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Plumbing Industry Snapshots

Nov. 1, 2023
A few things I saw and learned at this year’s PHCCCONNECT.

This year the PHCC’s annual conference, PHCCCONNECT, was held in Cleveland. You can read my full write-up of the event on contractormag.com. Well, it’s not exactly a full write up. For one thing, as I sit and write this the event is still going on. I would have liked to have stayed to see the end but I needed to get back to finish up the November issue.

For another thing there was just so much going on. It would have taken a five-person team with recording equipment to do the show justice. Me? I’m just one guy with a notepad.

In fact, I was so run off my feet trying to see everything thing there was to see that I was happy for a minor accident that happened. While on our way back from a factory tour the bus broke down by the side of the road (just a little ways from the Cleveland Zoo) and I had a blissful half hour to just sit and collect my thoughts on the event. So, in no particular order…

Cleveland is a serious plumbing town. Perhaps it’s just because it was an early industrial center for the country, but several major industry manufacturers call it home, including Moen, Merit Brass, RIDGID and Oatey Co. Since none of those companies are direct competitors, they teamed up at the CONNECT show to create a special section of the exhibit hall, “Cleveland Park.” They had a white picket fence surrounding their booths, benches, fake grass—it was a nice example of hometown pride.

Next, everybody is busy. Every plumber I talked to, no matter their size or specialty is insanely busy. If one job is winding up another job is gearing up or under way. Maybe that reflects how hot the economy is just now—real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter of 2023, according to the advance estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Or, possibly that just reflects a high demand for plumbers?

Now, plumbers have always struck me as a laid-back group (which is odd, because between hectic job schedules and emergency service calls at all hours in all weather, you would think they would be more stressed out). Still, it isn’t like they don’t find things to complain about. The difficulty finding new workers—or even new young people to train up—is a common lament. Another is the price of gas. On that broke-down bus I mentioned one plumber was in amazement at the high price of diesel—$7.00 a gallon in his area. Another contractor, this one from Texas, was upset that a gallon of regular was nearing $3.00 (since I live in Chicago, I found it hard to sympathize—but then again, I don’t have a fleet to keep running).

And everyone had something to say about government regulation. Whether it was rebates for heat pump water heaters, new efficiency standards from the DOE or new projects spurred by the IRA there were two main sentiments. First, that the feds are pushing higher efficiencies and electrification too hard, too fast, and heedless of the unintended consequences. Second, that there is a LOT of money to be made by contractors who can position themselves to take advantage of the changes.

And I think that’s the real value to industry events like CONNECT. To see how things are going with other industry pros, to learn how other businesses are meeting the challenges of these rapidly changing times, and to get the skills and knowledge you need to stay ahead of the curve.

About the Author

Steve Spaulding | Editor-inChief - CONTRACTOR

Steve Spaulding is Editor-in-Chief for CONTRACTOR Magazine. He has been with the magazine since 1996, and has contributed to Radiant Living, NATE Magazine, and other Endeavor Media properties.

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