BY BOB MIODONSKI
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
SAN FRANCISCO — Since going into business on his own in 1971, Roger Peugeot has built Roger The Plumber into one of the best-known residential plumbing service firms in the country. People know Peugeot through his visibility at plumbing industry events, his work with different plumbing manufacturers, his appearances in national consumer media and his own marketing efforts for his business in Overland-Park, Kan.
He discussed the state of the residential service plumbing business with CONTRACTOR during the Quality Service Contractors' Power Meeting July 22- 24 here. Peugeot joined the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors --National Association in 1971 and was a founding member of its QSC subgroup in 1995.
Question: What are the biggest issues facing residential service plumbers?
Roger Peugeot: Plumbing service is a very difficult job. We need clean-cut people who know how to do the job. But customers look at this job like it's not that hard. We have 1,100 faucets and low-flow toilet issues to deal with. I don't think the public takes this as seriously as we do.
When you're in this business, the costs all go to the customer, if you're doing things properly. I'm not the kind of owner who wants to cut back on employees' pay or benefits or on trucks or uniforms.
More people complain about price than they used to after the job is done. People buy something then change their minds. We've seen more people who say that as long as you're here for this job, do this other job too. Then they complain about the price later.
We're an extraordinary company. We're open 24 hours, seven days week. Whenever people need us, we'll come out. Then when their pain is over, they think that what we did may not have been that difficult.
Q: Are you concerned about where the next generation of service plumbers will come from?
RP: Other contractors tell me that finding technicians is their biggest problem. It's not for me. I have a waiting list of people who work for other companies that I can draw from.
I'm in the training and development business. I have two to three guys in training and development at all times. I don't worry about me, but I think that everyone who has a concern should get a guy on a truck to learn the job. You can't have it any other way. It's all onthejob training.
We're in the service and repair business.-We're there to fix something. We're not designing anything. We're diagnosing problems. If you ride with a good, quality technician for a while, there's not much you can't do.
Handling conversations with people is more difficult. That's what takes a year or two to get them trained.
Q: As a service contractor, how do you view The Home Depot, Lowe's and other big-box home centers?
RP: In many cases, the customers who complain about price have been to a home center. We look at home centers as a competitor; they're the enemy. But they can't compete with us. Our trucks are fully loaded with water heaters, toilets, faucets and parts. Once we get to the house, people buy our stuff. Our customers are fully served by having us there in a way that they can't be served by Home Depot.
Q: What about utilities? RP: They are out of service and repairs in our area; they're not a threat to us at all.
Others have to deal with utilities subsidizing their service operations and that's a killer for some QSC members.
Q: What have been the biggest changes you've seen since you've entered the business?
RP: My dad started this company in 1950, and I started my Roger The Plumber business in 1971. He died in 1972 and I took over his part of the business.
I've been flat rate since November of '93, and that's when I became a businessman. I transferred my business from time-and-materials to a very profitable and rewarding business to own and operate. I've been able to pay my people more and pay for health insurance for them and their families too. We have a 401(k), which lets them save money. I've improved my trucks. It's the best thing I ever did to run a profitable company.
Q: Are their any pitfalls to being a flat-rate contractor?
RP: I can't think of anything. I doubledmy salary and doubled it again. I don't see the hourly guys paying their people or paying their own salary what it should be for the amount of work they're doing.
Q: What about other changes you've seen in the business?
RP: One would be the super truck that George Brazil came up with. It lets you carry everything on your service truck that you'll need on the job.
The number-crunching seminars from Frank Blau also made a big difference. He was successful and didn't have to do it, but he went on the road to help other contractors crunch numbers and to get the price they should.
Q: What changes do you see happening in the plumbing service business in the next five to 10 years?
RP: Let me answer it this way. Something happened to me where I found it very gratifying to be able to help people make money to buy a house or a new car or a boat. I see more companies like mine that will help people grow.