Exceeding Expectations: Plumbing Franchises Go All Out for Their Customers, Teams

We’ve discussed the benefits of owning a plumbing franchise business in the pages of this magazine. We’ve explained how these businesses offer processes and procedures that allow owners to keep track of the right financials, and properly train and compensate their employees for low turnover.

And we’ve discussed the entrepreneurial spirit in the industry; research firm IBISWorld estimates that the United States has 127,435 plumbing businesses in 2023, employing 537,211 people and worth $125 billion. Franchise Chatter notes that US plumbing service franchises are worth $1.4 billion—3,000 businesses employing more than 7,000 people.

This month, we’re highlighting three plumbing franchises and how they have taken care of their employees and customers through natural disasters, exposed young people to the entrepreneurial aspect and wonderful opportunities of plumbing franchises, and gone above and beyond to aid their communities when needed.

Weathering Florida’s hurricanes

Matt Black, owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of the Treasure Coast (Port St. Lucie, FL), enrolled in a building trades school during his high school years in Indiana, where he learned all aspects of building a house—including plumbing.

“I didn’t want to work in an office all day, so these skills allowed me to pursue carpentry when I moved to Florida,” he explains.

Black developed a form of muscular dystrophy affecting his legs and ankles, so he could not be on his feet for long periods. Eventually, he took a job with a subcontractor plumbing company, moving from the warehouse to service manager to general manager.

In 2005, Black’s boss bought a Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise and made Black the general manager. In 2019, Black and his wife purchased the franchise and, in 3-½ years, have nearly doubled the revenue. Today, this Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise has 10 plumbers, four apprentices and eight office staff.

The couple’s business is in the northeast corner of Florida and no stranger to the vagaries of Mother Nature.

Since 2016, tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic have been massively destructive: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 22 storms from 2016 to 2022 caused a total of $656 billion in damage—from wind damage and flooding.

“They can sometimes be a benefit, and sometimes they can be a detractor,” Black notes. “When these storms come through, we prepare our people ahead of time because everybody can’t take off at the same time to board up their houses.”

He adds, “The biggest battle is getting ourselves back up and running so that we can get out there immediately to help our customers.”

Office staff, plumbers and apprentices take shifts to protect their homes and help customers. Computers, phones and other electronic equipment are covered because you never know where a leak will come from. Computer backups are made to take home and as much furniture as possible is moved off the floor.

“We try to work up to the edge of the storm to help homeowners,” he explains. “One of the most common things with homeowners putting up hurricane shutters or plywood is they drop the plywood or the shutter, knocking the hose faucet off the side of the wall. Now they’ve got water flooding everywhere.”

His plumbers will work up to about 30- to 35-mile/hour sustained winds; then Black pulls the trucks off the road to keep his technicians safe. Communication with staff is a crucial issue, so there is a plan for everyone to meet at Black’s house once it is safe to do so.

“The flooding hurts our customers the most,” he says. “If they are on well water, their well pump may be underwater. Some customers with water filtration systems may find them in their neighbor’s yard or not at all, and they’re without water. We order extra well pumps and other supplies. And we give homeowners the option to bury their filtration canisters 2 to 3 ft. in the ground.”

He adds that sewer backup can be a problem from the city’s lift stations. If they become faulty and don’t work properly, plumbers cannot open them up and work on them. So, they will back up into customers’ homes.

“We educate homeowners and make them aware that if the power goes out and they don’t have a generator backup, the pumps will not work,” Black explains. “They need to be cautious regarding the amount of water they’re using to ensure they don’t have sewer problems.”

Black is proud of the culture and the teamwork at his Benjamin Franklin plumbing franchise. “Our motto here is always do what’s in the client’s best interest, and our team truly cares about our clients.”

Feeding entrepreneurial dreams

For Matt O’Rourke, president of ZPlumberz International, opening his own plumbing business during the Great Recession was done out of necessity, not out of planning. He learned the plumbing and hydronics trade and received his journeyman’s license in Detroit.

Moving on to another plumbing company, he learned the service side of the business. He had intended to take over the company once he acquired his master plumber license, but the owner sold the company to a consultant instead.

“In April 2008, I found plumbing professors.com and bought it,” O’Rourke says. “I went on Craigslist, found a job, used those funds to buy a truck and started branding and putting it all together. It was a challenge as the economy was going the other way, but I was able to get work.”

His former boss began letting go of O’Rourke’s friends or people he had hired; they came to O’Rourke looking for jobs.

“It was good for me early on because it forced me to get out of the truck and focus on marketing and building the actual business,” O’Rourke explains. “Within a year, I had four or five trucks, and we were off and running.”

In 2014, Plumbing Professors had seven locations with a good revenue stream, but O’Rourke had put plumbers into management positions. “I hit a bump in the road, realizing I didn’t train the plumbers as I should have for management positions,” he says. “I struggled through that and started looking into franchising. I thought it was odd that an industry as old as plumbing didn’t have a big, national name focusing on plumbing and drains.”

