Greenhouse Digital PR
Mike Corsillo drives out to a job site.

Entrepreneurship in the Skilled Trades

May 31, 2022
Oatey Co. talks opportunities, challenges and technology with a successful plumbing contractor and business owner.

By Katherine Lehtinen, Senior Vice President, Brand and Digital Marketing, Oatey Co.

The skilled trades offer security like none other. No matter how the marketplace or the economy may shift, we will always need plumbers, welders, electricians, and builders to build our homes, keep the lights and water on, and pave our roads.

If you're a business-minded tradesman, a trade business may be an avenue for success. A skilled trade offers a great opportunity to own your own business or even grow within an established company. High demand is one reason to become self-employed and start your own business.

However, there are a few factors to consider before jumping ship and starting a small trade business. To shed light on entrepreneurship in the trades and how to operate at the utmost efficiency, we sought some insights from third-generation plumber Mike Corsillo.


Corsillo has a background familiar to many professional plumbers: tagging along with his dad to job sites as a kid, thinking what fun it was to be at work with him. These good memories cemented his career choice—joining his father and brother at Corsillo Plumbing & Sewer Cleaning. In 1998, he launched the New Construction Division (NCD) of the family business.

But after many years as one company, Mike set out on his own in 2004, establishing NCD Corsillo Plumbing in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. The name, of course, pays homage to his family's history and his own future in the plumbing business. Corsillo's company has installed plumbing in hundreds, if not thousands, of new homes while also handling remodels even during the recent pandemic. With 22 employees and 14 trucks, Corsillo's trading area extends roughly 80 miles from the headquarters office in Chardon, Ohio.

[Watch this video to learn more about NCD Corsillo Plumbing.]

Trade Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall economic growth and population will increase demand for new buildings, roads, and other structures. This demand provides a stable foundation for new business owners because there won't be a shortage of construction projects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates employment in the construction and extraction occupations is projected to grow six percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations, and gain about 400,000 new jobs.

However, while the job opportunities are readily available, it's no secret that there is a shortage of skilled trade professionals to fill these positions—not to mention the pandemic-related labor shortages that still impact project timelines and plans. It's clear that, now more than ever, the skilled trades offer an opportunity for significant growth and career advancement.

While Corsillo encourages skilled trades professionals to consider owning their own businesses down the line, "Simply working in the skilled trades is an accomplishment in itself,” he explains, “because you're doing something a lot of people can't do."

As a skilled tradesman you have the opportunity for growth, whether within an established company or starting your own business down the line.

"Owning a business is a pride thing," says Corsillo. "While not all owners use their last name in their company name, I feel proud that my company, NCD Corsillo Plumbing, quite literally represents my family and me."

Demands of Ownership

Corsillo emphasizes while owning a business is rewarding, it's important to keep in mind what it means to be a business owner. "You might have all the right tools and trade skills to start your own business, but have you considered the sacrifice and stress that comes with it?" he asks.

"As a business owner, I'm working 24/7," says Corsillo. "I'm constantly getting calls, and it doesn't matter what time of day it is."

As Corsillo explains, when you're just an employee on the job site, you're there for only eight to nine hours. Then you go home with no other job-related worries. You're not concerned about payroll, paying your vendors, maintaining your equipment, insurance claims, warranties, etc.

The point is, being an entrepreneur is not easy. "I think we need to change our perspective a little and focus on how a hard-working employee can make an established business better," Corsillo says.

"If you're able to increase a company's revenue, a great owner will share that revenue with you in the form of a raise and employee benefits."

Corsillo believes advancing within an established company may be a better path to follow, rather than taking the all-too-common advice: "If you're a good plumber. You should just go start your own plumbing company."

Corsillo explains that the industry is seeing a lot of two-person and three-person shops, where compensation or revenue is equivalent or relatively low, compared with the wage they could receive when working for a large plumbing company that would typically involve less sacrifice and stress.

"I think we need to start expanding some of these bigger companies, and the owners, like myself, have to reward hardworking employees in a significant way." Corsillo notes that he is not discounting ownership, explaining, "There are plenty of successful plumbing companies out there."

