Plumbing Contractor Grows Company Through Tough Jobs and Hard Work

Taking on commercial and residential jobs of all sizes allows Illinois plumber to build his company.
Plumbing Contractor Grows Company Through Tough Jobs and Hard Work
Jeremy Stegle, left, and Josh Schlenker check out the pipes and the flow of water inside the concession stands at the Anna City Park after completing some water work before the Union County Fair.

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As Jeremy Stegle gained his experience as a plumbing technician, he knew he wanted more: to become a licensed plumber, have his own company and make it a successful one.

Following advice he received from local plumbing inspectors, the young entrepreneur checked into the union apprentice program with Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 160 in Illinois and decided it was time to start on his goals.

“I had great training and experience with the apprentice program,” Stegle says.

By 2011, after five years of study, Stegle had his journeyman license, was ready to set off on his own, and opened Stegle Plumbing, based in Anna, Illinois. His plan was to provide a complete range of services.

The goal was to go after the residential service and repair market, which is essentially the bread and butter of the business now, but he also saw an opportunity to do light commercial work because of the several industrial plants in the area. The company also provides services for the rental home community, area state parks, water districts and similar facilities. Additionally, they have picked up business in remodeling as well as new home and commercial construction.

THE FOUNDATION

The first order of business for Stegle was to find a place to operate out of. He purchased a 7,500-square-foot commercial building that featured a 2,400-square-foot living space, with the balance for shop and storage. After updates, the facility now includes a 500-square-foot office. The building is on 3 acres of a main road with good visibility just outside Anna.

Stegle has elected to run his company as a union shop, saying there are advantages to operating that way, such as more opportunities to bid on major projects and additional help available if he needs it. “When I have a bigger project and I need more manpower, I can get the experienced help I need by going to the union for plumbers,” he says.

Stegle adds that if he has a large contract and would need long-term help, the plumber sent by the union hall would essentially become his employee for the duration of the job. “They would essentially become employees of Stegle Plumbing,” Stegle says. “We would pay into the benefits package through the union hall.”

Along with Stegle, the company currently has one journeyman plumber and a third-year apprentice. They travel a radius of about 35 to 40 miles for residential service but will go up to 60 miles for a commercial customer or new construction.

Stegle estimates they do about 60 percent residential service and repair, with 40 percent in their other customer base — municipal, remodel and new construction.

The company is well-equipped with their fleet consisting of a 2005 Chevy Express cargo van, a 2006 GMC 3500 service truck, and 2009 Ford cargo van. They also have a 2002 International 4300. Other equipment also includes a Bobcat 331 trackhoe, Ditch Witch trencher and a trailer jetter from Aquatech, a product of Hi-Vac Corp.

TAKING ANY JOB

Stegle says the company will never turn down work, and that is evident is some of the jobs the company has undertaken. A local farmer who wanted hydronic heating installed in his barn approached him with the job. The temperatures in the area can go from 30 degrees F one day to 70 degrees F the next, and for seed storage, the idea of in-floor heating is challenging.

“We went down and looked at his project and the size of the building and how he wanted to zone it,” Stegle says. “We had three different zones: one for the office, another for the shop and the third for storage. It was about a 7,000-square-foot building.”

Stegle went to his plumbing wholesale supplier — Winnelson Co. — with the job. He says he often goes to them when making business decisions on new tools or equipment. “With the information we had, Winnelson sized it for us,” Stegle says. “They did the dimensions accordingly and with the proper pump size and manifold size.”

Crews laid the pipe in on top of the Styrofoam and the mesh and mettle, and then the concrete was poured. “When the building was about completed, we went back and hooked up our pumps and the system, and we had heat,” Stegle says.

The farmer recommended Stegle Plumbing to other farms in the area, and the company picked up similar projects. One was a barn of about 4,000-square-feet, and the other was a 3,000-square-foot barn.

