Plumbing Company Encounters Unique Challenges in Wisconsin’s Northwoods

Every plumber has to tweak operations to account for the characteristics of their service area. Here’s how Frasier’s Plumbing handles the environment it finds in rural northern Wisconsin.

Plumbing Company Encounters Unique Challenges in Wisconsin’s Northwoods
A Frasier's Plumbing technician transports a water heater up a dock for installation in a cabin in Eagle River, Wisconsin. There was no road access to the island cabin, so the customer's pontoon boat was needed to get to the job site.

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In many respects, plumbing is plumbing no matter where you are. But every plumbing business has certain challenges that are unique to its service area.

Frasier’s Plumbing, Heating & Cooling is based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, but its service area extends well beyond the boundaries of the city. The company will travel about an hour in all directions for jobs. It’s not a sprawling urban area, though. Rather it’s an expansive stretch of woods and lakes, situated just below Wisconsin’s border with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The company will occasionally take on jobs like this: A customer arrives with a pontoon boat to meet up with a Frasier’s crew, and the vessel is loaded up with the necessary tools and materials to complete the job, whether it be a complete repipe of the plumbing system or installation of a new water heater. Then it’s off to the customer’s home on a small island in a large chain of lakes.

“That sort of thing is nothing new to our company,” says Phil Frasier, the fourth-generation owner of the longtime family firm. “It’s neat, it’s where we live. But the distance we have to travel and the cost of doing business to get to some of these places is also a challenge.”

The diverse service area also means Frasier’s Plumbing technicians have to be prepared to handle a broad range of work.

“We’re equipped to handle things that plumbers in the city may not ever have to face — the laterals and septic systems; they maybe wouldn’t ever have to clean or install a Zabel filter because they don’t have to deal with that, but I’m sure they also deal with issues that we never see here in the Northwoods,” Frasier says. “We have to have a very broad training for our employees. I can recall my Uncle David training a guy in heating sales. In the region he was from, every house was basically the same — an 80 percent furnace. So we were having to teach him how to do a proper load calculation, what hydronics were all about, all these odd systems. It’s not cookie-cutter around here. It’s very diverse in what you find, and it’s hard for some people to jump in and learn all that. It takes a lot of training.”

The challenges of the distances that have to be traveled for jobs and the variety of scenarios technicians can encounter once on the job force Frasier’s Plumbing to be extra diligent about how it stocks materials and tools. For example, for any type of installation job, the company has established set kits that are ready to go whenever such a job arises.

“Over time we’ve learned what goes with different things, and we’ve created these kits. So if there’s a water heater installation, there’s just a kit that goes with it,” Frasier says. “When the technician comes back, we refill the kit right away. Our trucks and kits are well stocked to meet the needs of whatever we may find. We don’t have supply houses like you would have in a big city. A lot of what we use we have to order. We keep a good enough stock of everything so that we can handle any emergency calls that come up right away. As we use materials and equipment, we just reorder.”

Read more about Frasier’s Plumbing in the February 2018 issue of Plumber magazine.


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