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Life Is Good

I’m sitting at my desk, or should I say my post? It is Friday, July 5th and we are working. We are working because we are service and repair contractors and we perform a very important function in today’s society.

I should add that I wish I was sitting on a beach somewhere; however, I’m taking great pleasure in providing service to those in need. I once was told to, “Get a life.” I responded that my business is my life. They in turn said a business is not a life. I disagreed then and would disagree now.

I should explain. I’ve always heard seniors saying, “I wish I would have done that when I was younger.” I have been extremely fortunate in my life. This year I hit the big 5-oh. I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting as this date approaches. I have to say I have pretty much done everything I wanted to do in life. I will not be joining the ranks of the Wish-I-Would-Haves.

I have a new purpose in life. I am part of the change that is going on in our industry. I am also loving every minute of it. I have also heard another line, “This battleship turns slowly.” Indeed it does. However, there is help. I am not the only crewmember. Our industry has the best leading spokesmen, namely Jim Olsztynski.

Thanks for the great article on the “5 Keys To Success In The Plumbing Business” (June 2002). While some tend to approach the problem with anger and borderline frustration, Jim always comes through with kind and refreshing passages. So, as we all celebrate another birthday, our nation included, I would like to sincerely thank Jim for his continued, truly heart-felt campaign to improve our lot.

I’m signing off for right now and will close by saying another good day has gone by for the plumbing industry.

Jeff Meehan
Cabrillo Plumbing & Heating
San Francisco, Calif.

I just wanted to compliment Jim on his editorial “5 Keys To Success In The Plumbing Business.” Having mastered the five keys, and enjoying the rewards of owning a successful plumbing and mechanical contracting business, I must say you have hit the nail on the head with this column.

I receive many trade magazines, but find none that benefit our company more than PM. Your commitment to educating contractors in our industry is apparent, and I commend you for your efforts. I just hope that everyone that receives your publication will take the time to read the articles and apply your teachings to their way of doing business.

Unfortunately, most don’t. Your articles are timely and very current with the needs of contractors in our industry. Keep up the great job.

Todd Carver
Adrian Mechanical Services Co.
Adrian, Mich.

Ethical Flat Rate

After reading all of the recent letters regarding the great debate on flat rate, I see that most are in support of flat rate, which is good. I do have one question: What is the ethical way to practice flat-rate pricing? Many companies charge a “diagnostic fee” to come out and then state that they waive that fee. They then build that fee back into the price of the first “task.” That is being misleading to a customer and is unethical, if not illegal.

Other companies also take that same price and offer a discount for “add-on” work, even if it is the same “task.” For example, performing a “toilet rebuild” for $180 and offering the second “toilet rebuild” for $153, thus offering a 15 percent discount because they were already there. Now if that company charged a “diagnostic fee” of $45 for coming out, shouldn’t the “add-on” rate be $135 for the second “rebuild?” I agree that I would like to add $18 on that call, but I have a problem with honesty, and I am extremely concerned with future legal problems.

We flat raters tell customers that we don’t charge by the hour, we charge by the job and that saves them money. If you practice flat rate as described above, does it really save them money? And let’s be honest with ourselves -- we charge by the minute and we know what the minimum we have to make on a service call is to break even. Don’t you think that we charge at least that, even for a minor problem?

Don’t get me wrong; I love flat rate, up-front pricing, menu pricing, whatever you want to call it. It allows us to at least try to be profitable without trying to be the cheapest in the city. We don’t waive our diagnostic fee, and we charge one price for repairs.

Maybe I am doing it wrong for losing that $18, but I know I shouldn’t be sued. I’m not going to say I won’t be because we all know better than that. If I’m doing it wrong, please show me the light or maybe I am one of the few doing it right.

Scott C. Thomason
Thomason Plumbing & Air
Boca Raton, Fla.

I have been in the plumbing and heating business for 19 years, and worked in the time-and-material business for 17 of those years. Flat rate companies know how to treat their employees and their families. The big difference for me now is that I am not afraid to charge for my talent.

I am currently employed by one of the best flat rate shops around. If you aren’t flat rating, don’t put us down for it. But if you do really want to have more to show for your work, start by getting more training. If you do not know where to get it, just ask. There are more people out there than you can possibly imagine who are willing to help you get the knowledge and training you need to finally be a profitable and respectable plumbing and heating company.

Ron Hansen
E.R. Plumbing and Heating
Walpole, Mass.

Man’s Best Friend

I just finished reading Ellen Rohr’s column, “Ode To The Working Dog” (July 2002). The magazine is one of my favorites and with Ellen it’s always a surprise.

This time she really outdid herself. The column could only have been written by a truly addicted-to-dogs animal lover, long-suffering and willing to put up with all the idiosyncrasies in order to reap that unconditional love and adoration.

I’m sure there are times when Ellen is writing and saying to herself, “I wonder if anyone out there is reading this stuff?” Well believe me, we are, and we’re enjoying it greatly.

It’s a funny thing, after reading Ellen’s stuff for so long, I feel as if I know her, and that goes for Dan Holohan, Jim Olsztynski, Julius Ballanco and John Siegenthaler. The columns are always timely, interesting and informative.

I only wish that this kind of material had been available back in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was trying to learn the trades, with darn little available information, other than word of mouth from the old-timers. That was fine, as far as it went, but it wasn’t always as accurate as it might have been. My thanks for doing such a great job.

Doug Lindsay (retired)
Seymour, Conn.
(Owner of one chocolate Lab, one yellow Lab, one Blue-point Siamese and one Chocolate-point Siamese)

Dead Center

I recently had the opportunity to read Frank Blau’s column, “The UA’s Missed Opportunity” (July 2002). I forwarded a copy to the local hall. The replies I have received from the union have been favorable, and to quote their exact words, “You hit the nail on the head.”

Mike Jones
W.J. Maloney Plumbing Co. Inc.
Phoenix, Ariz.