Building a Legacy

Training academy and appetite to provide services for all help Louisville company expand far beyond what the owner imagined

Building a Legacy

The management team at Tom Drexler Plumbing, Air & Electric pose for a portrait at the company’s office in Louisville, Kentucky. From left, Kaita Renwick, director of business development; Mike Wells, regional HVAC director; Heath Murray, Elizabethtown branch manager; Cody Webster, HVAC service assistant manager; Marvis Hall, director of customer service; Josh Toon, sales manager; Mike Fox, electric service manager; Tonya Bryant, warehouse supervisor; Justin Price, drains and camera manager; Lauren Nielsen, plumbing service manager; Tony Hommrich, plumbing service install manager; Rebecca Birchfield, install coordinator supervisor; Todd Ruxer, regional director of operations; Mike Birchfield, production manager; Scott Montgomery, electric service manager; Jason Frost, remodel install manager; Darren Batman, regional plumbing director; Mike Hall, HVAC service assistant manager; Chris Hardin, HVAC install manager.

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In the beginning, Tom Drexler Plumbing, Air & Electric was just Tom Drexler Plumbing. More to the point, it was just Tom Drexler. 

Yet when 23-year-old Drexler decided in 1982 that his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, needed another plumbing shop, he was building on a legacy for he was a fourth-generation master plumber. Even so, he was the first Drexler to hang his name on a company. Today, his eponymous company sits astride the industry in Louisville and all of Kentucky, with customers only needing to remember his name to have his number — Dial 1-Tom-Drexler. 

With company growth nowhere near topping out, the Tom Drexler Plumbing legacy continues to build. The one-man, one-truck plumbing shop in the Highlands neighborhood of Louisville has grown into a multistate, multitrades service company with 225 service trucks rolling out each day from three locations. 

When the company founder opened a branch location in Elizabethtown last fall — and Frankfort a few months later — he talked about “the company’s innovative vision for tomorrow’s value-added service. Navigating the complexity of home service installation, repair and replacement can be challenging and stressful to homeowners and we aim to be a helpful resource…”

A more succinct way to put it is, we are your one-stop shop. A plumbing outlet, yes, but it is, after all, Tom Drexler plumbing and heating and cooling and electric. And that list of services doesn’t even mention something the firm has offered for 30 years — bathroom remodeling.

Company President Terry Henson II says Tom Drexler Plumbing’s vision for what services to offer its customers developed naturally, what he calls “a natural progression.”  


After starting his company, Tom Drexler for years operated just as a plumbing services provider before getting into drain and sewer cleaning. Adding those services was a no-brainer inasmuch as service calls then and now about clogged home sinks or toilets often turn into unclogging of drainlines or sewer lines outside the home. 

Drexler took it one step further, though, when he began to remodel bathrooms. “People would tell our service techs when they were working on a leaking faucet, ‘Gee, I wish I could change the color of a sink or upgrade a shower.’ And so we got into that. We used to do tile work, but we use the acrylic wall systems now.” In 2023, the company has seven two-person remodeling crews upgrading bathrooms.

The next swerve into adjacent trades came about a decade ago when the company owner became involved in the best-practices business training and coaching association called Nexstar Network. “When Tom joined that, he was told that he really ought to offer HVAC services,” Henson says, “A year later, he did.”

Eventually, the erstwhile plumbing shop began to offer electrical service work. Explains Henson: “After we added HVAC, sometimes we had to add an electrical circuit or something for a heating or cooling unit and it progressed from there.”

Today, about 40% of Tom Drexler Plumbing, Air & Electric is plumbing and drains. HVAC work constitutes another 40%, with electricity service and bathroom remodeling each pulling in about 10% of revenue. Of 310 employees at Drexler, 45 are field service plumbers, 20 are installation plumbers, 12 are drain techs and 18 work on sewers.

And who is calling for all these services? “Ninety-nine percent are residential customers,” Henson says. “We do a little light commercial, but even that is, say, an attorney’s office adding a shower or something. On the other hand, we do a lot of commercial HVAC work. We really go after that.”

Every plumbing shop has its go-to brands for tools, appliances and fixtures. Drexler plumbers use RIDGID cable machines and cameras and RYOBI (The Home Depot) and Milwaukee power tools. Kohler and American Standard fixtures and Delta faucets are stocked. Bradford White and Navien water heaters are preferred.

Though most service calls are related to leaking pipes and faucets, water heater installations generate more service call revenue, according to Henson. “We love those water heaters.” 


Henson joined the company four years ago and today, as president, is mostly responsible for day-to-day operations. His background is in another home service trade, pest control — which, he says with a laugh, the company is not going to get into. Confined now mostly to the office overseeing company growth and other administrative aspects, Henson says he can’t often visit customers’ homes and he misses it.

“I don’t get out into the field as much as I used to. I love it out there,” he says. However, Henson does try to meet every morning with service crews who are headed for the field. “Every day of the week, one of the groups of tradesmen has a morning meeting at 7 a.m. We do a lot of training there, celebrate good news, become more familiar with new equipment and review customer feedback. I try to get in there each morning because that’s where you can get the pulse of the business.”

While the morning training sessions are important, it is the company’s apprenticeship programs that are notable. Tom Drexler heard of a Columbus, Ohio, in-house apprenticeship school operated by another multitrade service company, ECO Plumbers-Electrician-HVAC Technicians. He drove there, talked with company executives and returned to Louisville ready to open his own center.

“We didn’t copy that program, but Tom’s visit catapulted us into the thinking behind it,” Henson says of the beginnings of what became Drexler Academy. The academy was a local response to the industry’s ongoing struggle to attract and retain capable young technicians. The company’s experience is typical for the industry.

“Our typical hiring routine at the time, about four years ago, was that we would look for a laborer, a warehouseman or someone, and hire him,” the president says. “He would work for six months, become an apprentice and then try to get a license. We were struggling to get applicants. We were overbooked for service calls and needed bodies.”

The company used a workforce program developed by Nexstar — called NexTech. It offers teaching modules and videos for classroom learning. For example, to teach how to install water heaters, the academy instructor would use the training module in the classroom. Academy students then would practice the procedure in-house before, finally, going out on a service call for an actual water heater installation — with a licensed plumber standing by.

On the second floor of the company facility in Louisville, a classroom was created and a Drexler service manager and master plumber, P.J. Hardin, became the academy’s training manager. He built out a program that could be completed in six months. Master plumber certification requires two more years.

Henson says the company didn’t know what to expect when it publicly announced the creation of Drexler Academy. It advertised the program as a no-tuition, earn-while-you-learn trade school and hoped for the best. The best happened. “When we opened enrollment, the very first day we had 82 applicants!”

Out of that first group, Tom Drexler Plumbing came away with 20 plumbers. Once a year — this is the fourth year of operation — the academy enrolls more plumbing applicants. Eight more graduated in the most recent class. “Half of our licensed plumbers have come from Drexler Academy. We wouldn’t even be close to where we are today in our staffing without the academy.”

The company has managed to retain most of its plumbing graduates, though some have moved from residential plumbing to one of the other options. Six months after the inaugural class, an HVAC curriculum was offered. From all of the academy classes, about 80% of graduates are on the Drexler payroll.

The company’s surrounding service area includes several counties across the Ohio River in Indiana. The cross-border character of the service calls could have been a complication for the academy because of differing state regulations on certification of plumbers. However, Indiana and Kentucky reciprocate on honoring trade certificates, so academy graduates can work anywhere in the service area.


Tom Drexler Plumbing, Air & Electric headquarters is just a mile or two down the street in Louisville from where Tom Drexler first set up his shop. But it is a whole different company now than it was in 1982 — a fuller-service company, turning out its own trade techs, operating in three locations and two states. 

Pretty much all that the startup company has in common with the present one is … Tom Drexler.


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