The owner of Bill Howe Plumbing says he’s just a lucky plumber.
But luck alone doesn’t keep one in business for 35 years. It’s more likely a result of customer loyalty, business ethics and community outreach.
“Our culture is, you take care of the employee, and they take care of the customer,” Howe said.
One way his company takes care of its employees is through a wellness program that promotes healthy, active lifestyles among employees. Another is education. Bill Howe Plumbing puts its plumbers through a four-year journeyman apprenticeship program through the local chapter of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association. The company pays for 100 percent of its employees’ education, including books, materials and on-the-job training. It also hosts several training courses and seminars for employees throughout the year.
Howe and his father started the business with one service truck in 1980. The company has since grown into one of the largest family-owned and operated service and repair companies in San Diego, with 70 trucks, about 160 employees and handling almost 7,000 calls per month. The company has seen 10 percent growth every year in the last several years, Howe said. Sales are expected to be between $18 million and $20 million for the fiscal year.
His is truly is a family operation. Howe’s wife, Tina, serves as vice president, and two of their five daughters have leadership roles within the company. Howe also has a niece who serves as the operations manager.
Other employees also have several members of their families working at Bill Howe Plumbing, and some staff members have been with the company for 25 years or more.
“It really is a big family business,” he said. “It makes it so that if I want to travel or go on vacation, I never even blink.”
While plumbing is still the company’s bread and butter, it added a heating and air conditioning division in 2007, and restoration and flood services in 2009. And it looks like Howe may add solar services soon. He has already made some hires, and said the company will spend the next year learning the ins and outs of solar technology.
“Plumbing is plumbing. No one’s been able to figure out how you can’t have stoppages, and that’s just fine with me. But solar is changing drastically,” Howe said. “There is some great stuff coming, and I want to be part of that.”
Bill Howe Plumbing also has a history of community outreach, sponsoring and participating in a number of fundraising events and volunteer opportunities.
But perhaps most importantly, the company places high value on business ethics and customer satisfaction. The San Diego Better Business Bureau has recognized the company for Marketplace Ethics four years running.
“We’re very honest. We’re not a sales organization -- that’s the biggest thing we teach our guys,” Howe said, adding that 80 percent to 90 percent of calls are repeat business.
“Our customers call us back and they stay with us forever,” he said. “It’s easy doing business here, as long as you stay honest.”
- Klam is a San Diego-based freelance writer.