Washington Plumbing Contractor Makes a Name

Diverse services and the power of promotion help young plumber build a successful company
Washington Plumbing Contractor Makes a Name
The crew at Allied Plumbing and Pumps includes (from left) Blanca Lehman, Cindy Smiley, Andrea Skube, Korey Kory Kase, Kevin Britton, Paul Dahlstrom, Jadens Miley, Tyler Allen, and owners Zack Smiley and Ron Smiley. Photography by Jeff Smith

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Ron Smiley understands the power of good promotion. The owner of Allied Plumbing & Pumps in Chelan, Washington, has two buildings that display his signage prominently, and customers have noticed.

Smiley first opened the business in 2009 but soon went on hiatus so his wife could attend college in Spokane. When he returned to the business full time in 2013 with his brother, Zach, he bought a strategically located building and put up a large company sign. Things quickly grew from there.

All in the name
Smiley had always envisioned his shop as a 24/7 full-service provider. He opted away from calling the company Smiley’s Plumbing or Lake Chelan Plumbing in favor of Allied, because he felt it was more encompassing and created a better perception. He had the vision from the inception.

Although he started with the most basic of services, it wasn’t until the re-emergence of Allied that he and his brother expanded into CCTV, drain cleaning, jetting and pipe bursting in addition to traditional plumbing.

By mid-2015, the company was running seven service vans each with approximately $8,000 in inventory. There are now six technicians and three office staff, and Allied has quickly become a premier service provider in Chelan and nearby Wenatchee. 

When a service call comes in, the company’s ServiceTitan software system helps determine which truck is best suited to go on that call. All technicians have expertise across disciplines, but Smiley says they triage the calls coming in to decide which individual they want to respond.

Around the lake
Chelan and Wenatchee are situated on Lake Chelan, a 52-mile-long lake in the middle of the state. Total population of the two towns is a little over 45,000 permanent residents, but during the summer there is an influx of vacation home owners and everything gets busier.

While Allied Plumbing & Pumps was on hiatus in the lake area and Smiley was in Spokane, he was doing more than just working in the field. He was also observing and learning many of the finer points of customer relations, advertising and new technology.  

“While working in Spokane, I was introduced to pipe bursting. The firm I worked for would occasionally sub out one of those jobs,” Smiley says. “I was wowed by it — so impressed. I had a chance to talk with the owner of the system. I realized the benefits to the customer, particularly in our area, and for the profit potential.”

Smiley elected to include pipe bursting in his “rebirth.” He initially subbed out those jobs but was soon in a position to buy his own HammerHead system. Pipe bursting has become a major contributor to the bottom line for Allied, representing 25 percent of revenue. Standard plumbing makes up the bulk of the work, while drain cleaning and jetting make up the rest. About half the company’s overall work is residential.

The approximately 16 small cities around the lake, most with sewer systems, don’t always allow open-dig pipe replacement, which means pipe bursting is playing a significant role by providing a viable alternative for properties protected by strict dictates to preserve older structures.

Because of these challenges, homeowners faced with a need for sewer repair or replacement often turn to pipe bursting because it is acceptable to the municipalities and limits disruption.

Since Allied is the only company in the area offering pipe bursting, municipalities often refer distraught homeowners to the company. Other area plumbing and drain companies also call on Allied to provide pipe bursting for their customers.

Another unique aspect of the lake is that some communities are not readily accessible by road. To serve these areas, Allied loads their equipment onto a customized pontoon boat and hits the water. The company also has licensed divers for any work that is required on the lake itself. Some homes draw lake water for domestic and potable use, and the company services the submersible pumps that are on the lake bed, following all regulations carefully.

Allied has put a lot of effort into promoting all of its services, but particularly pipe bursting. In 2015, they launched a significant advertising push for that process in a commercial being shown on stadium billboards and movie theater screens.

The menu grows
During his time in Spokane, Smiley saw the advantages of having a trailer jetter, and he added that to his wish list.

“I looked at the franchise operations in Spokane and saw they would have several trailer jetters,” Smiley says. “I also saw and experienced that using a more powerful jetter was a much better way to clear a line. I figured the big companies had that equipment for a reason.”

In 2014, he was finally in position to purchase a larger jetter and chose a Spartan Ultimate Warrior Hydro-Jet (4000 psi at 18gpm). It has become an important asset for the business.

In addition to the jetter, Smiley also knew the benefits of having a reliable camera system, and that was at the top of the list when he reopened his shop. “That was a day-one purchase.” He has a Spartan 200 camera, and a NaviTrack locator from RIDGID.

The pipe bursting systems are HammerHead HDD pipe pullers with a variety of heads. He also added directional boring equipment from Pow-r Mole.

His fleet includes a variety of Ford and Chevrolet vans and trucks, along with a Bobcat E-35 compact excavator and a 22-foot custom-made pontoon boat.

Stretching the borders
Allied operates out of a 3,000-square-foot building on a 1-acre lot in Chelan. They have office and warehouse space, and as noted a company sign that is prominently displayed.

When the Smiley brothers contemplated expanding into Wenatchee, they considered a billboard on a major thoroughfare. When reviewing that cost, it was decided it made more sense to buy a building along that route and put up another sign on the building. The exposure has been beneficial, and the cost not that much greater than the billboard.  

They opened a 3,400-square-foot building on the main route into town, and they are specifically promoting pipe bursting in this region.

Smiley is a firm believer that having a building in view of the public is a superior method of advertising and building name recognition.

Building the team
Finding technicians is a universal issue and a significant challenge for Smiley. Despite advertising for technicians throughout the area and into Spokane, the response is often disappointing.

“We currently have a woman who is getting her plumbing license, and we will be pleased to have her on our team. Since we have a large population of Hispanics in the area, we are also fortunate to have a bilingual technician.

“For potential employees, we will offer a two-week training experience and have a candidate riding with one of our technicians before agreeing to a commitment to hire.”

He says they invest heavily in safety training, and technicians are all fully licensed and trained for confined space entry.

Smiley considers himself very fortunate to be in this business. He has family members who have operated plumbing companies in other regions of the country very successfully, and this has been an inspiration for the young entrepreneur. Still, he says having his own experiences and forming his own path has been extremely rewarding as the business continues to grow.

He is particularly grateful for the guidance he has received since joining PHCC (Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors) and the networking opportunities he has shared with other contractors out of his immediate area who have been in the industry for many years.

“It was like having someone take you under his wing,” Smiley says. “Those people have been willing to offer suggestions, insight and counsel every step of the way — very helpful for our efforts. I give the organization a lot of credit for the position we have attained here in our area.”


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