Plumbing Firm Sees Increased Success After Making Change to Its Culture

Dramatic changes position Texas plumbing company to see increased revenue and great employee retention.

Plumbing Firm Sees Increased Success After Making Change to Its Culture

   Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning co-founders Brad Casebier and Sarah Casebier pose in front of a Radiant truck in downtown Austin, Texas. The two founded the company in 1999 and have grown it to 250-plus employees and 124 service vehicles serving the greater Austin and San Antonio areas. The couple recently sold a majority share of the company and Brad has transitioned to chief executive officer of the company. (Photo courtesy of Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning)

From its attention-getting marketing programs to its staff of six full-time recruiters to its eye-popping annual revenue to its six-figure salaries for technicians, Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning is anything but a typical contractor.

And that suits Brad Casebier, the co-founder and chief executive officer, just fine.

“We know we don’t run like a normal plumbing company,” says Casebier, who established the company in Austin in 1999. “But we’re excited about that.”

When Casebier, 46, first started out, he didn’t have his sights set on creating a company that would generate $52 million in revenue in 2021, $36 million in 2020 and $20 million in 2019. Nor did he plan on employing more than 250 people. Or running entertaining radio and television ad campaigns that would make him and his wife, Sarah, well known in the Austin community. Or running 124 service vehicles and acquiring three other plumbing companies.

Instead, he aspired to following in the footsteps of his father, Dan Casebier, also a plumber.

“I just wanted to recreate what my dad did — make a living by plumbing houses,” he says. “I’m just thankful Sarah was willing to try something new.

“Back then, I didn’t really think I was smart enough or good enough to play at a high level,” he continues. “I had to overcome a lot of limiting beliefs about myself. I didn’t want to be the bottleneck that holds back the company.

“Sometimes you just need people to jar you into realizing what’s possible and start thinking that maybe there’s more out there than you think.”

OUTSIDE COUNSEL, MENTORING

In Casebier’s case, some of that jarring occurred after joining the Service Roundtable (now Service Nation), a group that enables thousands of contractors to network with peers and share best business practices, solve problems and so forth.

Casebier became a journeyman plumber at age 17, a master plumber at age 20 and opened his first company, Brad Casebier Plumbing, in Austin at age 23. He says joining the organization in 2005 marked a turning point for his fledgling company.

“We were doing new-construction plumbing and were starting to hire people,” he notes. “But we realized that the more people we hired, the less money we made and the more stressful the finance side of the business became with collections, payroll and other things.

“So Sarah did some research and found Service Roundtable.”

Through the organization, the Casebiers met great mentors like Joe Crisara (a nationally known sales coach), Ellen Rohr (a nationally known business makeover expert) and plumbing legend Frank Blau. (He developed the flat-rate pricing concept and has been a long-time champion of turning plumbers into businessmen).

The main takeaway from all this mentoring? Switch from new-construction plumbing, a cyclical sector where good and consistent profit margins are difficult to maintain, and focus instead on service and repair work, he says.

“As much as I loved new construction, I knew we had to leave it,” Casebier says. “It’s risky when you try to submit an accurate bid on, say, a three-year project and still remain profitable. It made me feel more like a gambler than a businessman.

“With service work, we could understand the cash flow and the cause and effect of everything we did and make quick adjustments when needed.”

So Sarah quit her job as a registered nurse to work full-time for the company, which was renamed Radiant Plumbing in 2005, he says.

ANOTHER “AHA!” MOMENT

Around 2015, Casebier started engineering another dramatic shift that positioned the company for great growth: building a corporate culture that would make it easier to attract and retain quality technicians.

“I really woke up and realized that the great battle in this industry is for the technicians,” he says. “That’s the biggest problem plumbing companies need to solve in order to succeed.”

For Casebier, that meant establishing a new business paradigm that emphasized company culture instead of achieving more ego-related goals, such as reaching cherished financial benchmarks.

“I realized that working at Radiant was okay, but it wasn’t great,” he says. “We all know there’s not enough plumbers to go around, but I figured we could solve that by becoming the best place to work in the nation.

“There are plenty of technicians to hire if you build something attractive enough — make your company stand out from the competition,” he continues. “I’d been too focused on building a big business.”

CULTIVATING A GREAT CULTURE

Doing this required a lot of dialogue with technicians to find out what they liked and didn’t like about working at Radiant, as well as what they needed to be happy employees.

“We had to find out their pain points and frustrations,” Casebier says. “We looked at all the things that technicians talked about and started working on it. Paying people more money is great, but they won’t stay if your company still sucks.”

As an example, Casebier points to a company decision to reimburse technicians for productivity-enhancing ProPress tools from Milwaukee Tool.

Providing good tools and equipment also serves as a technician-retention tool, he notes.

