Organization Key to Running a Profitable Business

California plumber’s customized pickup provides a place for everything.
Organization Key to Running a Profitable Business
Dividers inside drawers keep parts organized by size and type.

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When Dave Conte visits supply houses, other contractors sometimes kid him about his meticulously organized service truck. But for Conte, the owner and sole employee at Conte Plumbing in Petaluma, California, being efficient is no laughing matter — it’s the key to running a profitable business.

“I’ve always been big on organization,” says Conte, who established his business in 1993.

He primarily performs residential service work in and around Petaluma, a city of about 60,000 located in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

“People generally are pretty amazed when they see my truck or walk into my garage (which serves as his shop).

“If you’re organized, you know where things are and how many parts and fittings and so forth you have in stock … so you know what needs restocking,” he says. “The ability to work faster and more efficiently saves time, and time is money. In addition, it saves on the cost of rotation of materials. When you don’t know what you have in stock, you keep buying more for no good reason … and in the meantime, those parts you can’t find are getting scratched and tarnished, so you’re losing money there, too.”

Conte’s 1990 Ford F-250 pickup truck, which he purchased used in 1996 with about 30,000 miles on it, is outfitted with a utility body made by Knapheide Manufacturing Co. and a custom-fabricated pipe-and-ladder rack. The truck has over 100,000 miles on the odometer and Conte is aiming for another 100,000 miles before he even thinks about getting another vehicle.

Why a pickup truck with a utility body instead of a van or box truck? Conte sums it up with one word: versatility. Conte does everything from drain cleaning and plumbing repairs to underground work and remodeling — even the occasional new-home installation — and a pickup provides the flexibility to do many things with one vehicle.

“When I’m doing underground work, for example, I can remove some materials (from the utility body’s open central compartment) and carry, say, a yard of sand,” he says. “Or if I’m doing new construction, I can load up barrels full of ABS drain fittings, or haul debris from remodeling jobs. If I have a drain cleaning job, I can load a drain machine in the back, too.”

Conte uses drain cleaning equipment made by RIDGID and General Pipe Cleaners, a Vivax-Metrotech vCam Mini pipeline inspection camera, and power tools made by RIDGID and Milwaukee Electric Tool. He also carries a PowerMate stair climber hand truck from L P International to load/unload and carry heavy, bulky items like water heaters or drain cleaning machines.

Another advantage the truck offers: Conte says he can buy pipe in 20-foot lengths, quickly load them atop the pipe rack, secure them with ratchet tie-down straps and drive away, as opposed to waiting for someone at a supply house to cut them down to size to fit inside a van or box truck.

Over the years, Conte made mental notes about the effective storage methods and accessories he saw on other trucks, both those owned by companies where he used to work or those owned by fellow contractors he’d meet at supply houses. As such, his truck is a poster child for efficiency, with seemingly every inch devoted to storing parts, tools and other supplies and equipment.

Key components include the pipe rack, which features a metal basket that holds long, narrow tools such as shovels, meter wrenches and digging bars; and hooks that hold everything from coiled tubing to electrical extension cords. Other features include a pipe vise mounted on the rear bumper; homemade wooden boxes for storing ABS fittings; and a rear-mounted, pull-out shelving unit made by WEATHER GUARD, a Werner Co. brand.

“The WEATHER GUARD unit is very convenient,” Conte says. “You open a drawer and can see all the contents at a glance. It’s like pulling out a drawer in a kitchen: Boom — there are the knives, there are the forks and there are the spoons.”

The Knapheide body’s storage compartments, which are accessible from the outside, make it quick and easy to grab parts and tools.

“I love it that I don’t have to climb up into the vehicle to get things,” he says. “All the doors are on the outside, so you just open them up, flip up the lids and see everything right away.”

Conte keeps power and hand tools and his toolbox on the driver’s side, because they’re the first things he grabs, and stores repair parts in the passenger-side compartments. Dividers inside drawers keep parts organized by size and type. Moreover, to minimize time-consuming runs to supply houses, he keeps a running list of materials and parts he needs to replenish.

In a storage cabinet toward the rear of the truck’s passenger side, Conte keeps a RIDGID 600 hand-held power threader and other cutting and threading tools.

“That way everything I need for threading and cutting iron pipe for gas work is right there at that back corner,” he says.

The pickup truck cost about $13,000, and Conte estimates he’s invested approximately another $5,000 for the utility bed, the custom pipe rack and pipe vice and storage accessories.

“Over time, I really maxed out the storage space,” he says, noting how he’s refined his plan over the years. “Space is a valuable commodity on service trucks, especially if you’re a one-man operation working out of a garage.”

Looking ahead, Conte says he has no plans to buy a bigger truck, noting that he’d only have to customize it again to suit his needs, plus the Ford truck has been very durable. As such, he’s happy to keep driving the recently overhauled truck while continuing his one-man quest for optimal organization — even if it means getting a little ribbing from other plumbers along the way. 


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