Plumbing Company Does Things Differently in Order to Succeed

Florida plumbing contractor puts focus on customers and employees and earns a reputation that keeps the company growing

Plumbing Company Does Things Differently in Order to Succeed

Jose Menendez uses a Fisher Labs XLT-17 leak detector as they search an Orlando, Florida, residence for any signs of water leaks. El Plomero Latino lists leak detection as one of its specialty areas of service.

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As David Sierra worked for nearly two decades at plumbing companies in both Puerto Rico and Florida, he slowly developed a vision for how he’d run a business if he ever got the chance. That vision is now fully realized in the form of El Plomero Latino, which translates to The Latin Plumber.

One of Sierra’s chief priorities centers on doing things differently, in terms of how to treat customers and manage employees. He also emphasizes a distinctive marketing approach that utilizes social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, not to mention a couple of years as the host of a plumbing-focused radio show.

In addition, Sierra has emphasized investments in machines, tools, apps and equipment that helps his technicians work more efficiently and profitably. And last but not least, he decided to sharply focus on catering to an underserved market in his home base of Orlando: Latino customers who have difficulty speaking English.

“I’m trying to run a business that’s different from the way other plumbing businesses are run,” says Sierra, 45, who came to Florida from Puerto Rico in 1998 and founded El Plomero Latino in 2011. “I try to go the extra mile to give customers what they need and treat them the way I’d want to be treated. I wanted to do more than just go to a house, do the work, give the customer an invoice and walk away.

“I’m in the business of creating customers for life, not squeezing them once for as much money as possible and then driving away,” he adds. “In this day and age, you need to stand above your competitors. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The formula appears to be working. When Sierra established the company, he had one employee — himself — and one truck. Now the company runs four service trucks and employs six people, including his wife, Isis Janette Alameda, who manages the office.

“She’s an angel, and I’m blessed to have her at my side,” Sierra says. “She’s just awesome.”

PHOTOS TELL THE STORY

For a good example of how Sierra does things differently, consider the reports he emails to customers along with an invoice. Technicians are trained to take before and after photos of the work they do, using cellphone cameras. The photos then get attached to emails that also include a summary of the work performed, he explains.

The photos serve a dual purpose. For one, they protect the company against claims that work wasn’t performed. Second, it provides a differentiating convenience for property management companies, which account for about 75% of the company’s business base.

“Busy property managers don’t want the hassle of having to go to their tenants’ homes or apartments to check out the work,” he explains. “Emailing them the photos and report saves them time and builds trust.”

The property managers pay Sierra, and the property owners then reimburse the property managers. As such, the report and photos provide an efficient way to let property owners — most of them living outside Florida — know work was completed, which paves the way for payment, Sierra says.

The photo-based reports also generated valuable word-of-mouth referrals during the company’s early years because property managers really liked the concept, he adds.

To increase word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business, Sierra also emphasizes professionalism and communication with customers. Technicians do the little things that make a difference, such as wearing uniforms; driving newer, well-lettered trucks; calling customers to notify them about arrival times; and thoroughly explaining the scope of work required while providing various options. To enhance such communications, technicians are bilingual, he adds.

“We want to provide personalized service, with full communication,” Sierra notes. “We never want to leave a job site if customers still have questions. And the ability to speak to them in Spanish is huge, as many of these customers would rather work with someone they can understand better — someone who can understand exactly what they need.”

DEEP ROOTS IN PLUMBING

Sierra grew up in the plumbing business in Puerto Rico. His now-retired father, Carmelo Sierra, a master plumber, established Sierra Plumbing in 1976 in the city of Bayamón; Sierra’s brother, Carmelo Sierra Jr., now owns and operates the company.

“My father wanted me to do something else for a living, but I wanted to be a plumber ever since I was a little boy,” Sierra explains. “But I wanted to be more than just a plumber — I wanted to be an entrepreneur plumber.”

By age 16, Sierra had earned a plumbing license in Puerto Rico and was running his own service truck. “Working with family is very hard,” he says of his decision to strike out on his own. In 1998, he moved to Florida, where he worked for several plumbing outfits for about 10 years while learning how to speak English and earning a state plumbing contractor license.

As soon as he obtained the contractor license, Sierra bought a used truck and started Jet Rooter Plumbing in Deltona, north of Orlando, in 2008. A divorce derailed that business, but undaunted, Sierra formed El Plomero Latino in 2011.

