Back in 2012, Scott Smith had a vision and philosophy about serving customers. After becoming a master plumber several years he was looking to take his 20 years of experience as a master plumber to start his own business and make that vision reality. He, his wife, Trina, and his daughter, Anja, would complete a trio of experts to serve the greater Greenville, South Carolina area. They hold fast to their motto in every detail and with every customer: “The Plumbers who keep their promises.”
Plumbing Perspective spoke with Scott’s daughter and All Clear Plumbing’s Marketing and Business Development Specialist, Anja Smith, to understand what has made their company so special and able to grow so rapidly. “My favorite analogy for the three of us is the three-legged stool.” said Smith. “We each stand as a pillar in our strength as a team member. There is very little overlap in our capabilities, but together, we are unshakeable.”
Between the partners there are very few weaknesses and where there are, they have designed the company to utilize one another’s strengths for the business to run like a well-oiled engine.
Scott acts as their master plumber, field manager, estimator, and training leader. Having a master plumber is the ultimate puzzle master in the field for All Clear Plumbing as they view service plumbing somewhat like a puzzle, with pieces behind walls or underground. “Sometimes you just need that level of expertise in the field.” said Smith.
Scott’s also very involved in shaping the direction of the company as it relates to the mission and the execution of jobs. All Clear Plumbing’s values really come from his vision of how a plumbing company should be run. That being said, he does not have that same experience on the business side. So, when it comes to finances, marketing, and human resources, they rely on the special expertise of Trina and Anja.
Philosophy in action
As amazingly simple their concept is, it’s probably their number one secret of success. “We keep our promises.” Said Smith. “If we say we are going to fix it for X price, we do. If we say we are going to be there, we are. If we say we will call, we do. Any time you enter into a transaction, you are making a promise. The customer promises to pay you in exchange for the promise of solving their problem. That is basic commerce. Yet, it is amazing how often we are someone’s second or third attempt at fixing a problem and we hear, “Yeah, but are you actually going to show up?” Never mind on time, just are we going to show up! It really boggles my mind how people run businesses this way, but it happens.”
It’s something that All Clear Plumbing drills into their employees too. They are making promises to the customer and they take that seriously. Employees understand how sacred the schedule is because the company’s promise is on the line. And All Clear Plumbing keeps them. And they don’t do maintenance contracts or anything similar because it doesn’t fit their culture or philosophy of keeping their plumbers free from becoming salesmen.
From an employee’s perspective, All Clear Plumbing is a bit of an anomaly in their market. They exclusively serve the plumbing market with a mix of both commercial and residential services. They pay their employees hourly wages, have a full benefits package, and most importantly, work as a team. Their highly skilled employees are motivated to practice their craft in plumbing, not sales.
“That honestly doesn’t exist at another company in town. In some markets, that may not be anything special. But around here, the commissioned “technician” model prevails in service.” said Smith. “This often leads to “competition for pay” and outsourcing independent plumbers with 1099 status for many other contractors.”
It’s exactly this difference in employee motivation that creates such a different experience for their customers. “We have a fair hourly rate because we hire good, experienced plumbers who work efficiently and effectively. Customers don’t have to worry that a plumber is going to come in and push a service they don’t need.” Said Anja. Bonuses are structured around productivity rather than sales. In fact, needless upselling is a fireable offense as noted in their handbook.
One of the ways All Clear Plumbing conveyed their value to customers from the beginning was to let them know that they have plumbers, not technicians. “Since South Carolina doesn’t have any licensing for technicians in the state, that dialogue We hire plumbers, not technicians has hit home with our community.” Smith said. “We also like to say that the title “technician” is pronounced with a silent “sales” at the beginning.”
A focused vision to keep their promises
Most services they perform are via commercial work through residential property managers and specialized plumbing services for restaurants and banks. Commercial customers have a higher volume of need and are interested in forming a vendor relationship with All Clear Plumbing. Anja does a great job pursuing these relationships through various networking strategies and knows the payoff over several years will be multiple jobs. “It just makes sense for us and our available resources. The best way to ensure we can keep our trucks busy full time is a focus on recruiting commercial customers.” said Smith. Most of their residential customers come from word of mouth and online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, where they have a fantastic reputation that speaks for itself.
