Steve Carder, Carder Plumbing Co.A sensitive topic for Steve Carder is "do-it-yourself plumbing." He explains that, in his area, many rural homeowners take on home improvement jobs that they should avoid. Two years ago, a local elderly couple died in an explosion the day after they installed a gas water heater in their home. "We don't know where they bought the water heater, but we decided that day never to sell water heaters to homeowners, even electric models, unless we would do the installations."
DIYers Take Heed
Professional installations, says Carder, require high-quality professional products. "That's why, when PHCC decided to align itself with the leading manufacturers who now make up the Professional Product Line (PPL) Partners, we were excited."
"The PPL gives professional plumbing-heating-cooling wholesalers and contractors the opportunity to purchase, market and advertise quality products, services and professional expertise," says Harry Massey, Executive Director of the PPL for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors--National Association. "They can do this whether they're members of the national association, or not. And what we're seeing is that, by participating in the program, contractors are creating a positive relationship with consumers and within the industry."
Anaheim Manufacturing Co. was one of the first manufacturers to join the PPL in 1997. In the face of growing retail competition, Tom A. Dugan, who retired as company president last June, says plumbing wholesalers and contractors can't rely on traditional plumbing knowledge alone any longer.
"The contracting business needs to offer products and services with features and benefits that the retail big box stores do not offer," Dugan says. "Having products with the PHCC logo gives wholesalers and contractors their 'own' product lines that are not sold at DIY retailers."
Carder has always liked such big ideas and bold moves. Immediately after graduating from high school in the early-1970s, he enlisted in the Army's National Guard.
He returned home eight months later and joined his father in the trade at Carder Plumbing Co. in Sand Spring, a suburb of Tulsa, Okla.
What made a lasting impression on Steve was seeing how proud it made his father to exceed a customer's expectations, and to get those occasional comments and notes from people who were pleased with his work. "I wanted to follow my father's footsteps and feel that same sense of pride in what I would do with my life," he recalls. "My father, George, was a great role model for me and my younger brother, Stan, who entered the business when I did. We've now been partners in the business since 1981."
Road To SuccessContinually looking for ways to improve the business and sharpen their professional skills, Carder decided to join PHCC in 1991 when they helped form a local chapter. "It was the best business decision we'd ever made, and I can't recommend it highly enough for people in our trade."
He also joined PHCC's Quality Service Contractors group and is now a vocal champion for QSC, insisting that their peer group sessions are invaluable. "Our business has increased 10 percent a year since we joined the association," says Carder. "I attribute all of our growth to PHCC." Carder Plumbing Co. now employs 12 field professionals and four support staff.
"The plumbing, heating and air conditioning trades are an industry for professionals," he adds. "Too few of the people in the trade have that outlook. We need to raise the standard with professionalism and integrity, work ethic, appearance and dedication to the craft. And, we need to pay technicians a salary that will allow them to support their families and send their kids to college, just like everyone else.
"With the PPL manufacturers, PHCC has given us a step up in defining our role as professionals, and differentiating our business by offering products that can't be bought at the home centers. Our key wholesale suppliers -- including Wayne Arnold at Heatwave Supply, Mark Kauffman at Tulsa Winnelson, and a few others -- carry a combination of PPL products, including Hammond Valve, Wardflex, Delta Faucet and Bradford-White."
Today, Carder Plumbing Co. is growing steadily, and PPL's presence in the Tulsa region is on the move with them. In addition to offering its plumbing and HVAC expertise, the company provides line problem video diagnostics, leak detection, drain cleaning, and all variety of service and installation work.
The company enjoys 90 percent repeat business, with most new business coming from referrals. Company revenue stems from 20 percent forced air, and 80 percent plumbing. Of that 80 percent, residential and commercial work is split evenly.
Carder, who has held many local and regional PHCC positions, is now running for the position as PHCC's national vice president. "It's a way for me to give back to the organization some of what they've given to us."
Aaron Wentz, Aaron's PlumbingWhen contractor Aaron Wentz ran the PHCC-produced Professional Product Line TV and radio ads in Kearney, Neb., last year, he had to pull them because they were soon inundated with inquiries. Says Wentz: "Too many leads, too fast." Wentz is so passionate about promoting the value of PHCC that seemingly every member of his community believes "PHCC" is synonymous with professionalism and quality.
