Kansas Plumber Evolves to Stay Prosperous as Industry Changes

Ability to change with the market has provided Superior Plumbing the foundation to succeed in an evolving industry.
Kansas Plumber Evolves to Stay Prosperous as Industry Changes
The staff at Superior Plumbing includes (from left) co-owner Steve Conduff, apprentice Brian Conduff, co-owner Greg Lee, treasurer Pat Conduff, President Archie Conduff and accountant Teresa Lee.

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When Archie Conduff founded his plumbing company 50 years ago, he knew he wanted to focus on new home construction. In 1966, homes were springing up everywhere, and Archie saw an opportunity for Superior Plumbing.

Now, with more family involved in the company, market changes have forced the company to move into more of the service and repair areas of the industry. “I’m not sure how willing we were to change the direction of the company, but as the market changed we were loosely forced to go in the new direction,” says Steve Conduff, Archie’s son and vice president of the company based in Wichita, Kansas.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the company’s business was composed of about 80 percent new home construction and 20 percent service and repair. The 20 percent was largely from former new home construction clients. The owners had Superior Plumbing’s contact information and called when they needed some service work.

“Now we are seeing our residential service and repair representing 80 percent of what we do and 20 percent in the direction of new commercial projects such as restaurants or convenience stores,” says Steve.

A CHANGING COMPANY

Archie, 77, remains Superior Plumbing’s president and CEO, but he has had to bring on additional help in the last 20 years. His son, Steve, came aboard in 1981 after graduating from high school. Archie’s son-in-law, Greg Lee, was hired in the mid-1990s as project manager.

Steve worked for his dad as a youngster pushing a broom in the shop, but after completing high school he started his duties as an apprentice. He then advanced to a journeyman and now has his master plumber license and master mechanical contractor license. He was named vice president in the 1990s.

It was around the mid-2000s when Steve noticed the shift in the market and the need to go from new constructions to service and repair. “Most plumbing contractors realize there are almost two different types of operations,” he says.

“It’s rare when you have a company doing both new construction and service and repair successfully.”

As Superior made the shift, Steve saw the need to add staffing, mainly on the inside office side of the business.

“We had to ramp up, we needed at least one person inside for every three service techs on the outside,” Steve says. “We had more scheduled calls and we needed communication with the customer. We had more ordering of materials and supplies, and then we had to process the invoices. It was a big switch for us.”

Back in the days of just doing new construction, the company would have one foreman on site with a half-dozen plumbers and one person at the office handling the billing for that job. Now, the company processes as many as 15 to 20 invoices a day.

“We devote a lot of time and resources on the service side now,” Steve says.

FULL SLATE OF SERVICES

Beyond the typical service and repair work the company takes on, Superior also offers services related to HVAC. Steve says the company fields more service calls for air-conditioning units than heaters because those units sit outdoors.

“We have a lot of cottonwood trees and that cottonwood will get sucked into the condenser coils and cause problems,” Steve says. “There are also more components running that can have a problem as opposed to a heating system.”

Many of the components to HVAC systems are available on each of the company’s eight service vans, but Superior Plumbing also has a supply house they turn to. “It is impossible to have every part for every need on one truck,” says Steve. “We try to maintain inventory and keep it fresh and organized and restocked. Computers have helped a lot. We’ve been automated since the mid-’90s.”

Steve takes advantage of manufacturer training when it comes to HVAC systems and his employees.

“The HVAC manufacturers have helped by offering training for their equipment,” Steve says. “Their sales people are trained to sell and instruct how to operate the units.”

STOREFRONT SERVICE

For those homeowners who want to pick out their own fixtures, Superior Plumbing has offered a storefront showroom since the company opened. “In 1985, we remodeled our warehouse and expanded our offices and showroom to better serve our custom home builder clients,” Steve says. “We expanded our showroom again in the mid-’90s.”

The showroom now sits at 5,000 square feet. The company partners with Kohler in its Registered Showroom program. The showroom also features products from Delta, Moen, GROHE, The Onyx Collection and Gerber, as well as heating and air conditioning units from Rheem and American Standard. The company sells water heaters from State Water Heaters (A. O. Smith), along with tankless water heaters from Noritz.

Along with the showroom is the company’s parts department, with over $300,000 worth of inventory.

Steve admits that showroom sales aren’t what they used to be when the company was just doing new home construction, but he does see DIY homeowners coming into the showroom to look at quality products or get expert advice. On occasion, the customer will also have Superior Plumbing perform the installation.

“We also have customers coming into the showroom and asking for help with a fixture purchased from a big-box store, but we have no way of fixing it because the products aren’t the same that we sell,” Steve says. “We have Kohler parts, but Kohler sells a different product to the big-box stores. We can provide for Kohler products we sell or have sold.”

Steve says everyone helps with the showroom. Four of the main offices face the showroom and have glass doors to see when customers enter.

CONTINUING TO CHANGE

Steve expects continued changes for the industry and sees it heading toward operating like other construction trades — selling mainly labor and supplies. “In our shop, we have always tried being good merchandisers over the years, providing our customers with a full-service plumbing shop,” Steve says. “Willingness to diversify has contributed to our success.”

Steve says while the company will change with the market, it won’t change in other ways: “We have provided a positive workplace and fostered personal growth with our employees while providing our customers with value-driven service and quality products.”


A family atmosphere

For a company to last 50 years or more, it takes hard work and the ability to treat customers fairly and with integrity.

Steve Conduff, one of the three owners of Superior Plumbing, says his father, Archie, is a big part of why the Wichita, Kansas,-based company has survived 50 years. “He has basic honest business practices,” Steve says.

Archie founded the company in 1966, and it remains family-owned today with Steve, and Archie’s son-in-law, Greg Lee, coming on as owners. Steve’s 19-year-old son, Brian, has also joined the team as an apprentice. Steve’s mother, Pat, and sister, Teresa Lee, also work in the business.

“Making this a successful business comes down to open communication, fairness and meshing the different personalities,” Steve says. “It’s also about finding the right position for the right person. Uncle Bob might be a great plumber, but if you put him in the office that could be a big mistake. You have to identify their strengths, even in your own family.”

The company celebrated 50 years with a reception last fall. Steve expects a bright future ahead for Superior Plumbing.

“My dream for the company is to carry on my father’s business values and integrity,” Steve says. “Living up to my father’s reputation will be my greatest challenge.”



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