Co-Owners of All Around Underground Contractors, Inc. are Jason Barry, CEO and Senior Project Manager, and Bobbie Barry, Vice President as well as the “girl who can get any and all things done.”
All Around Underground Contractors, Inc. is at the ready to install storm drain systems, wetland pods, bio retention basins, infiltration systems, water mains, domestic and irrigation water systems, fire water systems or back flow devices and sewers.
In Greek mythology, King Midas is remembered for his power to turn everything he touched into gold. In time, English speakers adopted the idiom the “Midas touch” to refer to people who have a seemingly uncanny ability to turn every venture into a success.
The Midas touch comes to mind when thinking about Jason Barry. He has a knack for identifying voids in the marketplace and in seizing opportunity—even in distressed economic times.
Barry’s most recent enterprise, since 2006, is All Around Underground Contractors, Inc. (All Around Underground), of Orange, California. He and his wife, Bobbie Barry, are Co-Owners. The company is one of four Barry owns.
His portfolio also includes Waverider Helicopter Tours, Precision Collision and an aircraft leasing and sales business, all based in Southern California. Each, he says, was started because he saw opportunity. While most have to do with his aviation passion, All Around Underground came about because he saw opportunity when much of the construction world was struggling to survive during the Great Recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009.
Today, All Around Underground is an industry leader and flourishing just like his other businesses. And sometimes, he uses them together to offer an extra edge.
“Everything from the ground down we can do,” he says of his company’s role at construction sites.
That includes underground utilities, trenching and excavating for installation of water mains, gas and electrical systems, and underground pipelines; as well as services for storm drain systems, wetland pods, bio retention basins, infiltration systems, water mains, domestic and irrigation water systems, fire water systems and back flow devices and sewers.
All Around Underground specializes in underground utilities for projects ranging from restaurant-size jobs to strip malls, commercial, industrial, new construction and tenant improvements. They also do small track homes, apartments and condos.
“We self-perform 99.5 percent of the job itself,” Barry says. “We have the equipment and ability to do quite a bit in-house.”
The company has also been recognized by Southern California Edison electric company and Southern California Gas Company as Veriforce certified, having fulfilled the study of end-to-end supply chain risk mitigation standards.
“Our business strategy is to complete every job on time and within budget,” says Deanna Broadbent, the company’s Business Development Director. “There are always change orders that may come from the general contractor. But we always stick to our budgets that we give. If we make a mistake, we honor the bid.”
Trust, respect and good communication, Broadbent says, are the foundation with which the team builds bonds with customers and general contractors. All Around Underground generated about $4 million in revenue in 2020, Barry says. The company serves Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the southern portion of Los Angeles County.
“We have used All Around Underground as a subcontractor on several occasions over the last five years,” says Stuart McGilvray, Owner of RBC Construction. “They not only have competitive pricing, but also provide a good level of customer service and quality workmanship. Jason and his team are responsive and have a good understanding of code, sequencing their scope of work and associated coordination activities, and always work with a sense of urgency.”
Barry has been in aviation for most of his adult life. He has flown both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, but helicopters are his preferred method of air transport.
Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky once said of the helicopter: “The helicopter is probably the most versatile instrument ever invented by man. It approaches closer than any other to fulfillment of mankind’s ancient dreams of the flying horse and the magic carpet.”
Barry concurs. And while many companies today are using drones to take pictures of construction sites, Barry prefers his helicopter.
“You can’t ride in a drone,” he jokes. In addition to taking aerial photos, he can also pick up a superintendent at a site and “be somewhere in a matter of minutes. They just love it.”
Barry is also a pilot for Mercy Flights, Inc., a medical transport service.
Helicopters are the source of two other business interests of the Barrys. Waverider Helicopter Tours bills itself as Southern California’s premier helicopter tour company, providing panoramic views of the beaches of San Diego and Orange counties and the Temecula Valley Wine Country.
Barry also dabbles in aircraft sales and leasing through Hangar 21 at Fullerton Airport. Hangar 21, owned by Alex Freidin (Barry leases helicopters to him), doubles as an event venue. For Christmas a year ago, the Barrys rented the facility for a party, which included helicopter rides for employees, family and All Around Underground customers and prospective customers.
