Pricing Manual Can Help Plumbers Set Prices Easily

Figuring out what to charge doesn’t have to be complicated; using established resources is one way to determine prices

Pricing Manual Can Help Plumbers Set Prices Easily

Cliff Lao, owner of Cliff’s Classic Care Plumbing, stands next to one of his unique plumbing service vehicles in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Lao uses the Plumber’s Pricing Manual to help set his prices for his company. (Photography by Mark Henle)

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Setting a price for your work can be one of the trickiest things to determine when you’re starting a business. You want to hit the sweet spot of charging enough to turn a fair profit, but not too much that you lose customers.

Cliff Lao, owner of Cliff’s Classic Care Plumbing, serves residential customers living within 75 miles of Sierra Vista, Arizona. His trusted resource for pricing is the Plumber’s Pricing Manual, a print and digital resource that provides product and pricing information for over 11,000 common mechanical items.

The manual, first published in 1937, is available through Trade Service, a Division of Trimble. Trade Service publishes product prices for residential, commercial and industrial markets based on manufacturers’ reports. Cliff’s Classic Care Plumbing subscribes to the paperback edition of the manual.

“We have it mailed to us. That way we have it on site,” Lao says. “If a customer should ask a price, we can look up prices in the book as a guide.”


Lao uses the pricing manual as a guideline for his residential plumbing business but adjusts the price depending on the labor involved and the complexity of the project.

“In southeast Arizona, I do a lot of work in houses that are really old,” Lao says. “You can’t go in there with a flat rate, because you don’t know what you’re going to get into.”

In general, Lao uses the manual to gauge a fair profit. He begins with the flat rate published in the manual and adjusts his prices accordingly. “If things go better, we’d charge them less due to less labor being involved. If things go worse, we’d charge more, again due to more labor being involved.” he says.

The Plumber’s Pricing Manual gives contractors confidence that they’re estimating a job with accuracy, says Shaun Gambardella, product manager at Trade Service, MEP Division at Trimble. 

“We have relationships with over 2,000 manufacturers that set the pricing for the contractors, and we then distribute the pricing,” Gambardella says.


Each quarter, the paperback manual is updated, published and distributed. The Plumber’s Pricing Manual includes prices for 11,000 of the most common mechanical items.

“It sounds like a lot, but when you go through all the product categories and start accumulating the most common products, the list quantity adds up fast,” Gambardella says. For example, the hub and spigot soil fittings pages include pricing for single and double hub pipes, gaskets, lubricants, combos, reducers, closet bends and more.

“If you compare the manual to a distributor’s e-commerce store that averages roughly 200,000 items, 11,000 items is only a little over 5% of that total. The 11,000 items we select are the bread and butter items for the majority of plumbing and mechanical contractors,” Gambardella says.

Trade Service maintains a database of over 2 million items, and hundreds of thousands of price changes occur every quarter.

“These price changes correlate to a variety of reasons such as fluctuating pricing on commodities like copper and steel, tariffs and the state of the economy,” Gambardella says.


The manual is a stand-alone resource for mechanical contractors, but it’s also used in conjunction with bidding and business management software. The majority of Trade Service customers use the company’s TRA-SER products, which integrate industry bidding and business management software.

“With TRA-SER, the contractor can easily set up its database to be automatically updated on a weekly basis and have access to our plumbing and mechanical database of over 3 million items,” Gambardella says.

The database is integrated into Trimble’s Autobid Mechanical software, so contractors can accurately estimate a high volume of jobs.

“Performing estimates manually has a lot of room for human error, and when using Autobid Mechanical, it drastically reduces the risk for error and increases the consistency of your estimates,” Gambardella says.

Cliff’s Classic Care Plumbing, run by Lao and his wife, Debra, operates on a smaller scale. About 10% of its clients request an estimate, and Lao writes each with flair.

“Handwriting has always been a love of mine, so I usually handwrite it,” Lao says. As a follow-up to the estimate, Lao fully explains what the project will involve.

“I will walk them through what I am about to do for them, so they get a clear understanding,” he says. “If you explain it to them, it just makes them more confident in your work.”


Time is money, which is why Lao charges a diagnostic fee when preparing an estimate.

“We get there, and it’s almost inevitable that while we’re there, it’s not just the shower, but the garbage disposal and the water heater. It ends up being a whole hour,” Lao says. If the client hires Cliff’s Classic Care, Lao subtracts the diagnostic fee from the final bill.

For first-time customers, Lao collects cash, check or money order on the day of service. He is more flexible with established customers and sends them an invoice. This is a practical approach for customers who own a second home in Arizona and don’t live in the state year-round.

When explaining prices to customers, Lao emphasizes the old adage: You get what you pay for. Cliff’s Classic Care Plumbing is fully licensed and insured. It uses name-brand Wolverine Brass parts backed by a lifetime warranty and installed by skilled plumbers dedicated to serving their customers.

“We’re coming into their home to take care of whatever is in need of plumbing,” Lao says. “We’ll take care of it as if it were our own home.”


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