From Farms to Franchisee

Minnesota contractor expands into residential plumbing during a market shift and continues to see growth.
From Farms to Franchisee
Master plumber Tom Olsen replaces a water fountain in St. Dominic Catholic School.

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After working for more than two decades servicing the dairy industry with water purification and treatment services, Gary Kes started to see a shift in the industry. Farms were closing, and housing developments emerged on those lands.

It was time for a change. Instead of completely removing himself from the purification and treatment side, Kes shifted his focus to residential customers.

In 2007, 22 years after finding his original company, Kes made the decision to become a Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchisee. He now serves an area 40 miles south of Minneapolis. “Having the franchise has offered me a chance to bring my business to the next level,” he says. “It became a more valuable entity in my view.”

A START ON THE FARMS

Kes founded Kes Equipment in 1985, jumping on an opportunity to provide water filtration equipment to the local dairy industry after two other companies folded, leaving the market open.

Water purification and treatment is important in the process of handling milk. Farmers need to maintain clean lines on the equipment in order to offer quality milk. “The biggest thing about dairy equipment is you have to have clean water to keep the equipment clean, and you need soft water so you do not require many chemicals or the processes,” Kes says.

In that area of Minnesota, the water contains both limestone and iron. The water is hard and sometimes can have a rust color or look white with a smell of rotten eggs. “Bottom line is that water filtration and softening equipment is an essential part of life,” Kes says.

After 12 years of providing and servicing equipment to the dairy industry, Kes began to notice a shift in the market. Farms began closing and housing developments popped up on former farm properties. Kes knew he had to change, too, and he began to service residential customers with water filtration and softener systems.

“We were still operating as Kes Equipment, and I was also doing some plumbing locally on a smaller scale,” Kes says. “This is how we operated until we became a Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchisee in 2007.”

Over the past decade, Kes has been slowly shifting the Kes Equipment name to the back burner in favor of the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing name and logo, putting all of his focus on this side of the business.

MANY SERVICES OFFERED

Kes knew that water filtration and softening would still be a major part of his business. “Most plumbing issues start with the quality of water,” Kes says. “If you don’t have good water, you will have plumbing problems.”

He also believes that every plumbing company should offer water filtration services: “If you are already offering this equipment, you are going to be ahead of the competition.”

To help with its service work, Kes has a fleet of four service vehicles operated by seven employees, including himself and another master plumber and two apprentices. Those service vehicles are a 2014 Chevrolet 3500 with the Hackney box, a 2006 GMC 3500 box truck, a 2006 Ford E-350 and a 2008 3500 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.

Water softeners and water filtration systems from Aqua Systems in Avon, Indiana, are Kes’ choice for those jobs. For other plumbing work, the company uses tankless water heaters from Noritz America Corp., water heaters from American Water Heater Co., and fixtures from Delta Faucet Co.

“We do a lot of tankless water heaters, and sometimes these are more challenging than a normal water heater when it comes to repair,” Kes says. “We have two of us trained specifically on these heaters and those repairs. We have a lot of faith in the manufacturer we use and the support we have from them.”

While the primary focus is on the residential market, Kes’ company does some light commercial work and takes care of nursing home facilities — primarily cleaning drains after hours. “Our company is about the only one in the neighborhood that takes after-hour calls,” he says.

The company operates out of a 10,000-square-foot facility with a storefront located on a state highway with prominent signage. In the store is a display of equipment, including some water treatment equipment along with tankless water heaters.

OUTSIDE OF THE NORM

In addition to the traditional plumbing, water filtration and softening services, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing also picks up drain cleaning jobs such as hydrojetting and camera inspections from time to time.

The company does not, however, offer relining or pipe bursting. When that work comes along, Kes will reach out to the Minneapolis Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchisee where they have a liner crew.

“We do take care of tree roots on a regular basis, but when pipes are in bad shape, that’s when we contact the shop in Minneapolis,” Kes says. “They will come to our area and dig — or do whatever is required — to get that work done.”

For its hydrojetting and camera inspection work, the company uses jetters and cameras from MyTana Mfg. The jetters are the M20 (2 gpm, 1,500 psi) and a MV80 (8 gpm, 3,000 psi), and the cameras are the NGx10 and an MS9-NG2.

BUILDING THE FRANCHISEE

Having the franchise name has offered many benefits, including the advertising, buying power and opportunities for growth in his territory — about a 30 to 40 mile radius around Northfield.

Kes sees many avenues for growth within the area he is licensed to service. His goal is to eventually have seven technicians and as many service vehicles.

“We do need to do more on the marketing end so our name is in some of the rural areas,” he says. “When we go on a service call in a residential area, we drive past 100 homes to get to one customer, so there are plenty of opportunities to grow this business and stay within our designated region.”

As part of that marketing plan, technicians are asking customers to post a notice or review after a service is performed. “It only takes a few minutes, and it is such a benefit for us,” Kes says. “Our website is also beneficial, but we are going to ramp it up to be even more relevant. We’re just about ready to kick that off.”

The best part of the job for Kes is when he can see the company solve a problem for a customer and bring clean, clear water into the home. “I always tell my service personnel that our policy is to build a relationship with the customer,” he says. “We want to provide the customer with not just clean water, but a better life, better systems and the best solutions to achieve these goals.”


Faith in the crew

Gary Kes built his Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchisee using the faith he has in his family and employees working alongside him.

“They have the responsibility to make decisions that will benefit the customer and our company,” says Kes, owner of the company. “They also know that they can check in with me if they are on a challenging job and need a second opinion.”

The staff includes seven employees, which includes four plumbing technicians. Kes’ wife and co-owner, Pauline, is a customer service representative and bookkeeper for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. Other members of the family involved in the business are daughter Katie Pick (marketing) and son-in-law Jesse Pick (shop inventory control monitor).

“My people are really good at what they do, but they know that they can always talk with me to help find the right solution and to be sure we are on the right track to take care of our customers,” Kes says.

The company performs regular reviews once a year with employees, but treats them as exercises.

“Basically, we will go over some of the major issues we see, but we also keep in mind that we are a family-oriented business and that is with all of our employees,” Kes says. “We know there are certain times of the years when employees want to have some time off, and we work around that as long as we are able to take care of our customers. That has to be the most important thing in our overall view.”



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