Women-owned plumbing company takes the personal approach up a notch in a crowded area with plenty of competition.
Using social media and a strong focus on customer relations, American Drain Works & Plumbing Company has seen its clientele base in the residential market grow considerably since opening in 2003.
Nestled in the heart of sprawling Los Angeles County, with some 88 incorporated cities in 4,751 square miles, the plumbing company is owned by sisters Connie and Joan DePaepe.
Connie serves as managing officer for the company and has a C36 California Plumbing Contractor License. She is a hands-on operator out in the field, working on customer relations at all levels. Her license is for above-ground plumbing and for sewer and drain services. Joan handles the important duties in the office, including accounting.
American Drain Works, based in Culver City, California, offers services on water heaters, faucets, and toilets as well as sewer and drain work, and gas and water piping.
Q: How have you grown your customer base?
CONNIE: I had been in sales prior to this business, and from the beginning, we have been tracking and documenting every single phone call. We want to know where our business and referrals are coming from. This tells me what the customers are looking for. What has kept us growing is following up with the customer, showing up on time, leaving things clean, and then sending the invoice and a handwritten thank-you note.
Q: What has been your experience with social media, such as Angie’s List?
CONNIE: We now see most of our business originating from Angie’s List including some from Yelp. About 10 years ago, we started getting calls from clients who said they were Angie’s List customers and they were posting notices on our business. We saw that Angie’s List was a big deal. This was our introduction to social media and that marketing.
Because we were getting excellent reviews, we qualified to contract with Angie’s List to be seen as one of the top 10 companies in Culver City and nearby areas. They charge per zip code and also by categories such as water heaters, fixtures, and sewer and drain services.
We pretty much stay within a 5- to 10-mile radius in our area using 13 appropriate zip codes.
Q: With so much competition out there, what kind of company offers the biggest competition for you?
CONNIE: That would be other small companies who offer the same personal service we provide. Customers are looking for personal service. I don’t think the larger companies and franchises are as popular as some might think. I just don’t think the residential customers connect as well.
Everybody seems to be looking for the local plumber where they can really know you. There are a lot of us out there who are really good at what we do, and our customers depend on us.
Q: How do you and your full-time employee work together and with customers?
CONNIE: I have found that customers want to meet me. They are intrigued that I am a woman plumber and this is a women-owned business.
My employee, Lalo Montes, is very experienced and has worked for a larger company. He shares with me the things he has seen and done. I show him how I work, and he mirrors that. We absolutely learn from each other.
With every new customer, I will go out on a job initially to see what the issue is and talk with the customer so he or she has an understanding of what the options are. I may do the work or arrange for Montes to follow up. He is very well-received with our customer base.
Depending on the size of a job, we might need to bring in our part-time technician, who sometimes will have 32 or more hours in a week. If we need more help, we have subcontractors we can include.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face in the area your company is located?
CONNIE: The biggest problem in Los Angeles and the county is taking care of and maintaining vehicles. You have to secure your service equipment and that is very costly and difficult. My vehicles have been broken into, and service vans have been stolen.
We have two trucks now, and they are parked in a secure, gated location. Trying to find affordable storage is the biggest challenge when it comes to adding vans, otherwise I could grow this company.
Q: What advice would you give to other plumbers who are in highly populated regions?
CONNIE: First, love what you do. If you have a passion for your work, it will show. The customer is completely overwhelmed when they have a big problem, so listen to the customer even if you know what the problem is. That way, you can understand them better, and you can offer a solution they can understand.
The biggest mistake is to leave a job in a messy condition. Always remember that customers are looking for that personal service.