When Gerri Domenikos was growing up, she always figured that she would go into the family’s commercial heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration business.
After all, she had been involved with Bayside Refrigeration (now AirLogix) since she was 5.
Her father, a Greek immigrant, had founded the company in their home in Bayside in 1984 two years after she was born.
To make it a success, he had to work all the time, and the only way he could see Gerri was to take her with him on his jobs.
“I used to ride with him on service calls,” she says. “I would pass him tools as he was making repairs. I spent a lot of time in the evenings sitting at diner counters being entertained by waitresses.”
In the intervening years, Gerri helped out in a variety of ways, doing everything from filing papers to answering the phones.
So she was more than taken aback when her father told her to go work somewhere else.
“The company had always been a part of my life,” she says. “He told me he wanted me to see how other companies worked. I was offended. OK, I was 18, and I was pissed.”
As she says this, Gerri, a serenely calm woman with a never-give-up attitude, smiles.
As it turned out, her ouster from the company that was like her second sibling turned out to be a very good thing.
“I’m so happy my father did that because it expanded my horizons,” she says.
After working her way through Hofstra University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in management, and Pace University, where she earned an MBA, Gerri embarked upon what she assumed would be a lifelong career with Fortune 500 companies.
But after a decade, she was looking for a change. It just so happened that her father also was looking. He was building a database and needed a project manager, so Gerri joined the team in 2009, three years after AirLogix moved to Astoria from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In 2010, Gerri became an owner, and when a work-related injury in 2012 forced her father to retire early, she took over. In 2014, her younger brother, Gabe, also joined the company full time.
“This was a trying time because everything was in transition,” she says. “But I learned so much.”
The company Gerri runs has 60 employees and 39 trucks. It installs and services HVAC and refrigeration units for commercial, industrial and institutional clients in the five boroughs as well as in Long Island, Westchester and New Jersey.
Recently, AirLogix began offering custom appliances through a partner in Europe.
“This allows us to create fixtures that fit into unique spaces,” Gerri says. “It gives designers and architects a lot more leeway.”
Gerri, who generally works 60 to 70 hours a week, recently cut her schedule to five days a week.
“I still work the same number of hours,” she says. “The time just flows. I don’t count hours – I’m done when I’m done, which generally means I stay until 7 or 8 p.m. During the winter, there’s no necessity for me to work on weekends, but in the summer, I might as well put a bed in the office.”
She sees a lot of opportunities for her MWBE-certified business to grow.
“I love this business, and I feel very connected to it,” she says. “But at some point, I want to make myself obsolete – I want to turn this into a turnkey operation.”
Doing so would allow Gerri, who is 37, to have a social life (she’s single and has no children) and would give her the opportunity to take a short vacation every once in a while.
“This doesn’t mean that I would ever leave AirLogix,” she says. “In the next five years, I want to position the business so it doesn’t take 100 percent of my time. I want to be able to pursue other projects while I’m here.”
She mentions creating a program that teaches teenagers, especially young women, how to handle money.
“I want young people to realize that saving money doesn’t mean that you have to deny yourself everything,” she says.
She doesn’t have a specific idea for implementing this plan, but she knows it will come together when the time is right.
For now, though, she’s content to be “married to the business.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019. Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at NRuhling@gmail.com, @nancyruhling, nruhling on Instagram, nancyruhling.com, astoriacharacters.com.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling