Leader in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration sectors for over 60 years, The Master Group is the largest independent distributor in Eastern Canada. The company employs close to 650 dynamic and devoted individuals who serve the HVAC-R industry from over 29 branches and 4 distribution centres spanning the Greater Toronto Area eastward to the Maritimes.
The history of the group provides a prime example of Quebec’s entrepreneurial spirit.
The origins of the Master Group go back to 1952, with the creation of Master Refrigeration Supplies to take advantage of the rapid pace of industrial development in Montreal. Under the leadership of owner Guy Forget, the company quickly gains prominence in the refrigeration market. After opening branches in Quebec City and Ottawa in the 1960s, it enters into an exclusive agreement with one of its key suppliers. This partnership with York® marks a turning point in the company’s history.
The trend towards modernization, the surge in the number of shopping centres and concerns arising from the energy crisis of the 1970s present tremendous opportunities for the sale of energy-efficient products such as York® heat pumps and other specialized equipment. To accommodate its growth, the company opens a third branch in Laval.
Master manages to brook the recession of the early 1980s, to increase its share of the air-conditioning market to over 50%. With the opening of branches in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New-Brunswick, the company’s reputation extends to all of Eastern Canada. Operating under a new name, the Master Group, is now a major player in the field of building mechanicals.
The Master Group initiates a rationalization process at the beginning of the 1990s, to offset turmoil in the industry going back to the previous decade. Jean-Guy Lahaie becomes president, with Louis St-Laurent as second-in-command and Michel Ringuet as a new partner. The three men undertake a 90-degree turn, restructuring the company by bringing together its four divisions under a single umbrella. While business thrives thanks to a favorable environment, the shareholders resolve to maintain leadership by aggressively adapting to change. They bring in new talent, computerize their operations, expand their product range and open more branches. Alain Fournier, an influential and long-standing member of the company’s sales force, becomes a partner. At the dawn of the new millennium, Master is the most important independent distributor in Canada in the fields of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration.
If the 1990s were a fast run, the early 2000s are a sprint. Master moves its head office to Boucherville, where it occupies a spacious building (over 100,000 sq. ft.) combining both office space and warehousing facilities. Through a diversification process, the company expands its product range to such an extent that a second distribution centre is soon necessary. Through parallel efforts aimed at consolidating its heating sector, Master blazes a new trail by opening its first specialized branch in Saint-Laurent – the 25,000 sq. ft. facility is largest in its network.
The year 2006 brings changes to Master’s ownership and management structure: Louis St-Laurent becomes president, Michel Ringuet, CEO and Alain Fournier, sales vice-president. Mindful of the challenges facing the industry, the three shareholders decide in 2008 to form a six-member management committee with the mandate to strengthen the company’s operations, increase efficiency, improve controls and enhance the support given to the various departments.
In 2011, strong from its leading position in all of Eastern Canada, Master expands into the Greater Toronto Area with the acquisition of 3 branches. This breakthrough allows Master to take an important step in line with its growth plans into new regional markets and prepares the way for a national platform. That same year Master is named one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies, a business awards program for which it has requalified every year since.
Master takes advantage of the stability of the market to focus on the implementation of an ambitious, but successfully carried out business plan. Master consolidates its operations, particularly in the ventilation and heating sectors with new product lines, a new store dedicated to ventilation in Laval (Quebec), and increased staffing in these areas. In addition, the Group has established itself as a major player in south-western Ontario with the addition of a fourth branch and a distribution center.
The implementation and development as a major player in the Greater Toronto Area, with three branches and recently a satellite distribution centre, and also consolidation of its operations especially in the ventilation and heating sectors. The addition of new complementary product lines, the creation of a new branch dedicated to ventilation in Laval (Québec) and increased staff specialized in this sector, for a single purpose, to better serve our customers.
In March 2014, The Master Group associates with a strategic business partner through the sale of 65% of the company to Novacap Industries, a Quebec firm leader in the field of private investment in Canada. Led by a new team consisting of the actual members of Master’s management and Novacap managers, the company engages in the creation of a progression plan to reach new heights and strengthen its leadership in North America.
An important milestone in this plan is reached in the fall of 2016 as Master acquires the Markham and Oakville branches of Johnson Controls' Unitary Products Group (York®) Ontario division. With its 680 employees and 29 branches firmly established in all eastern Canadian markets, Master is positioned to take the lead of the entire HVAC-R market in Canada.