Fix it: Repairing another plumber’s screw-up can be lucrative
I appreciate sloppy work habits and poor craftsmanship more than the average person. In fact, I doubt the average person appreciates sloppy work habits and poor craftsmanship at all.
My business model is based, to a large degree upon the errors of the tradesperson who went before me. This business model is not true for very many businesses. I can only think of a couple of others; one being the niche in the automotive repair industry that specializes in recall corrections. Another one that comes to mind from a few years ago, that is now for the most part no longer relevant; is the mortgage loan modification industry.
Recalls in the automotive industry may be a result of poor design, poor decisions or perhaps outright cheating. The loan modification industry pretty much sprouted up as a result of poorly written and sub-prime home loans. In both cases, I believe errors were made.
My experience servicing tens of thousands of clients over decades has revealed that the majority of the repairs we are called on to perform at my company, Plumbing Doctor, are caused by installer error.
Sure, we see failure in products, like the occasional water heater that leaks as soon as it’s filled or a hairline crack in a toilet, but those are rare and show up immediately. The installer error failures I’m talking about are the incidents that don’t show up until later, sometimes, years later, like the recalled car problems or the sub-prime loans. Usually, the installer or installing contractor is long gone and the property owner is stuck writing the check for the repair.
I’m also not talking about failure due to normal wear and tear; things like an aged water heater, or galvanized water service pipe in the yard, or worn out Orangeburg sewer pipe. Though unpleasant for the property owner as they may be, they are somewhat expected.
What I am talking about are things that should have never happened in the first place. I estimate approximately 70% of the repairs we perform at Plumbing Doctor should have never been needed.
Before I give you a couple of examples of unfortunate things we’ve uncovered; let me share with you my purpose for addressing this topic.
What I am trying to stress here is “Best Practices.” I know, I harp on best practices. It’s because they make a difference. They make a difference to the consumer, to you, the small business operator and to the industry at large.
If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit the plumbing service industry can use some lipstick. Ok, let’s be real here. It needs more than lipstick, it needs an extreme makeover. Of all the home services trades; which one is perceived as the “Biggest Loser”? Is it the painter, the pest control provider or the plumber? Case closed, unless I’m missing something.
Pride of ownership
We should display pride of ownership in our businesses. It should be evident in our brand image, in our code of conduct and in our company culture. It should transcend the look of the truck, the professionalism of the technician and who we say we are as a company. Pride of ownership needs to be evident in the skillset we have as tradespeople. It is not everyone who can spin a wrench the right way, solder a sweat joint, find a leak in a slab or change out a cartridge in a shower valve. Be proud of who you are and what you can do.
If you are proud of your skills, you will perform with excellence.
I know, I know; most of our work gets covered up. No one will ever see it. It’s not like the painter whose skills or lack of them is in your face or like the pest control person whose lack of skills is evident when the lights are turned off and the cockroaches appear. Our failure is likely to not show up for quite some time.
Just because your work is done in the secret places, doesn’t mean it won’t be revealed openly.
I’ll close with a couple of examples of poor craftsmanship resulting in money in my pocket; I’m sure you have many examples as well.
We were called to a fairly new house that had water bubbling up in the living room slab. What we found was a secret. The installer, I assume, had kinked a piece of soft copper as it was rolled above slab level prior to the concrete being poured. It was a secret kink because it was concealed with a plastic sleeve. How shrewd.
Nobody was the wiser. It held pressure on the inspection test and the installer could save face, time and money by not calling out the error and replacing the compromised copper. Yeah, it would have been a hassle, but who would ever know, right? Well, I knew and the homeowner knew, because the weakened, kinked copper sprang a leak. Sure, it was covered by the homeowners insurance, but the stress, inconvenience and deductible was covered by the homeowner. The whole experience didn’t feel very good to me as a fellow plumber. It should have never happened.
Here’s another embarrassment we happened upon. We got a call to an apartment complex; they had an emergency hot water leak in their two-inch recirculating system. We had to shut the whole place down, break out concrete and excavate in the hot mud to locate the leak. Another surprise and another secret exposed. We learned that just several weeks prior, a repair had been performed in the same proximity by another plumber; of course he was nowhere to be found. What we uncovered was a two-inch, coated, galvanized hot water pipe that had been repaired with Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings. As expected, the PVC did not hold up to the hot temperature and failed.
For those of us in the plumbing service and repair industry, we will always have work as long as those who go before us exhibit no pride of craftsmanship.
What you do in secret, will be revealed openly. Be proud of who you are and perform with excellence.
The Doctor is out.