A strong work ethic from employees and a willingness to stay updated help keep business growing.
Jeff Logan knew he wanted to be a plumbing contractor at an early age, being a son of a plumber and following his dad along on job sites when he was younger.
In high school, Logan attended vocational school for plumbing and continued working with his father, Dick, until earning his master plumber’s license and branching off to start his own company in 1987.
Logan started the company, Scenic City Plumbing, with a focus on new construction services, but as he continued to work a part-time job with Sears offering plumbing services to customers, he discovered the service and repair side to the industry.
“I liked meeting people,” Logan says. “I liked building relationships with homeowners. I liked the variety of being on several different jobs on an hourly basis instead of new construction. That’s when I changed the focus of my own business.”
Scenic City Plumbing, with 12 employees, still sticks to primarily residential plumbing within a 35- to 40-mile radius of its headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
BUILDING THE BASE
When Logan started the business, he made two important decisions — advertise heavily and have a high standard when it came to service vehicles.
His first advertisements appeared in the Yellow Pages of area phone books in 1987. “That was the form of advertising back then. There was no internet,” Logan says. “I was aggressive and stayed up front with half-page ads.”
When it came to the service vehicle, all he wanted was for them to be clean and presentable. He purchased the vans new whenever possible and also received compliments on the vehicles — and still does.
“It was important that my vehicles be dependable,” Logan says. “That was my policy and it is the same today. Money has always been a consideration, but I’ll spend extra money when it comes to these purchases.”
Scenic City Plumbing vans include four Ford E-350 dual-wheel box trucks with Baybridge bodies, two Ford Transit vans, two Ford E-250 extended cargo vans, two Ford F-150s and a Ford F-250 diesel. All are decaled with the company logo and with the company’s name in red, white and blue lettering. The vehicles are fully stocked with a wide range of parts at an estimated value of $5,000, plus the various tools required, bringing the total amount up to about $15,000.
Parts include the most basic items such as faucet parts, washers, O-rings and cartridges, to be able to handle most common service calls. The company maintains an 8,500-square-foot facility with an extensive on-site inventory of parts and other items such as water heaters.
“One of my goals is to keep my plumbers and apprentices out of the supply house because that can really hold things up and could lose productivity on a job site,” Logan says. “We’re serving our customers better this way.”
The company’s seven plumbers and four apprentices are tasked with the duty of keeping the trucks clean, organized and stocked each day.
When it comes to the tools, there are some that every plumber needs — pliers and cutter for example. When it comes to finding these tools, Logan makes sure his crews have tools that he is confident in.
“I just won’t buy cheap tools,” Logan says. “I buy a lot of products from Wolverine Brass, RIDGID, and from DeWalt (Black & Decker Co.). They have quality materials.”
Logan adds that he will also buy from Craftsman and Plumb Mate.
BRINGING IN MORE SERVICES
Logan wanted a way to grow his business and in 2000, he found the way. Already providing plumbing services, the only way to expand was to start offering drain cleaning services. His first purchases for that side of the business were a camera and a jetter.
“When you can send a camera down the line to locate a problem, and then know exactly where the problem is, and where to dig if necessary, that is progress,” Logan says. “Having something to show the customer, too, is also a plus.”
Drain cleaning now amounts to about 20 percent of the business, and Logan does charge extra for those services. “The extra charge is important because the equipment has to be paid for and maintained,” he says. “Generally the customers are OK with the extra fee.”
The company has cameras and locators from RIDGID and Amazing Machinery. Logan also has an O’Brien gas jetter and an electric jetter from General Pipe Cleaners, div of General Wire Spring Co. Scenic City will also replace buried pipes if that is where the problem is located. Lines in the area are generally shallow — 2 to 3 feet from the surface. Logan has a Bobcat E35 track hoe excavator, a Bobcat 418 compact excavator and a New Holland tractor with Bradco backhoe to help with that work.
If it’s deeper than 3 feet or pipe bursting or relining needs to be done, he’ll sub out the work.
FINDING THE HELP
Like others in the industry, one of Logan’s biggest challenges is finding skilled labor. “There is plenty of work out there,” he says. “We need vocational schools, but the best training is working in the field.”
Logan recalls that he learned the basics of repair service when he was going to vocational school, but learned more every time he was able to go out on a job. Now, with his own company, if he has an apprentice without a lot of experience, he’ll send that individual to ride with a plumber in the company for up to three or four years.
“It all depends on how much of a quick learner that person is,” Logan says. “They must be well versed and experienced before they get into a truck alone. There is so much to encounter and I want them with someone.”
Many jobs Scenic City takes on require two men, and this allows the apprentices to go with the journeymen. The apprentice will then get the experience, while saving on the customer’s budget at the same time.
Following a job, he’ll often hear reviews of his apprentices. “I can gauge how that person is doing from the plumbers they ride with,” Logan says. “My plumbers will ask for a certain apprentice because he is a ‘go-getter’ or something will comment ‘this guy is a hustler.’ This helps me know what is happening.”
FINDING WAYS TO USE TECHNOLOGY
From the photo capabilities of cellphones to using tablets to answer dispatch calls, Logan is finding ways to use technology to make his employees’ jobs easier and to help with the flow of the business.
While he trusts his crews to make their own decisions in the field, there have been times when jobs come up where there is a challenge. Logan will then have a phone conversation with his plumber and have a photo sent of the problem. “This is one of the blessings of today’s photo technology. I love that part,” he says.
His plumbers also use a tablet to receive dispatch calls and collect credit card payments using the Square credit card payment system.
In the office handling calls are office secretary Judy Wallace and Logan’s wife, Jacqui, handling payroll and accounts receivable. “As main dispatcher and office manager, Judy has the knowledge to handle the customer problems properly and can diagnose, which is helpful,” Logan says.
Logan has developed a strong networking relationship within the plumbing and drain cleaning industry throughout his area and refers business to others whenever it doesn’t serve the goals and services of Scenic City Plumbing. He’s also found that many of those same companies referred customers to him.
“I think it’s important and helpful that I have this good crew,” Logan says. “Having good employees, having the best equipment for the job, and truly quality fixtures and products available brings the most reward for me on a daily basis.”
Logan hopes to see the company continue to do well and see measured growth in the future, while keeping the same standards he has now with his crew.
An award from the customers
There is one award that Scenic City Plumbing has earned six years in a row and owner Jeff Logan couldn’t be more proud of it, even though it’s just a local award.
Scenic City Plumbing, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been recognized in the local newspaper, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, as first-place winner in the category of best plumbing company. The award is voted on by readers of the newspaper.
“This is something money cannot buy,” Logan says. “We are really finding this to be a big boost to us because we can put it on our website, put stickers on our trucks and people see we have these awards.”
The recognition has also generated additional business for the plumbing contractor.
“This is something our customers and the readers of the newspaper have done for us,” Logan says. “That’s pretty special.”
Scenic City has also received the Angie’s List Super Service Award the past few years as well, and has earned recognition from the Better Business Bureau for complaint-free service.
“We also receive comment cards from customers praising professionalism of the crew,” Logan says. “We don’t campaign for it, we don’t send emails asking for votes. It’s all their doing. It’s great.”