On each of the jobs — including one currently being worked on at a 3,000-square-foot home with an accompanying barn — Stegle uses equipment from Watts Radiant and pipe from a local HVAC contractor.

“It is such a new system for our area,” Stegle says. “People are not educated on this, but we are educating local contractors and hoping that they suggest this in some cases as an alternative heating source.”

Stegle says that when they are working with a client on a custom home, they will work directly with the homeowner when it comes to selecting faucets and other fixtures. As a subcontractor, those decisions may have already been made. “We have developed a group of contractors we’ve worked for in the past, and this has resulted in some business that has not involved competitive bidding,” Stegle says.

Stegle staff will make recommendations when appropriate as to a manufacturer. “We will typically recommend products by Delta,” Stegle says. “In our area, we have the availability of parts for their products.”

They also use fixtures from Kohler Co. and American Standard. Stegle keeps a substantial inventory of parts and fixtures in their facility; however, he points out they are fortunate that there is a supply house just five miles away and another one at 30 miles distance, so availability of parts is not a problem. He estimates they may have about $10,000 in parts on site.

MORE THAN JUST RESIDENTIAL

Stegle Plumbing has taken on more than just the residential work, finishing several recent commercial projects as well.A recent commercial plumbing project as a subcontractor was a 3,500-square-foot building for a church. Included in the job was an 800-square-foot commercial kitchen where Stegle’s staff installed a triple-compartment sink, a hand sink and commercial dishwasher. They also plumbed the ADA restrooms.

Another major commercial project was the local Chevrolet sales building where they brought existing restrooms up to ADA requirements by making the 6-by-6-foot room into an 8-by-8 and replacing lavatories with wall-hung units and new ADA toilets. Urinals were also added. The new break room required a new sink and coffee bar.

For commercial work, the company bids all fixtures included because these must typically be ADA-compliant.

Beyond commercial, the company also has a preventive maintenance contract with one of the state parks where they jet out the main sewer line every year. In one instance, they were called in to jet an 8-inch sewer line going into a lagoon, which they had drained. When crews put the camera in, they found the line had collapsed. A new 8-inch PVC line was installed after removing the ductile iron pipe with the hole in it.

HAVING SUPPORT

One big part of Stegle Plumbing’s success is the support Stegle has in the office and the advertising the company does.

Stegle married six months after opening the shop, and his wife, Kristen, is now an active partner with her husband in running the business side of the operation. Kristen handles scheduling of the jobs, bookkeeping, preparing of the bids and the promotional efforts of the company.

“We have done the telephone directory, of course, but also ads in the local newspaper. And we are doing some radio advertising as well,” Kristen says. “We’ve had magnets put on the telephone directory, and we sponsor various sports activities like soccer teams and baseball teams for the children in our town.”

Social media has also amped things up for the small company.

“This has really grown into a way to interact with people, and I find we get a lot of customers — and new customers — who contact us through the social media,” Kristen says. “This has been a great way for us to interact with the community.”

Another asset to this operation is the word-of-mouth promotion that has been generated by family and friends who live in town and helped to spread the word about the enterprise. Plus, they have generated trust of their work and work ethic.


Upgrading the tools

Jeremy Stegle says that when he started Stegle Plumbing, the smartest thing he did was to make sure he did not overextend himself in the purchase of tools.

“Kristen and I thought a lot about this and knew we would be better off with some secondhand equipment to get started,” says Stegle, owner of the plumbing company based in Anna, Illinois.

Over time, Stegle has upgraded tools to serve customers’ needs.

One of those tools the company purchased is an Aquatech trailer jetter and a camera built by Pro-Built Tools.

Stegle knew he need drain cleaning tools to be able to help unclog drains. Having the right tools has helped the company gain and keep more customers.

“We have extended into better tools for different jobs,” Stegle says. “The newer jetters have done extremely well on major projects for municipalities, where we have longer lines that we can reach with the 500-foot hoses.”



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