Skip Pfeffer sees opportunities for plumbing contractors.



Last month, Plumbing & Mechanical interviewed Skip Pfeffer, who will be installed as president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association during its convention, Oct. 21-23 in New Orleans.

Earning his Master’s license in 1967, Pfeffer started Canton Plumbing in Canton, Mass., in 1972. The company primarily does residential service and repair plumbing and hydronic heating work. Canton Plumbing employs five people with annual revenue that averages about $1 million.

PM: Where do you see the greatest areas of growth for PHCC members in the fourth quarter of 2009 and in 2010?

Skip Pfeffer: Most of the guys I speak with are upbeat. We have to look at things realistically, though. Short term, the growth will be in remodeling, renovations, service and repairs. If customers are having trouble making their mortgage, their thinking will be to patch it, not replace it. If the economy is going to come back, however, new construction will have to lead the way. In the past, new construction has driven the economy. It may take a year for a lot of the stuff to get off the drawing boards and into the field. My company is looking at solar and geothermal now to diversify.

PM: What can PHCC members do to educate their customers about water-efficient products?

SP: I’m a water conservative. I believe we have to look at the bigger picture on conserving water. My company installs low-flow toilets and aerators, which all helps, but we have to look at leaks and breaks in water mains, too. If it leaks, you’ve got to fix it. Our area is part of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, where water is very expensive, $1,500 to $2,000 year. Water is cheap in many places around the country. We have to face the fact that saving water is an important issue for all of us.

I see a lot of “green” benefits to consumers on the wet side of the heating business, too. We do radiant heating, and I love it. It’s something we get excited about.

PM: What are the greatest challenges facing PHCC members?

SP: We can’t do business like we did three or four years ago. We have to be willing to diversify. We have to look at expenses. Wholesalers and reps are looking at how they do business, and we do, too. The same would apply to our business as it would to our personal life at home. We can’t be doing the same thing over and over. If we look at things differently, we’ll weather the storm.

PM: When speaking with young people, how do you describe the benefits of being a member of PHCC?

SP: Many people in our industry focus on acquiring the mechanical skills first and pick up the business skills later. A lot of times, we do not have a clue about the true aspects of business. We learn from the school of hard knocks. PHCC can provide business and technical skills, either through PHCC or through one of our enhanced service groups, such as Quality Service Contractors, Construction Contractors’ Alliance or Union-Affiliated Contractors.

PM: If you had only one message to give to your fellow plumbing contractors, what would it be?

SP: To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt: Every man and woman owes time and money to the industry in which they’re engaged. There are so few who do so much for so many.

In Massachusetts, we have about 200 PHCC members and there must be 14,000 licensed contractors in the state. Not all are looking at going into business for themselves, but probably 5,000 to 6,000 are. So, 200 of us are doing the work on legislation, education and continuing education. Hopefully, what we do benefits everyone. It would be nice to see greater participation.

PM: How can PHCC help members take advantage of opportunities in a down market?

SP: Members have to take advantage of what the Educational Foundation has to offer. They should get involved in QSC, CCA, UAC, even the Auxiliary, which does great work. They should get involved in PHCC’s Political Action Committee to make their voice heard. I ask myself, “Do you need PHCC when things are going great, or when they’re not?” We have to pull together and work together. Reach out when you’re in trouble. What other association is out there for the promotion of plumbing-heating-cooling trades?

I joined the PHCC of Massachusetts around 1970 because that’s what you did if you were thinking of going into the plumbing business. We had more members then than now. Maybe contractors who don’t join PHCC today are getting their industry knowledge from the Internet. Maybe they’re getting it from wholesalers. I don’t think they’re getting a broad picture. Networking doesn’t come under the PHCC benefits package, but contractors sharing information is very important.

PM: How does PHCC help members address the current business chal-lenges?

SP: PHCC is a one-stop shop for technical and business education and legislative issues. We have to have something out there for everyone. That isn’t always easy. PHCC has to be willing to change some of what we’re doing. We have to be there with the right product when the member is looking for it.

One thing I would want for PHCC is to be proactive rather than reactive. I want PHCC to be leaders. We don’t always have to be right, but we have to act in the best interest of our contractor members. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we have to do something for everybody. We have to make sure everyone’s needs are filled.

PM: What do you hope to accomplish as PHCC president?

SP: Education is going to be in the forefront. I’d like to see the PAC grow.

When you’re president for one year, it’s very difficult to have a wide agenda. I’ve been on PHCC’s Board of Directors or Executive Committee for seven out of the last eight or nine years, which has been helpful to develop things as you go along.

The Educational Foundation bylaws have been completely rewritten, for example, and I hope I was instrumental in making the bylaws more comfortable for the Foundation board and PHCC board. Now, the Foundation board will have more longevity and be more aware of the needs of the Foundation.

As for our PAC, our new director of government relations, Kevin Schwalb, has a great background and is very aggressive. We’re changing the format of our Legislative and Leadership Conference, which had been held each spring. The Legislative Conference still will be held next spring in Washington. The Leadership Conference will be next fall in Las Vegas during our national convention. Future leaders will see the whole spectrum of PHCC - going to the annual meeting, networking with peers, attending the trade show. It will provide a bigger picture of what PHCC has to offer.

To learn more about PHCC, visit www.phccweb.org.

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