PM's 2011 Best Contractor To Work For: My Plumber Heating and Cooling, Manassas, Va.
At My Plumber Heating and Cooling, making its home town of Manassas, Va., a better place to live is a top priority, from executive management to office staff to field techs. “This is home,” Vice President and COO Mark Presgrave says. “I was born and raised here, my dad was born and raised here, all our families live here. This is like our neighborhood. So we make sure we give back to our neighborhood to make it a better place to live.”
Its most well-known activity is its annual food drive, called Warm Hands and Full Hearts. The first food drive was in 2004 and My Plumber collected 1,000 pounds of food, says Susan Phillips, My Plumber’s community outreach coordinator. To date, the company has collected nearly 85,000 pounds of food.
“When we started this, we were giving customers $25 off their invoice for five cans of food, plus a $25 coupon for future service work,” Presgrave recalls. “We did that for a long time and it went pretty well. Then I realized if I just donated that $25 for bulk food, I could probably buy five times more food. We buy staples such as rice, applesauce, bread, peanut butter - we tweak the list a bit each year to meet the needs of the community.”
Since the recession, food donations have diminished while more families are in need, so in 2011 the company decided to institute a Facebook challenge - for everyone who “likes” the company’s Facebook page, My Plumber will donate a dollar to the food drive, up to $5,000. While the challenge wasn’t as successful as Presgrave had hoped, the company tripled the amount of Facebook fans it had. In 2011, the company collected 7,000 pounds of food.
“We’re trying to find creative ways to get the message out there,” he says. That includes setting up a website - www.warmhandsandfullhearts.com - where other plumbing and HVAC companies can download materials to start their own community food drives.
“Susan set up this challenge with other plumbing and HVAC companies through the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association and Nexstar Network to see if they could collect as much food as we could, or better,” President and CEO R. Wendell Presgrave explains. My Plumber is a member of both organizations, as well as the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and North American Technician Excellence.
The website model has tips on making the food drive successful, a preparation timeline, acceptable food drive items, a script for customer service representatives, coupon examples, poster examples and tips on sending press releases to local media.
About six to eight plumbing and heating companies have taken up the challenge in recent years, Phillips says, including Bishop Plumbing (Des Plaines, Ill.), Associated Plumbers (Little Rock, Ark.) and 4 Star Services (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
The company also donated food to the Arlington Food Assistance Program, which provides backpacks of food to children who live in shelters or someplace without cooking facilities.
“Some parents don’t have money to buy food, so the only food these kids eat is what they get at school,” Phillips explains. “This program started by putting together backpacks of food the kids could take home.”
My Plumber donates labor and materials for repairs at the local www.rmhc.org Ronald McDonald House and www.youthfortomorrow.org Youth For Tomorrow, an organization founded by former Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs to help at-risk youth who have been abandoned, abused or alienated from their friends and family. It also participates in local Rebuilding Together projects.
“Every year we do give a bit of free work away,” CFO Samuel Lloyd III says. “We call it a Merry Christmas or a Happy Father’s Day, depending on the time of year. When our technicians are out in the field, they identify situations where someone may be in need of emergency plumbing or heating repairs and give their manager a call. All our managers are authorized to make decisions regarding free repairs, especially if a safety or health threat exists.”
Each year, My Plumber employees spend a Saturday helping local Boy Scouts earn their plumbing merit badges. And the company sponsors numerous Little League, high school baseball, adult baseball and girl’s softball teams.
This is only a partial list of the community programs My Plumber employees are involved with every year. “I didn’t intend for business to be nonprofit, but sometimes it is!” Wendell Presgrave laughs.
The importance of educationWhile making the community a better place to live is important work, making the company better is important, too. My Plumber provides in-house product and sales training at its My Plumber Training Academy, a 1,200-sq.-ft. area within the company’s new facility.
My Plumber also pays for apprentice-ship training and continuing education classes. It doesn’t “pigeonhole” its employees; it allows them to obtain the necessary education to enter different areas of the business. Accounting Department Manager Tera James began her career at the company as a dispatcher; the company paid for her to finish her accounting degree. Another dispatcher, Michael Creel, is now a plumbing tech, his training fully paid for by My Plumber. And Phillips started her My Plumber career as a CSR.
“Anyone who wants to better themselves and improve themselves, we’ve been in full support of,” Mark Presgrave says. “If it makes sense and it’s going to benefit us all, that’s great.”
For the Presgraves, additional education raises the bar in the industry, which benefits everyone in the plumbing and heating industry. “We’ve sent a lot of employees to plumbing school,” Wendell Presgrave notes. “Other plumbers say, ‘Why would you send them to school? They’re just going to go into business for themselves.’ Well, so be it. We’ll still be friends and help each other.”