In 2018, O’Rourke heard from Belfor, a property restoration contractor, about heading up its plumbing franchise ZPlumberz.

“I am very passionate about the trades and the industry,” he says. “I see plumbers leave jobs to open their own companies, they last two to three years, and then they end up looking for a job again. I believe franchising can help solve this.”

O’Rourke realized that plumbing business owners could get burned out fast if they didn’t build the right team around them so they could run the business, not work in the business.

“I’ve always wanted to help plumbers once they get that entrepreneurial spirit,” he explains. “Instead of making them feel horrible for wanting to go off on their own and have the same opportunities we’ve all had as business owners, we should encourage them.”

O’Rourke sees franchising as an opportunity to get more young people into the plumbing business by feeding their entrepreneurial aspirations.

“We have parents calling us and asking how to get their kids involved in plumbing,” he says. “We take tremendous pride and passion in getting out to schools and the community to build up the plumbing trade and help them see that it’s a great opportunity. ZPlumberz is building a model where young people can see a career path in the trades.”

O’Rourke notes that once someone receives their plumbing license, that person has the foundational and mechanical aptitude to understand plumbing. “If they want to go into accounting or marketing or a leadership role, now they have the foundation to do much more and help out plumbing business,” he says. “We need to take a different approach to trades education, and ZPlumberz has adapted to it.”

It’s all about community

Scott Hobbs, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of NW Florida, explains that part of the franchise’s mission is to give back to the community. “Our preferred way to give back is to local nonprofits whose sole purpose is the betterment of the citizens within our local community,” he says.

These organizations are The Arc of the Bay, Boy and Girls Club of Bay County, Emerald Coast Hospice, Covenant Christian School, Pregnancy Resource Center and Children’s Advocacy. The Mr. Rooter franchise was honored with a 2022 Business Partner of the Year from Arc of the Bay, and a Certificate of Philanthropy and Lifelong Volunteer from Boy and Girls Club of Bay County.

“Some of the ways we give back is by giving these organizations an annual credit for plumbing services throughout the year,” Scott Hobbs explains. “Once that credit is used, we discount all other work at our cost.”

His wife, Pam Hobbs, developed and organized summer classes for the Boys and Girls Club to teach them practical life skills: basic banking (checking, savings, CDs, debit and credit cards), different industry dress codes, appropriate interview behaviors, introduction to plumbing tools and materials and a Mr. Rooter plumbing shop and equipment tour.

Giving back to the community also includes industry training and recruiting. The Hobbs work with their local vocational trade and high schools to offer employment for graduating students. “Working with a local plumbing contractor, we recently installed the plumbing in tiny homes at two local high schools, overseeing students’ learning process of plumbing installation,” Scott Hobbs says.

He explains, “Trade education is the legacy we will leave on our industry when we finish our careers. Pam’s previous career was in corporate training. She has developed an in-house training program that allows us to recruit a person with the right interpersonal skills and mechanical ability. Within a reasonable amount of time, they can perform plumbing tasks independently.”

Nearly three-quarters of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of NW Florida’s booked calls are repeat customers.

“On numerous occasions, we offer plumbing at a significantly reduced cost or no cost for customers having difficult times: grandmothers raising grandchildren, death of major household financial contributors, and loss of income due to health concerns,” Scott Hobbs notes. “Our employees share in completing work for our charities, donating their time and skills at no cost to customer or company.”

After a devastating hurricane, the couple and their employees endured hardship and loss. On Oct. 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall near Panama City, FL—bringing catastrophic damage to the Mr. Rooter franchise’s service territory.

“The first order of business was getting our employee’s homes in order before we could help anyone else,” Scott Hobbs recalls. “We continued to pay our team until we started back to work. We separated the work between repairing our shop and taking teams to our employees’ homes to repair and clean up their residences.”

Ten employees lost everything. The Hobbs’ ensured everyone had a place to live, even buying RVs for four families until homes could be provided.

“Our Mr. Rooter families across the nation were a major contributor to helping us get back on our feet,” he says. “They provided the supplies that helped us open a store (all items free) for our employees to get their much-needed necessities to survive. Our employees unanimously voted that the money donated by the other Mr. Rooter families would be given to the families that lost everything.”

Hobbs and his employees spent the next year working for the company’s Advantage Plan and repeat customers, putting new customers on a waiting list and getting to them as they could.

“Our employees maintain that above-and-beyond attitude every day,” he says.

Kelly Faloon is a contributing writer to CONTRACTOR magazine and principal of Faloon Editorial Services. The former editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, she has nearly 35 years of experience in B2B publishing, with 25 of those years writing about the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping industry. Faloon is a journalism graduate of Michigan State University. You can reach her at [email protected].