Vehicles, Tools Need to Be Looked at Carefully When Starting Operations

Service vans or trucks offer the opportunity for advertising and organization for plumbing companies

Vehicles, Tools Need to Be Looked at Carefully When Starting Operations

Jim Walker, owner of Jet Plumbing-Heating & Drain Services of Sparks, Nevada, stands near one of his service vans. The company is replacing the vans with newer high-roof cargo vans. The van is one of the biggest investments a plumber can make when starting a company.

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A plumber’s vehicle is more than just a simple set of wheels to get from job to job. The vehicle is a rolling office for customer management, a rolling storage area for valuable tools and parts, and a rolling billboard advertising a company and its services. Bottom line: A work vehicle is the means to get some money rolling in when a contractor opens a plumbing business.

Plumbers need to consider several factors when buying a work vehicle, and price is at the top of the list.

“I would always recommend buying the best they can afford,” says Jim Walker, owner of Jet Plumbing-Heating & Drain Services of Sparks, Nevada. Investing in a dependable vehicle is money well spent. “For a service plumber, getting to a job is critical. Buy something that’s decent, fuel efficient and reliable.”

Jet Plumbing prefers vans over pickup trucks because everything’s stowed inside. Tools and equipment are out of the weather and better protected from theft. While traditional cargo vans were once the norm for Jet Plumbing, the company is converting over to the full-size, high-roof cargo vans like the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter or Nissan NV. Because of the high-roof design, it’s easier to get around in the cargo area.

“The guys love them. This is a physical job, and having to bend over in your truck while trying to sort through things just adds one more level of discomfort,” Walker says.

Equipping the vans with ladder racks and pipe racks is customary, but Walker says they quickly add to the van’s expense. Consider how you do business before investing in these and other add-ons.

One add-on that goes on every Jet Plumbing van is a tow package. Equipped with a hitch, the vans can pull a trailer loaded with water heaters or other equipment. They can also pull heavy hydroflush machines used to clean sewer lines and storm drains.

USED, NEW OR LEASED

When it comes to buying a new or used vehicle, Jet Plumbing changed its strategy in the last five years. Previously, the company routinely bought used vehicles. Walker would find vans with 20,000 to 30,000 miles and pay $6,000 to $8,000 less than the asking price of a new vehicle. By running the van to 180,000 miles, the company still got plenty of use out of the secondhand vehicle.

However, the cost of used vehicles skyrocketed with a change in the economy. The price between new and used just doesn’t justify buying used any longer. “In the last four or five years, we’ve been buying all new,” Walker says.

Buying new vehicles works for Jet Plumbing, but it might not be the best option for a new plumbing contractor.

“There isn’t really a right answer, it’s just what makes the most economic sense,” Walker says. “I’ve got no problem with buying used. I just wouldn’t buy something with 80,000 miles on it.” Purchase a used vehicle with less than 30,000 miles — that’s Walker’s unwritten rule.

Leasing is another option to consider, and Jet Plumbing currently leases a couple of vans.

“You just have to be careful if there are mileage restrictions,” Walker says. “If you’re a service plumber, you’re probably going to exceed those. That can result in high disposition fees at the end.”

MAKING IT YOUR VEHICLE

Before the van hits the road, it needs graphics and lettering to clearly represent a company’s brand and advertise its services. Jet Plumbing’s vans are white with a red logo and blue trim, creating a patriotic red, white and blue look.

Because plumbing, especially service plumbing, relies on TOMA (top of mind awareness), it’s smart to use the vans as moving billboards. “Somebody might not need us this Friday, or next Friday, or this year for that matter. But eventually they do, so just having that exposure on the van in clear, concise letters is important,” Walker says.

As for the inside of the van, an upright toolbox and shelving for parts and materials is a must. A service plumber needs all of the standard hand tools, plus tools specific to plumbing.

Plumbing tools have changed significantly over the years, but it’s still worthwhile to have fundamental tools like a basin wrench and a good torch on hand. Walker recommends investing in high-quality, reliable tools because they’ll serve you well for years.

Aside from the tools, plumbers should carry a wide variety of toilet, faucet and drain parts to cover the most common problems they’ll encounter. Walker refers to the 80/20 rule. On 80% of the jobs, you’ll use only 20% of the parts you carry, so it is best to load up on the common parts.

“It’s probably more like 90/10 because there are thousands of parts,” he says. A well-stocked and well-organized van can save a plumber the time and hassle of running back to the shop for parts or tools they’re missing.

“We can’t think of everything or have everything, but it is 100% in the plumber’s best interest to have as much stuff as possible,” Walker says. “If you can go and successfully complete the job, get your billing done and move onto the next job, it’s going to be the most profitable.”



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