John Smith prospers on the green road

Each year about this time we select a Contractor of the Year with the idea that our contractor should be somebody worth emulating. That's why one of our previous winners was John Ward from Applewood Plumbing, Heating & Electric, Denver. I once wrote that John Ward is such a brilliant businessman that he could make a million bucks from a lemonade stand. Last year we picked Brian Nelson and Dave Sprague, Nelson Mechanical Design, Vineyard Haven, Mass., because they are all geeked up about mechanical contracting. Mechanical systems, to them, are just the greatest things going. The first person who told me about high-SEER air-to-water heat pumps that run on CO2 was Nelson, who probably read about them in the middle of the night because he never seems to sleep.

John Smith is our Contractor of the Year for becoming the Arizona Green Plumber and becoming such a leader in the field that GreenPlumbersUSA named him its national Green Plumber of the Year for two years in a row.

If you're not into the green thing, here's the takeaway. John was running Rooter 2000, a commercial plumbing contractor in both Tempe, Ariz., and Tucson, when he, like many others, got hammered by the recession. He needed to change course. What to do? When he received an email from GreenPlumbersUSA, John just didn't grab the ball and run with it, he sprinted. He's taken the whole GreenPlumbers concept farther than anyone else.

Steve Lehtonen brought the GreenPlumbers program over from drought-ravaged Australia back when he was running California PHCC because he knew the U.S. would be facing the same issues. We are. Ask any Texan.

"John Smith embodies the concept and mission of Green Plumbers," says Lehtonen, who is now with the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials. "We know that contractors and plumbers are rejuvenated when they take our courses, but John has taken the energy and commitment to new levels. He inspires me!"

The business in Tucson is now 60% to 70% residential and that's because of green. John's involvement in causes, such as the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Arizona and Habitat for Humanity, has gained him exposure and resulted in revenue.

He will always rep Gerber because of all of their generous donations when he was plumbing the Ronald McDonald House in Tucson. We toured the Tucson Children's Museum where John installed the plumbing and Gerber won his loyalty by donating the water closets and faucets and Sloan donated a 1-pint urinal.

John plumbed the Ronald McDonald House in Tucson with 1.5-GPM Gerber showerheads and Gerber dual flush toilets. The Gerber lav faucets are all Water Sense rated. John removed all of the old toilets from the previous Ronald McDonald House and donated them to Habitat for Humanity's Tucson HabiStore. Because of his work on the Ronald McDonald House, John sits on its board of directors along with five owners of McDonalds franchises, for whom he now does all of their plumbing work. The Ronald McDonald House, which Smith estimates uses 20% less water than a comparable structure, has been WaterSmart certified by the City of Tucson.

We swung by the Tucson HabiStore, which is run for Habitat for Humanity by Terry Dee, the director of retail operations. The store sells all sorts of building products and the money goes to support Habitat building projects. John donates products to the HabiStore, participates in its green shows and volunteers his time for Habitat building projects.

Contractors can spend a lot of money going to home shows, but green shows are always looking for exhibitors and they are free. It's important to have working displays for toilets; Smith has a working, pumped rain barrel display that's in the booth mostly to attract attention.

Smith says that the secret to success is to find a product that you know will work and sell it. Find a product you believe in, he says. He says Niagara flapperless and Caroma dual-flush toilets always work. He doesn't get any complaints.

There are a lot of contractors that have not survived this recession because they were unwilling to change the way they were doing things. John Smith isn't one of them.

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