Rolling stock: "Yes, we've got that"

Profit margins are hair-thin these days and wasting time and effort chasing material that should be on hand is a sure way to squander that profit.

Whether your business is service, repair and remodel, residential or commercial construction work, not having the right material at hand can be frustrating and costly. As an employer or business owner, not having enough of, or the right material, on site or in the service truck means the loss of both time and profit.

Given the present economy, maximizing profit is job one. Throwing away dollars before they are earned is not only foolish, but it can put a company out of business in a hurry. Profit margins are hair-thin these days and wasting time and effort chasing material that should be on hand is a sure way to squander that profit.

Service and Storage
If your business is service, keeping your truck or trucks well stocked is a no brainer. Keeping the stock fresh and relevant is an absolute must. For example, what good does it do for your trucks to carry repair parts for American Standard faucets when the majority of your customers live in homes with Delta, Moen or Price Pfister fixtures? Likewise, it's a waste of space, not to mention gas and truck wear and tear, to carry a full stock of brass waste parts when almost every home you go into has ABS or PVC p-traps or waste parts under the sinks and lavatories. Instead stocking a few well chosen if little used parts makes more sense. Knowing your market and tailoring your rolling stock to it is the key to keeping the truck on the truck on the job and not at the supply house.

Also, having a good cross section of material on hand not only makes great sense, but provides good PR as well. Your customers, for the most part, are acutely aware of how much the hourly labor rate for a plumber is. Read the following scenarios and decide which one makes the best impression.

Scenario No. 1: A journeyman knocks on the door, investigates the problem, goes out to his truck, returns with the right parts and tools, repairs the problem, presents the bill and leaves.

Scenario No. 2: A journeyman knocks on the door, investigates the problem, goes out to his truck, rummages through the truck, finds out that he doesn't have the right parts, leaves the job, goes to the supply house, returns to the job, repairs the problem, presents the bill and leaves.

Obviously Scenario No. 2 is the least desirable one, but not only for that customer. If service calls are tightly scheduled, such a scenario will cause a back up, inconveniencing the next customer, and possibly causing an overtime situation for the journeyman and employer, all because the right material was not on hand.

Do anything with nothing
Most service, repair, and remodel work can be categorized by materials. For instance, copper tube sizes and appropriate fittings, iron pipe and fittings, drainage pipe and fittings, toilet or faucet repair parts, and things like replacement disposals, faucets and hose bibbs are something that the well stocked service truck would carry.

Knowing how to affect a repair using different methods and alternate materials on hand, instead of hauling off to the supply house, is what makes a good service plumber. Having a truck well stocked enough for the journeyman to do that is the real trick. A friend of mine calls this "we can do anything with nothing" plumbing and it usually means the difference between making a profit and losing money on a call.

Jobsite stock
Construction projects are no less vulnerable to poor material planning. The stakes are higher, too, because there are usually more men on the job and therefore the potential for wasted or lost labor time is greater.

Larger projects usually have storage yards or facilities for the subcontractors to store their materials. The storage yards then become mini-supply houses. If the take-off for the project has been done accurately, and the foreman has organized material as it arrives on site, the plumbers should be able to layout and execute their work with no material problems. Still, that is not always the case is it?

No matter how well stocked your material yard is, if the foreman or the plumbers doing the work do not get the right material to the right place at the right time, the same situation that we see with the service company arises. Remember, it's all about profit. Wasting time — in other words labor — is wasting time, no matter if it is on a service call or large project.

Just as in the service truck scenario, if a plumber is working at one end of a large jobsite and runs out of material, he still has to stop what he is doing, return to the storage yard to retrieve that material and return to where he was working. All of which wastes time which, as we all know, equates to money.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].