Buried, But Not Forgotten
But that's the kind of response you'd expect for a guy who was buried alive, not once but twice, in a trenching accident. People remember you, and in Aaron's case, the incident even helped him remember where to place his priorities.
Wentz, at 31 years old and owner of his own plumbing business, recalls his life- and business-altering experience more than two years ago.
On May 4, 1999, while tapping a sewer main in town, Wentz was working on a pipe 13 ft. below grade. At hearing the train-like rumble of falling soil, Aaron's first reflex was to bring an arm up in an arch around his head. Immediately, he leaned against the opposite wall as tons of soil collapsed around him, burying him alive. Nearly 2 ft. of soil covered his head.
Orlin Wentz, his father and employee at the site that morning, ran to his son's aid, digging frantically with his hands at the spot where he last saw him. Cries of help from others soon brought neighbors, paramedics and fire crews. The minutes ticked on.
Wentz never lost consciousness, and recalls a peaceful answer to prayers as images of his life streamed through his mind at lightning speed. Visions of his wife Jane, mother Kay and father Orlin, all employed by his company, and 9-month-old daughter Kayla, stirred his will to survive.
Then there were voices, light and the sudden onset of pain. But just as rescuers cleared his chest, the soil rushed in again, throwing 3 ft. of dirt over his head. This time, though, with one hand pinned behind his back, and a fractured elbow, he had only one hand to raise to his mouth, forming a small pocket of air.
Painfully, Wentz was at last raised from the trench and walked into an ambulance. The crew wore looks of joy, and dismay. There was no logical explanation for what had happened. Covered for 15 minutes, where had the air come from? How is it he wasn't crushed by the weight of the soil?
The story ran nationally because of the uniqueness of his miraculous survival. And that brings us back to Wentz's uncanny ability to promote the association.
Raised UpNow a master plumber, and president of PHCC's state chapter, Wentz champions PHCC at every chance: His church's softball team sports the PHCC logo on its jerseys; his vans, trucks, uniforms, stationary, business cards, ads and direct mail pieces all prominently display the logo.
And because the company does business in a 100-mile radius of Kearney, their trucks carry the PHCC logo far and wide.
"For me, PHCC is a symbol of professionalism and pride," says Wentz. "We use it to show the community how proud we are of PHCC. That's why we also install PPL products whenever we can.
"The products must be installed by a professional. And the logo's there to remind customers of our dedication and craftsmanship."
That's confirmed by Joe Sobotka, one of Kearney's most successful residential developers. "We've given Aaron a lot of business over the past three years. His service is excellent, and he's always treated us fairly. With rental properties, and new construction, life's challenging enough; I don't want to worry about plumbing and mechanical problems. Aaron's work is first class."
Al Emken, president of Kearney Winnelson, agrees. "Aaron's been a customer since 1995. With him, there's always open communication and quality work. In a town our size, you learn about who's doing good, quality work, and who isn't. Aaron's work is always well done, and he likes a good product. We move about 250 PPL Whirlaways a year, and a good number of those through Aaron."
Another of Wentz's suppliers for garbage disposals, fittings, some faucets, fixtures and septic system piping is Chuck Prochaska, general manager of Holmes Supply in Kearney, an independent wholesaler with 20 employees.
Prochaska, PHCC's state wholesale representative and spokesman, says "Aaron promotes PHCC better than any contractor I know; he's a forerunner, and proud of it."
"As a professional, I accepted the responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the community," says Wentz. "All aspects of our work key off this. It's not just a job. It's a profession, and PHCC represents the best of what the trade has to offer.
"I wish that everyone in the trade, even my competition -- no, especially my competition -- would be involved in PHCC."
It's no surprise that Aaron's Plumbing is growing at 10 percent to 20 percent a year. Residential service and installation make up about 70 percent of that business; multihousing 20 percent; and commercial service (restaurants, retail and manufacturing) 10percent. Their future looks good.
Thanks to professionals like Steve Carder and Aaron Wentz, each one of us can take pride in the many improvements we see in the P-H-C industry. PHCC's proud of them, too. Because of the pride in their work, they make us all look good.