MY FATHER WAS A PLUMBER
…and he was a great plumber. He used to take me with him when I was little and let me pretend to help. So I suppose it was in my blood from the start. I’ve always just had a knack when it came to working hard and doing it right the first time and fixing things for people.
I tried school, but it didn’t really work for me. I had A.D.D. pretty bad. I was a good athlete, but a not-so-good student. And at 16 years old I quit school and started working for my father as a full-time plumber. It was 1976.
After I turned 18, my parents filed for divorce, and for the next 20 years we really didn’t speak much.
At age 20 I started working with an in-home plumbing service business called Pasadena Plumbing. It was owned by a guy named Jess Brizzi. Well the old man took a liking to me and became a sort of father figure. He was tough and gruff and direct, but never mean-spirited.
SOMETHING ABOUT BOB
I worked with this guy named Bob, a truly great plumber who happened to drink way too much (back when there were still great plumbing technicians who could be alcoholics and get away with it I suppose). But all our customers loved Bob, and I mean LOVED him. Why? He knew how to SERVE people.
So I learned a lot about customer service from Bob. I realized that being a happy, upbeat employee makes happy, upbeat customers. Many people would choose to wait longer just to have us take care of their plumbing problem. And people really loved the old man.
So at age 27 I got my Master Plumber’s License and became a full-grown plumber.
STARTING A BUSINESS
I remember it was on March 28th, 1989 – a guy working for a general plumbing contractor asked me to help start his business with him. So I did. But we definitely took our lumps for the first 3 or 4 years.
When I turned 32 in 1993 I had 2 trucks and took out a yellow pages ad, and really started learning about all aspects of how to DO business. By 1994 I’d added a few more trucks.
That same year I learned 3 big business rules:
Rule #1: Competent leaders hire competent employees. So if you have someone incompetent working for you, then YOU are incompetent too.
Rule # 2: FOCUS is most often the key to success.
Rule #3: Never think you know enough; Be humble enough to continually educate yourself, and NEVER STOP LEARNING!
THEN, ALONG CAME KENNY
So I paid real attention to Rule #1 and hired this young man named Kenny Newman, which ended up being the best business decision of my life, looking back on it, since he’s not only still working with me after all these years, but now I’ve actually handed over the reins of my business to him! He’s THAT brand of Competent.
I trained him in business, but the Kennster brought gifts all his own: gifts of Loyalty, Leadership, and being genuinely Good, genuinely CARING about people. Stuff you can’t teach.
TOTALLY IGNORING RULE #2
So I nailed Rule #1, but then completely ignoring Rule #2 I decided to start up an AC and Heating business in 1995, and we lost about $115K that first year. It was brutal.
But we didn’t give up on it. We responded by sending out a letter with really true, useful information in it, for free. The letter started with, “Don’t call any plumber or HVAC tech until you read these FACTS…” I gave away info people didn’t know and that I thought they DESERVED to know. And well, as a result of that letter, my phone started ringin’ off the hook.
BECOMING BEN FRANKLIN: Plumb Genius
Then (in another huge move based on Rule #1) in 2006 I merged my businesses with the great Ben Franklin Plumbers, and One Hour Heating and Air, sister companies literally born from the idea of “extreme competence” and achieving true excellence in service. They operated from standards that mirrored our own.
Kenny and I became a powerhouse team, leading a powerhouse Team.
When the crash of 2008 hit, we didn’t flinch. We responded by actually increasing our marketing budget by 40%. (Like I said, I’ve always done things differently, my own way).
And Kenny helped us all through that time, helping build an internal culture around bringing employees together like a team, and treating our team like FAMILY, just as I’d been taught to treat my customers.
Every victory is shared, everyone is listened to and everyone is always encouraged, rewarded, and given free training to further knowledge and rise as high as they can within the company.
THE “JUSTIN AWARD”
One example, and the story I’ll close with is, we had this employee for years named Justin (Tucker), who was a beloved part of our team family. One Christmas we found out that Justin had fixed someone’s unit for free and paid for it out of his own pocket, because the family was struggling. And it was Christmas. But Justin didn’t stop there; He then took up donations and used them to make sure this customer’s kids had Christmas presents that year. No one told Justin to do that. That’s just who he was.
So now, we have what we call the “Justin Award,” which we give to special employees who go way above and beyond their duty to help a customers, or do something extraordinary serving others. Because that’s ultimately what great business IS.
OUR #1 GOAL, SERVING YOU…
Our first goal is not “doing plumbing,” it’s to SERVE people WELL. And when you’re out to do that, you always accomplish much more than just the getting the job done. You spread comfort and happiness and goodness wherever you go. And you make a great life for yourself and everyone around you.
It’s been people Justin and Kenny that have taught me that. And I guess that’s the very BEST example of Rule #3 that I know.