Years ago, Tom Mahoney impressed his young daughter, Sammi, by lifting a fiberglass bathtub over his head in the family garage. “She loved when I did that,” he says. “Of course, the tub weighed nothing.” That memory still lives to this day on the side of Mahoney’s plumbing trucks. The 47-year-old owner of Little Tommy’s Plumbing Shop in the Chicago North Shore suburb of Highwood is shown in caricature form pressing that bathtub over his head.

“People stop and look at the logo all the time,” Mahoney says. “My technicians tell me people come over and take pictures next to it. Even the guy who stripes the vans (Jim Brando of Gurnee, Ill.-based Brando Graphic Arts) gets calls about it.” While the logo draws plenty of attention, so does the company name. “It’s a play on words,” Mahoney explains. “I’m 6 ft., 3 in. tall and 280 pounds. I’m not little. When someone comes to the door and sees me, they say they’d hate to see what Big Tommy looks like. The name is something people won’t forget.” Mahoney, who pays tribute to his Irish heritage in several places on his vans, started Little Tommy’s in 2009 after 20 years in his family’s Highwood-based plumbing business. “I wanted to control my own destiny,” he says.

In a span of four years, Little Tommy’s, a member of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association, has grown to a six-truck operation that performs service, repair and replacement work in the Chicago suburbs along the north shore of Lake Michigan. Mahoney’s fleet consists of all Chevy half-ton vans. “We like keeping things light and saving on gas,” says Mahoney, who lauds the work of his wife, Kristin, an instrumental presence in the company’s back-office functions. “Our techs are really good about keeping the vans clean and well-stocked, but never over-stocked and weighted down.” Mahoney credits his company’s rapid growth to a number of factors, including the tutelage of Plumbing & Mechanical marketing columnist Adams Hudson and the help of a number of Quality Service Contractors’ members he knew from his days working at his dad’s plumbing business. That list includes: Milton and Patty Frank (Milton Frank Plumbing), Keith Bienvenu (Bienvenu Brothers Enterprises), Sonny Friedman (Atlas Plumbing), Roger Peugeot (Roger the Plumber), Rick Shelton (Shelton Plumbing), Joe Hodes (Hodes Co.) and Bill Chronister (Saddleback Plumbing). “I was very fortunate to have been involved with a group of very successful contractors who took me under their wing and mentored me when I was first starting out,” he says.

Mahoney has no grand visions of expanding into other parts of the Chicago suburbs. He’s laser-focused on providing the best service to the area he’s called home his entire life. “I’m lucky in that I know a lot of people who know a lot of people,” he says. “Having a local network and referrals has been a nice blessing. We want to stay local. Our sole goal is to be the first plumber called on the North Shore.”

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