Parzival Plumbing Profile
SoCal company's quest for community connections
Name your plumbing business after a knight in King Arthur’s Round Table and it can start a conversation. People ask questions and get answers. And then there are more questions. That’s what Thomas Pangrazio, the owner of Parzival Plumbing in Costa Mesa, Calif., had in mind.
Pangrazio explains Parzival was a knight on a quest for answers, so it seemed a perfect fit for his mission as a business owner. The small company is completing its fifth year in business, growing slowly at a sustainable pace, and that’s according to plan.
The contractor was no stranger to the trades when he got into plumbing 15 years ago. He grew up on a farm in upstate New York, in the Rochester area. His father was the oldest of eight brothers.
“One of my uncles ran the farm, so I grew driving a tractor,” he says. “One uncle was a painting contractor, another was contractor. One of our chores was to paint the house one summer, roof the house another.”
Despite that grounding in working with his hands, Pangrazio took another route, studying philosophy and religion for three years in New York and then Spain, where he continued his education, aiming to become fluent in several languages. His goal was a job in public service or teaching on the college level. Marriage and children prompted a career in sales, which he pursued until he determined working in the trades was a good avenue to doing some good in his community.
Pangrazio worked at Saddleback Plumbing, another Southern California plumbing firm, for several years before launching his own company. He attended trade school for two years and tested for his journeyman’s card eight years ago. While at Saddleback he also took GreenPlumber training at his own expense and took on a variety of challenges to hone his skills.
“From day one I was taking notes on all aspects of the operation, knowing that I’d have my own company one day. I put in extra hours to learn the business. I knew that I had to be proficient in all areas of plumbing to be able to build a business and to be able to connect with my technicians,” Pangrazio says. “The best way to be able to connect with my technicians was to do well when I was a technician.”
Parzival currently employs three techs and two apprentices. Chris Monsour is lead tech and field supervisor. Alison Tawney is operations manager.
Recruiting a team of employees willing to commit to the company’s mission statement is critical, Pangrazio says: “You have to address a completely different work force in a different way. What do they want from the job? What do they want to achieve? What are their goals beyond making a paycheck? We want people who want to make a difference in the community, who want to learn and grow with this company. Our people are the difference.”
He wants to inspire his employees not only “to be good at their jobs but to be good people, have ethical standards in how they deal with their customers as members of a community,” not just customers on a regulars list.
The service and repair company’s menu runs the gamut from leak detection and re-piping to water heater installation and water treatment options. Work varies by service area and the contractor uses every job as a teaching/learning experience.
Parzival’s service area encompasses cities where construction is new to less than 20 years old, as well as communities with homes that date back 70 to 100 years. They deal with lots on the flat and areas with challenging hillside locations. One recent job found the Parzival crew digging down 15 feet in a Laguna Beach backyard just to get to piping, and then having to bucket dirt from the dig to the front yard. Jobs focus on service and repair are about 89% residential.
“We do some commercial and industrial, but residential is our bread and butter,” Pangrazio says. “We do a lot of leak searches and we deal a lot in our area with sewer issues. We re-pipe houses. There was a six-month period when the gas company was changing out meters and we were replacing gas services, two a week for four months.”
Working green, talking green
“How do we grow this company in a way that’s sustainable?” Pangrazio poses. “We have our three pillars: Integrity, innovation and interdependence. It’s a matter of putting in the sweat equity and putting in the time. It’s important not to put yourself out there as an expert in a particular niche until you really have the skills and credentials to do the job.
“Growing the business we’d like to refine more what our niche is. Green plumbing is important to me, but right now we do it all. I try to be more environmentally conscious when we work. ‘Let’s recycle that plastic.’ ‘Let’s lay down tarps instead of plastic.’ I’m always talking about, ‘This is why we’re doing it. Yes, it’s saving money, but these are resources that are being depleted.’”
Tankless water heaters are just one example. “They use less energy and are more efficient, but they cost more and may need more maintenance, but they offer these advantages,” Pangrazio says. “This is the way everything is going in water conservation, things like circulating pumps. There are a lot of areas where customers and plumbers just don’t get it. Even in the green communities the customers don’t ask so much about it. There’s still a lot of education that has to be done. In building the business, this is definitely an area where there will be a focus.”
Parzival offers what it calls a community membership. “It’s a pretty standard program; but what’s not standard is how we view it,” he says. “As we grow, we want to make a positive impact. What we have are very dedicated and loyal customers, and we’re dedicated to solving their issues when it comes to plumbing. We don’t want to be the kind of business that values profit over relationships with customers and contribution to the community. Building a business is about building relationships.
“You hear companies talk about a membership program as a strategic business move. It is, but for me, this is about building community, and an opportunity to show people how committed we are to them, while giving them an opportunity to show their commitment to us.
“In terms of dollars and cents, it makes sense for both parties, but it’s more that sense of community. ‘Yeah, that’s my plumber.’ If a community member calls on a Sunday, I say, ‘Yes. That’s my people and I’m there for you.’ I’m not super passionate about plumbing, but I am passionate about systems that can help people.”