Modern Plumbing Firm Finds Unique Ways to Pull in Employees and Customers

Former hoops star rewrites the playbook for family-owned plumbing company.

Modern Plumbing Firm Finds Unique Ways to Pull in Employees and Customers

  Brady Jolly, right, the owner of Jolly Plumbing, and his father, Barry, who started the company 40 years ago, pose for a photo at the company’s headquarters in Wilder, Kentucky. The company has an indoor basketball court at its headquarters that both the staff and community members use.

It’s easy to imagine there’s no such thing as just another day at the office at Jolly Plumbing, Drains, Heating and Air.

The company’s modern, industrial-chic headquarters in Wilder, Kentucky — just across the Ohio river from Cincinnati — is much more than just an office building. It’s also a recruiting tool. A branding vehicle. A community engagement center. And also a great place for a game of H-O-R-S-E, thanks to the full-size basketball court in the middle of the 18,000-square-foot former warehouse/office facility.

And on a much broader level, the renovated building reflects owner Brady Jolly’s aspirations to upend people’s notions and stereotypes about what plumbing companies look and feel like.

“When you walk into our offices, you’d never think it’s a plumbing company,” says Jolly, a former basketball star at a local high school who also played hoops at nearby Northern Kentucky University. “It’s sharp and sleek — more like a tech company than a plumbing company.”

The company invites local basketball teams to practice on the court, which also is used for basketball leagues and to host community events. In all, about 35,000 people a year visit the building for various events and functions, which provides an opportunity to expose them to the company culture and values, he says.

“It’s a big part of our recruiting process,” explains Jolly, age 30. “The first thing we do with job recruits is tour the facility. And if the door is open to my office, which sits at half-court, I usually can hear people’s comments when they see the court. They say they’ve never seen anything like this before.

“I wanted to do something a little over-the-top and next-level to recruit people,” Jolly adds. “I wanted to put our money where our mouth is when we say this is more than just a place to punch a clock.”

DEEP PLUMBING ROOTS

Barry Jolly, Brady’s father, founded the company in 1979. The elder Jolly did everything from plumbing for remodeling and new construction to service and repair work to replacing water and sewer lines.

“He’d do whatever plumbing customers needed,” Jolly says.

Jolly worked for his father as a part-time employee while growing up. Shortly after he earned a degree in entrepreneurship from Northern Kentucky University in 2014, he became general manager of the family company at age 22. His father retired in 2017 and Jolly bought the company soon after that.

At that point, the company’s growth had been relatively flat for six or seven years; Barry Jolly was nearing retirement at the time and was involved in other business ventures, too, he notes.

“So it was a really great opportunity for me,” he says. “My dad did an incredible job of building a great company to that point and it was set up for more growth. All it needed was someone to put their foot on the gas pedal and take the business to the next level.”

NEW BUSINESS MODEL

Jolly did just that. The first step: A dramatic shift from commercial to residential service and repair.

“Before, about 80% of our revenue was from commercial work,” he says. “Now it’s about 80% residential.”

Why the switch? Jolly says residential service and repair is a much better fit for the company’s customer-centric business philosophy.

“We’re a high-value, high-touch service company,” he explains. “All the training we do is centered on how to make the customer experience the best it can be.

“When you do remodeling and new construction work, the service part doesn’t seem to matter as much because oftentimes the people receiving the service — general contractors or maintenance companies, for example — aren’t the ones experiencing the service. We prefer to work directly for the people that experience our service; our entire infrastructure is based on providing quality service.”

The new approach has yielded impressive results; revenue from plumbing and HVAC services has more than tripled since Jolly started managing the company in 2014. And revenue from residential work has increased about 1,500% since he bought the company.

How did Jolly’s father feel about the changes? Unlike some family situations where fathers and sons butt heads, Barry Jolly had no problem with the new direction.

“I’m so lucky,” Jolly notes. “The (father-son) dynamic between us has always been great. My dad was winding down his career. So many of the things we’ve done I’m sure he would’ve done if he had the appetite to do them.”

DRAIN-CLEANING SPECIALISTS

About 1 1/2 years ago, the company also created a team of technicians only dedicated to drain cleaning.

