'Talk to Your Plumber' book speaks volumes

HAVING PICKED THE wrong checkout line in the grocery store, as I always do, I settled in for a long wait. Looking around for something to read to kill time, a small volume among the astrology guides and diet books caught my eye. The title of the book is "Talk to Your Plumber," and this I had to read. For 99 cents, I thought about the investment in education that I was about to make. Of course, I wasn't

HAVING PICKED THE wrong checkout line in the grocery store, as I always do, I settled in for a long wait. Looking around for something to read to kill time, a small volume among the astrology guides and diet books caught my eye.

The title of the book is "Talk to Your Plumber," and this I had to read. For 99 cents, I thought about the investment in education that I was about to make.

Of course, I wasn't buying the book for the same reason as most of the other customers in the supermarket might. Although, I must admit, I could learn a thing or two about "How Much Should a Plumber Charge?" "Is the Job Completed Correctly?" and "When Something Goes Wrong with the Job" — three of the chapters in the book.

I was much more interested in how the book portrays plumbers to the supermarket customers, who are your customers as well. It was not a promising start.

As you can see, the "plumber" on the front cover looks like a genial enough sort, if a little goofy. But notice his dirty white T-shirt and the low-slung blue jeans under his potbelly.

Then the book opens with a plumber joke. It's an old joke, and the punch line is: "I didn't make that much when I was a doctor, either. That's why I became a plumber."

From that shaky beginning, the book gets better. You can't judge a book by its cover, and this book actually isn't as bad as its cover and opening joke might lead you to believe. The book (copyright 2005) is written by J.P. Vellotti, who is described as " a home-repair guru and an all-around handyman."

He imparts some practical advice, such as: "Even in a dire emergency, you have the right to deal with a plumber who is professional in both appearance and demeanor, who is respectful in conversation and well groomed. Many plumbers wear uniforms, but don't discount those who wear jeans and T-shirts."

The author even takes your side with your would-be customers several times. For example, " Treating your plumber with courtesy is something that shouldn't need mentioning in this guide, but a surprising numberof people fail to exhibit even the most common courtesy to people who work in their homes."

You'll likely cringe, however, in the chapter on pricing where he bases his prices on those from " various national home-improvement centers." He adds, "Plumbing-supply houses may be even cheaper."

How his prices compare with yours, and whether this book is good or bad, really isn't the point. The fact that someone felt the need to publish this book speaks to the image problem that the plumbing industry still has with many people. I didn't see any books on the rack entitled "Talk to Your Dentist" or even "Talk to Your Carpenter."

The image problem isn't exactly news to those of us in this industry. It can affect your relationships with your existing and prospective customers. It also has an impact on the number of young people who view plumbing favorably as their career choice.

I feel fortunate that I have the chance to know many plumbing contractors who bring to this industry a level of professionalism of which we all can be proud. These contractors work hard at maintaining their positive image. Most of them benefit from their membership in best practices groups, trade associations or both.

I imagine when their customers "talk to their plumber," they find a professional and a businessperson who solves their problems and exceeds their expectations. When you think about it, perhaps no other profession offers that same sort of opportunity.