The company has a five-day orientation program for every new employee. Filling out benefits paperwork takes up the morning of the first day - health, vision and dental insurance, life and ADD insurance, 401(k), profit sharing and flexible spending accounts. The remaining 2 1/2 days are spent with representatives from each department who provide tips and guidance on everything from what to do when a credit card won’t go through to whom to call if a bill-to alert comes up. The final two days are spent learning My Plumber’s service training system.
“I heard a quote at Nexstar a couple years ago and thought it was great,” Mark Presgrave recalls. “One person says, ‘What if you train employees and then they leave?’ The other person replies, ‘What if you don’t train them and they stay?’ We’ve always taken that approach. I love it, and that’s the way we try to do things here.”
Education also extends to the community on issues such as water conservation. In 2006, the company challenged area fourth-graders to write about the importance of having fresh drinking water. The winner was awarded a $50 gift card to Toys R Us and a lighted globe for the teacher. My Plumber employees go into classrooms to talk to students about plumbing, and attend career days and job fairs.
Communication keeps doors openMy Plumber’s executive management team - Wendell and Mark Presgrave, Lloyd and Director of Operations Phillip Hopkins - has an open-door policy to discuss professional and personal issues with employees and each other. Their offices are located near the middle of the building, making it convenient for office staff or techs to stop by and talk.
“If an employee has an idea, we may have already tried it but we may not have,” Wendell Presgrave says. “So yeah, maybe we should look into it. If employees have ideas to improve our business and how we operate, let’s talk about it.”
Every morning, the company has a Morning Huddle for 15 to 20 minutes to go over what’s coming up that day. Every Thursday the executive management team meets, and every other Wednesday is the all-department meeting to tackle a broad company issue or collaborate with other departments on more specific issues. And the “all-hands” monthly meeting includes all the technicians in the Maryland and Virginia offices.
Sales goals are set for technicians and each month those who reach their goals are given a chance to “Spin the Wheel” for cash and prizes, such as a 40-in. TV before the Super Bowl.
Perks and productivityThe 70 office personnel and 80 field technicians are treated to weekly massages and biweekly facials and manicures, compliments of the Presgraves. The company also offers pedicures to its employees once or twice a year and recently opened an on-site gym.
In lieu of a company Christmas party, the Presgraves throw a Labor Day Crab Feast each year for employees and their friends - about 700 to 800 people. In addition to the food, My Plumber provides a rock-climbing wall, pony rides, moon bounces and a fire engine to climb on (courtesy of the local fire department). Leftover ice cream from this party is used for company ice cream breaks every day until it’s gone.
“We don’t have a Christmas party because I don’t feel good about spending $20,000 or $30,000 on a party when so many in our community need help during the holidays,” Wendell Presgrave says.
Providing this multitude of benefits, training, incentives and community outreach opportunities creates positive attitudes in My Plumber employees, which makes them more productive.
“We believe that corporate altruism sends a message to employees that My Plumber Heating and Cooling is a good place to work,” Mark Presgrave explains. “It shows we are a good employer and treat our employees well, therefore, they respond by becoming more productive.”
Diversification and growthWendell Presgrave started My Plumber Heating and Cooling in 1982 as My Plumber. His goal was to provide same-day service 15 hours a day for seven days a week, without charging overtime or emergency charges. Those first few years he ran the office alone. Two technicians ran service calls in three counties and Alexandria, Va.
By 1994, when My Plumber hired its first crew of customer service representatives, it had nearly 30 workers. In 2000, it opened operations in Maryland. Presgrave partnered with Franco Testa to open a My Plumber branch to serve the San Diego area. The company now operates in 17 counties in northern Virginia and suburban Maryland with 120 service trucks.
The company diversified with HVAC services in 2006, then launched a subsidiary, My Service Manager Online (www.mysmac.com), which specializes in service management company software development and sales. Most recently, the company expanded with water treatment and remodeling services.
With the center of U.S. government at its back door, My Plumber Heating and Cooling has a pretty steady clientele, which means the economic climate is more stable than other areas of the country. Yet the recession has affected the company with a higher than average attrition rate, Lloyd notes.
“During the height of the recession, the company downsized 5% of its workforce for about six months,” he explains. “They were new hires who were still in the early stages of deciding whether to continue in the plumbing field. There is natural turnover because some of them decide to move on.”
My Plumber was able to bring back some of its employees it previously had let go. It has since surpassed the number of employees it had prior to the downsizing.
“Our internal branding message is that we’re the company of choice,” Mark Presgrave says. “People should know and think this is the best company to work for and it should be the best company to do business with. And if you take those two things in consideration when doing anything, it should empower you to make the right decisions.”