Brigantino Irrigation experienced stability and growth over the past two years, a period when many businesses slowed down or faced closure. The company is not only expanding its Prospect Avenue retail operation in Hollister, but has added a location north of King City and has picked up large projects throughout the region.
Owner Ralph Brigantino said he credited the company’s success to loyal employees and service diversity. With irrigation products and parts becoming harder to find, Brigantino said employees have taken the extra steps to find needed supplies. Its array of services, which includes offerings for area agriculture as well as home landscaping, has helped keep business steady while other segments of the economy were slowing down.
“At the beginning it was a little scary because there were a lot of unknowns,” Brigantino said. “A couple million dollars’ worth of stuff got cancelled in one day.”
Brigantino said his team entered the pandemic with a few projects to keep his field crews going. Though their main agriculture customers had to cancel large projects, the company’s retail store saw a spike in business from landscapers and homeowners.
“We’re very diverse,” Brigantino said. The company stocks a range of supplies from electrical conduits to water systems for cattle, orchards and row crops. In addition to serving plant-based water needs, it can also work on pipes for fire hydrants, restaurants and gas stations.
“All of a sudden our store was busier than it’s ever been,” Brigantino said. “Homeowners were home doing projects. By the end of the year the numbers were great. It was different, but it was great.”
Brigantino was started in 1983 by Ralph’s father, and Ralph himself took a larger role at the company in 2011, becoming owner in 2017. The company has 24 employees split between the store and its field operations.
The shop’s inventory has not only helped crews working on projects, but it’s allowed Brigantino to have stock for needs that suddenly arise.
“When farmers want something, you have to do it now, the crops can’t wait for water,” Brigantino said. “It’s not like we can say, ‘Give me four days to order a part.’ We’ve got to fix it that day or the next day. We have it right here.”
The same is true with homeowners.
“If a homeowner comes here on Saturday and that’s his only day to fix something, and you don’t have it, he’s probably going to run to Gilroy to get it because he wants to fix it that day,” Brigantino said. “It’s really important to have that inventory.”
One advantage for agriculture is that supplies don’t all come from overseas.
“A lot of the ag materials, like PVC pipe, drip tape, aluminum pipe, it’s all manufactured in California,” Brigantino said. “It’s all domestic. The resin comes from Louisiana and Texas.”
Brigantino said the trouble for agriculture comes in other parts of the supply chain, such as the shortage of workers at manufacturers and distributors, as well as a lack of truck drivers.
That’s where Brigantino said his employees rose to the occasion. If a customer had a need, competitors might have said they couldn’t get the item, but Brigantino said his team would hustle to locate an item, contacting six different manufacturers just to complete the order.
Going the extra distance in this way got him to consider a 5,000-square-foot expansion to the main Hollister location last winter and the opening of a shop near King City last summer.
This will help Brigantino serve a growing population in Hollister and to take on projects with large vineyards in Salinas Valley.
In October, Brigantino crews began work on a $9 million, three-year project to install pipe to replace 80,000 feet of vineyard canals near King City, the largest project the company has worked on. Brigantino hired a project manager and a new crew to work out of King City, and they will be joined by two crews from Hollister.
While that work is on an existing vineyard, Brigantino has also secured a project in Paso Robles at a new 400-acre vineyard. He also has crews working on row crops again as lettuce farmers have restarted projects.
Through the ups and downs of the past years, Brigantino said he noticed a pattern that plays out in the economy which keeps the company in business.
“When the economy is doing good, ag doesn’t do too good, and then for some reason when the economy slows down, ag thrives,” Brigantino said. “We’re pretty safe the way we stay busy all the time. We were considered essential during the lockdowns so we were able to stay open.”
Brigantino said the pandemic came with the standard list of safety procedures such as masks and social distancing, but he also had a message for his team.
“I told my employees at the beginning, ‘Look, we’re all going to get through this. If you get sick or someone in your family gets sick, go home and take care of yourself and your paychecks won’t change,’” Brigantino said. “I think everybody here is proud to work here and feel invested in the company.”
One concern with the unsteady economy is the price of supplies, and Brigantino said that has begun to affect agriculture. Some prices have gone up 45%, while other materials have gone up more than 100%.
“People are still buying it, but at some point are they going to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to hold off on this project because it’s so expensive,’” he said.
Brigantino said that row crop farmers, for example, work on contract, meaning that if the supply chain causes the price to go up at the supermarket, the farmer doesn’t see a pay increase. If a farmer has a surge in production costs because of something like a 55% price increase in drip tape, it cuts into their contracted earnings. Combined with increased costs in fertilizer and fuel, it could mean they have no budget to consider projects such as pipe upgrades.
Brigantino said his team can help anyone from a homeowner looking to install sprinklers or septic systems, up to owners of hundreds of acres looking for water troughs and irrigation.
The company’s service area has been expanding, as well. They currently operate the region from Watsonville to Paso Robles, but sometimes in Napa, Chico or Grass Valley as well. The latter areas have been for deliveries of storage tanks, something Brigantino said has become a popular item recently.
Brigantino said growth is possible now, but wants to make sure the company doesn’t overreach during an unpredictable economy.
“I don’t go out and buy a tractor and get a new crew then go out and look for work, the work’s got to be there, then we invest,” Brigantino said. “The forecast looks really good, especially with vineyards. The vineyard market is going up.”
One product area of expansion Brigantino said he’s looking into is fertilizers and pesticides. In more distant plans, he said he would like to expand the King City location to include a retail shop similar to Hollister.
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