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This is Why We Plumb!

As seen in Plumbing & Mechanical magazine.

It’s no secret.  Plumbers get little respect… until things go wrong, then the plumber is the homeowner’s best friend.  So, why do it?  Why bail people out when they treat the trade poorly?  It’s not the money.  Money is not enough.  It’s something else, something more.  Here is why we plumb.

We all know about the art deco, Soviet style posters that proclaim the plumber is the protector of the health of the nation.  Honestly, it’s true.  Think of a world without plumbing.  Ugh.  It’s nasty.  It’s disease ridden.  It smells.  It’s a Monty Python skit.

The value of plumbing dates back thousands of years.  The ancient world recognized the need for and value of plumbing.  After all, it is plumbers who make sure tap water is fresh, toilets flush, and showers are hot.  These are all functions taken for granted, until they are missed.  Then, they are urgent.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.  Responding to an emergency that involves leaving home, traveling to a prospect/customer’s home after hours to fix a leak seems gratifying until the customer slams you on a review site because you charge less than a ride-sharing app to send a fully stocked truck with a trained professional earning overtime rates to the customer’s home.

There is no shortcoming of people like this, which is why you need to dismiss them.  They are not why you plumb.  You plumb because you can protect people in ways they do not understand and do not appreciate.  This is your burden and your superpower.  You can plumb.  Your customers cannot.

It all seems bleak.  Then, you hear a story like Rick Joy’s.  Rick is a plumber who is the son of a plumber.  He bought out his father, then sold his business.  This alone, makes Rick an oddity.  Not many plumbers are able to sell their businesses.

After selling his company, Rick scooted down to Marco Island, Florida to enjoy the good life.  The only problem was Rick underestimated the price of the good life.  After six months, his bride announced that they lacked the money to continue.  In short, Rick had to return to work.  For Rick, this was “no Joy.”

Rick bought his first newspaper in six months.  He saw an ad for a contractor group and enrolled.  The group helped him with his processes.

A few months later, around 1998, Rick bought his first sewer camera.  He bought it as soon as he saw it.  This, he thought, will come in handy.  This will make some bank.

A few days later, his wife who was also his dispatcher, sent him on an emergency call.  When it involves plumbing, aren’t they all emergencies?  Of course, this one clearly was problematic.  The sewer line was backing up and the whole house smelled like a sewer.  Plus, a whole lot of people were due to arrive shortly for some function at the house.

When Rick got to the home, a woman greeted him at the door, exclaiming, “Please help!”  With a backed-up sewer and guests on the way, Rick instantly became her new best friend.

Rick said the problem was simple.  It wasn’t the main sewer, but the master bath line to the main junction where they tie in.  He removed the toilet and snaked the drain.  He went in around three feet, hit the blockage, and cleared it.  He was 20 minutes into the call and all that was left was the clean-up.

Then, Rick remembered his new toy.  He remembered he had a sewer camera he had yet to use.  Here was opportunity in the form of a 30-year-old cast iron pipe.  He cleaned up, hustled out to his truck, and brought in his new camera.

Three to four feet down in the pipe, he thought he could make out a ring of some kind.  Rick had a four-foot-long claw parts grabber, which he used in one hand to grab the ring while he controlled the camera with the other.  It took a few tries, but he got it.

It looked like a diamond engagement ring.  Rick opened the vanity, found some cleaner and a stack of small disposable spit cups for mouthwash.  He dropped the ring in one and filled it with cleaner.  After a few minutes he rinsed it off.  The ring looked good as new.

He cleaned up, walked out of the master bath, and realized this was not an ordinary party.  It was a wake.  The aged widow and the woman who greeted him at the door walked in.  Rick offered his condolences, then presented the ring.  “Does this look familiar?” he asked.

The widow broke down immediately.  She began sobbing.  She hugged Rick and thanked him again and again.  She was so overcome, she had to sit down.  Rick had returned her engagement ring to her on the day she buried her husband.

“I never wrote her an invoice,” he recalled.  “There are different ways to receive payment.”

Rick made a tangible difference.  Plumbers do this every day, though seldom in a manner so dramatic.  Yes, the money is important.  Yes, you need to charge and charge enough to pay your people well, fund future growth, and reward the owners of the company for putting their capital at risk.  Yet, the money is an outcome of plumbing.  It is not the reason you do it.  You do it because it needs to be done, because you have the ability and knowledge others lack, and because you make a tangible difference.

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