Contractors can't do it alone, PHCC's Pfeffer says

Oct. 1, 2009
The services of an association can't be duplicated — at least not economically — by a contractor acting alone, Pfeffer said, with education and lobbying being the most important.

CANTON, MASS. — “When do you need the services of an association?” asked Massachusetts plumbing and heating contractor Skip Pfeffer. “When things are great or when they're not going great? You go to the seminars and if you come out with one or two good ideas, it pays for itself.

“It costs about as much as a cup of coffee a day,” Pfeffer continued. (Dues for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association are in the neighborhood of $700.) “One question I get tired of is, ‘what am I going to get for my money.’ PHCC has it set up so that you can pay monthly. You can't fill a truck with gas for that.”

Herbert “Skip” Pfeffer is incoming president of PHCC-NA. He founded Canton Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc. in 1972. Pfeffer was president of PHCC of Massachusetts in 1996-97 and was named Massachusetts Contractor of the Year in 1998. He received the PHCC of Massachusetts Bradford Rose Award for distinguished service in 2000. From 2000-2003 Skip represented New England on the PHCC/Foundation board of directors and he was PHCC/Foundation National Secretary in 2005-2006. Pfeffer's son, Scott, is working with his father and serves on the Foundation Plumbing Apprentice and Journeyman Training Committee.

The services of an association can't be duplicated — at least not economically — by a contractor acting alone, Pfeffer said, with education and lobbying being the most important.

Pfeffer pointed out that contractors individually could not afford to go to Washington to lobby or pay for the quality of educational programs that are put on by the PHCC Educational Foundation and enhanced service groups like Quality Service Contractors. The association can help contractors stay on top of issues such as utility competition, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the Home Energy Rating System.

“Our goal is to make our contractors stand out from the run-of-the-mill contractor and give our contractors the edge,” he said.

Contractors must have a voice in the political process, Pfeffer emphasized, because of issues such as healthcare reform, climate change cap and trade legislation, and the estate tax.

“We have to develop the [political action committee],” he said. “In business today the issue is not necessarily are you a good businessman or do you have good people. If you're getting beat up by legislation, there's not much you can do. There is so much on the table legislatively and, if you don't have a voice in government, it's going to be difficult.”

Pfeffer said that he has never seen government do anything more efficiently than the private sector and that he and many other contractors are worried about the direction in which the current Administration is taking the country.

Pfeffer got into the plumbing and heating business after leaving the Marine Corps in 1961. He served his apprenticeship under his first boss who taught him about customer service.

“He was an excellent mechanic,” Pfeffer recalled. “He was anal about customer relations. He was anal about leaving a job neat and clean. You could get a callback about a leak, but you better not get one about leaving a mess in the customer's house.”

Once he got his journeyman's card, he went to work for a contractor that specialized in multi-family residential and then into a partnership with a high school buddy who was in the fuel oil business. His friend, who wanted to add plumbing services, taught Pfeffer about business management. After five years, Pfeffer decided that one marriage was enough and he opened Canton Plumbing & Heating.

“In those days PHCC was the only place to network with people in the same business, so it was almost automatic that if you go into business, you joined PHCC so you could network with your peers,” Pfeffer said. “It's been a real boon to me, I'll tell you.”

Plumbing is too cut and dried for his tastes — it either leaks or stinks, as he put it — and he prefers hydronics, steam and radiant floor heat.

“Our forte is wet heat — hot water, steam and radiant,” he said. “We're coming into that time of year. If we had a preference, we'd be doing as much of that as we can … With heating there are so many ways of doing things that it's a challenge that we enjoy.”

Radiant heat can be an inexpensive way of heating, but over the years so many whistles and bells have been added to it that it has become expensive, he noted. Even so, he believes the public thinks radiant is pricier than it actually is.

Business has been difficult over the past year and Pfeffer is grateful for the loyal customers that he has built up since 1972.

“But to keep our guys going 40 hours a week, week in and week out has been tough,” he noted.

Pfeffer is turning the business over to his son, Scott, and he's in the office three days a week. After the heavy schedule he expects during his year as president of PHCC, he said he expects he will back off the business even more.

“I think that all plumbing-heating-cooling contractors owe it to ourselves, our children and our industry to be involved,” he concluded. “That's what PHCC is all about.”

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