WALLED LAKE, MI—Chosen among a select group of contractors to visit Navien’s headquarters and production facilities in South Korea, Eric Silva, Silva Mechanical, was excited to visit the global HQ, take in some sights and attend the 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this year. “Who would have ever thought plumbing would take you to something like this?” asked Silva. “Why me? This is a very unique and humbling opportunity.”
At the age of 17, Silva initially got into plumbing by digging basements for his uncle, who was a union residential contractor. A few months later—at the age of 18—Silva decided to apply to the local plumber’s union, at which he was initially rejected for what he says as being too “high profile.” Silva, outspoken on many topics in the trade, and rightfully so, indicated that union officials weren’t too elated with his “cockiness” when he responded, “in one of your chairs” when asked where he saw himself in 10 years.
Yet, Silva was just being forthright in his response. To be fair, Silva saw the big picture; he also wanted his journeyman’s card and he wanted to own his own business one day. Realistically, Silva was confident and measured in his approach, and he was being honest, traits that he has carried with him to this day.
In 2000, Silva ultimately was accepted into the UA Local 98 Plumbers & Pipefitters, Madison Heights, Mich., to which he is eternally grateful for the education he received there. By 2005, Silva was running neighborhood service north of Detroit as a foreman for a large residential contractor, focusing on residential water heaters and boilers, hydronic and gas piping.
Fast forward to 2010—during the country’s economic downturn—Silva decided to go on his own to start Silva Mechanical, a smaller service and installation shop that specializes in tankless water heaters, hydronic heating, on-demand boilers and backflow testing. A difficult decision for sure, but one Silva may have been forced to make.
“When the economy went down, much like a lot of other guys, you didn’t have anything to fall back on but plumbing,” says Silva. “It was a sink-or-swim-type deal. You never know what you are able to accomplish until your back is pushed up against the wall. We are all faced with adversity every day; life obviously gives us a number of decisions,” says Silva.
Fortunately, in 2011, there was a resurgence in new residential construction, which gave him enough work to propel him forward, and Silva has not looked back since. “As workplaces continue to shrink, more and more people are starting on their own,” says Silva. “For those just getting into the trade, you have the ability to make it what you want it to be.”
A self-proclaimed enthusiast and believer in everything he sets out to do, Silva puts his best foot forward in servicing on-demand water heaters and boilers. In fact, a recent customer review of his work said, “We chose Silva Mechanical and its Navien package because of the company’s product knowledge, enthusiasm, and peace of mind knowing that the installer is the master plumber and mechanical contractor who’s doing the install, and it’s the most inclusive installation package.”
That is saying something, especially in a time when the plumbing industry faces a number of obstacles: DIYers, big box store renegades, bad installs and guys competing for work against those less experienced, or those not even licensed. According to Silva, bad installs and installers are the death sentence of the trade. In Michigan, says Silva, only one member of a plumbing shop needs to be licensed. “Wrong installations are killing the trades.” The concern then becomes underqualified workers overcharging customers. “I’m not going to sell you a high-dollar product and hope that it works,” says Silva. “Some companies are motivated by sales; I sell product lines at an affordable price.”
Everyday Silva crosses paths with somebody who knows someone who has had what Silva calls a “junk unit,” and his goal it to take that skeptic and make them a believer. “Every company believes they deserve the highest premium because of their ‘extensive training,’ yet we’re providing customers the highest quality materials, and still matching or beating our competitor’s price with a more inclusive package,” says Silva.
In a day and age when contractors look to diversify their business to increase income streams, Silva is doing just the opposite. As a licensed and insured master plumber and mechanical contractor, Silva has relied on his core competencies. “I’ve been installing on-demand water heaters for 12 years and never thought I could make it 100% a staple of my business, and realized that maybe I was too diverse,” says Silva.
Silva installed nearly 100 tankless units last year and he is well on his way to blowing past that number this year, reaching the 100 mark in August. Silva says that 95% of his business is with on-demand water heaters—new installs or service work.
“Who would have ever thought plumbing would take you to something like this?”
In the end, it’s still comes down to relationships. For Silva, it’s the relationships he’s built, not only with Navien, but Rinnai, Nortiz, A.O. Smith and Triangle Tube that has allowed Silva Mechanical to stay ahead of the pack. In fact, the company is the first company in the U.S. as A.O. Smith approved for tankless products, says Silva.
While other companies claim to be experts, Silva continues to accumulate the accolades. The local rep, says Silva, coined the company as the “premier installers of our state.” A Navien engineer refers to Silva Mechanical as “premium installation, premium service,” and a Navien senior tech nominated him for the contractor of the year in 2017. “An expert is someone that excels in what they know. The only thing the folks in metro Detroit need to know is, ‘Silva Knows Tankless.’”
So to answer the original question, “Why Silva?” It’s excelling at his job, confident and measured in his everyday approach to the trade, and being a loyal tankless enthusiast who promotes a good product at an affordable price. It’s also the dedication to the product line by continuing education and attending intensive training courses.
Ultimately, it is being really good at what you do, and perhaps it’s in the simplicity of Silva’s overall message to service contracting, “Give the customer a greater service than what they originally had.”