Embracing Technology Brings Continued Success for Plumbing Company

Massachusetts father-and-son outfit hangs its hat on integrity, technology and service diversity

Embracing Technology Brings Continued Success for Plumbing Company

The team from Timothy A. Giard & Son Plumbing & Heating: from left, co-owners Jeremy Giard and Timothy Giard; Allyson Giard, dispatcher; Tim Hunt, project manager; Paul Dubois, septic truck operator; and Chris Eyssi and Dan Brien, technicians.

Staying in business for 35 years requires navigating a long road filled with many ups and downs and twists and turns. But by offering customers a diverse array of services — including plumbing, hydronic heating, drain cleaning and septic tank pumping — and learning to embrace advanced technology, Timothy A. Giard & Son Plumbing & Heating has remained on course for success over the decades.

“My dad did residential plumbing and (hydronic) heating when he first started out. They go together hand-in-hand,” says Jeremy Giard, 27, when asked about the benefits of service diversity. Giard co-owns the North Andover, Massachusetts-based company with his father, Timothy Giard.

Moreover, fewer companies do hydronic heating. “While homeowners are doing more and more plumbing, heating still freaks people out,” the younger Giard says. “I know some plumbers who won’t touch heating.

“If you know what you’re doing, they go great together,” he notes. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re like polar opposites.”

Providing both plumbing and heating services proved to be a good business mix with plenty of opportunities for cross-marketing plumbing services to heating customers and vice versa. Giard estimates that the company’s current revenue breakdown on the plumbing side is about 50/50 between heating and plumbing.

What is the key to business longevity? At Timothy A. Giard & Son Plumbing & Heating, it all starts with being honest with customers, which leads to a lot of word-of-mouth referrals, he says.

“My dad taught me to give customers as much information about their problem as possible, then present them with options and let them make a decision,” Giard notes. “We don’t try to pull a fast one and sell customers something they don’t need.”

Giard also credits the company’s middle-of-the-road position in terms of pricing — not the cheapest outfit around but not the most expensive. And a little luck didn’t hurt either.

“We always were small enough to sneak past any (economic) recessions,” he adds. “We offered multiple services and never had more than 10 employees. Our guys always have something to do. We’ve never laid anyone off in 35 years.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Timothy Giard established the company in 1985 in a tiny office in his parents’ home. The business primarily centered on residential plumbing service and repair and installing hot-water boilers for hydronic heating systems, with an occasional remodeling project thrown into the mix.

One thing the Giards learned over the years is the benefit of embracing new technology. A good example is combination tankless water heaters, which combine a boiler for hydronic heat with a tankless water heater in a unit small enough to hang on a wall.

Timothy Giard wasn’t too interested in jumping on the combo-unit bandwagon about a decade ago, but he warmed to the idea after attending some seminars. The company installed the first unit in Timothy Giard’s mother’s house. The resulting significant savings in fuel costs helped convince him it was time to go all-in, his son recalls.

“She had an oil-fired boiler with high fuel bills,” he says. “After we installed the combination unit, she called my dad in a panic, asking why her monthly heating bill was so low — only $150.

“That’s when we figured we needed to give this a shot,” he continues. “If they’re installed correctly, they can save people 20% to 30% on their fuel bills. And now we have more than 200 units installed out there.”

The takeaways here? First of all, it pays to adapt quickly to new technology because, if for no other reason, customers generally want to at least know about the latest and greatest in products and technology. Secondly, plumbers should offer customers as many options to their problems as possible at a variety of price points. That allows them to make sound economic decisions, he says.

“You’re doing a disservice to your clients if you’re not willing to adapt to new technology,” Giard says. “Just because you’ve been doing something the same way all these years that doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the best way.

“It took us awhile to come to that realization,” he adds. “You don’t want to cut yourself out of the game before it even starts. And if you can’t provide clients with a variety of options, you’re not really doing your job.”

CAPITALIZING ON OPPORTUNITIES

The company’s recent entry into the septic tank pumping arena underscores another factor in the company’s longevity: The ability to spot and capitalize on new revenue sources.

Missing out on pumping revenue had always bothered Giard. He already was somewhat familiar with the industry, having worked occasionally for a relative who runs a septic pumping company formerly owned by Giard’s grandfather, Emile.

“It always was in the back of my mind,” Giard explains. “My dad and I have been spitballing the idea for the last few years and other competitors in the area are getting older so I figured this is a good time to offer this service to our clients. We already have a foot in the door with our hydronic and general plumbing services, and people ask periodically if we know anyone who pumps out tanks. Instead of referring them to other companies, I decided to find an inexpensive truck and start doing it ourselves.”

What would Giard tell other plumbers who might consider diversifying into septic tank pumping? Do the required marketing groundwork, and then be patient, as building a new business from scratch takes time, even under the most favorable circumstances.

“You’re going to get some bumps and bruises along the way. But if growing a business like this is your goal, you’ve got to stick with it,” he says. “At times, your truck might break down and the phone might not ring as much as you want it to. But all you can do is get your name out there and tell people why they should use you.”

EQUIPPED TO SUCCEED

The company’s only vacuum truck is a 1989 Volvo Aero equipped with a 3,600-gallon steel tank, fabricated by New England Mechanical Overlay in New Hampshire, and a vacuum pump made by National Vacuum Equipment.

It made sense to buy a used truck because it was difficult to justify a more significant investment in such a new business venture. By avoiding a large monthly payment on a truck loan, the company is under less pressure to build a business base faster, Giard points out.

“Since there’s no note on the truck, it’s not costing us anything if it sits for, say, a week,” he says. “By not overextending ourselves financially, we’re in a better position to succeed.”

For plumbing services, the company relies on five service vehicles: a 2015 and 2016 Ford Transit 250, 2015 Ford Transit 350 and 2015 Transit Connect. The company left the drain cleaning arena several years ago, but still owns a Milwaukee Tool M12 Drain Snake and an AIRSNAKE for unclogging smaller drainlines.

The company also owns a RIDGID SeeSnake standard camera and a Milwaukee Tool infrared thermal imager, used to detect leaks inside walls, floors and ceilings. Technicians generally prefer Milwaukee Tool power tools.

EYEING SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

Pumping septic tanks currently accounts for about 20% of the company’s business volume. Looking ahead, Giard would like to see that rise to 30% or even 40% in the years ahead.

Ideally, he also envisions adding another pumping truck within five years in order to have enough capacity to handle any additional customers the company might pick up as other area pumpers retire.

On the plumbing end of the business, Giard sees opportunities to grow by developing more subcontracting relationships with general contractors. He also sees social media platforms like Instagram playing a larger role in marketing.

“Four projects we’ve done this year came from new clients who found us on social media,” he notes. “And after I posted a picture of our septic truck, a contractor called me and said he had a client who needed a tank cleaned. I’ll take that all day.

“I also post pictures of different projects we’ve done or are working on,” he continues. “We don’t have a huge following — maybe 540 or so followers — but I’m not doing it to gain thousands of followers. I just want to showcase what we can do. It’s an inexpensive form of marketing.”

One thing that won’t change going forward: The company’s sharp focus on providing optimal customer service, just the way his father has for decades for plumbing and heating clients.

“My dad still treats every client as if it’s his first one,” Giard says. “I’m convinced that’s why he’s been so successful for 35 years. He still grinds out every day like it’s his first day in business. And my goal is to keep doing that.” 



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