Family Foundation

Second generation leading company into continued growth, adding HVAC and keeping with a community involvement tradition.

Family Foundation

Bob Hollowell, journeyman, makes the connections to an 80-gallon electric water heater.

When Al Wallner was offered the opportunity to purchase a plumbing shop where he had been employed for just one month in 1968, he knew he needed to take advantage of it. For $1,500, Wallner bought the company, including trucks, tools and a phone list.

A lot has changed in the last 50 years. Wallner’s two sons Andy and Patrick Wallner now own Wallner Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning in Redding, California. Andy runs the shop and supervises the employees in the field, while Patrick handles the business end.

The company, which was originally founded in 1938, has grown under the Wallners’ leadership, adding services and employees along the way. The staff is now made up of five plumbers, three HVAC technicians, and office and management staff.

SERVICES EVOLVE

When Al bought the company in 1968, there was only a focus on the typical plumbing service and repair work and drain cleaning. Shortly after buying it, Al went into new construction. That only lasted until the 1980s when he sold that division, saying he was “tired of getting paid next year for last year’s wages.”

In 1992, 24 years into the ownership of the company, the decision was made to move into HVAC services. HVAC now accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of the revenue.

“It was quite explosive,” Patrick says, explaining that it was a positive for them to balance out the business during the slower times for the plumbing side. “This keeps our business perking along in the winter when temperatures could be in the 40s and in summer when we can actually hit 120 degrees F. For us, this was a natural progression and helped us grow.”

About a decade after adding HVAC, the Wallners again expanded, this time adding camera equipment for sewer inspections. For that work, the company uses equipment from RIDGID and Pro-Built Tools. They have a Harben trailer jetter and a portable jetter (Mustang).

Basic plumbing tools come from Gorlitz Sewer & Drain and RIDGID.

GETTING AROUND

Wallner Plumbing headquarters includes two commercial buildings — a 3,500-square-foot building and another at 5,200 square feet. The property is completely fenced and gated with video surveillance, alarms and video detectors. With a supply house only 5 miles away, there is no need for a showroom.

A fleet of 11 Ford and Chevrolet vans and pickup trucks get the plumbers and technicians to their jobs, and the vehicles are replaced as needed, according to Patrick. Being in a rural territory with numerous weigh stations along the Interstate 5 freeway factors into how the company manages the fleet.

“It can take up to two hours in some cases to get through,” Patrick says. “A driver can get caught going in one direction and then again on the return trip.”

The company is considering transitioning to the Ford Transits, which would not exceed weight requirements. “It’s unfortunate that we cannot load the service vehicles with extensive tools, but the time issue is just too important,” Patrick says.

FINDING THE HELP

Like the rest of the industry, Wallner Plumbing is finding it increasingly difficult to find plumbers and technicians. “My ability to grow this company is limited by the availability of qualified skilled workers,” Patrick says. “We are learning to do more with less.”

The area the company can pull from is large, with a population of around 90,000 in Redding in Northern California. They are 250 miles from San Francisco.

“It seems most of the skilled and qualified workers come from out of the area, wanting to get away from the big cities,” Patrick says. Redding is surrounded by plenty of lakes, rivers, streams and mountains.

Most of the company’s employees have been around for a while, with some reaching the 20-year and 30-year marks. “We also have a couple young guys, too,” Patrick says. “We have, over the years, trained men, putting them through the apprenticeship program.”

Patrick says the company currently has one employee in a federally approved online plumbing apprenticeship program. “There are requirements we have to follow, including supervision by a journeyman in the field, plus hours he sits at a computer to learn,” Patrick says.

In the Wallner family, there were five boys with four of them ending up following the tradition of their father and pursuing the plumbing industry. Andy and Patrick have both been with the company since 1986, and Andy’s wife, Deanna Wallner, has served as the office manager for the last 30 years.

COMMUNITY PRESENCE

Al set a tone for his company early on that customers come first, no matter what. Part of that is the reason the company has come to be known as “The Barefoot Plumber” around Redding.

Al, who passed away in 1995, earned the barefoot plumber name the first year he owned the company. It was a bad winter with snowstorms with power out for two weeks and residents having to shovel snow off roofs.

“The first job he went on, it was so nasty outside that he took off his shoes and went into the house in his bare feet so he wouldn’t get it dirty,” Patrick says. “The comment from the homeowner was ‘I’ve never seen a barefoot plumber before.’ The name has stuck even through today.”

The phrase is now included in the company’s promotions and on the trucks.

Al was involved in many community groups in Redding, including the Rotary International, Exchange Club and Chamber of Commerce. He didn’t stop there though, as he was also involved in the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors and other industry organizations nationwide.

Patrick has followed in his father’s practices in those organizations, giving the company even more exposure over the years. He has been involved with the PHCC for 25 years where he is currently serving a three-year term as secretary-treasurer for the Educational Foundation.

However, what brings Patrick and Andy the most satisfaction is when a customers calls in to express appreciation for services received.

“When customers are happy and give reviews on my employees, that is the reward,” Patrick says. “We run this business like a family. Employees are not just numbers, or money producers. We don’t demand or put on quotas.”


Getting more social

Like most companies these days, Wallner Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning is slowly moving away from telephone directory advertising and more toward the internet.

“It is a paradigm shift from the old way of doing things,” says Patrick Wallner, who co-owns the Redding, California-based company with his brother Andy Wallner.

While Wallner Plumbing has moved away from the telephone directories as the main focus, they are still listed in the books. Patrick says they opted to do that because of the elderly population in the area who still use that method of searching.

The company is also re-evaluating social media as a whole and uses Scorpion, a technical and marketing firm, for its website and social media sites. Wallner Plumbing has a monthly budget helping it to become No. 1 on Google searches.

“When people call in for service, we ask how they found us,” Patrick says. “We get a lot of calls generated through Google. We can see where our marketing dollars pay off, and we pay attention to that.”



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