“It was a blast,” Barry says. “I flew for about the first hour. When it came time for fuel, I shut it down and let the other pilot take over. That was fun, it really was.” The plan was to do it again for Christmas 2020, but the pandemic crashed the party.
Beyond the helicopter businesses, Barry also has property rentals and a body shop, Precision Collision in Orange, California.
Asked how he balances all his work demands, he says, “I don’t know. It’s not easy sometimes.”
But with an already full load, Barry turned his attention to underground utilities. He had experience in construction and saw an opportunity to do underground construction better and differently.
“Pipes seemed interesting,” he says.
To that end, he immersed himself in the study of the business, “hanging out with the right people and making contacts. I spent about a year trying to get a lot of information and then [later] hiring people who know more than I did.”
He kicked off the business in 2006, but not full time. “I was trying to just get in…set the stage to grow,” Barry says. And then, “2008 happened.” The Great Recession turned out to be the Great Wall for construction, stopping much of it in its tracks. For the next couple of years, Barry kept his license, insurance and other business essentials active, even though, “there wasn’t a whole lot of business out there.”
“A water service here and there,” he says. “I wanted to stay alive. We weren’t even breaking even.”
The data tells the tale. An examination of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by Construction Dive newsletter found that between 2007 and 2013 the number of construction firms fell from 891,032 to 743,452, a 16.6 percent loss His body shop was taking a hit, too. Instead of using insurance checks to fix cars, prospective customers, burdened by circumstances of economic distress, were cashing them for more pressing needs, such as rent and the pantry.
Yet, during the doom days he was preparing for another, better day.
A friend turned him on to selling generators, dirt compactors and other construction equipment, buying them for pennies on the dollar and doubling and sometimes tripling his money.
“I did that for a couple of years to survive,” Barry says. “That also got me in the mix of meeting people with tools.”
“I was buying equipment,” Barry says. “People were hurting for money. I was buying concrete saws, compaction equipment, air compressors and trailers…just stuff I knew I needed when the right deal came along. I bought my first two trucks that way from a company that decided to shut down. I sold one truck a year and a half ago for exactly what I paid for it in 2009. Not a bad deal.”
One concrete saw he came across was worth at least $15,000 new, he notes, Barry says he made the purchase for under $1,000.
“There is always a tool to make your job easier,” Barry says. “Not all of them are worth the money, but most of them are. If it makes sense, I want to get one.”
In 2010, the right deal came along.
This is how the Midas touch works for Barry, one business helping the other. In 2010, an elderly woman came into his body shop and struck up a conversation while her vehicle was being worked on. That chance meeting changed the trajectory of All Around Underground Contractors.
“Her son was an excavator operator who was unemployed at the time. I said, ‘I would like to talk to him.’ ” Together, they started bidding on jobs, and “we started getting them,” Barry says.
At one time, the company employed as many as 15, though Barry prefers a leaner operation. Today, he has 10 employees while retaining the ability to do large-scale projects.
“Our niche is commercial fast food, strip malls, storage facilities and restaurants,” Barry says.
Raising Cane’s, the franchise eatery that specializes in fried chicken strips, has been a repeat customer for stores in Southern California, 30 in total, Broadbent says. The same with Dunkin’ Donuts and International House of Pancakes. Broken Yolk Cafe and Extra Space Storage have also used All Around Underground for a number of projects.
Since kicking back off in earnest in 2010, Barry says, “We’ve done well ever since.”
According to ratings put together by BuildZoom, an online construction consultant, All Around Underground ranks in
the top 10 percent of the more than 336,000 contractors licensed in California.
The pandemic caused more complications than a canceled Christmas party, Barry says. Everything hit the brakes, he says, specifically at city offices. What was once a quick permit process all of the sudden started to drag. Building inspectors wouldn’t even go into buildings, even vacant ones.
Finally, things are getting back to normal and the company is ready for the next chapter.
“We’re all about relationship building. We’re relationship driven,” says Broadbent. “That’s really important to us. We’re really easy to work with because we have so many relationships,” Broadbent says. “There are a lot of different aspects to deal with in underground construction—different permits, dig alerts, etc. We have a really good reputation in the industry.”
Some would call it the Midas touch.