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Word of mouth most important for Bill Howe Plumbing

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Bill Howe of Bill Howe Plumbing didn't always know he would end up being a plumber, but life has a way of changing original plans.

"I wanted to be a doctor, but I got drafted," Howe said.

Originally from Chicago, Howe, who was a carpenter in the Air Force, moved with his father to Los Angeles. He might have kept up the carpentry trade had it not been so difficult to break into what then were Los Angeles' all-union shops.

"I then started digging ditches and that's when I decided to become a plumber," Howe said.

Howe and his father, who has since retired, set up shop in San Diego in 1980. The firm, which is headquartered on Morena Boulevard, expects to be an open shop contractor for as long as it is around.

The company was originally known as Am/Pm Sewer and Drain Cleaning. In 1983 Bill brought his wife, Tina, into the business and together they forged the company into what would become known as Bill Howe Plumbing. It has been under that banner since 1985.

Howe, who has managed to grow the business from one to more than 50 trucks, now has 85 employees and handles between 150 to 175 calls a day. He added that anywhere from 90 to 95 percent of those calls are repeat business.

Howe said the business should do about $10 million in sales this year. This is compared to $7.8 million in 2005 and about $6.5 million in 2004.

When asked if he has any plans to add offices, Howe said that every time he has seen a plumbing firm add offices, they have become the weaker for it.

"Many high profile plumbing companies in the last 20 years have come and gone. Most of those worked on the theory of charging premium rates for any service done. Repeat and word of mouth business was ignored to make as much as possible. Eventually the customer base is depleted as a reputation is built, they sell off the assets and sometimes even return with a new name but same old practices," Howe stated.

If he has any concerns for his industry it is the ability to attract qualified people.

"The main concern is manpower," Howe said before adding that his plumbers are making money that many would envy.

"We have guys who are making $100,000 a year," Howe said.

Howe said his is a business that ensures its own survival, if conducted in a proper manner. "If you have a hot water heater leak, a plumbing leak or a slab leak, you're going to need me," he said.

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