Adapting Plumbing Operations to the Realities of a World Under Lockdown

As the pandemic has unfolded, plumbers haven’t stopped working, but they have had to modify how they go about conducting business. Here’s an example of how one company has handled all the changes of recent months.

Adapting Plumbing Operations to the Realities of a World Under Lockdown

During the pandemic, Next Plumbing has been making its own hand sanitizer, which gets included in goodie bags given to customers. (Photos courtesy of Next Plumbing)

Interested in COVID-19?

Get COVID-19 articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

COVID-19 + Get Alerts

In the past couple of months, plumbers have had to adapt to new realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Being essential means still having the ability to work every day, but that work looks different than it did in a pre-pandemic world.

Next Plumbing in Southwest Florida is a good example of how companies in this industry have had to adapt. The company was on the forefront of altering its business model, even before strict social distancing measures started being enforced. Currently, Next Plumbing has a solid system in place to ride out the remaining duration of the pandemic.

“We were quick on getting everything prepared,” says Patrick Garner, operations manager for Next Plumbing. “We had our ear to the ground on it and anticipated what was coming. It was late February that we started getting everything going.”

Garner says the company has always maintained a large supply of masks and gloves, so having enough PPE for its employees was not a concern. Donating some of that large stock was one of the first things Next Plumbing did.

Next Plumbing has donated some of the large stock of gloves and masks it consistently maintains.
Next Plumbing has donated some of the large stock of gloves and masks it consistently maintains.

The company also immediately started getting its office staff into a work-from-home situation, cycling people in and out, and for a period of time having all office staff working from home. Technicians weren’t allowed in the office at all.

“That was a big concern. We didn’t want technicians potentially getting office workers sick and vice versa,” Garner says.

He and Next Plumbing’s two owners handled most of the incoming calls during times when the office didn’t have its dispatchers. Sewing handmade masks for customers became the primary work-from-home task. The company bought a few sewing machines to ensure all office staff were equipped to help make masks while quarantined at home.

“That way they could keep working and get a paycheck,” Garner says.

As of April 23, Next Plumbing had distributed 436 handmade masks. They’re being included in goodie bags given to customers, which also contain gloves and hand sanitizer.

“We figured out how to make our own hand sanitizer and are filling up bottles with it,” says Garner. “When we go to a house, whether we end up doing work or not, we give them a goodie bag. We’re even doing some custom masks. People call with certain requests. It’s been really cool. People call, and you can tell they’re at their wits’ end and stressed out, and they’re excited that there’s a company in their neighborhood that’s there for them.”

During work-from-home periods, office staff has focused on sewing handmade masks to distribute to customers.
During work-from-home periods, office staff has focused on sewing handmade masks to distribute to customers.

Next Plumbing’s process for responding to calls at the present moment begins with inventory. All incoming inventory gets labeled with a date and is set aside for three days before becoming available for use.

“We keep a revolving stock that way,” Garner says.

Every technician begins the day with a temperature check before heading out to respond to service calls. If a customer requests it, technicians will wear a Tyvek full body suit. They use fresh gloves at each house. Garner says Next Plumbing has purchased $24,000 worth of new safety gear during the pandemic.

All incoming inventory is set aside for three days before being available for use.
All incoming inventory is set aside for three days before being available for use.

“They put a mask on, use hand sanitizer, put protective covers on their shoes. They change out gloves as needed and get the job performed,” says Garner. 

Such practices are imperative for any job, but Next Plumbing’s service area has an older demographic, making it even more vital to do what is needed to not spread the coronavirus.

“What we’re doing, how we’re protecting everybody, we’re trying to position ourselves as a leader in all of this,” Garner says.

Next Plumbing has also been performing some virtual service calls as well.

“If a customer is not comfortable having someone come to their house, we provide them with a Zoom link and they can talk to me or another one of our technicians. We walk them through their problem,” Garner says.

It is being provided as a free service, only requiring payment from a customer if they have to acquire a certain part or tool that they don’t have from Next Plumbing.

“We’ve done about 50 of those. We’re doing as many as we can. The customer can’t do everything obviously,” says Garner.

Next Plumbing's technicians begin their day with a temperature check.
Next Plumbing's technicians begin their day with a temperature check.

Next Plumbing has for the time being put a halt to work like home remodels. But any day-to-day service work the company is ready and willing to handle.

“We’re very busy and just doing things to keep customers safe and us safe,” Garner says.

Next Plumbing has even increased its advertising and is currently hiring.

“Once all this settles, I want customers to think this company took care of me, so when I need plumbing service, I’ll call them,” Garner says.

But Next Plumbing is prepared to keep on with its current processes for however long is necessary.

“We’ll start implementing a normal procedure once everything is done, but with the way this virus is, it’s hard to tell when that will be,” Garner says. “I don’t want anyone on our team to let their guard down and have to begin all of this again. This is going to change how everybody functions. As we return to a more normal state, I’m sure we’re going to keep a lot of these practices in place.”



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.