“Most plumbing technicians don’t want to do drain cleaning,” Jolly says, explaining the move. “And it’s much easier to train someone to clean drains than to train a service technician.”

Drain technicians receive three months of training. The idea is to get them into a truck as fast as possible so they can learn soft skills related to customer service and communication, then promote them to apprentice plumbers within a year, he says.

Deploying technicians that are dedicated to just drain cleaning also leads to more large drain projects, such as replacing sewer laterals. Instead of just unclogging lines, the technicians are trained to look for the cause of persistent drain issues and refer leads to a sewer sales consultant — something that wasn’t always a priority for harried plumbing technicians, Jolly notes.

To clean drains, technicians rely on RIDGID K-1500 and K-60 sectional drain machines and a Soldier trailer-mounted water jetter from Spartan Tool (4,000 psi at 10 gpm). To inspect lines, they use standard RIDGID SeeSnake cameras and an M18 pipeline inspection camera from Milwaukee Tool.

The company runs about 30 service vehicles, mostly Nissan NV2500 box vans and Nissan NV 200 compact cargo vans. Sewer-repair crews drive Dodge RAM 3500 pickup trucks equipped with utility bodies from Reading Truck. The crews also rely on four Caterpillar 304E2 mini-excavators and a Bobcat skid-steer.

MORE SERVICES ADDED

Customer requests for HVAC services spurred the company to add heating and air conditioning to its repertoire in April 2021.

“We felt like the processes we built for plumbing are very repeatable,” he says. “The business models works the same way as it does with drain cleaning. The HVAC service technicians pass on job leads to HVAC sales guy and then to an installer.”

HVAC is an attractive add-on service because it complements plumbing, plus it’s easier to scale up in volume than plumbing.

“Because the jobs are more expensive, you only need half as many HVAC customers to generate the same revenue as twice as many plumbing customers,” he explains, noting the difference between replacing a heating system and fixing a faucet. “If you can get all of your plumbing customers to also use your HVAC service, you could theoretically generate twice as much revenue as plumbing.”

That hasn’t happened so far; Jolly says he thought it would be relatively easy to convert plumbing customers into HVAC customers. But as it turns out, the company’s plumbing customers are just as loyal to their HVAC providers as they are to the Jolly Plumbing for plumbing services, Jolly says.

“It’s been more difficult than we anticipated,” he says.

Nonetheless, the company expects to generate about $2.5 million in HVAC revenue in 2022, he says.

MORE GROWTH EXPECTED

Looking ahead, Jolly intends to apply a full-court press for further growth. His goal is to add seven more plumbing technicians and double the company’s revenue to around $14 million in 2022; that total would include revenue from a new business venture that offers cleaning and restoration services, he says.

Because the company already has a sizable local market share, much of the expected growth will probably come from the metro Cincinnati area, Jolly says.

“Only 30% of our work is in Cincinnati, so there’s a ton of growth potential there,” he says. “We’ve spent significant time, effort and capital on building the back end of our business in preparation for growth, gearing up our call center and dispatchers to handle more leads.

“We’re now at a point where we can proactively search for leads and not reactively go crazy trying to service everyone.”

To better navigate a tight labor market, the company also hired a full-time recruiter. And part of that role also includes establishing a formal apprenticeship program so the company can “build techs from the ground up,” Jolly says.

“It’s far easier to find people with good attitudes and that appreciate our core values, even if they don’t have much experience,” he says. “It took me a long time to realize that it’s better for us to hire people we can grow and mold into our system.

“Some of our best guys came here as green as could be, not knowing anything about the trades.”

TEAM EFFORT

As Jolly looks back at the company’s dynamic growth during the last eight years, he says he’s very proud of his team and what’s been accomplished — and grateful for what his father built.

“I feel really blessed to take over a company like this,” he says. “It was an incredible opportunity and I’m grateful for my parents’ trust in me. We have an awesome team, too, with a lot of people that I’m very close to.

“I love coming to work every day and that feels pretty cool,” he concludes. “And in a way, I feel like we’re just getting started.” 



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