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The 'Going' Rate Costs Plenty

I am a 31-year-old journeyman plumber, currently licensed in two states. I read your magazine every month, and always enjoy your features on innovative companies, as well as Frank Blau's columns. I think part of my problem has to do with what Frank wrote about the going rate ("Who Pays The Price For The Going Rate?" April 2001).

I have no insurance, no benefits and, I'm beginning to think, no future in the trade. I have been in plumbing for almost 12 years. I have run five commercial projects at the same time in two different states and still can only hope to break $30,000 for the year.

I am well-versed in service work, but the pay was even worse at the service companies I've worked for. Needless to say, it has become quite depressing. I am currently looking to relocate, so if any of those innovative companies you are always writing about need a good plumber, tell them I know one.

Name Withheld Upon Request

Editor's Note: Our letter writer is currently in Arkansas, and is considering relocating to Texas. If any employer's would like to get in touch, forward your responses to We'll pass any news on.

Make That 'Pink-Collar' Trade

I am the first female master plumber in the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pa. I have enjoyed reading your magazine for quite some time now and was so happy when you finally started adding stories about women in the trades.

I must say it has been a tough 15 years, but with help from many great men, I am where I am today. There are a number of us with similar and, I am sure, different stories on why and how we got into this field. It has by no means been an easy task for me but I loved every step of the way.

Last May, I decided that maybe it was my time to go out on my own and it truly has been my time. I am a 34-year-old mother of three, and I am also married to a plumber who, you will understand, will not work for me. That's OK though.

In the meantime, maybe we could all get some insight from women who wear hard hats (mine is pink).

Melanie Wikberg
Plumbing By Melanie Inc.
Hawley, Pa.

You Can Afford It

I would like to respond to Ellen Rohr's column about how to stop making excuses ("Get Over It," May 2001). In particular, I'd like to give some advice to those who use the "I Can't Afford It" excuse.

Flat rate pricing is the key to your success. It is not hard to change over, and it is not expensive. If you have a computer, finding your overhead is easy. I recommend the program "Quicken." It does us justice. All you have to do is input all of your expenses and income. You sort it when you type it in, and you can get reports that will help you find out what it costs you per hour to do business.

Once you know what it costs you to do business, then you take that number, add in the cost of material, and then your percent markup and start making money so you can buy new vehicles, tools, hire help, etc.

Being the lowest priced serviceman on the market may help you save some customers, but is that worth not making money for yourself? Isn't that why you are in business in the first place? Once you know exactly how much it costs you to do business, you know that you have to charge "X" amount of dollars just to break even.

If you have long-standing customers, it is your discretion of how much profit you want to charge. I recommend 20 percent across the board. If your long-standing customers can't understand that you have to get paid for what you do (after overhead is paid), then you have to ask yourself if you like working for nothing.

Our motto is: "We don't want word of mouth that we are the cheapest out there, we want to be known as the best out there." If customers only choose you because of your rate, once they find someone cheaper, they will drop you like a bad habit.

Once we stopped catering to bargain hunters, our business has been much better. Bargain hunters don't care about quality workmanship or material. They bounce checks and ask if they can send another at the end of the month. They want the lowest price. You get what you pay for. The cheapest companies use the cheapest materials and the cheapest methods. That results in more callbacks.

I say do it right the first time. It may cost you and the customer a little more, but in the long run, it will save you both money. The bargain hunters do not look at the long run. Once you get rid of them, you will start to gain customers who do. Those customers will pay what it costs you to do business plus profit, and everyone is happy.

If people are still confused on how to accomplish this, I recommend taking a few courses by Frank Blau. He has books and I do believe he still has seminars. He reaffirmed things I already knew and taught me some things I did not know. You have to remember, most people will pay more for better quality and workmanship.

Before I got into the trade, I worked and managed at Nordstrom, known to be the most customer service-oriented company on the planet. What I learned was that there are many people who care more about customer service and quality rather than prices.

Compare them to Macy's. Macy's has a sale every week, but when you want to get that one-on-one help, there is no one to be found. If you want to pay for something, you have to walk around to find someone to ring you up. The result is that you spend more time in the store to try and save a couple of dollars, when in reality, you wasted valuable time with your family, kids, etc.

What is worth more to you? Same goes for our industry. If you give the customers the quality and service they never had before, they will pay almost any price.

Bill Warner
Spinello Plumbing, Cooling and Heating
Colonia, N.J.

Not Quite To A 'T'

Regarding the rough-in of the tee in the recent Plumbing Forum ("To A 'T,' June 2001), this is a very vague question. The "sink" is not specified. There are all types of sinks. A "sink" to me would be a kitchen sink, unless otherwise noted. In this case, a safe rough-in for the sanitary tee in the waste stack would be 14-16 inches above the finished floor.

Jim Robberson
Jim's Plumbing
Longview, Texas

Julius Ballanco responds:
The question was vague. However, that is exactly how a reader submitted the question. Jim is not far off with a 14-16 inches rough-in. Of course, I thought the question was more of what is the lowest height one could install the branch.

The bottom line is that it is the call of the plumber. You can follow the rough-in handbooks from the manufacturer or have your own standard. The key is to not make the branch connection too high. Otherwise, the drain will pitch the wrong way.