If it’s July, then it’s time for our big Made in America feature, where we highlight some of the nation’s best manufacturers and some of the outstanding products they make.
I think it’s fair to say that the skilled trades are closer to the manufacturing industry than other professions. For example, I’m in publishing and, while there are brands of pen or pencil or laptop I prefer to work with, at the end of the day it doesn’t really make much difference to the final product. As for who manufactured the press this issue was printed on (or who manufactured the server hosting the digital version of this story if you’re reading on your phone)—I honestly haven’t a clue.
But for plumbing and heating contractors it’s a different story. The tools they work with, the equipment they install and recommend, the brands of pipes, valves, and fittings they use, it all has a big impact, not just on the quality of their finished work but on how the work gets done.
Sometimes these relationships are as simple as brand loyalty. I find this to be especially true when it comes to tools; shops that use nothing but Milwaukee, or nothing but RIDGID. There are plumbers out there who have built entire, successful careers around drain cleaning machines built by General Pipe Cleaners. If a manufacturer can deliver a high level of performance and dependability, why would you change? Then there’s the added assurance of knowing all your parts and pieces, chargers and accessories will work together.
Taking things to the next level are authorized dealer agreements—often exclusive—typically offered by large equipment manufacturers (such as Laars, Lochinvar, and Rheem). These agreements involve binding contracts, and therefore a lot of scrutiny from both parties involved.
For the dealer/contractor, a successful agreement means adding the prestige of the manufacturer—it’s perceived value among the buying public—to your own. Big manufacturers can run nation-wide media campaigns, and authorized dealers get a boost from that. For the manufacturer, it means a level of assurance that their products will be installed and maintained correctly, which makes for happier end-users and helps their long-term brand value.
Manufacturers these days are playing a larger role than ever in training and education, and most take the wide view; not simply “this is how you install and service the product,” but “this is how you deliver comfort and efficiency to the customer.” They reason, rightly, that what’s good for the industry will be good for them.
Some notable examples (just to name a few) include the webinar series from Armstrong Pumps, the Coffee with Caleffi webinars (often hosted by industry legend John Siegenthaler), Oatey University and Bell & Gossett’s Little Red Schoolhouse. And of course, manufacturers such as Rheem, Delta Faucet and Bradford White help sponsor various apprentice competitions for organizations like the PHCC and SkillsUSA.
Taking partnership to the next level, manufacturers like Uponor and Viega offer design services where they are selling not just their products but their expertise. They can be a great resource for contractors who are looking to expand their product offering, or maybe tackle technically challenging jobs outside their comfort zone.
There are even manufacturers who are addressing the workforce shortage at its roots, working to make the skilled trades an attractive choice for young people choosing careers. Pfister’s American Plumber Stories docu-series (www.americanplumberstories.com) has done a fantastic job exposing young people to the real work and real rewards there are to be found in the plumbing and heating industry.
There’s a lot of value to be found in manufacturer relationships but, like any relationships, they require an investment of time and attention. Summers can be a crazy time in this industry but, when things are less busy, schedule some time to call or email your reps. It might pay off.