Dedication to your business—that’s what makes its successful. That means late hours, weekends, holidays and nighttime calls. You pay the cost to be the Boss. The plumbing trade is one that requires you to be available when Mr. or Mrs. Customer calls. I have always been surprised to hear other plumbers say “I don’t go out at nights.” I think sometimes you have to be the Midnight Rider and go out late at night. Get dressed, warm up the van and do one more job.
I can see telling a customer how to shut off the water and saying I’ll be over in the morning, but what if the water is coming out of the ceiling? How do you tell that customer “Sorry I’ll see you in the morning”? How about no heat? I’ve had customers say I can wait until tomorrow if it’s not so cold out. Maybe it’s just one zone? But if they say it’s really getting cold or of the whole boiler is out? You’ve got to go if you want to keep them as a customer. You have to provide a service, right?
And that brings up a good point: are they a regular customer or a tire kicker? Are they just calling everyone they can find? We used to say they were going through the yellow pages but Yellow Pages went the way of the buffalo. It can be a tough call. I’ve gone out for a new customer whose heat is out or who has an active leak. One of my techs used to say, “Why should we go out if their plumber won’t return their call?“ Well, it’s a judgment call. They may never use you again; but other times I’ve had customers say to me, “You’re the only one to return my call. You’re our plumber from now on.” Service is how you grow a business. Treat people the way you want to be treated. My old Boss use to tell me “Scott, we are in a service business. If we don’t provide service, we aren’t in business.”
I think the worst thing about going out a night is not knowing what you’re going to find on a no-heat call. Anxiety—is it low water pressure? I love those calls. Add some water and bring the pressure back up and you’re off and running. I got a call for a German boiler on a Saturday night. I thought as I drove over damn, I don’t have parts for this boiler. Yup, low water. I looked like the hero. Other times it’s more involved. We try and stock parts for the most common boilers in our area but you can’t have everything. That’s another change in our business, all the different parts. Years ago we used to carry a few gas valves, a couple of primary controls and pilot assemblies and we could fix almost every boiler. Now you have to have parts for ten different boilers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of modern boilers. I know some guys are not but the cat is out of the bag. These boilers are here to stay.
I got myself all worked up New Year’s Eve. I received a call for no hot water and no heat. We sell one boiler as our main product and we keep parts in stock. It was three in the afternoon so I was hoping it was simple and I would be back home in an hour. The boiler was in Lock Out. The code was Flame Loss During Trial For Ignition. Okay. Pulled the spark ignitor and they looked like a chocolate brownie. It hadn’t been serviced in a few years. I cleaned the flame and igniter hoping that’s all it was and… no go. I pulled the igniter again, shut off the gas and watched for a spark… I had a spark. Now I was getting nervous. It was getting late and supply houses would be closing. I checked the condensate, air intake, and all the electrical connections. Come ON. Nothing. I called my number one best heating tech and he said I’ll be right over (he’s a good guy). He checked what I had checked and decided to put in a new flame rod and rectification rod. She fired right up. I should have gone back to the shop and gotten new rods and changed them both. Instead I let my mind go wild. I panicked. A calm mind does wonders and a panic makes you drop logic.
Some times when it’s a night call or a holiday and you want to get out quick you lose logic and start to let emotion take over. I knew what the right thing to do was but I was in a hurry. No short cuts at night. Take your time and do the right thing. Make a new customer. Grow your business. Be the Midnight Rider if you have to be.
Scott Milne is the owner of Milne Plumbing and Heating. He and his company have been serving the greater Boston area for nearly 30 years. He specializes in high-efficiency heating systems for custom homes.