I have seen and experienced a large number of events, situations and changes in my career, which includes many years in the plumbing industry with a family of more than 20 plumbers and having my own master’s license since 1976. I also served as vice president for a company with more than $20 million in annual revenue. I was able to take these life experiences and continue my career as an international business trainer for Contractor Success Group and International Service Leadership. I am currently semi-retired, but serve as the head plumbing instructor for Ultimate Technical Academy, the innovator of fast-track training, with students hailing from all 50 states, Canada, Cayman, Kathmandu and Nigeria.
With all of my years of experience, not to mention lessons from others in the industry, I have never seen anything like the tsu-nami that is arriving at the door of every plumbing contractor in the country as the end of life arrives for cast iron pipe in homes and businesses.
If you recall, years ago, we experienced a surge in replacing Orangeburg soil pipe and galvanized water pipe. The need to replace cast iron pipe will be at least 100-times greater than Orangeburg and galvanized piping combined.
In addition to this need for replacement, is the fact that we are averaging 10,000 baby boomers a day entering retirement in the U.S. At the time of retirement, many of these individuals are electing to either downsize or upgrade their existing older homes.
All of these variables are great for the plumbing industry. We love our profession, but because of all the folks retiring, we are al-ready feeling the pinch of labor shortage. In many markets, customers are waiting two weeks or longer for service. For the first time in the history of man, one country — the U.S. — is retiring 74 million! Yes that is 74,000,000 people of one generation. This number is 7 million more than the entire population of France.
We are looking at a drainage systems designed to last 75 years now reaching their ends. There are 115 million homes in the U.S. built before 1960. This number doesn’t even take into account commercial structures. In many neighborhoods, because of unique environmental conditions, we find complete subdivisions with cast iron systems failing at 50 years. All of these conditions come to-gether to create “The Perfect Storm.”
Few of our businesses are prepared to face this storm. Many have been focused on building their business. This perfect storm requires we either prepare to face it successfully or get washed away by the deluge. I can promise you this major event in the plumbing industry will crush many small businesses who will try to take care of all their customer’s needs as those needs swell with current drain system replacement. Many homeowners with minimal equity will walk away from their home at a time when flipping a house with a new drainage system will be a great asset for the seller.
If you heed the forecast, see the storm coming and prepare, you can be a winner. The big question now is how do I use this information to prepare? Simply put, find the work and do the job. However, there are a number of slight changes that you can implement for minimal cost.
Train your technicians to get the free home inspection, looking for all issues. If the customer has an antiquated drainage sys-tem, the homeowner needs an inspection at least annually to minimize structural damage when the system fails. When the work is complete, the cost of the maintenance agreement will more than offset the discount given to the homeowner.
Be prepared to offer financing or work with a financing institution.
Decide how you are going to handle sales. Train a sales staff comparable to comfort advisors in the HVAC industry, or allow your tech to write a ticket that might reach $60,000.
Plan in advance how you will handle different re-pipe situations. Will you cut a foundation to replace pipe (threatening the structure possibly) or reline the existing pipe and break concrete only when required?
Know your city. Focus on the subdivisions built before the mid-70s. Be aware that in the mid-50s, DWV copper replaced cast iron in new construction, don’t waste your advertising dollars by direct mailing in these areas.
Train your employees. Be prepared for the technician shortage.
Educate your clients to be prepared for potential problems.
Know how you are going to handle these major re-piping jobs. Are you going to hire and cross train carpenters, tile setters, sheetrock installers and painters to do the re-pipe and associated repairs, or will you partner with a contractor to re-assemble the home? Keep in mind many of those retiring baby-boomers will see the advantage of remodeling their kitchens and baths if they are replacing their plumbing system.
Whatever changes you make or plans you implement, train your employees. Your employee training should include prepara-tion to look for the total home plumbing needs. After training, your technician should be confident, due to having the skills to make repairs, perform a total home inspection, write a maintenance agreement and schedule follow-ups and repairs as needed. If you need additional information or assistance helping your business and employees prepare for the stormy times ahead — which will drive our industry for the next 20 years — contact us at Ultimate Technical Academy.
The “perfect storm” is coming and you control the forecast.
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