Plumbing Contractor Takes Unique Path to Growth

Family-owned company lays down specific guidelines for growth and customer service dedication.
Plumbing Contractor Takes Unique Path to Growth
Caleb Graff measures the distance from where the home’s sewer connects to the mainline.

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Looking at the history of Shelton Plumbing is a bit like looking at a roller coaster with its ups and downs. At one time the company had up to 20 employees, but owner John Shelton discovered he didn’t enjoy working in that dynamic and scaled down to just himself.

In 2005, John’s son, Josh, joined the company and a new growth mentality took hold. “We wanted to grow,” says Josh Shelton, who is now CEO and president of the company based in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. “Times had changed, and advertising was very different.”

The company used to advertise in the newspaper or depend on word-of-mouth, but Josh noticed it was getting harder to stay busy. “I wanted to grow this business and just keep up with the times,” Shelton says.

That meant embracing all the various ways companies reach customers in the internet age, as well as being open to adding new services like relining. “We looked for ways to stay in contact with customers, and to provide more options and better service, and it started to grow,” Shelton says.


At first, the company remained only Shelton and his father. The workload eventually increased to an amount the two couldn’t handle alone, so in 2008, Shelton’s sister, Sarah Kimmel, came aboard to handle payroll and accounting, as well as answer calls and coordinate schedules.

Shelton’s brother-in-law, Denny Kelley, a licensed plumber, also came on board. The company now has seven employees, with five of them being either licensed plumbers or apprentices. The customer base is primarily residential, with a small amount of commercial. Service and repair make up most of the workload in a 25-mile area near Pittsburgh. Shelton Plumbing currently operates on leased property with several buildings and storage areas, but is considering purchasing its own site as the business grows.

The service fleet includes an Isuzu with a Hackney body, a Chevrolet box truck, and a Ford pickup truck. A Kubota backhoe is used for minor excavations, and outside help is brought in for any major excavations. Shelton Plumbing maintains some parts inventory, in particular fixtures from Delta Faucet, a line that has been reliable for the company. Shelton says the parts can be easily repaired or installed. The company also has cameras and drain cleaning equipment from RIDGID.


In early 2016, Shelton began researching relining as an additional service the company could offer. With Pennsylvania imposing mandates on municipalities about reducing I&I and limiting the amount of water ending up in treatment plants, he saw an opportunity.

“Our cities are handling the systems and when it comes to an individual wanting to sell their home, excavation to replace or repair is very challenging, as well as expensive,” Shelton says. “Relining saves time, liability and money. This is a way to solve the problem by sealing a system and stopping root infiltration as well. It can do some amazing things.”

Shelton admits that when he started thinking about the technology it was intimidating, and would be a huge investment. The Pittsburgh area is one of the busiest regions for lining because of the age of the infrastructure, homes and other buildings.

“I found it fascinating and wanted to get into it,” Shelton says.

He did his research and settled on a system from Perma-Liner Industries. The company was in the relining business by June 2016. Shelton Plumbing also purchased an 18-foot trailer from Perma-Liner called the Turn-Key Trailer.

“This trailer has everything needed to go onto a job site,” Shelton says. “We do not have to put in any extra tools and are able to take it on the job site and complete the job with no hassle.”


From the beginning, Shelton realized that relining would pay off if the company made its services available to other plumbing operations in the region. “Not everyone is going to want to spend the money to get into relining,” Shelton says.

“Because of my father’s reputation, we have a network of other plumbing companies who will want to use us when they need this technology.”

Having the relining service has been a benefit to the company’s success. Financially it has contributed to healthy sales figures, going from $500,000 in 2015 to over $800,000 in 2016.

“We are doing one or two relining jobs a week, and have worked for other plumbing firms in the region, either as a subcontractor or as a contractor,” Shelton says. “We always work with the assurance that we do not want to take customers away from a plumbing competitor. In our area we network with many other plumbing firms and help each other out whenever there are problems and we can be helpful.”


Having a focus on its employees has always been a hallmark of Shelton Plumbing. Because of that, the company doesn’t offer 24/7 services. The company is open five days a week and, in extreme situations, they will go out during off-hours to help a client, or they refer the call to one of the other firms they work with in the area.

“We just don’t jump to every emergency because we are a small company and we want to honor ourselves and employees with a weekend for family activities,” Shelton says.

Shelton admits that there is a risk they might lose a customer by not doing the 24/7 emergency services. He stresses that the goal has never been to have a large company, but to focus on quality service, and improving the lives and welfare of the staff, their families and the customer.

“Our customers will wait for us,” Shelton says. “We know it is a competitive world out there and there are big companies in our area.”

Shelton says finding plumbing technicians is always a challenge. He wants to find dedicated employees who will stick around for more than a few years, and that’s why aiming to grow but not constantly being on call for emergency service has helped.

“Plumbing is not easy and we deal with all the elements. It is a messy job,” Shelton says. “People don’t often want to be dirty. This job can wear you out, which is another reason that our decision to have the weekend free for our employees and ourselves has been a benefit for all.”


Shelton took ownership of the company in 2014, as his father plans to retire in the near future. He says he didn’t anticipate becoming a plumber, but having worked in some “dead end” jobs, he realized there was a lot of job security in the plumbing industry.

He found that running the company is a lot different than being an employee.

“I wear a lot of hats,” Shelton says. “I work with my guys to prove we are a team and nobody is above the other. We work like a machine and hold each other together. We are not looking to grow a massive company, and we’ve gotten busy focusing on quality customer service.”

Coming to the aid of others

If there is one thing Josh Shelton has carried on from his father when he owned Shelton Plumbing, it was being charitable and always lending a hand.

“Over the years my dad has helped out in many charitable ways,” says Shelton, owner of the company based in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. “We support local charities, but have been active by sending members of our team on disaster relief mission trips in the United States and around the world.”

When a tornado hit Henryville, Indiana, in 2012, Shelton Plumbing joined with other members of a local plumbing firm and spent weeks clearing and helping the community recover. In 2011, when a tornado hit Rainsville, Alabama, the company helped install showers in conjunction with other plumbing firms for volunteers who did not have proper facilities.

“Living a life of service is something we can take pride in,” Shelton says. “We gain the trust of people by just doing the best we can. We help out in many ways whenever we can.”

Shelton Plumbing also went to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina to help in rebuilding of homes. In 2010, after a massive earthquake in Haiti, Shelton Plumbing sent some of its crew there to help supply over 200 students with water filtration systems, food, school supplies, medical supplies, and conduct school repairs.

“I have paid a lot of attention to my father over the years, and have been led by his example,” Shelton says. He also gave credit to his Christian faith, saying he isn’t who he is without that. “Feast or famine, we give him praise for it all.”


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