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14 Fails of plumbing: don't be a bad plumbing contractor

March 10, 2016
Some of the fails to be bad at plumbing include:  Fail No. 1: Be the low price leader.  Fail No. 2: Charge time and materials.  Fail No. 3: Plumb fast. Fail No. 4: Eliminate all idle time. 
There are a lot of successful plumbing contractors. There are even more unsuccessful ones. Less successful plumbers are good at adopting bad business practices, or fails. Here are 14 fails you can practice to be really bad at plumbing.

Fail No. 1: Be the low price leader. It’s almost impossible to become the low price leader in a service business because some idiot is always willing to try to go out of business faster. Go ahead. Try anyway. Attempting to follow him means sooner or later, you will.

Fail No. 2: Charge time and materials: Consumers almost universally prefer the certainty of a fixed price upfront, before work begins. They believe the contractors who give upfront prices are more honest and charge less overall. A flat rate is also more appealing to consumers who have a difficult time wrapping their heads around the rates service companies need to charge to remain profitable. Never mind all of that. Charge time and materials and claim you are more honest than a flat rate company even though you disguise your true hourly rate through the use of trip charges, truck charges, minimum charges, first half hour charges, environment charges and other flat add-on charges.

Fail No. 3: Plumb fast. Try to cram as many calls as possible into a day as possible, and race through the work to get into position for the next opportunity. Maybe you miss opportunities for additional work at the home you are already servicing, but that’s not guaranteed. Besides, it’s more fun to drive between calls than to stay at one location all day.

Fail No. 4: Eliminate all idle time. Bill as many minutes as possible. Never leave the field to attend a training seminar or workshop. You may never learn about new products, better sales approaches, and better business practices, but you will personally bill more hours in a year than the next guy.

Fail No. 5: Never stray from the tried and true. The Romans were some of history’s earliest plumbers. Continue to plumb the tried and true Roman way. Plumb the way you have always plumbed and do business they way you have always done it. It is risky to adopt new practices like social media marketing, flat rate, simplified pricing, service agreements, performance pay, etc.

Fail No. 6: Only market by word of mouth: Never market. Trust your customers to spread the word about you far and wide because they love you so much. Word of mouth will give you all of the business you need. Don’t even leave stickers on the water heater and disposal. Your customers will love you so much they will memorize your number. They will never turn to the Internet to find a plumber.

Fail No. 7: Pre-judge your customers. Listen carefully to the questions a customer asks on the phone. If the customer sounds cheap or sounds like a DIY type, just hang up and avoid a time wasting trips. There will be other calls. Likewise, you’re your perception to discern when a customer will not want to replace, but rather repair or upgrade, so you can skip the embarrassment of giving customers options and having them ask what you would do. You, of course, would always choose the lowest price alternative. 

Fail No. 8: Minimize truck lettering expenses. The sole purpose of a service truck is to carry parts and plumbers to the home. Why spend a lot of money on vehicle wraps? Use magnetic signs. If you need permanent identification, get some paint and letter the trucks by hand. Come on, who believes a customer will call you after seeing your truck in their neighborhood. It’s never happened before, so you know it’s true.

Fail No. 9: Forego employee uniforms. Uniforms, shoe covers, and shaving requirements are little more than gimmicks. They do not add value. They have nothing to do with the quality of a plumbing repair. Jeans, t-shirts, and gimmie caps are what people expect. Why exceed their expectations? It’s not like women care about the appearance of a tradesperson she allows inside her home. Plus, you can’t charge more for exceeding expectations, can you?

Fail No. 10: Stay on the truck. If you leave the truck, you cease to be a real plumber. It’s in the field where real wages are earned. When you leave the truck and stop working in the business, you will have to work on the business, ceasing to be a plumber. Instead, you become a business person and you hate business people.

Fail No. 11: Don’t hire anyone, ever. No one can ever plumb as well as you, so hiring someone means lowering your overall quality. Besides, employees are time drains. They cost money.  They expect paid holidays and vacations. They want benefits. They always want something.  Sometimes they don’t show up. You can continue to plumb until old age. If you can’t get to a call, your customers will wait for you. After all, they love you. Likewise, they will understand and wait if you are ill or want a day off.

Fail No. 12: Use family for free. Your wife can do your books. She costs less than a bookkeeper or a service. She will do it for free. Your kids can work as helpers. They’re too young to get a job anyway. Slave labor and indentured servitude is an excellent way to share in the labor of the business and ensure your family will love you and what you do for a living.

Fail No. 13: Run the company from your checkbook: As long as you have money in the checking account, things are good. Why go farther? It’s expensive to get someone to put together financial statements and they’re only meaningful to accountants. Besides, you know how you do every year when you file your taxes.

Fail No. 14: Be content where you are: Enjoy what you earn today. Be content and happy. A bigger business and more money and all of the things it can buy only mean more problems.  Keep small. Keep it all. Be content.

Practice these 14 fails and you can be assured of a miserable plumbing business if you manage to keep the doors open, which will depend on your ability to reduce your standard of living to whatever the business throws off. Frankly, it’s no way to live. Why not step up your game, learn business, and build a prosperous company that will reward you, your family, your employees, and your customers? There are lots of resources available to help, including other plumbers, trade associations, wholesalers, manufacturers and business alliances. All you have to do is ask.

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable, which provides all kinds of help for plumbers at the monthly subscription of just $50. Call 877.262.3341 and ask for a free tour of the password protected part of the website. Visit for more information.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.

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