A Customer-First Approach Propels Company

Washington plumbing company puts focus on serving customers and providing multiple solutions to getting the job done.

A Customer-First Approach Propels Company

  Henco Plumbing technician Drew Lipe completes a PEX repipe routing using a Milwaukee Tool expansion tool on a residential project near Ridgefield, Washington.

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It’s a plumber’s goal to always help a customer. It could be a pinhole leak in a pipe in the wall or replacing a water heater or installing a new toilet. No matter the scope of the job, the first goal is to always be there for the customer.

That’s the way the team at Henco Plumbing LLC was built by the owner and service manager Wes Hendrickson six years ago and continues today from its office staff to the technicians. We say ‘the owner” in this instance because, like everything at Henco, he insists on not getting credit for what his people have done and continue to do every day to grow the business and the brand.

“We want to make sure that the customers are taken care of, especially if they have a family, have kids and anything like that,” says Helen Doolittle, administrative assistant and installation manager at Henco. “We want to make sure things are taken care of so they can get back to their normal life.”

That process of caring for the customer starts with skilled staff taking the call from the customer, asking key questions and figuring out the best way to handle any situation.

“It all begins with expressing empathy for the customer’s situation and quickly coming up with the best solution and schedule to fix the issue,” says Jay Mello, operations manager. “The office staff prepares the cannon, the techs aim and fire it. That’s how we stay on target.”

The company, based in Ridgefield, Washington, not only offers the typical plumbing solutions for its customers, but can handle almost any situation thrown at them with drain cleaning and trenchless repair equipment.

“Our techs take pride in providing the best customer service and quality workmanship, staying until the job is done and done right,” says Mello. “Plumbing with pride in the trade is the goal and not fixing. Fixing is not plumbing, no shortcuts.” 

LIGHTING THE FIRE

The owner’s spark for plumbing was ignited early as his dad owned a plumbing company in the Midwest, where Hendrickson worked. While there he learned the importance of putting employees first and do whatever it takes to solve a customer’s problem.

That spark only grew and drove him to move to the Pacific Northwest, settling in southwestern Washington state near Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. Then, in 2015, he launched Henco Plumbing Services with six employees total — two office staff, two vans and two technicians, including the owner.

Today the company stands at 31 employees, including four office staff, 18 technicians, two estimators, one warehouse employee, four apprentices and one drain technician.

“The owner doesn’t give himself enough credit because the company is as good as it is because he’s the best that he can be almost all the time,” Mello says. “Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been 100% on his game. Even when things are tough, he’s cool and collected. Nothing really gets him rattled.”

Mello himself left a 30-year position with a supply house to join the Henco team.

“My relationship with Henco was as a sales rep and I would arrange my schedule around coming to Henco two or three times a week because of how I felt when I worked here,” Mello says. “I felt as part of the team even as a sales rep. I felt like I could contribute and collaborate with the techs and the entire team to come up with ideas of what it takes to get things to the next level.”

SERVING THE CUSTOMERS

In six years Henco Plumbing has had steady organic customer and business growth with repeat regular customers and referrals making up over half of the business with new customers contributing to that continual growth base. Residential service makes up 85% of the business while commercial is the remaining 15%.

“The owner originally focused on starting the business with service residential and has strategically added newer facets to the business to gain revenue to balance out seasonal impacts,” Mello says. “If anything, Henco has been able to grow by adding value added services to drive service plumbing work more and more each year.”

One area of growth for Henco since the COVID-19 pandemic has been working with the food truck industry in Portland. According to Food Carts Portland website, Portland has over 500 food carts available at any given time. Most carts are organized into pods, which are surface lots with more than a few carts.

“The food trucks have been seeing a rebirth for takeout orders and people are enjoying the food from them, which is better than restaurants sometimes,” Mello says. “One of the requirements though is having additional plumbing, so we’re branching out and making relationships with some of the food car pods and helping them get their backflow requirements and other plumbing needs taken care of that are now being mandated by certain cities and counties.”

Mello says it’s a huge opportunity being involved with the food carts and it’s likely a missed opportunity for others around the country that might not take the work on as a niche service.

When the company isn’t busy with the food trucks and hooking up services for those, technicians are still doing their typical daily work — and more.

