John and Matt McQuillan come from a long, long line of plumbers — five generations of them, to be exact, all bearing the McQuillan name. Founded in 1883, their company, McQuillan Bros. in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the oldest plumbing company in Minnesota and one of the oldest in the U.S.
But while John and Matt’s company is doing well now, the situation was very different just a few years ago.
“Four years ago, it was four of us, and we were doing about $780,000 per year,” John McQuillan says. “Now we’ve got 43 people on our team and we’re on track to do between $11 and $12 million.”
John and Matt McQuillan’s father, John McQuillan Sr., attributes at least some of their success to industry best practices group Nexstar Network.
“We’re Nexstar members,” he says. “We joined Nexstar six years ago, and our focus has been to follow the Nexstar model.”
The company’s incredible turnaround culminated in a complete rebranding of the McQuillan Bros.’ 20 vehicles, primarily Ford Transits, with help from Dan Antonelli of KickCharge Creative. The truck wraps feature old-timey drawings of the current owners dressed in period attire — an homage to the company’s rich 135-year heritage.
“We started out in St. Paul, downtown,” John McQuillan Sr. says. “The father of the person who started McQuillan brothers was in the wholesale grocery business, and he was very affluent. He ran with James J. Hill and his wife, and because of his connections, they were very well established and were doing plumbing all over the country. My grandfather did all the gas piping out at Yellowstone.”
McQuillan Bros. also did all the plumbing out at the Minnesota State Fair from 1947 until 2011.
“We were the primary plumbing contractors out there, and in the early 1900s, we also laid out and installed the entire district steam system for the city of Duluth, Minnesota,” he adds.
While the company has been around for quite some time, John McQuillan says the key to the company’s current success is its employees and company culture.
“Our company culture is the most near and dear thing to us,” he says. “We make sure integrity’s at the forefront of what we do. Our core values are on the wall — passion, accountability, integrity and celebration. We hire and fire by those, and we live them. Passion flows through this business.”
Though John and Matt McQuillan were never pressured to become plumbers, they naturally gravitated toward the profession after seeing how it provided for so many generations of McQuillans.
“I was not going to be a plumber, so I packed up and I moved to Arizona to become a real estate mogul, and about a year later I came home and got some tools from my dad and got to work,” John McQuillan says, chuckling. “And I can tell you, it’s been an interesting transition going from tradesman to a business owner — it’s a totally different deal, that’s for sure. And it’s awesome. I’m super grateful.”
As if increasing revenue tenfold in four years wasn’t enough, the McQuillan brothers have a similarly ambitious goal for the company: To be one of the first shops in the Twin City area to hit the $100 million mark.
“What’s the future look like? We’re just going to continue to do outstanding work and stand behind our craftsmanship,” John McQuillan says. “Where will it end? I don’t know, but as long as people need plumbing, heating and cooling, we’ll be there to continue to carry on the family tradition.”