looking at what we can do to improve. When I first got into the business, our service department had about four guys in it. After I took that over we were running more than 25 guys out of the service department. Then we saw a need for solar, so we started a solar division. We saw a need for signs as some sign companies were going out of business — I was offered a chance to bid on the sign package outside of the one of the casinos, and I said, ‘heck yeah!’ We went and got that, and when one of the companies went out of business, we hired all their guys. Now we maintain virtually every sign outside all the casinos in Atlantic City,” Brestle said. “We were three months into a huge job at a prison in Cumberland County, we come in on a Monday morning and they say they are cancelling the job. That job went away, and that was a big one, but there are some good things on the horizon in Atlantic City with El Dorado buying Caesars and Harrah’s and Tropicana. So there’s a lot of good things happening. There’s a medical office building coming to Ohio Avenue and it looks like this water park is going to happen. Stockton is building more housing. So, it looks promising. We’re hoping for the opportunity to bid on some of these projects.”
Brestle said Calvi Electric absolutely is ready for the challenge of branching out into a residential division. Not only does the company carry the weight of a powerful name in South Jersey business, but they now have the ability to bring decades of quality work into people’s homes at a competitive price.
“This is branching out of a new division that can capture a market that I feel is a place where we’re needed. One of my guys who has worked for us for more than 20 years is going to run (the residential division) and that will be his main focus,” Brestle said. “Daily operations won’t change around here, we’ll just have a few more guys working for us. Our service department will continue to serve our existing customers and a new service department will be starting to take care of the residential and light commercial. We’ll start off with a couple of crews right away and we’ll expand as needed. I’m pretty confident that will happen.”
“We’re hoping to change the perception that may have been the case before that we are overpriced, that people maybe can’t hire the top tier company — but we’ll be providing quality guys at an affordable price,” said Deveney, who started at Calvi Electric as a teenage apprentice back in the 1980s. “I think that will be appealing to people, knowing we’ll show up and that it will be a good job that gets done. We have a sign division, we do solar. We have a number of things we provide that can be appealing to people, so you can call us and we can cover a number of bases for you.”
One thing that won’t change in 2021 is Calvi’s commitment to community, and supporting great causes throughout South Jersey, from youth sports teams to charitable companies and events.
“For the last 60 years we’ve supported every organization, club or group you can think of. You have to give back,” Brestle said. “My dad has always been very philanthropic and that’s just something you should do. If you’re successful and making money, you have to give back to the community and give everyone in the area a chance — sponsor a sports team, or Gilda’s Club, whatever you can do. That’s definitely important to us.”
Another thing that won’t change is the people who have made Calvi such a successful company. People like Joseph Calvi Jr., Charles Bauernhuber, Andrew Brestle, Victor Dawson, Marc Murgo, Kenneth Bishop, Robert Cullen, Henry Beckman Jr., Kenneth Ballard Jr., Michelle Broadbent, Shannon Askins, Gina McCloskey and Sharon Woerner.
And, of course, Deb McAuliffe, Calvi’s office manager, secretary and treasurer, who has been on staff now for 43 years.
“This is like my family,” she said.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays