Finding Your Niche Could Eventually Lead to More Services

Doing some research, keeping an eye on competition and talking to other plumbers can help you home in on your specialty.

Finding Your Niche Could Eventually Lead to More Services

Joseph Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating in Boston. Wood identified air conditioning units as a market demand and expanded his niche to include installation, service and repair of residential air conditioning units. (Photography by Scott Eisen)

It didn’t take long for Joseph Wood to find his niche in the plumbing industry.

As the son of a plumber, he would ride along with his dad for service calls, giving him an early introduction to service and repair. He earned additional experience while working as an apprentice for his brother, John. When Wood opened Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating in 2008, he knew his strengths and skills were well-suited for residential service and repair work.

“I wasn’t just going to dive into something I’d never done. I stayed in my lane. That’s how I came up with service and repair,” Wood says.

When opening a business, plumbers need to decide what work they will provide. Wood and Brad Sims, owner of Mr. Rooter Mid-Michigan, offered six tips to help new plumbers carve out their niche.

Evaluate your skills and knowledge

“Clearly, you need to start with what’s in your wheelhouse to do,” says Wood, whose company serves the area of eastern Massachusetts. Starting a new business is challenging enough without trying to tackle a new industry at the same time, he says.

Draining cleaning was Sims’ first niche. He opened Brad’s Drain Cleaning in 2003 and broadened his services in 2007 as a Mr. Rooter franchise. By hiring master plumbers and technicians, Mr. Rooter Mid-Michigan added people with the skills and knowledge to support a full line of plumbing, sewer jetting and pipe bursting services for an 11-county area.

Determine market demand

When Wood was starting out, he noticed other companies provided air conditioning services in addition to plumbing and heating. It’s the common adage “One call. That’s all.” A company is more attractive when it can offer a full line of services.

Wood identified this as market demand and expanded his niche to include installation, service and repair of residential air conditioning units.

He attended night classes and worked alongside experienced technicians to offer air conditioning services. By adding air conditioning to its repertoire, Boston Standard not only met a market demand, it also eased the lull that occurs after the heating season.

New plumbers can determine market demand through online research and industry experts and by interacting with established plumbers in the area.

Consider the competition

An online search for plumbers in the area can help determine the level of competition for specific services. For Sims, it was easy to identify the competition.

“We only do service, because there’s no service plumbers around,” he says. “We actually decline the new-construction jobs.”

Plumbing service and repair have been a great niche for the company. “We’re in and out of houses; we can do 10-20 houses a day, or even more sometimes, depending on how many technicians we have,” Sims says.

Commit to success

“If it’s going to work, it’s going to work because you want it to,” Sims says. “So much work is out there.”

With plumbers retiring and a shortage of plumbers entering the business, the lack of skilled tradesmen means huge opportunities for new business owners. “Any plumber who wants to start out — he’s pretty much successful if he wants to be successful,” Sims says.

One secret to the success of Mr. Rooter Mid-Michigan is the 24/7 service the company offers. Mr. Rooter caters to the people who clock out of work, go home and find a plugged sewer or water leak waiting for them.

“If you think you’re going to get out of work at 4 o’clock as a plumber, chances are you’re not going to make it very long,” Sims says.

Look at your experience

An apprenticeship program can help you gain the experience you need to feel comfortable striking out on your own. Wood calls it “learning off someone else’s dime.” Take advantage of the benefits of working for someone else, gaining experience without the additional stress of running a business, he says. Learning about business operations is also helpful.

“The biggest thing people struggle with now is being a tradesperson. You always fall back on what you’re best on, which is tools. If you’re going to start a company, you need to handle the business side, too,” he says.

Use caution when revising your niche

Boston Standard and Mr. Rooter both have revised their niche over time. They’ve also experimented with other types of work, with mixed results.

“We branched out into new-construction jobs and didn’t like it at all,” Sims says. Sims prefers a steady cash flow, and new-construction jobs tied up their money for too long. “We decided right from the get-go we’d be service plumbers, not new-construction plumbers, because that’s what we already knew.”

Boston Standard occasionally does commercial work at restaurants or multifamily units, but typically sticks to residential work. Other contractors are faster, have the right equipment and can turn a better profit.

“We’re just not as good at it as other people,” Wood says. “For some, that’s all they do.”

Finding a niche in the plumbing industry helps new plumbers determine what products and services will yield a profit. Making strategic decisions from the outset can give them a solid foundation for long-term growth and success. For Boston Standard, plumbing provides that solid foundation.

“We survive on plumbing. It’s always there as an undercurrent,” Wood says. “We supplement with heating and air conditioning seasonally and further supplement that with service plans.” 


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