This month, PHCC — National Association President Joel Long, owner of Gastonia, North Carolina-based GSM Services, will pass the baton to Dave Frame, fourth-generation owner of Bob Frame Plumbing Services, South Bend, Indiana. Plumbing & Mechanical Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had a chance to chat with Frame about what he hopes to accomplish during his term and the many opportunities for PHCC members over the next year.

PM: Where’d you get your start in the industry?
DF: My family owned a plumbing contracting business, but that actually pushed me away at first. I don’t know how it is for other kids when they’re thinking about what they want to do and their family owns a business. Really, I think if you poll them and took a survey, you'd find out that most of them say, ‘That's the last thing I want to do.’ And I was in that group, I was not going to be a plumber. I wasn't going to do it. I spent a lot of summers helping my dad through high school and I really didn't have an interest. I went to work for an excavating contractor right out of high school, and the owner was like a second dad, and a great guy. Two years in, we sat down, and he was telling me how well I was doing and everything and I was really happy. And then he looked at me and goes, "But you really should consider to go work for your dad, go through the apprenticeship. This could be a really good job here for you, but you got a golden opportunity and you really ought to take advantage of it and look at it." And that's what steered me that way.

I went through the apprenticeship for five years while working for my dad. I got my plumbing license and my contractor’s license. Then, in the early 1980s, basically took over the company and became president — and ran it with not much office skill at all. My dad told me, "You know where I live," and our succession plan handoff was made up of about 99% luck at that point. It’s a real danger — the only thing that saved me was that I networked and got around a lot of people that were in the business. Some of them weren't even in our trade or business, they had other businesses and they were just mentors for me — they helped me and directed me. Without those kind of people, there's no way I would've made it, that's for sure.

PM: Did you ever think you would be president of an organization like PHCC?
DF: No. I was our local chapter president of St. Joe Valley PHCC/MCA, and I'm very proud of that. It was a very good group of people that I am still in touch with today, and then I was part of our state PHCC chapter with Brenda Dant, our state director. Again, another person that I network with still today, that took me under her wing, showed me the part about the association, the business part of it and everything. That taught me a lot downstate. And especially when you have a director that tells you, "Hey, my job is to make you look good. I'm here for you," that gives you a support group and it helps you to do well. I never thought I would be going into an opportunity to maybe be the president of PHCC National. Joel Long, he's our president right now, a good friend from North Carolina, called me one day and asked if I'd run for vice president. And then I said, "Yeah, the trade's been good to my family and me, I'll do my part and I'll give it my best shot." What’s prepared me for this is watching Joel. His whole theme is positive leadership and the guy lives it every day. I don't care what day you call him, he’s positive. And that becomes contagious. That something that I needed help on. Can I be a positive leader? You bet. But can I be it every day? That's really tough. You get around, Joel, and he keeps reminding you that you must — you can’t start the day with negativity or else it’s going to rub off on your people and that’s how they’re going to be for the day. Again, this is all networking and learning from other people. It’s helped prepare me for this position going in.

Dave Frame, fourth-generation owner of Bob Frame Plumbing Services, South Bend, Indiana, and incoming president of PHCC — National Association.

PM: What are the top three items on PHCC’s national legislative/regulatory agenda?
The top one is energy and the natural gas. PHCC is concerned about the pushback about the gas ban in different states. It's been fought in New York and it's going to be something we're all going to possibly face. Not having the choice of whether you want gas or electric appliances is problematic. That's probably the No. 1 thing we're watching.

Additionally, PHCC — and other associations like the UA — believe that the best tradespeople are licensed tradespeople. Strong licensing is critical to protect the health and safety of the American people. We all believe that. So that's probably No. 2.

And No. 3 is workforce development and apprenticeship. PHCC believes in registered apprenticeships and a well-rounded tradesperson. Whether it's a four-year or a five-year school program, we believe it's critical for the next generation to get the training instead of just, "Here are the tools, here's a truck. Get in it and go run some gas line today or some med gas at a hospital.”

PM: Where do the greatest business opportunities lie for PHCC members over the next few years, and how is PHCC going to help them take advantage?
PHCC — National Association just got its Business Intelligence Department up and running this year. PHCC Consultant Michael Copp does a great job on reviewing and interpreting the latest trends and surveys for small businesses like mine. We’re under 20 employees, and you can get a lot of information for the trade side, but what about the office? What is the normal pay for a shop my size for a dispatcher or office manager? There’s nowhere you can find that information. Business intelligence of this type on the surveys and other information, I think for me, for our smaller company, is going to be critical for us.

