While on the wait list for a job with the Chicago Fire Department, Michael Goode, then 18, worked as a helper at a small plumbing company, Garrity Plumbing. He found that while the owner made great money, he also worked for every penny.
“He was, and is, a very hard-working guy, which brought me a new respect for tradespeople,” Goode says. “I ended up liking the trade enough to stay in it, which I did not expect in the beginning.”
In 1999, Goode decided to open his own small plumbing service company. With just one apprentice to help run things, Goode found that his many, long work hours took a toll on his health and his relationships. He sold his business and went to work for a large plumbing company.
“I took what I learned from all the people I worked with,” he says. “My own desire to have a shop that stood out from the crowd grew, and a year later, at age 32, I opened up Goode Plumbing.”
Nine years later, Goode has 12 employees and eight vehicles — covering most of Chicago, as well as several suburbs. Belonging to multiple Chambers of Commerce groups and neighborhood associations, as well as a member of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association, Goode decided to focus on residential service. “We do remodeling and upgrades as well,” he says. “We have found a small niche in vintage fixture/faucet repair and restoration. We also do efficiency upgrades for plumbing.”
Having three vintage Volkswagen buses has helped carve out that niche for Goode Plumbing. Goode’s truck list includes: three VW buses (1973, 1974 and 1978), a 1999 Chevrolet Astro, a 2004 Dodge Sprinter, a 2006 Ford E350D van, a 2014 Ram cargo van and a 2014 Ram ProMaster. The VWs (pictured) are a favorite of both Goode and his employees.
“We offered new vans to several of the plumbers who use the VWs, and they opted to keep them,” Goode notes. “You don’t see many around here anymore, so they really stand out.”
These buses are favored because they are reliable and inexpensive to fix when something needs to be repaired because parts are easy to find. They are excellent in the snow, and can haul more weight and material than other vans. Parking is much easier in the city with the VWs than with a full-size van. And they get good gas mileage — about twice what a full-size, gas-engine van does.
Having the engine in back does make for a load floor with two different heights, so Goode had to get creative when it came to shelving. He sourced everything from American Van, and is able to keep the VWs well-stocked. Each van will hold up to a 50 gal. water heater inside.
“We really wanted to make our brand visible,” Goode says. “And when it came to our decision to use some vintage vans, we would have been foolish to not put our name on something that stands out like they do. We would get calls from customers that started out with something like, ‘I saw one of your VWs and thought it was pretty cool.’”
All of the trucks were painted the same Hyacinth Blue. When the 1973 van was going in for a repaint, Goode decided to do it in its original color of Neptune Blue in order to highlight the fact that they company had multiple VWs. All of the vans have the same logo and lettering, with some minor recent updating. Goode is using a local shop, Chicago Sign Systems, run by Phil Schultz, for all his truck signage.
This article was originally titled “Vintage look and manners” in the January 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.