Providing Excellent Customer Service Spurs Company’s Growth

North Carolina couple grows plumbing operation with hard work, dedication and treating customers with respect

Providing Excellent Customer Service Spurs Company’s Growth

Carrboro Plumbing owners Emily and Chris Kreutzer stand in front of one of their company service vehicles at their company headquarters in Carrboro, North Carolina.

About five years ago, plumber Chris Kreutzer got a call from a restaurant owner with a pressing problem: a waterline leak, as indicated by an unusually high water bill.

The co-owner of Carrboro Plumbing in Carrboro, North Carolina, came up with a novel approach to locating the leak, which he figured was in a waterline imbedded in the restaurant’s concrete-slab floor.

“I proposed cutting in a bunch of valves to isolate the problem without breaking up the concrete slab, which would force the restaurant to shut down,” he explains. “So that’s what we did. I turned the water on and off at different locations while one of our technicians observed the water meter.”

Eventually Kreutzer isolated the location of the leak to one particular hot waterline that ran to a water heater, which technicians eventually repiped with an overhead line.

“I’d never done anything like that before, but it seemed like a good way to find the leak because it saved the restaurant a lot of money compared to breaking open the slab,” he says. “And now we have a customer for life.”

That incident reflects some of the skills and values that have spurred growth and success at Carrboro Plumbing, which Kreutzer co-owns with his wife, Emily. Like innovative problem-solving. Plumbing experience and know-how. And concern for helping customers by providing the most cost-effective solutions to plumbing problems.

The company focuses primarily on residential and commercial service and repair work, mixed in with plumbing installations for residential remodeling projects and roughing in plumbing for commercial new-construction projects.

“Customer service absolutely is our top priority,” Chris says. “All of our guys know that. We make that super clear to them and they take ownership of it — they’re proud to do good work.

“In the end, it’s really all about making customers feel comfortable and being honest,” he continues. “Some people have bad experiences with plumbers and are distrustful.

“But we’re straight-forward — we look them in the eye and answer whatever questions they have,” he adds. “We do what’s in their best interests instead of trying to upsell them on things they don’t need.”

To enhance customer service, the company also sends customers appointment reminders via email, as well as a detailed explanation of billing rates to avoid on-the-job misunderstandings.

“And we don’t charge customers for a technician’s learning curve on a particular repair or if we make a mistake,” says Emily. “We always try to be fair to customers. We can treat customers well without short-changing ourselves.”

STEADY GROWTH

The approach has worked well for the company, which the Kreutzers established in 2007. Since starting out with Chris working solo out of his mother’s mini-van and going door-to-door to hand out business cards, the company has grown to 12 employees, including six full-time plumbers, three helpers and an office manager.

“We’ve emphasized customer service and developed a strong customer base,” says Emily. Word-of-mouth referrals and strong reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List and Nextdoor anchor the company’s marketing efforts.

“We have virtually no advertising costs,” she notes. “We’ve found that when people have a good experience, they like to share it.”

Emily also credits the vinyl wraps on the company’s service vehicles for boosting brand awareness and generating service calls. “Even when we had one truck, people would tell us that they see our trucks all over town,” she notes.

“Putting money into great vinyl wraps pays for itself pretty quickly — they’re a great marketing tool,” she continues. “How we look and present ourselves is important to our customers.”

DIDN’T PLAN ON PLUMBING

Chris Kreutzer took a roundabout path to a plumbing career. He started out by working for his mother and father, Anne and Tom Kreutzer, who owned and operated a plumbing company in Virginia until 2006. In 2001, he earned a degree in computer engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (aka Virginia Tech). Stymied by a poor job market, he started working for his parents again, as he did during summers in high school and college.

“It didn’t take long before I realized I’d rather be plumbing than working in an office,” he says. “Plus there’s more job security, too.

“I had an epiphany one day during a service call at a business and saw a bunch of people working in cubicles,” he adds. “I realized I needed elbow room. I like to move around, not sit still.”

After moving to Wilmington, North Carolina, for what he thought would be a temporary stay, Chris met Emily. Eventually they decided to move to Carrboro, about 15 miles southwest of Durham, so Emily could attend law school at the University of North Carolina.

