Simple Ways to Be More Productive

Restructuring a shop or finding employees willing to adapt can lead to increased production for your plumbing business.

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As a former Navy man, Ric Rice of Perry Plumbing knows a thing or two about organization. That and a background in information technology made him the perfect person to implement a new inventory system for the California plumbing company.

Resupplying is often the biggest bane of time management for those in the plumbing field. That’s why warehouse and shop productivity are key to making the most of your schedule.

“You can tell that they save time, a lot of time, instead of going to the supply house whenever they have a job,” Rice says.

By the same token, finding employees who can make the most of internal systems and procedures is paramount for industry veteran Kevin Walker.

“I refused to hire anyone with experience because they’re bringing in all these bad things,” Walker says. “Changing those old habits, whether they’re good or bad, wasn’t really going anywhere.”

BUILD A FRAMEWORK

As a plumber, you wake up in the morning ready to get on the job, but first you need to stock up on supplies — if your warehouse doesn’t have what you need, it’s a stop at a supply house, then you finish one job and it’s back to the supply house before the next.

Perry Plumbing, a full-service plumbing and HVAC company serving the San Diego area, saw how much time they were wasting with that running around. After years losing time, the company’s new inventory management system ensures that when plumbers come into the shop every morning, all the parts they will need for their first few jobs are ready to go.

“That’s the first problem they had: They kept running around to supply houses,” says Rice, who helped develop and implement the company’s new system. “So I said, ‘OK, well we need to stop them running around town all the time, and get them going from one job to another.’”

As they use parts on various jobs throughout the day, they mark it in the system, and those parts are automatically included in the next order. It’s not time wasted chasing down restocks at a supply house, it’s a simple automatic request that keeps inventory up.

“What’s not in the cage gets automatically ordered through one of our suppliers,” Rice says. “Then usually what happens is either I go get it or they deliver it the same day — depends where we get it from — and then the technicians will have the parts the next day when they come in, before they get dispatched.”

A barcoding system catalogues all their parts and supplies, then they use an app from the main supplier, Ferguson, to manage that inventory. Perry Plumbing keeps truck inventory standardized across the fleet, which also simplifies restocks and increases productivity.

“Now technicians get a fully loaded truck, they go out, they know what’s on their truck because we provide all the items on the truck, and they know what it costs us,” Rice says. “What we’re also trying to do is get what we don’t use as frequently out of stock, so we can stock up on items that we use all the time,” Rice says.

LINE IN THE SAND

For Walker, former head of O’Connor Plumbing’s drain division with nearly 20 years' experience in plumbing shops, finding the right staff is the most important productivity-enhancing factor.

He believes that finding employees who are able — or perhaps more important, willing — to adapt to the company’s programs and procedures is just as important as those methods on their own.

“Some plumbing companies that I’ve been associated with, if you didn’t work out that first week, you were gone,” Walker says. “Some companies have to write them up so many times before releasing them, and I just felt like that was a big headache. They want to keep their unemployment numbers down, but in the meantime, you’re magnetizing your other good employees by holding on to a bad one.”

Finding talent in today’s workforce is tricky, and hiring can be expensive, so often trade companies have to find the line between sinking more and more money into training or cutting the losses. Walker’s solution is to draw that line in the sand early on for new hires.

“You’ve got to drill it into them,” Walker says. “I’m going to beat it into their heads, this is the black and white of what I want to do. You can take my way and add to it and get better, but this is the way I want it done.”

Bad habits can ruin a new hire if they aren’t willing to adapt and change, but the bigger concern is bad attitudes. Walker is a firm believer in cutting off the bad fruit to protect the group.

“If you’ve got someone who brings that negative culture, then it spreads like wildfire,” he says. “Go with your gut. You know you’ve got a good employee when you have one, and if you do have that person, just take care of them the best you can and do as much as you can. If you’ve got that bad feeling on a new employee, it’s probably just best to cut your losses and move on.”

MAKING CHANGES

It’s not too late for anyone to make the changes that Rice and Walker have to improve their companies.

If the shop is not organized, take the last two hours of the workweek and devote it to straightening up and taking inventory of what you have and what you need and create a spreadsheet that can be easily updated.

Rice has been working at Perry Plumbing for about a year, starting part time and officially transitioning to a full-time position last July, around the time they implemented the new inventory program. “When I got here, everything from the cage was spread out. They didn’t know what they had and where everything was at,” he says. “Eventually I ended up barcoding everything in the cage.”

If it’s an employee issue that is hurting production in your shop, then take the steps to make sure that employee knows how you want things done, clearly.

“It’s very hard because no one wants to be the bad guy,” Walker says. “You’ve just got to be very consistent and very black and white with what you do.”



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