HAMILTON, N.J. — Frank Maddalon is taking over the reins at the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association at a difficult time. The economy is struggling, many plumbing contractors feel that they are under siege by government regulations, and the association is working extra hard to recruit new members and hang on to those that it has. Maddalon takes over as president of PHCC-NA at the association’s convention in Las Vegas at the end of October.
Maddalon is well qualified for the challenge as a veteran of the industry since the 1960s who has served in numerous capacities in both New Jersey PHCC and PHCC-NA as an officer and zone director. Before being elected vice president, he was national secretary in 2006 during Jo Rae Wagner’s presidency. He’s a member of the association’s political action group, the 535 Club. Maddalon’s focus has been on education and training as chairman of the Apprentice and Journeyman Training Committee, a member of the board of directors of the PHCC Educational Foundation, PHCC’s co-chair of the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America Task Force, and a member of the national technical committee for VICA’s SkillsUSA plumbing contest.
Maddalon is so skilled as a plumber that his customers forced him to go into business. While he was working for contractor N.C. Jefferson, he started doing side jobs for his large extended family and his friends. Eventually the referrals became so numerous that the work became more than a side job and he started F.R. Maddalon Plumbing in 1977.
To meet the challenges facing the industry and the association, Maddalon told CONTRACTOR that he would focus on political action, education and training, and increasing membership.
Our interview with Frank Maddalon follows.
CONTRACTOR: When did you start F.R. Maddalon Plumbing & Heating? Where did you work before that?
Frank Maddalon: I started F.R. Maddalon Plumbing & Heating on Nov. 1, 1977. Before that I worked for N.C. Jefferson in Princeton, N.J., for 15 years.
C: When did you know that you wanted to start your own firm?
F.R.: I had been licensed as a New Jersey master plumber for several years before I went into business. Through my family (which is extensive) and my friends recommending me to people, the work started to build up so much that it was impossible to keep up with on a part time basis. Thus, I went into my own business full time.
C: What was your first job? How did you get into the plumbing industry? Did you work at other companies at the start of your career? What did you learn from your first boss?
F.R.: My first job was with N.C. Jefferson in Princeton, N.J. My late brother-in-law was a journeyman plumber there and when I came out of high school and didn’t want to go to Rutgers (much to my mother’s chagrin), he recommended me to the owner and that’s how I started my apprenticeship. I’m a very lucky man to have learned my trade with that company. Norton Jefferson was a stickler for neatness and accuracy. He was also a very smart man when it came to steam heating as he worked with it throughout his time at the trade. He taught me a lot about it. We still do a lot of steam work.
C: Do you have offspring in the business? Is there a succession plan in place?
F.R.: No, none of my children are in the business — both are in the teaching profession. As far as succession is concerned, we have a couple of plans that we are mulling over, but I’m not quite ready to phase out yet.
C: Tell me about the Trenton area and your region in central New Jersey. How does being located between New York and Philadelphia influence your market?
F.R.: We are located in a suburb of Trenton that is called Hamilton, N.J. We do most of our work in either Princeton or West Windsor, N.J. This is an affluent area of New Jersey. We do a lot of high-end remodeling and renovation in this area. We also do a lot of service in this area both residential and light commercial.
C: Does New Jersey’s use of the PHCC National Standard Plumbing Code have any influence on your market?
F.R.: The NSPC doesn’t have any more influence on our market — no more than any other code would — what I feel (being a little prejudiced as I’m on the NSPC committee) it is the best code for the plumbing contractor as the committee is composed of contractors, engineers and inspectors with a representative of labor and manufacturers — to use a famous network’s phrase, it is a fair and balanced code.
C: Are you still facing issues of Home Depot and other entities performing plumbing without a license? Has the State of New Jersey found any money to enforce the plumbing licensing laws?
F.R.: We aren’t having issues in New Jersey with unlicensed installation with the big box stores. We in New Jersey have a strong licensing law which requires a 10% ownership requirement to be a “bonafide representative” for a company in order to pull permits, and with that the big stores are subcontracting their plumbing work to licensed plumbing contractors.
C: What do you most enjoy about running your company?
F.R.: The diversity of my customers, from the very rich to the everyday working person and the diversity of services provided.
C: What do you dislike, the one task you would rather never do again?
F.R.: I can’t think of any task I wouldn’t do again; every task provides a learning experience.
C: Are you involved in green plumbing or sustainable construction? What are you telling your customers about saving water and energy? What are you hearing back from your customers?
F.R.: Green plumbing is an important issue. It will be vital for all plumbing and HVACR contractors to keep abreast with current topics and promote green products.
C: After all your years in the business, what are the most important one or two things that you have learned?
F.R.: First of all never believe you are done with your education no matter how long you have been in business and, secondly, your company’s reputation will increase your growth.
C: What do you want your kids to know about this business?
F.R.: It is a very fine profession that has provided well for our family.
C: What is the biggest problem facing contractors in the Northeast? What are you hearing from members as being the biggest problem for contractors nationwide?
F.R.: The economy and the slowdown in the construction industry in both the Northeast and nationally. Also, competition from unlicensed and unqualified contractors — it’s not a level playing field when consumers are looking for cost-savings over quality.
C: What is PHCC-NA doing to try to fix that problem?
F.R.: PHCC is certainly not in a position to single handedly fix either the economy or the construction slowdown, but we can help our members learn how to adapt and diversify. For example, we are providing accessible education on emerging markets like residential fire sprinklers, and energy- and water-efficient technologies such as radiant heat, geothermal and solar. We are also providing more training for contractors on how to communicate the value of energy- and water-efficient services in terms of cost-savings to their customers.
We’re offering targeted education and training in a variety of ways, such as Webinars, online resources, contractor-provided best practices articles in our newsletters and a strong mix of seminars at national, state and local events. The feedback we’ve gotten from members regarding the content and format has been extremely positive.
C: What's the greatest challenge for PHCC-NA as a trade association?
F.R.: Recruitment and retention of members in an economic downturn. We are getting the message out regarding the true value of membership and all we have to offer p-h-c contractors. From information, to advocacy, to education, to peer-to-peer networking, PHCC has to be one of the best investments out there for contractors who belong and participate.
C: Why is your work on the PHCC Educational Foundation important to you?
F.R.: After 10 years as chairman of the apprenticeship committee, which is now under the auspices of the Educational Foundation, I have seen the benefits of good training and education is a must for the future of our industry.
C: How important is political action to PHCC-NA?
F.R.: It is one of the most important priorities of our association. Every survey we’ve done with membership [political action] is always at the top of the list. Contractors from the very large company to the one-man shop are affected by the legislation passed on Capitol Hill.
C: If you could accomplish just one goal this year as president for either the association or its members, what would that be?
F.R.: It is threefold, to enhance our presence even more so than it is now on Capitol Hill, to motivate and distribute the various educational programs and services our association provides, and finally recruitment of new members.