The company provides technicians with other Milwaukee Tool power tools, too. It also owns a variety of drain cleaning equipment, including RIDGID KJ-1750 water jetters (1,750 psi at 1.4 gpm);  Model 727 water jetters from Spartan Tool (3,000 psi at 4 gpm); Model 300 drum cable machines from Spartan; RIDGID K-400 drum cable machines; Go 15 sink-and-tub drain machines from Gorlitz Sewer & Drain; RIDGID SeeSnake mini and nanoReel pipeline-inspection cameras; a RIDGID NaviTrack Scout pipeline locator; and a Gen-Ear leak-detection system from General Pipe Cleaners (a division of General Wire Spring Co.).

For service vehicles the company primarily runs Nissan NV cargo vans and Ford E-350 cutaway vans equipped with fiberglass bodies made by Unicell Body.

LIMITED AFTER-HOURS SERVICE

The company also virtually eliminated another pain point for technicians: on-call duty for after-hours emergency service.

“They hated it,” he says. “So now we just have the bottom four performers on rotation for after-hours service and we only offer it to existing Radiant customers with property-damaging emergencies.”

Casebier also decided to step back from a constant emphasis on financial goals, which stressed out employees.

“It’s unhealthy if your number one objective is hitting financial goals,” he says. “We also made a million other little changes like that, which completely changed the tone of our company.

“Now everything is centered on how it affects the technicians and the customers’ experience,” Casebier explains. “Great financial results are the outcome of doing those two things right. We had it backwards, and after we flipped it upside down, it was like rocket fuel in terms of our growth.”

BUILDING A BRAND

A strong emphasis on marketing also changed the company’s fortunes by making Radiant Plumbing a household name in the Austin area. Starting around 2009, the company embarked on an integrated marketing campaign that included radio and television ads featuring Casebier and his wife.

“We’re crazy about marketing,” says Casebier, who estimates the company spends an average of about 6% of its total annual revenue on advertising. “Our ads are more like those quirky Old Spice ads than a typical plumber ad.

“Austin has embraced Brad and Sarah from Radiant Plumbing and we get recognized all over town.”

Vinyl wraps on service trucks also play a prominent role in marketing. The trucks show technicians — and the Casebiers — doing zany things, he says.

 “Our trucks are ridiculous,” Casebier says. “The wraps feature pictures of technicians or Sarah and I doing crazy stuff. One shows one of our technicians snorkeling. Another guy is hugging a toilet. And another guy is dancing with a water heater.

“We go out of our way to stand out in our community and present a fun and entertaining brand that makes people smile,” he adds.

NATIONWIDE SEARCH FOR TECHNICIANS

Building a great culture also requires hiring the right people, Casebier emphasizes.

“We’re dedicated only to hiring people that belong here — hiring people one at a time and getting the right guys in the trucks,” he says. “Otherwise we risk destroying our culture.”

To find quality technicians, Radiant has a staff of six full-time recruiters who spend a lot of their time prospecting for new technicians.

“We needed recruiters because all the good technicians already have jobs,” Casebier says. “Furthermore, there’s a small pool of plumbers in Austin, so if we want to keep growing, we have to look outside of the city for technicians.

“The nation now is our recruiting playground, with most of our new technicians coming from out of state.”

In the end, the company’s success stems from this three-pronged approach: a full-scale marketing program, building a great culture and dedicated recruiters, Casebier says.

“You have to build a great culture, recruit the right way and be really good at marketing,” he says. “The marketing comes first because you have to generate enough work for the technicians to do. Then comes a great culture and hiring recruiters.

“If you can do all three of those things, you can grow at any pace you want.”

HIGH TECHNICIAN INCOMES

It doesn’t hurt that technicians at Radiant earn an average of nearly $97,000 a year on 38-hour work weeks. Casebier says the company can afford to pay technicians that kind of money because their closing rates and average ticket sales are “extraordinary.”

“They get a percentage of whatever they sell and they’re really good at what they do,” he says. “You can hire guys to drive around town and just get bids from customers and go broke, but our guys are good at building relationships with customers — finding common ground and presenting great options, then closing the deal.”

Technicians don’t use a high-pressure approach, however.

“The term upselling is a big downer,” Casebier says.  “Our technicians provide options and customers pick the one they’re excited about.”

SUCCESS BEGETS SUCCESS

Radiant’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2021, the Casebiers sold a majority stake in the company to The Riverside Company, a private equity group. The Casebiers never planned on selling the company, Casebier says.

But then the company’s revenue doubled in 2021. At about the same time, private equity investors ran out of good companies to invest in, because of the pandemic, he notes.

“But they saw home-service businesses were thriving, so we became a sexy business to invest in,” Casebier says. “The company fetched a ridiculous price. So we had to ask ourselves that if things ever went south, would we be okay with having turned down such a great financial opportunity? And the answer was ‘no.’”

As a result, Casebier now is the CEO of Radiant and reports to a Riverside board of directors. And his new focus is finding more companies that “resonate” and that will benefit from his passion for building great cultures.

Radiant already has acquired three companies with solid growth potential in San Antonio, suburban Denver and Spokane, Washington. The three companies generated a combined revenue of more than $100 million last year, Casebier says.

“I’m always looking for companies that look like the right fit for us,” he says. “And after that, we’ll keep building them by hiring people one person at a time, if they fit our culture. If we just do that, we’ll keep growing.” 



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