3 Plumbers Share Their Career Milestones and Advice for 2022
January is always a time for reflection and goal setting. And at the start of this new year, we asked a few plumbing pros three key questions to get their thoughts and reflections. Discover the things they learned and accomplished in 2021 and what they recommend for a more successful new year.
Meet the Contractors
Job Title: Co-owner of T.A.P. Plumbing and Heating
Location: Newnan, Georgia
Job Title: Licensed master plumber and owner of Two7 Plumbing
Location: Ontario, Canada
Job Title: Service plumber
Here’s What We Learned
1. What do you consider to be your biggest plumbing career successes to date?
Travis Abaire: The fact that I am so busy and don’t really advertise. I do have a website and an online presence, but most of my business comes from referrals. That means my quality of work and my work/business ethic are appreciated.
Alex Gouin: My biggest career successes to date include personal goals that my career has helped me achieve, such as homeownership and financial stability since plumbers are very fortunate to have a lot of work because of aging homes and new construction booming through the pandemic. The career successes that I feel have left a memorable impact on me are that I am considered a leader in the plumbing service department where I work and am always the go-to guy when there seems to be an issue that requires a little more attention to detail.
Peter Joseph: My biggest career success has been reaching a point where I have not only decided what I want out of my business, but I have been able to successfully implement it. I am not interested in building a large company. I’ve done that before, and while it does come with great rewards, it also comes with great headaches and stress levels. My goal for my business has been to remain a one-person company but also have the flexibility to work the hours I want (and be off the rest of the time), accept only the jobs that I want and work only in the areas that I want.
When I first founded my company, I made sure my phone would wake me in the middle of the night in case of emergency calls, I traveled considerable distances for jobs I didn’t want to take on, and I always accommodated whatever call came in. As a new business, you don’t typically have a large enough customer base to be selective. This has now changed. I focused on performing every job to the absolute best quality level and have seen word-of-mouth marketing rapidly grow as a result. I now have achieved exactly what I wanted out of my company. My coverage area is quite small and close to home, I work the hours I choose (and enjoy lots of time with my family), and I take on only the calls that I would like to accept, referring the other calls to my local colleagues, helping them build their own businesses.
2. What is your biggest takeaway from 2021, such as lessons learned, plumbing career milestones or industry news?
Travis Abaire: Don't be afraid to try new things. When supply shortages come and all you know how to do is one aspect of piping — such as only soldering or only using PEX-A pipe — or you're loyal to only one brand, then you could be stuck not being able to service your customers. Just be a plumber. It has become a very broad field. Enjoy it.
Alex Gouin: My biggest takeaway from 2021 would be that management is not for me…yet. I was recently promoted to an operations management position early in 2021 but soon transferred back into the field because I missed the tools, materials and customers that I would deal with on a daily basis. One day further down the road, I may revisit this career advancement. I currently am looking to advance into the technical training side of my trade and help pass the knowledge I have acquired over the last nine years to the apprentices that are rolling through the shop and company.
Peter Joseph: 2021 was challenging for everyone. As a business owner, the most difficult challenge for me has been to keep up with the cost of rising materials and other expenses. I’m not ashamed to charge according to my worth. I offer high-quality work and deliver long-term peace of mind, and I know that’s worth something. However, it still took some time for me to be comfortable increasing my rates as much as I’ve had to with the rising cost of materials this year.
Water heaters were a big deal. There were five price increases during 2021 from the manufacturer, and these were not small increases. The cost of copper, fittings and expansion tanks has risen too. All in all, I had to increase my water heater charges by literally hundreds of dollars just to keep up with the material charges and maintain the same profit I had during previous years. With each increase, I was concerned that my loyal customers would feel I was beginning to take advantage of them and rip them off. However, most seem to understand that I have no control over the industry’s rising costs. I made the decision to stick with my water heaters rather than find a cheaper alternative because I know and trust my heaters to be a long-term, high-quality option. My customers appreciate this, and most tell me that they agree with my decision when we talk about it. 2021 has taught me that if you must choose between higher rates or low quality, don’t be afraid to raise your rates and stick with high quality. Most customers will understand and appreciate your decision.
3. What advice do you have for other plumbers as they navigate 2022?
Travis Abaire: Never undervalue yourself. If you're in business or starting a business, don't negotiate. Your price is your price. The moment you start to negotiate is the moment you allow someone else to put a value on your work. You know what your knowledge, your experience and your overhead are worth. If a customer is looking for the lowest bidder, you probably don't want them as a customer. Whatever you think you are charging just remember there’s someone who’s charging more. With that, the quality of work better be on par. However, you would do a job in your own home is how you should be doing it in your customer's home.
Alex Gouin: With materials costs rising and materials shortages, some costs involved with doing a job have changed. If you don’t do your homework, you can end up in a position of regret! We quote and price out our jobs onsite, and it’s very important to be in communication with your local distributors to ensure your quote is on point and your truck stays profitable.
Peter Joseph: Put your family before your business and look for ways to minimize stress. I’ve heard far too many stories of divorces happening amongst plumbers and children growing up without really getting to know their parents. Most of these stories all trace back to the plumber always working and not having much time to be with the ones they love. It’s heartbreaking and should be avoided at all costs. I think we all agree that family comes first, but it can be challenging to remember this when the phone rings and a job needs your attention. I’m not saying to ignore your customers, but learning how to prioritize your jobs and your family is crucial.
For anyone who gets particularly stressed during slow seasons, I would suggest building up a secondary passive income stream. There are lots of ways to do this. Personally, I’ve chosen to invest in dividend-paying stocks in a taxable account. One day it’ll double as my retirement fund, but for now, I have money slowly building throughout the year, which is a huge stress reliever for slow seasons, Christmas shopping or family vacations. It’s a great way for a business owner to have those “paid vacation hours” that we don’t otherwise get, and it was a huge game-changer for me as a business owner.