Training the Professional Problem-solver

Aug. 1, 2017
Manufacturers rely on rep firms to provide critical training to the plumbing trades.

Plumbing contractors today are bombarded by new technology and ideas -- in the software they use in the office, in the apps they use on their mobile devices, and in the products they install and service. This series of articles will explain why training is critical for plumbing contractors in order to be competitive, successful and able to grow their businesses.

Training is part of the job for manufacturer rep firms — training their customers on how to install, use and repair the products their clients create. In the plumbing industry, it is critical for the health and safety of the public that plumbers are properly trained and certified. Building relationships with plumbing contractors to provide them with professional and reliable products from clients is a rep firm’s greatest skill.

Manufacturers in the plumbing industry are consistently introducing new products every year to save water, energy, time and money for the homeowner or business owner. Successful contractors know that training doesn’t stop when you get your license — it’s an ongoing process to make sure they can provide the best solutions for their customers’ problems.

For Cincinnati-based Halpin Plumbing, product training helps keep the lights on. It also keeps its six plumbers, three excavators, three apprentices and one helper working.

“Plumbing, like any industry, is always evolving,” explains Skylar Halpin, office and marketing manager at Halpin Plumbing. “Where manufacturers are constantly trying to make their products better, easier to use, easier to understand, to meet customers’ needs better. If we stay up-to-date on training, it’s a huge service for ourselves and our customers to be able to know what is out there, how to properly install it, and how it can benefit the customer.”

Happy customers mean repeat business and referrals to friends and family.

Halpin, who has a master plumber’s license, is the third generation of her family to work in the plumbing contracting firm. Her grandfather, John Halpin, started the company in the 1950s; her father, Joe Halpin, now runs the company. Halpin Plumbing serves its customers in residential service, new construction and excavation.

“I believe the average person doesn’t understand a lot about the plumbing industry that I've been learning myself, and I’m a person who had a dad as a plumber,” she notes. “I've really been humbled and I love working in an industry that is so relevant and so important.”

Extensive training is how plumbers at Halpin Plumbing stay on top of the changes happening in the ever-changing plumbing industry. Photo credit: Halpin Plumbing

Halpin has a solid relationship with manufacturers rep firm StreamKey, also located in Cincinnati, which reps Zoeller Company and other plumbing manufacturers.

“Manufacturer-based training helps plumbing contractors provide knowledge-based solutions to their customers, making them professional problem-solvers,” says Mike Felton, owner and founder of StreamKey, Inc. “As the rep, our duty is to provide sales dollars for our manufacturers coupled with training for the contractors. That purpose has never changed. Where I see the change is the technologies we have available that enhance the training, such as cloud-based products, YouTube videos, more hands-on training.”

And it’s those types of hands-on tools that engage Halpin’s plumbers.

“We recently had some training over at StreamKey; they have all these new apps that are easily available on your phone now — you can check a customer’s system, have it automatically test itself on the hour, every week, however you want to set it up,” Halpin says. “If we’re not up-to-date on that knowledge, we are not able to properly inform our customers.

“Using YouTube videos allows us to say, ‘Hey, this is what it offers,’ when we are installing a product. Or when we’re quoting a job, the customer can have a better picture of what we are installing in their house.”

StreamKey, Inc. has a 2,000-sq.-ft. training room with working pump systems, heaters, water coolers and safety equipment.

Mike Felton, owner and founder of manufacturers rep StreamKey, says that manufacturer-based training helps make plumbers professional problem-solvers for their customers. Photo credit: StreamKey, Inc.

“These are all working products in a nice, clean environment where we teach contractors how to install and troubleshoot, as well as the features, benefits and limitations of each product,” Felton notes. “Most people, especially those in the trades, do much better with hands-on learning vs. sitting and listening to a lecture. These stations in our training room provide them the hands-on experiences they want.”

He adds that plumbing contractors not only see training as important to their businesses’ bottom lines, but also to the continuation of their craftsmanship.

“I believe these contractors are very proud of their vocation,” Felton says. “They want to be more educated and have more product knowledge in order to provide a better solution to their customers’ issues.” 

Today’s plumbing products incorporate more technology with each new incarnation. Keeping abreast of what’s new in the industry — and proper installation and troubleshooting techniques — can give plumbing contractors a competitive advantage, especially when they highlight that training in marketing and advertising materials.

Halpin notes that to get a plumbing license in Ohio, you have to work in the field for four years. Physically working with plumbing products is the most successful way to learn, she believes, and can help when unexpected situations pop up on the jobsite.

“It's better to have consistent, regular training, even if it’s something online, then not at all,” she says. “The industry is evolving and to stay on top of it is the smartest thing we can do for ourselves and anyone we do service with.”

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