GREAT EQUIPMENT, EMPLOYEES

As the company grew, so did its roster of equipment. The business currently runs eight service trucks, four Ford E-series vans, three Nissan NV vans and one Nissan pickup truck.

Drain cleaning equipment includes two RIDGID K-60 sectional-cable drain machines, one RIDGID K-1500 sectional-cable machine, one RIDGID K-400 cable drum machine, six hand-held RIDGID Power Spin drain machines and three RIDGID PowerClear units.

The company also relies on a standard RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline-inspection camera with a CS6x monitor; a NaviTrak Scout pipe locator; and a Gen-Ear audio leak-detection system from General Pipe Cleaners, a division of General Wire Spring Co. Technicians use power tools made primarily by Milwaukee Tool, Porter-Cable, Craftsman, Bosch and RIDGID.

Of course, attracting and retaining employees that can use that equipment efficiently is paramount to success. To that end, the company offers employees competitive pay and benefits, which include paying half their health-insurance premiums; nine paid holidays (including a day off to celebrate birthdays); five to 10 days of paid vacation, depending on length of employment; retirement accounts in which the company matches employee contributions up to 3%; and 529 plan education accounts, Emily says.

Interestingly, some Carrboro Plumbing technicians are on their second careers, one having worked as a Wall Street trader (with plumbing experience gained from summer jobs in high school and college) and another as a social worker, Emily points out.

“The nice thing about that for us is they’re mature adults who know what’s expected of them,” she says.

The company also performs two employee performance reviews a year, not one. The sessions focus less on what employees do right or wrong and more on strengths and weaknesses, as well as what kind of work they like and don’t like to do, she adds.

“Happy employees do better work,” Emily says. “We also ask them what they need from us, as well as what we do well as a company and where we could improve. We value their input.”

To attract employees, Emily says she speaks at local career fairs and high schools. She’s even spoken on radio shows in an effort to raise awareness about the lack of skilled tradesmen and the resulting great career opportunities available.

SOFTWARE AIDS EFFICIENCY

On the business-management side, the company uses Smart Service field-management software and iFleet (a Smart Service program), which boosts productivity and efficiency. The programs enable technicians to use iPads to receive service schedules, create invoices and collect payments at job sites and write down notes about jobs for future reference. They also can take pictures of jobs, which get filed in a customer database, Emily says.

“In 2017, state regulations changed and we had to start charging sales tax for plumbing calls,” Emily explains. “That’s when we invested in Smart Service. It would’ve put too much on our service guys to have them figuring out sales tax manually. Plus it syncs up with QuickBooks, which makes things easier for our accountant.”

With Smart Service, technicians get their daily job schedule via iFleet every morning. “Before, they’d call in to get their next job, which wasn’t as efficient,” she says. “There’s less downtime now because they’re not waiting to find where to go next.”

Moreover, because technicians know ahead of time the kind of service calls they’re faced with, they can stop at a supply house in the morning and get any required parts and materials they don’t already have stocked on their trucks, Emily says.

Furthermore, dispatchers routinely ask customers to send photos of the problem they’re experiencing, which then get sent to technicians, resulting in more accurate pre-call diagnosis.

“Sometimes what customers describe isn’t what’s wrong, so photos are really helpful,” Emily says. “Overall, we couldn’t grow and manage people properly without this system.”

MORE GROWTH, NO REGRETS

As for the future, Chris anticipates more growth ahead, provided the company can find employees with not only the necessary technical skills, but the right aptitude and attitude to provide great customer service.

“We’re in no hurry to grow,” he says. “We can grow only if the right people come along.”

Areas of expansion could include trenchless pipeline-rehab methods such as pipe bursting and pipe lining, along with investments in leak-detection equipment.

But as Chris looks back at the past 13 years, one thing is certain: He has no regrets about choosing plumbing over computers. He says he truly enjoys the problem-solving aspects of plumbing and the resulting appreciation from customers.

“You fix their problem and they’re so grateful and happy,” he says. “It’s very satisfying work. And at the end of a day, you also get to see what you’ve done, which is very gratifying. Service work definitely is my thing — finding weird, tricky problems and figuring them out.” 



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