Heffner and Associates, Indianapolis

David Heffner has been a service plumber for most of his 15 years in the industry. When he struck out on his own to establish Heffner and Associates in 2001, he brought to his new business all of his field experience, but also a dedication and commitment to his customers.

Heffner's father was an Episcopal priest, and his respect in the community was something to strive for. Thus Heffner became “Not your average plumber” to the Indianapolis area.

How does he differentiate himself from the competition? His new lettering and graphics on his 2004 Chevy 3500 Express van is one example. The prominent image of a deluxe shower (compliments of Delta Faucet Co.) dominates the one-ton vehicle.

“Professionally installed and well-thought-out graphics and design are critically important to the long-term success of any service company,” Heffner says.

The extended wheelbase van came stocked with an Adrian Steel storage bin package, which he has customized with commercial storage containers and bins. The extra room has allowed him to free up space on top of his van, which lets him drive the vehicle through the car wash for a consistently clean image for his customers.

But what rides along with him up front has also made a difference. Heffner has secured a laptop and portable printer in his truck that generates estimates and invoices with QuickBooks software.

No more chicken-scratch work invoices. “Printing this information in the truck in real time gives my customers professional-looking and legible documents they don't get from any other plumbing contractor in my area,” Heffner says.

An Air Card in the laptop allows for Internet access to process credit cards, get driving directions, or check and send e-mail.

Heffner's primary focus is residential service work, including water heaters, toilets, faucets, garbage disposals, battery back-up sump pump systems and, just recently, Rinnai tankless water heaters. His product choice comes through education and personal experience.

“When I learn about a new product through a trade magazine, at the supply house or from another plumber, I will install it in my own home first,” he says. “The best way for me to sell a product is to tell a customer that I use the product myself.”

Heffner and Associates has grown an average of 60 percent in gross sales each year in business. The number dropped, though, in 2005 when the company downsized from four employees to a one-man show. Heffner is regrouping now, and doesn't reject the idea of hiring more employees in the future, but would prefer to train the new hires himself.

“There have been some ups and downs, but overall the business has proven to be more successful than I ever could have imagined.

“Dad's commitment was without hesitation or reservation. He instilled those same qualities in me, and my customers see and appreciate the dedication and commitment that I have to them.”

Heffner's keys to customer satisfaction: under-promise and over-deliver. He prides himself on consistency in professional appearance and providing quality service work, and he also does follow-up calls a few days after the work is completed. Sending a thank-you note after completing a service call is also a way to wow your customers.

“I have had several customers tell me that they have never received a thank-you note from a plumber before and they truly appreciate the thought.”