Great employees also have played a key role in the company’s success, especially Efesdamin Figueroa, lead technician. “He knows the business as much as I do,” Sierra says. Jose Menendez, who used to work for Sierra’s brother in Puerto Rico, is a technician, along with Matthew Camacho. Sierra’s cousin, Joel Gonzalez, is the dispatcher.

“I have nothing but great people working with me,” Sierra says. “I trust them with my life. They are great plumbers and are like family to us.”

Mostly bad experiences with bosses throughout his career informed Sierra’s management style, which centers on trust and respect. “I do everything in my power to not be like some of the people I worked for,” he says. “They were rude and disrespectful; they were bosses, but they weren’t leaders.”

Sierra says he builds mutual trust and respect by working side by side with his employees. “I’m not afraid to get dirty, and they value that,” he says. In addition, he offers employees flextime to accommodate family situations and the like and listens to their ideas and accepts them whenever possible.

A good example is RazorSync, a field management app suggested by Gonzalez. As the company grew, keeping track of job schedules became more problematic, and Gonzales stepped forward with a solution.

In addition, Sierra pays employees on a commission basis because he believes it motivates them to work harder and more efficiently. Why? The more they do, the more they get paid. “It encourages them to feel like they’re part of the business,” he says. “When you get paid (the same amount) for 40 hours a week whether you go the extra mile or not, people aren’t as likely to go the extra mile for customers.”

MORE BUSINESS, MORE EQUIPMENT

Working more efficiently and profitably requires good equipment. For starters, the company runs four service trucks: a 2019 Ford F-250 with a cab-high utility truck cap made by LEER (a member of the Truck Accessories Group); 2014 Ford E-250 cargo van; 2012 Ford E-150 van; and 2011 Chevrolet 2500 Express van.

Each truck carries two Spartan Tool drain machines: Spartan 100s and Spartan 300s for mainlines, plus a RIDGID hand-held K-50 and RIDGID K-6 toilet auger. The company also owns three RIDGID inspection cameras: one standard-size SeeSnake, one SeeSnake Mini and one SeeSnake microDrain, as well as two RIDGID NaviTrack Scout locators.

The company also relies on two RIDGID FlexShaft drain machines, a Model 102 and Model 204; two portable generators made by Predator and Troy-Bilt; and two XLT-30-B electronic leak detection units, made by Fisher Labs (a First Texas Products company). Technicians generally use DeWALT power hand tools, he says.

“New technology helps us be more cost competitive and stay ahead of the competition,” Sierra says. “That’s why I’m constantly investing in it.”

Moreover, investing in advanced equipment helps Sierra do what he loves best about the plumbing industry: fixing customers’ problems.

“The everyday challenges are what I love about plumbing,” he explains. “For my entire career, I’ve prided myself on being that lead guy who can solve the most difficult problems. A lot of that I learned from my dad — he taught me right.

“I also love that each day brings news challenges,” he adds. “I can never say what I did today was just like what I did yesterday. It’s always something different.”

A PLUMBING DETECTIVE

One of the more challenging problems Sierra ever faced involved a bathroom sink faucet and a bathtub valve that wouldn’t deliver hot water. Other plumbers had tried fixing it by taking apart the faucet and tub valve, figuring it was clogged, but to no avail.

But Sierra tried something different: Back-feeding the hot-water supply line by hooking it up to an air compressor.

“We could feel air coming through the line in the adjacent bathroom hot-water supply line, so there didn’t appear to be a clog between those two lines,” he explains. So he went up in the home’s attic, where the water pipes ran, and disconnected the supply line closest to the affected bathroom. That’s where he discovered the problem: a small marblelike piece that had broken off the heat-trap nipple in the water heater.

“When we air-tested it, there wasn’t a problem because the marble rolled out of the way,” he says. “But when water was flowing in the pipe, it would push the marble back to a connection where the pipe steps down from ¾ to ½ inch in diameter and obstruct the water flow. We had to play detective on that one — that’s where experience and common sense comes into play.

“That’s also where we make a name for ourselves because other plumbers were telling this customer that only a total home repipe would fix the problem,” he adds. “They were trying to make some easy money instead of just solving the problem.”

Looking ahead, Sierra has ambitious plans to franchise his business. “I also want to become a millionaire in the plumbing industry,” he says. “And that’s not a dream: It’s a goal.

“I have it on my vision wall, a spot in my bathroom where I post goals,” he explains. “When I get out of the shower every morning, I see it and it reminds me about where I want to go. And I’m very confident I’ll get there.” 



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