SPRING, TEXAS — Milton Frank Plumbing has been serving the area north of Houston for more than 28 years. For the past seven, Patrick Duffy has been working for Milton Frank as a service technician and team leader.
“It is still very much a family-owned business, even as we grow,” Duffy said. “It’s a really great atmosphere because of that.” The company has 34 employees, 15 of which are licensed service techs. The company does both residential and commercial work, with more emphasis on the residential side.
While fixing the plumbing problems of its residential customers has always been the main focus at Milton Frank, a strange thing began happening back in 2009-2010; it seemed that some of the problems they fixed wouldn’t stay fixed. Faucet parts were breaking down much more rapidly that they were supposed to. Pinhole leaks were developing in galvanized pipes throughout entire households.
Most tellingly, those customers with filtration systems who might normally come in to change out a filter every six months or so were now showing up every 30 days. The wellspring of all these related problems, as it turned out, was a dramatic change in the water quality of the greater Houston area due to a shift in the water table.
“We’ve transferred off the aquifers to surface water now,” Duffy explained. That surface water has to undergo extensive treatment before it can be put in circulation. “Now we have a lot more chlorine, chloramine, there’s a lot more particulate in the surface water. It was wreaking havoc on those canister filters, just clogging them up so fast.”
And who do people blame when the plumbing isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work? The plumber. Conditions were making for a lot of unhappy customers.
All the technical solutions to their customers’ problems were readily available: larger capacity canister filtration systems, or even better backwashing systems, and water softeners/conditioners. And Milton Frank certainly had the technical expertise to install such systems. But bringing the customers on-board would mean changing the conversation.
“Primarily, plumbers are pre-conditioned to just see the problem, fix the problem and move on to the next call,” Duffy said. “But now we have to start having a conversation about water quality.”
Milton Frank reached out to fellow members of Quality Service Contractors about their situation. Several QSC members told them about ProSystems, a company based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that not only manufactures water treatment systems, but also partners with contractors for sales and technical training.
Jessica Burden is sales manager for Milton Frank Plumbing, and in her experience most technicians are uncomfortable at being put in the role of salesperson, even though they are the members of the company that have the most contact with customers. Burden found that ProSystem’s technical expertise really helped to bridge the gap between those roles.
“The ProSystems people who have worked with us know plumbing,” she said. “Technicians recognize and respond to this. ProSystems technical training is excellent and their sales training is phenomenal, especially in getting the techs up-to-speed on water issues and offering versus selling water treatment options.”
The conversation then becomes more of a technical one. For example, every Milton Frank customer now gets a complimentary water quality test. In fact, at the top of every invoice there are now two fill-in blanks, one for chlorine and one for hardness. That data is automatically entered into every customer’s file.
“Now we can show them the actual quality of the water,” Patrick Duffy said. “Rather than constantly going back and replacing the flapper, replacing the O-ring, replacing little parts to keep the system going, now we can have a more complete conversation about why all of this is occurring.”
Milton Frank had on-site training facilities where most of the training took place. They continue to refine their sales-service program via overall company training with assistance from ProSystems.
Duffy found the entire training process very positive. “The experience with ProSystems has really opened my eyes to addressing water conditions,” he said. “Not just for my customers, but for myself at home and my family members. It really opened my eyes to the conditions we deal with.”
That experience and perspective eventually made its way to Milton Frank’s customers. Water treatment sales didn’t spike overnight, but they did gradually and steadily improve. Milton Frank now ranks among the top three Houston-area plumbing contractors selling water treatment.
The result has meant what was once a growing problem in customer satisfaction has been turned into more than half a million dollars in additional revenue over the past two years. Perhaps more importantly, they have positioned themselves to take advantage of a growing industry trend. As expansion increases across the Southwestern states, water resources will be stretched even further — meaning water quality issues are going to play a greater role in the work of more and more plumbing contractors.