The Manpower Problem

However, Corsillo shares a hard truth: "Right now, I have four members on my team who have the potential to run a ten- to fifteen-person crew. But I can't find those workers for them to manage because the manpower is not there. If I had the workforce available, I would have the opportunity to triple the size of my business."

What often happens is a strong-willed worker with the skills and the drive to be an entrepreneur leaves a company because they are frustrated. They then start a business and take on contracts they can't handle. Corsillo uses the example of roughing in new-construction homes.

The new business owner can likely rough in about two houses a month. However, the builder has six homes in need of plumbing rough-ins. The new business owner is now left with a dissatisfied builder who subsequently approaches a larger plumbing company. Now there's a bidding war.

And you guessed it: The bigger company will be able to outbid the smaller, new-business owner just because they're able to handle not just two, but all six houses. But, if the new-business owner chose to stay with his employer and help grow the established company, he could have been running that division and probably be making more money with less pressure.

Again, Corsillo stresses that a tradesperson can successfully run a business and make a very good living. It just takes a certain level of commitment, dedication, and sacrifice. 

Measuring Success

According to Corsillo, your company's success depends on how well you treat your employees.

"I believe a successful trade business has to offer certain benefits to their employees, such as coverage under BWC, health insurance, a savings or 401K plan, disability, and life insurance policies."

Corsillo adds that you also must provide your employees with the tools to succeed on the job site, from construction vehicles to new technology. Furthermore, Corsillo believes good relationships with vendors are key so "you can have consistent work."

He adds that you should be prepared to face many obstacles and potentially devastating losses. For example, in the plumbing industry, a major problem may be water damage. "Water damage means mold remediation, which means big expenses," explains Corsillo. His advice? Limit the potential for leaks to occur by installing high-quality products.

Finally, to be a successful business owner; you must be dedicated to your business, while finding a way to streamline business operations, Corsillo notes:

"It's easy to get caught up in the daily operation of your company, so finding ways to save time and increase efficiency is essential, and that's where technology comes in."

Streamline Operations via Technology

The construction industry is not known for adopting new technologies quickly; however, new technologies have played a key role in the success of NCD Corsillo Plumbing, according to Corsillo. From communication and on-site equipment to new-product innovations, technology increases job-site safety and impacts his team's productivity and effectiveness.

Communication: Corsillo recommends providing your team with high-tech smartphones to use on job sites to ensure effective communication. "My team does problem-solving or troubleshooting on a job site through FaceTime, photos and video," explains Corsillo. "The questions they answer via iPads and phones save so much time in the field."

Corsillo says it's a game-changer just to pull up a spec sheet, reference an online plumbing code, or watch an instructional video on site.

Equipment: Technology keeps employees safe and makes jobs more technically advanced. Corsillo references cordless drills and nailers as examples: "We're able to rough-in a whole house without any hazardous cords on the job site.

"The new products available to us are incredible," he continues. "I mean, the drills we used twenty years ago were five times the size of what's available to us now."

New products: Corsillo says his crews love utilizing new-product technology using a universal supply box from Oatey as an example that speeds installation and minimizes materials.

"We are always looking for ways to streamline our materials," says Corsillo. "We want the customer to know they are getting the latest and greatest products in their new home. Just like cell phones: No matter what you have, the new one always seems better. We are trying to do that with plumbing products."

Software: Corsillo notes that his business relies heavily on scheduling, invoicing, and other software programs to expedite their paperwork. NCD Corsillo Plumbing uses TSheets, a web-based and mobile time-tracking and employee-scheduling app, for all its scheduling needs.

According to Corsillo, TSheets also serves as his team's digital timecard.

"When they start their workday, they can see their whole schedule and a brief description of where they're going. They simply click on the address, and it gives them GPS, so they get to the job site on time." 

Katherine Lehtinen is Senior Vice President, Brand and Digital Marketing, at Oatey. She joined the company in 2017 as Director of Marketing, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and brand management. Katherine is a proven leader and marketing expert with a strong understanding of the residential and commercial plumbing industry. She also co-hosts The Fix, a  podcast built to support tradespeople, promote education, foster innovation and inspire the next generation of essential pros.

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