Upselling Shouldn't Be a Hard Thing to Do at the Right Time

When handled correctly, upselling products is a proverbial win-win for plumbers and their customers

Upselling Shouldn't Be a Hard Thing to Do at the Right Time

Ed Del Grande, a master plumber and a how-to expert for Kohler/Sterling, poses with a new showerhead for a customer. Del Grande says it should be easy for plumbers to upsell services at the right time. (Photo courtesy of Kohler/Sterling Co.)

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For some plumbers, upselling is a dirty word that evokes images of overzealous contractors forcing unneeded products on unwary customers. Or of wasting valuable time playing salesman instead of moving on to the next job.

But savvy plumbers know that tactful upselling can benefit their bottom lines without offending customers. It can also boost customer satisfaction and lead to more word-of-mouth referrals, says Ed Del Grande, a master plumber and a how-to expert for Kohler/Sterling.

“You’re in someone’s home and you have a captive audience,” Del Grande says. “You go into homes with a fresh eye and perspective and see things that can improve customers’ lives. All you need to do is keep your eyes and ears open, see customers’ needs and fulfill them. You help them out, and you help your business by increasing sales.”

As an example, Del Grande cites a plumber who fixes a bathroom faucet but then notices an old, worn-out showerhead. That presents an opportunity to sell a newer fixture with advanced features, such as a water-saving design or multiple functions (massage or pulse-massage jets, rinse mode, etc.) — or even one with a convenient hand-shower attachment, he says.

“You can offer them a product that looks and works better,” he says.

Plumbers should explain that they’re already at the home and have time to do the work. They should also point out that it’s better financially to do the work now rather than wait until an aging fixture breaks and pay for another service call down the road, he explains.


Successfully upselling products requires a strategic approach. For instance, it’s best to upsell items that can be installed quickly and easily, without delving too deeply into the plumbing system. Showerheads, faucets and broken toilet seats are good examples, he says.

“A showerhead is one of those rare plumbing items where you don’t have to tap into the water system,” he notes. “You turn off the shower mixing valve and take off the old head with a turn of a wrench — no need to turn off the water supply.

“Aim for small jobs that wouldn’t take you any longer than stopping for a cup of coffee on your way to the next job,” he adds. “You don’t want to replace things that will hinder your schedule.”

It’s also helpful to carry a small range of upsellable products so customers can actually see what they’re buying. When customers can actually “kick the tires” and see how a certain item can help them improve their homes or lifestyles, it creates a connection that helps avert a quick, “no thanks, I don’t need that” response.

Once again, smaller items make more sense because cargo space on most service trucks is limited. As such, toilets are a tough upsell because most plumbers don’t have room to carry one on their trucks, so upselling one would require scheduling another service call, he says.


Faucets, on the other hand, don’t take up much room. “Faucets are a great upsell because most of them nowadays are ready to go right out of the box, with all the connections included,” Del Grande says. “And in many cases, I can actually replace an old faucet with a new one for less labor because I won’t have to chase around trying to find parts that match the customer’s existing faucet.”

How should plumbers determine what grade of product to carry on their trucks? Del Grande says that products at middle-of-the-road price points are best, as opposed to the cheapest or most expensive products.

And speaking of costs, it usually works best to quote a customer a flat-rate price for the upsell. For plumbers who don’t use a flat-rate pricing system, it’s easy enough to develop a fair price by estimating how long the job will take, calculating a labor charge based on their hourly rate, then adding on the cost of the product plus an appropriate markup, he says.

“Customers like flat-rate pricing because they know what they’re getting into, compared to time-and-materials quotes,” he explains. “Customers don’t like surprises.”

Of course, it’s critical to closely scope out a job ahead of time and uncover potentially time-consuming problems — rusted-out pipes, for instance — before quoting an installation price.

“And if a job takes a lot less time than expected, you can knock, say, $25 off the price, which always makes customers happy,” he says.


One last tip: Upsell products that are as fun, novel and entertaining as they are functional. For example, some toilet seats now feature built-in deodorizing systems or night lights. And some showerheads now come with a removable Bluetooth-capable speaker; this allows customers to stream their favorite tunes and listen to music in the shower, he says.

“It’s a cool little gadget that gives customers a little more fun and zip in life,” Del Grande says.

While some plumbers may think it’s not worth the effort to sell a few more faucets and showerheads every week, Del Grande says it all adds up over the course of a year.

“If you can go out every day and sell a showerhead and a toilet seat and make, say, 10% more every day on each job, it adds up in a hurry,” he says. “Any revenue you generate is revenue you otherwise would never see.”

If plumbers are unsure of where to start, Del Grande suggests picking products they like, perhaps even installing them in their own homes. That allows them to provide personal testimonials about a product’s value, which can help close a sale, he notes.

“Experiment with different products to see what sells in your market,” he advises. “When you run a small business, almost everything is an experiment. So go find your groove — get a chip in the game and find out what works for you.” 


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