Customer-First Approach Drives Plumbing Company’s Growth

Great customer service, effective social media is a potent combo for Montana plumbing firm.

Customer-First Approach Drives Plumbing Company’s Growth

  Paige and Raun Grover started Modern Plumbing & Heating in Kalispell, Montana, in 2016 and now have five employees doing primarily residential and commercial service and repair. The company serves about a 30-mile radius around Kalispell.

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During a service call earlier this year, Nick Caron — a technician at Modern Plumbing & Heating in Kalispell, Montana — determined the leaking dishwasher he was trying to fix was beyond repair. So he told the customer she’d have to buy a new appliance.

But in an above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty moment, Caron took time in between service calls to make a quick stop at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It turned out to be a fortuitous move, as Caron lucked out and found a Bosch dishwasher that matched the customers’ other kitchen appliances.

The price? Only $50. The customer’s reaction when Caron called with the news and was able to install the dishwasher later that day for a fraction of what the customer had expected to pay? Priceless, notes Paige Grover, who co-owns the company with her husband, Raun, a master plumber.

“Customer service is everything to us and we really feel like it’s a lost art these days,” she says. “Our slogan is, ‘Serviced once, customer for life,’ and we mean it. What Nick did that day for that customer exemplifies that philosophy.”

That emphasis on customer service, coupled with effective use of social media and transparent pricing — achieved by opting to operate as a time-and-materials shop — have served the company well since its inception in 2016.

As a measure of the company’s growing success and stature in Montana’s Flathead Valley, consider that in 2017 Modern Plumbing — a one-man band at the time, with just Raun Grover in the field — earned an honorable mention in the plumbing category in an annual Best of Flathead survey. The Daily Inter Lake, a local newspaper, conducts the contest.

The company then won top honors in that category in 2018, 2019 and 2020, besting some 40 other plumbers in the area. And in 2018, the company received a Torch Award for Ethics from the Better Business Bureau, she says.

Of course, providing great service requires hiring technicians and office staff that are both skilled and care for customers. As most plumbers and other tradespeople nationwide know full well, that’s not easy.

But so far, the Grovers have been able to assemble such a team around themselves: Travis Shipley, a master plumber; Caron, who’s almost a journeyman plumber; and Amie Gardner, who manages the office and customer service.

“As cheesy or corny as it might sound, we really care about our customers,” Grover notes. “And it’s just as important that everyone we hire feels the same way. We hire good, solid people that we usually find through referrals, which is a safe bet for use when it comes to hiring people.

“It’s important to us that they’re also personable and courteous, since they go inside customers’ homes every day.”

HIGH ETHICAL STANDARDS

The company also sets the bar high when it comes to ethics. It doesn’t pay technicians commissions on what they sell and doesn’t encourage them to upsell products and services, Grover notes.

“We’re only there to fix the problem at hand. We’re very fair and honest and people notice that,” Grover says. “We believe very strongly in the Golden Rule, treat customers as we’d want to be treated. And it’s important that our employees feel the same way.”

Another factor in the company’s success, she says, is quoting jobs on a time-and-materials basis instead of flat-rate pricing. That enables technicians to be “super transparent” about pricing. It’s also fairer to customers because not all jobs are equal, she says.

“At one point, our accountant asked how we could grow so much and be profitable as a time-and-materials shop,” she points out. “But it can be done. You just have to keep tracking things like time spent on jobs in order to maintain consistency and stay as efficient as possible.

“If making money was our main objective, we’d go to flat-rate pricing,” she adds. “But we started the business in order to help people. Integrity is very important to us.”

To keep track of things such as scheduling, invoicing, customer data and the status of jobs, Modern Plumbing uses Jobber field-service management software.

GOOD ONLINE REVIEWS FOLLOW

Providing great customer service does more than just help the company grow and boost revenue. It also makes the company’s primary marketing method — online reviews — much easier.

“If you provide a well-rounded customer-service experience and always put customers on a pedestal, using customer reviews as your main form of marketing is a no-brainer,” says Grover, who has a college degree in graphic design and directs the company’s marketing efforts and operations.

When asked if that’s easier said than done in real life, given that many customers intend to provide a positive review but fail to do so, she replies, “Not if you offer great, well-rounded service. If you’re not getting great reviews, maybe you have to take a closer look at how you do business.”

The company’s approach seems to be working; more than 400 customers have provided five-star reviews about Modern Plumbing, mostly on Google and the company’s Facebook page.

Along with the emphasis on social media, Grover says the company’s website also aided growth. She says taking a personal approach — using family-centric photographs instead of stock plumbing photos, for instance — makes the website more effective. As an example, she points to a photo on the company’s website home page of Raun with their son, Grayson.

“Personalizing things help you stand apart,” she explains. “We also used vinyl wraps on our trucks from the start, using a clean and simple design.”

A MARKETING MIX

But the company also relies on an old-school advertising method: a small ad in the Yellow Pages, just to cover all their bases demographically, she says.

“We feel we have to cater to seniors that don’t use the internet,” she says. “So we run an ad about the size of a business card that’s big enough to read but not so big that it gets too expensive.”

Grover says she regularly posts items on the company’s Facebook page, but concedes that the platform is a more valuable forum for service reviews than a generator of service calls. “We really just post on Facebook as a courtesy to our customers and to have a presence there, since social media is so big,” she says.

“We keep it lighthearted and fun; and I try to bring our kids into posts, too,” she adds. “I do a little bit of everything to mix it up and get customers interested in following a plumbing company.”

Residential service and repair work for plumbing and hydronic-heat systems, plus plumbing for remodeling projects, make up about 80% of the company’s business volume. Commercial plumbing services contribute the balance, Grover says.

To service customers, the company owns three all-wheel-drive Chevy Express cargo vans, (model years 2011 to 2014) and a 2004 Toyota Tundra pickup truck.

The company also relies on Milwaukee Tool PACKOUT modular box-storage systems; power tools made by Milwaukee Tool and Viega; drain machines manufactured by RIDGID; boilers and water heaters made by Lochinvar; tankless water heaters from Rinnai; toilets built by American Standard and Gerber; and faucets from Moen.

SLOW BUT STEADY GROWTH

Looking ahead, Grover says she foresees more growth ahead, including a move into a bigger shop. That, in turn, would allow the company to comfortably accommodate more employees and stock more repair parts, which would reduce trips to the company’s part distributor, she says.

“We want to be able to help more people in the Flathead Valley,” Grover explains. That includes providing career opportunities for high school students that aren’t college bound.

“People just aren’t going into the trades like they used to,” she notes.  “And once we grow to a certain point, we would love to get more involved in high school programs to mentor more of these students and help revive the skilled-trades industry.”

But the company has no formal revenue goals; that’s just not the mindset from which the Grovers operate. “As long as we’re consistently profitable, year after year, that’s our primary goal,” she says. “We also want to keep growing so we can provide more benefits for our employees.”

But no matter how big the company may get, customer service will remain a central focus; the couple has no interest in growing so fast that that they lose control over the quality of work and processes.

“It’s been really rewarding in general to see the business grow — there’s so much blood, sweat and tears involved,” Grover says. “It’s so awesome to see a business grow based on treating other people the way you’d want to be treated. And not break people’s banks while doing it, too.

“That’s what we’re all about.” 



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