In addition, their focus is on service and they stay clear of performing remodel or new construction work. “If it involves the phrase “rough in” we aren’t interested.” Smith said. That can be hard to describe to customers, but in order to keep their “promises” they have to manage their schedules effectively. For instance, with five trucks on the road, if half of their crew is tied up on a remodel job for four to eight hours a day, three days a week, this offers very limited flexibility in the trucks they can run calls with which makes their response time to emergencies longer. “My schedule is too tight for my call volume. In order to serve our customers well, we need to have the scheduling flexibility that service plumbing demands.” added Smith.
A growing fleet with experience and technology
Including the three owners, they currently have 11 employees and growing. In fact, they are growing faster than they ever imagined. They have 5 service trucks, three apprentices, a manager’s truck, two full time office workers, and one part time office worker and looking for someone to join their office team because the call volumes are becoming unmanageable for one person to handle. They may add a sixth service truck soon as well. But the last time it took them six months to find a skilled plumber to fit their philosophy on serving customers.
They are also working with an organization in town to put together an internship program for summer. Perhaps taking upper class high schoolers coming in for three to four weeks and working about 40 total hours, mostly in the field but also in the office and in community relations.
For a company of their size, they have a lot of fun toys as well. “Early on, we knew who we wanted to be able to go up against and what their capabilities were. We had to be able to go toe-to-toe, and that has created a culture around technology application. So, that includes everything from back of house operations to locating equipment, leak detection, hydrojet, camera inspection machines … the works.” said Smith.
There’s a few technologies they have considered but have passed on because their market volume doesn’t make sense. They don’t buy new technology just for the sake of it. “We visit the trade shows and go to local seminars to keep up with the curve, and then spend our budgets well.” she said.
Training and education is also highly important to All Clear Plumbing. However, continuing education is not a requirement in the state, so the opportunities aren’t as good as they are in other states. “We have a US Department of Labor approved apprenticeship program, so there are internal clinics that we do for that. But for our more experienced plumbers, we rely on demonstrations at our local supply houses and keeping up with trade publications.” said Smith. This lack of opportunity though is one of the reasons they became a founding member of their state Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Contractors Association chapter. Smith sits on the PHCC board and helped shape the strategic mission of the organization. Education is the chapter’s number one priority.
Adding value to the community
All Clear Plumbing has a rather unorthodox approach to marketing. Their goals boil down simply to this: adding value in the community. To them it’s not about writing sponsorship checks, but by being present and a leader in the community. So, not only do they join community groups including the local chambers, they are active in them, participating in luncheons and volunteer at events.
Probably their most out-of-the-box idea to date is their podcast. Smith noted, “As I was trying to figure out how to be a better referral partner to our commercial customers as well as provide value for the community, this weird idea struck me to start a local podcast.”
“I created a locally focused podcast, not about plumbing, but about our area. It’s about uncovering the best kept secrets, things to do, resources, non-profits, and the topics vary. I interview local professionals who I trust to provide excellent advice and insight and every single episode is sponsored by our company, complete with a plumbing tip of the week.” added Smith.
It’s a long-term strategy for All Clear Plumbing. Building an audience takes a long time but it meets the goal of adding value to the community while being a good corporate partner to their commercial customers. “It’s a win-win-win for everyone, and a ton of fun to pull off.” she said.
They started their company with a passion and a drive to be “the plumbers who keep their promises”. This philosophy has grown their business so rapidly they are reaching a threshold where processes and procedures matter to sustain this high volume effectively and efficiently. It’s about fine-tuning to make sure they are running like well-oiled engine. Their focus thus far has been on external consistency and building a nearly flawless reputation. Now they are working to make sure internal processes are in order so they will always maintain their now famous reputation of keeping their promises.