PM: What other areas of growth do you see for PHCC member companies?
We're trying to balance out the HVAC training to the plumbing side. Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors, PHCC is both. And over the years, it just seems like plumbing had a lot of the training and schooling. Everything was set up for more of the plumbing side and not the HVAC. This year, we started ramping up the HVAC side — that's something our contractors have been asking for a long time, to make it equal instead of it just a plumbing association, it's plumbing, heating, cooling, and now we're definitely doing that. And I'm really happy to see that. My company doesn't do heating or cooling, but I think it's the right thing to do.

PM: What are the biggest challenges PHCC members will face over the next year?
It’s trying to find qualified workers, and getting them to show up on time and commit to the work. The tough thing in our industry right now is the service companies, because of the rotating on-call status. The hours are probably more than new construction. A lot of us might average 50 hours/week in that area sometimes, and it’s really tough finding the people who want to do the work. The pay isn’t the issue, the benefits are not the issue, it's the hours. We really need to look at that and figure out how do we solve the problem? Is it shift work? If not, what is it? And that's a problem for everybody, for union contractors and non-union contractors. It’s something we're all looking at together to try to figure this out.

Obviously the gas prices are also an issue, they’re going up and down throughout the area. As far as getting product, we haven't had a problem like we did last year. Regarding the supply chains, we were having issues with water heaters, garbage disposals, fittings, where we were having to reach out to wholesalers in different areas that we never did before. Right now, it isn't that bad, I just hope it keeps getting better. I think the biggest issue with everybody right now that you talk to, no matter what state they're in, even over inflation, it's the manpower. Getting individuals — women and men — to come in and work.

PM: What is the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish in your time as PHCC president?
We have a five-year strategic plan. It’s a good thing because every year, PHCC gets a new president. So every year someone could turn the wheel and we're going in a different direction. But with that strategic plan, we're going to stay on course. Can it be tweaked as we go? Yeah, but I think that's really important to stay on that five-year strategic plan and to accomplish things that we set in front of us. That's going to be my biggest goal. The other thing, I guess, on more of a personal side, is just the collaboration. Networking is everything to me. It’s the other reason we're in business is because I surrounded myself with really great people and learned from them while hoping I bring value to them also. That's something I want to tie in deeper with our sponsors, our corporate partners, wholesalers, all the different other associations we deal with. I just want to bring everybody a little tighter together with better communication — that’s what I'm personally after for our theme.

PM: What is one piece of advice you would like to pass along to the younger members of this industry?
The one thing I would tell them — because I didn't really realize it when I took over the company — I thought to be successful, you have to be big. You have to have 50, 100, 200 employees. I would look at those companies and go, "Wow, that is successful." But on the other side, you could have a small company, if you're paying them well, they have good benefits and they're safe and you have the training, to me, that's success right there. You have to keep in mind what you want out of life and what you want to do with your company. What size do you want to build it? Shoot for those goals, but don't always think you got to have 100 people to have a successful business. You can have one person or two and be very successful.

PM: What would you say to students who are on the fence about college or entering a trade?
What I tell younger people, men and women, that don't look at college as No. 1 is to ask themselves what do they want out of life? And if that doesn't work out for them, they have No. 2, and that could be a trade. It could also be the other way around where maybe let’s look at the trade first. Maybe, if that doesn’t work, then go to college.

Obviously, there's been a lot of marketing about the trades and how you don't end up with a huge loan at the end. Your education's paid for, and you're starting out possibly with a $70,000 or even higher job when you get your journeyman's card. And the opportunities go a lot farther than that. The big thing is to look at those opportunities as equal. We have employees here who are college graduates who, after graduating, went through our five-year apprenticeship program through Local 172, and they are very well-rounded people. They’re good in the field, good at management. It’s a great combination to have both, to be honest.

PM: What are some of your hobbies outside of PHCC and work?
If you think mowing grass is really a hobby, I guess that's mine. We have a small horse farm. My wife and daughter ride Quarter horses, so there's a lot of stuff to do there that keeps me busy far as mowing and painting fences. I actually enjoy it. I'm a project guy. I like to do projects and look behind me and see that it's done and feel that accomplishment. Besides that, it's hanging out with my kids, hanging out with my two granddaughters that I love, and doing things with them.

PM: What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?
This is going to be a boring answer, but I'm a very open person. When I'm around friends or people I meet, there's not really anything hidden. I’m not a good singer. I don't know any instruments I can play. Nothing like that to amaze people with. Like I said, I'm very transparent. I'm very open. So when someone's around me, what they see is what they get.