Husband, Wife Start Plumbing Business After Rough Times, Make It a Success

Minnesota couple turns tragedy into opportunity and helps the community that helped them.
Husband, Wife Start Plumbing Business After Rough Times, Make It a Success
Mike Maas checks the furnace gas pressure and wiring at a home in Austin that was having heating problems.

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A house fire turned out to be the starting point of a big adventure for Todd and Gina Grundmeier.

That fire, which destroyed their Dexter, Minnesota, home, forced the two to evaluate their situation and finally do something they had talked about in the past: start their own company.

“Our lives had been turned upside down,” Gina says. “We lost everything we had. We thought since we’re already starting over, maybe it was time for a change. It was a way of taking control of our path.”

Todd, who had earned his master plumbing license in 2008, had worked for several other plumbing companies, but starting out on their own with a plumbing business generated some fears for the couple. “We had talked about it, maybe starting our own thing, but there’s a lot of fear in doing that. Fear of failure is huge.”

The couple decided to put that fear behind them and start T’NG Plumbing in 2011. Now, six years later, Gina and Todd are seeing big success, and are finding a way to repay the community they live and work in.

OFF TO A SMALL START

Gina and Todd met in 2000, when she was an office manager for a plumbing company where Todd apprenticed. They married a few years later. “I always joke about bossing him around when we met and now, running the company, I get to ‘boss’ him around more,” Gina laughs.

Times were tough for the newly married couple early on. “We were barely getting by,” Gina says. Then the fire struck in 2011 and changed everything. “We had nothing to lose then.

“We were basically ‘go or bust.’ The fire was the final push we needed,” Gina says. With a small investment of their own money, the Grundmeiers purchased a used 2000 Chevy Express van for $2,000. They have since replaced that van with a 2015 Ford Transit 250; another staff plumber drives a 2006 Ford F-150.

Among the company’s plumbing equipment is a General Pipe Cleaners Speedrooter 92, a smaller General SuperVee rooter and a Bosch 60-pound electric jackhammer. They prefer Milwaukee Electric Tool M18 power tools, along with Lenox.

For bathroom fixtures, they prefer Delta Faucet Co. faucets, TOTO USA toilets, Hellenbrand water softeners, iron filters from WBT Water Treatment, Bradford White water heaters, Goodman furnaces and air conditioners, and Aker bath and shower bays.

ADDING MORE SERVICES

The company initially only did plumbing, capitalizing on Todd’s expertise. Todd’s contacts in the plumbing world helped the company get its start. “He’s kind and respectful,” says Gina. “He cares about his job and takes pride in his work. I knew he could do it.”

Todd started by servicing mainly residential and some commercial accounts in Mower County.

Using billboards and other advertising, Gina used Todd’s face to up the recognition factor for T’NG. “We just hoped and prayed that advertising would start to bring in business,” she says. “Todd’s long-term goal was that for the first five years, he would work alone, and then consider adding employees later.”

About 1 1/2 years in, however, business was growing so much that Todd needed to hire another plumber.

While residential service is the bulk of the work, including bathroom remodeling and renovation, the Grundmeiers discovered that clients were looking for heating and air-conditioning services as well.

“We really hadn’t planned on HVAC,” Gina says, but the couple found a technician well versed in heating and air work. That created T’NG Plumbing, Heating & Cooling. “We scrambled, but it was definitely a good move. We had been asked about it numerous times, so we knew the need was there.”

The company hired Mike Maas, who brought 15 years of HVAC experience with him, along with some of his own equipment. Because of the added service, T’NG also added another service vehicle with a 2007 Ford F-250 van.

PAYING IT FORWARD

Gina and Todd have faced a lot of challenges in their lives. Now the couple is using their business success to give back to the community that has helped them.

Their devotion to help became stronger after the company won several community awards in 2014. T’NG won the Best in Mower County award for plumbing, voted on by readers of the Austin Daily Herald, as well as winning Business of the Year from the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Shortly after winning the awards, the Grundmeiers created the Pay It Forward project, which helps rebuild lives, one bathroom at a time. “After the best plumber award, I thought the most appropriate thing was to reach out somehow and thank the community for holding us in such high regard,” says Gina. “That’s when I came up with the Pay It Forward project.

“We got notified of the award in July, and in September, we were doing the project. September is not a slow time for plumbers or anyone else, but I just had it in my head. Since the concept was there, I wanted to move with it,” she adds.

Gina’s idea was to offer a bathroom remodel for a needy family. “That is one of the most expensive things in a home to update or repair,” she says. “We thought that there are a lot of members in the community who needed things but don’t always have the ability to do it for themselves, be it physically or financially.”

She reached out to some other carpenters, electric contractors, floor contractors and others, and was able to get some of them on board. “I can be very convincing,” Gina says.

Now companies approach her to get involved, and her project is growing. Everything from labor to materials is donated. Large wholesalers who have contributed to the project include Dakota Supply Group of Rochester/Austin; Johnstone Supply, Rochester; WBT Water Treatment, Rochester; and, this year, Home Depot of Albert Lea.

Local families are nominated for the project. “We have a person or family nominated by friends or family members,” says Gina. “I want to know their story; everybody has a story.”

The first year, they had about 70 to 80 nominees, and the remodel was around $25,000. Last year’s remodel topped $40,000.

After facing her own personal and professional challenges, Gina feels pride in being able to give back. “God has a great big hand in our decision-making,” she says. “He guides us in the right direction.”

The community has taken notice, too. Gina was presented with the Woman of the Year award by The Zonta Club of Austin in 2015 at its Women of Achievement Banquet. “They look for a woman to recognize as having high achievements or contributions to the community,” she says. “I never slow down.”

As Gina prepares for her fourth remodel project this month, she beams at how the project makes her feel. “You’re there because you want to help this family; it’s an absolutely amazing feeling. I’d like to start an epidemic with what we’re doing.”

BRIGHT FUTURE AHEAD

Gina had always expected the company to succeed, but admitted that it has done better than what she had hoped. She and Todd, however, don’t want to see the company grow too much bigger than it is now: “We don’t want to be too big; we like where we’re at.”


A helping heart

Gina Grundmeier likes to stay busy, and not just with her Pay It Forward program with T’NG Plumbing, Heating and Cooling.

She’s also the mom of two daughters. Her 15-year-old daughter has autism, and her 21-year-old daughter has schizophrenia. Because of that, she’s made mental health awareness and treatment one of her passion platforms.

The Minnesota mom is a volunteer with many groups, including Parent WarmLine, an outreach program of the Parenting Resource Center of Austin, Minnesota. She also volunteers with Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER) and with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“I’m a huge advocate for mental illness awareness and work hard to help lessen the stigma that comes with it,” says Gina.



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