This North Carolina-based Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise finds profitability with water treatment services.
The Charlotte, North Carolina area has .75 to 1.5 parts per million of chlorine in its water and outlying areas have up to 3.5 ppm of chloramine, a derivitive of ammonia. It’s almost like drinking pool water, says Paul Stefano, general manager of the Charlotte Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise. These chemicals severely damage plumbing fixtures and water-using appliances.
“There’s a real need for filtration systems around here,” the 15-year industry veteran explains. “The chlorine in the water is an oxidizer and breaks down plastic and rubber components in faucets and water heaters. People spend a lot of money on plumbing repairs. We were selling a little water filtration equipment, but saw the revenue we were missing out on.”
Dan King Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning was founded in 1971; today, Mike Fowler and Tom Rea Jr. share ownership of the firm. The Benjamin Franklin Plumbing part of the business provides replacement and repair plumbing services to clients within a 40-mile radius of Charlotte. The HVAC portion operates as a One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating franchise.
While consistently ranking among the very top plumbing companies in the area, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing also earned a recent Consumers’ Choice Award for Plumbing Contractors in Charlotte.
Always on the lookout for ways to expand their business, Fowler and Rea added ProSystem’s whole-house water filtration systems to the company’s services in late 2009.
“You can’t just walk in and tell homeowners they need water filtration,” Stefano notes. “They’ll think it’s gimmicky, when in fact this is probably the most useful tool in the house. Helping the plumber understand the need for water filtration and how to explain it simply to consumers is crucial. Installing a whole-house system can really slow down the effects of chlorine in a home.”
Once the vendor partner decision was made, no time was lost in getting the program up and running with technical as well as intensive sales training. Several Benjamin Franklin Plumbing technicians went to http://www.aquion.com/ ProSystems’ factory training. On-site training was provided by ProSystems’ Eric Brockmire, in the form of 1 1/2 day classes. Follow-up support is provided as needed and annual refresher classes bring new insights to BFP techs, along with issue-resolving discussions to aid ongoing efforts.
Technical as well as sales training for all Benjamin Franklin Plumbing product lines benefit from the new 10,000-sq.-ft. facility into which the company moved last summer.
The training area includes classroom and conference areas, plus hands-on sections for HVAC equipment and water heaters (tank and tankless types), as well as water filtration, softeners and related products.
Although BFP technicians don’t consider themselves salesmen, sales of water filtration systems evolved into an integral part of repair-replacement calls.
“The guys need to know what their goals are and where they’re at in meeting them. Management also needs to be kept up-to-date,” Stefano says. “We track a number of key performance indicators such as filtration sales. We have monthly reports that show where techs are for the past month and for the year, plus a daily management report. KPIs are tracked on big boards in our training room downstairs so techs can check progress in different areas.”
Steady sales growth
The addition of whole-house water filtration has generated revenue for Charlotte Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. Water filtration sales topped $300,000 in 2010, half a million in 2011, more than $700,000 in 2012 and nearly $900,000 in 2013. Stefano says sales could reach $1 million this year.
Water filtration accounted for slightly more than 15% of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing’s total gross income in 2012 and, Stefano says, profit margins on these products send a good number of those dollars directly to the company’s bottom line.
“What’s more, we’re calling on people who called us first,” he points out. “A customer brings us in to fix a problem, which puts us in position to assess household needs and potentially educate and sell them a system that will prevent future, costly repairs. And I don’t spend a dime on marketing.”
About one out of every eight BFP service calls leads to a water filtration system installation.
Benjamin Franklin Plumbing does, however, “train, train, train,” Stefano says, and extends the basic “protect your plumbing” story with its own sales aids for in-home use.
“Most people are visual,” Stefano notes. “You have to show them, not just tell them. The easiest thing to do is take off the top of the toilet tank and show them how parts are disintegrating, such as flappers and bowl gaskets.
“We have several pricing guides with dollar figures on what it costs to repair or replace various fixtures and water-using appliances, which makes much more sense to consumers. We tell them the chlorine in the water starts to destroy their new faucet or toilet as soon as it’s installed. If you remove the chlorine, you will get a lot more life out of anything water-related.”
Educating the customer on the aggressive water in the area is important, Stefano says. A number of BFP technicians are well-versed in water filtration and can install complete systems themselves. Others explain how the chlorinated water destroys plumbing, then call in a senior tech who usually closes the sale for them.
“If you’re not letting customers know what kind of money they’ll be spending without a water filtration system, you’re really doing them an injustice,” he notes.
A plumbing tech can compare a customer’s yearly water bill with the number of gallons for which the ProSystem’s carbon tank is rated and quickly calculate how long it is likely to last. The customer can immediately see he won’t have to refresh the granular activated carbon bed after only a year of use.
For those who can’t afford the expense of a whole-house system, Charlotte Benjamin Franklin Plumbing does offer some traditional financing options through Wells Fargo, as well as a 45-day check process that customers find helpful.
“Plumbers are in customers’ homes every day and it’s up to us to educate them on what the area’s water does to their plumbing,” Stefano says. “We get about 35 to 40 service calls a day; that’s 35 to 40 homeowners we can reach out to and show them the advantages of getting chlorine out of their water.”
For plumbing contractors who want to add water filtration/treatment services to their business, Stefano says be a proponent of the product. Having a person on staff to keep water filtration top-of-mind for service techs is important for success.
“Our hiring process here doesn’t just focus on technical skills,” he adds. “We need good communicators to give our customers peace of mind when it comes to their water.”