Doolittle pointed to a time when one of the technicians went above and beyond what was expected of him. After a repair at a customer’s home was completed and the technician was onto the next job, the customer called the Henco office to say that her cat was missing.

With the customer and the Henco office staff concerned for the cat, the technician went back to that house after his regular shift was done to help locate it. The technician found the cat snuggled inside one of the walls the plumbing crew had opened earlier in the day.

“For our tech to go back after his last job to help her find the cat is absolutely amazing,” Doolittle says. “He didn’t have to, but he did. The customer was so thankful, but that’s part of our customer service, going above and beyond.”

Over the last six years the company has found different ways to help serve its customers, like adding services. Henco started by offering just residential service and repair, but quickly expanded to offering drain cleaning services.

“In this market there are so many properties that have never had any sewage upgrades,” Mello says. “Clay pipes are a big problem in this area because with the ground freezing and thawing so much, there is so much damage that is done. There is just so much root incursion that happens every year.”

The company puts a lot of focus on earning 5-star reviews on every job and to help them get those, Henco recently started a membership and alignment with Nexstar. The program helps refine the service and customer interactions.

“We are driving for consistency for the customer experience through our history of driving service and with the teachings from Nexstar, we can file the edges to a sharp point,” says Doolittle. “We train our techs to provide a 5-star service and if the customer is not happy, they can address it while the tech is still there.”

EQUIPPING THE TEAM

Technicians use primarily Milwaukee Tool M12 and M18 tools along with RIDGID hand tools. When the company needs to get into concrete, the company uses the Milwaukee MX format for a 14-inch concrete saw. Crews use RIDGID RP 350 presses and jaw kits to get more advanced with gas piping with Viega MegaPress G fittings.

When it comes to drain cleaning work, techs use RIDGID SeeSnake cameras with standard, mini and micro reels, and MiniJet JM-1000 units from General Pipe Cleaners on each service vehicle.

Mello says the company’s “go-to” equipment for drain cleaning also includes a Spartan Soldier jetter trailer capable of 3,000 psi at 12 gpm, and a Takeuchi TB250-2 excavator for sewer and drain repair jobs.

Hauling the equipment comes easier with the use of 15 Ford Transit cargo vans that have been tweaked to get the best storage and usage of all the space on the vehicles. Three more vans are set to be delivered soon, too. The vans are outfitted with a wood shelving system customizing each slot for holding various size fittings and tools.

“It’s built to holding fittings and making sure we have job lot quantities so that a tech should be able to get through a pipe repair or transition to a toilet installation without having to come back to the office,” Mello says. “The goal is to have each van be a ‘plumbulance’ to save any job from those job stoppers.”

Henco has also recetly upgraded its van upfitting by adding Hackney and Kidron shelving systems to their fleet to get the most out of their cargo space.

FINDING THE SUPPLIES

As with many supply chains throughout the world, plumbing has had its slowdowns since the COVID pandemic, and Henco Plumbing has felt those supply chain woes in trying to get their own supplies.

“Supply chain is proving to be a struggle and you have to use multiple plumbing supply houses, B2B web-based suppliers and manufacturing direct shipping to be agile to maintain truck and shop stock levels,” says Mello.

He adds that the company does its best to leverage suppliers and stay ultra-aware of plumbing commodity inventory issues and work to stay ahead of price increases due to increased transportation costs and resource shortages.

“It’s all about navigating between all the different vendors to know what to get and the relationship that you have with the reps at the counters,” Mello says. “You’re spending more time paying attention these days than you did a year or two ago to your supplies. You don’t want to run out during a repipe or a water heater job.”

One way of keeping track of current inventory is having the communication with the technicians. Henco Plumbing uses a dry-erase board as a request board. Technicians will request supplies and tools that they are running low on.

“We can then see if it’s just a one-off or if it’s something we need to stock,” Mello says.

KEEPING THE MOMENTUM GOING

As operations manager, Mello’s biggest focus for the short-term is going to be business development and figuring out where the Henco Plumbing should go to next.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate with the reputation that Henco Plumbing has with the local community,” Mello says.

One big goal for the company is to see it grow into a larger commercial facility and perhaps even use a vendor-managed inventory program to help maintain the right inventory on hand.

“We want to see this company grow,” Mello says. “We change with the growing communities in the area and the challenges we all face in these unique times.” 



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