A good reputation and keen sense for developing new business keeps Peerless Plumbing moving forward.
Innovations and changes come with the territory in this industry, especially when you’ve been in business as long as Peerless Plumbing. After 28 years, owner Randy Rushing credits his success to hard work and an awareness of market fluctuations.
“We switched over to specialty contracting when the market collapsed,” says Rushing. “It turned out to be a boom for us.”
Peerless serves all 13 cities that encompass Phoenix, and they’ve done lining jobs as far as 150 miles north in Flagstaff and 120 miles south in Tucson.
Peerless started out as a copper repiping and plumbing company, but now offers drain cleaning and inspection, hydrojetting, leak detection and pipe restoration.
While repiping is still the company’s main moneymaker, Rushing attributes his decades of success to the Peerless trademark one-stop services offering. They do drywall repair and patching so there are no holes in walls or floors when they’re done with a job. That is one of the many reasons they’re able to generate business through repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising.
“We don’t sub anything out other than lunch,” says Rushing. “If we take care of everything then we assume total responsibility. I don’t have to depend on somebody else.”
Best tool for the job
For hydrojetting and cleaning sanitary sewer lines, the company uses an 83 hp turbo diesel Spartan Tool SideWinder. Jetting and cleaning jobs are primarily commercial, and include prisons, nursing homes and hospitals. Rushing says adding Nu Flow Technologies and ePipe/ACE DuraFlo lining equipment has created more commercial jobs. A range of snakes and rooter machines from Spartan and General Pipe Cleaners fill the need for cleaning small-, medium- and large-diameter drains.
The company inspects residential, commercial and municipal lines, and they do an inspection on every job. Rushing says many homeowners have the mindset that if there’s a problem, a company is going to come in and dig up the entire yard and cause a lot of destruction. “We do a lot of our video inspections for free because we can show them what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Everything is not always a disaster, and by giving free camera inspections, homeowners can see we won’t cause so much damage.
“The cameras are our best tool because we don’t have to do sleight-of-hand sales pitches; once the owner sees it, we assure him we can fix it.”
Each of the nine employees carries a camera inspection unit from Spartan, Pearpoint or RIDGID in their vehicle. They like the variety of cameras because each offers different functions. Rushing says crew members like the keyboard and recording options on the RIDGID cameras, and they use the heavy-duty Pearpoint units for long, 300- to 400-foot lines. Technicians use the Spartan cameras in the sunlight because they offer daylight-readable screens.
Rushing keeps a Spartan PROVision 2.0 as a backup in the warehouse. “I want everyone to have the best tools in their hands,” he says. “It’s safer that way than using crummy equipment.”
For sanitary sewer line inspections, Peerless follows a detailed procedure each time. “We pre-video all sanitary sewer lining jobs,” says Rushing. “We view that with the owner so he sees the exact condition on a high-definition color camera. We record everything on a memory stick or, if the customer is present, he watches on the screen. Then we clean the lines to about 95 to 100 percent of the inside diameter, which reveals all the problems. Then we line the system and do post-video. We give the pre- and the post-video to the owner for his records.”
Branching into other sectors was not an easy decision for the Peerless team. “When the market was starting to go down, I was searching for alternate revenue sources,” Rushing says. An opportunity presented itself in the form of pipe lining and rehabilitation with products from Nu Flow.
Peerless is the only certified Nu Flow provider in the Phoenix area, and the Nu Flow professionals trained each of the field technicians. “I sent several employees to the Nu Flow training center,” says Rushing. “Then I had Nu Flow technicians come out to monitor and show employees tricks of the trade.” Peerless is also the only certified ACE DuraFlo/ePipe installer in Arizona.
With two options for lining solutions in his back pocket, Rushing is careful not to pit the two against each other. “I have two sets of literature and two sets of business cards,” he says. Peerless uses Nu Flow epoxy-impregnated felt liners for sanitary sewer lines. The company uses the ACE DuraFlo/ePipe potable water system for pipe restoration of hot and cold potable water pipes, also known as chiller lines.
“A lot of hospitals and nursing homes don’t have an air conditioning unit in every room,” explains Rushing. “They have a main chiller facility that blows cold water in the summer through fans into the rooms, which creates chilled air.” In the winter, the central plant produces hot water to heat the rooms. The 2-, 4- and 6-inch-diameter chiller lines run throughout a building so the entire complex must be shut down to work on them.
Rushing likes the ePipe system because it is all automated. “My plumbers are not bartenders,” he says. “With ePipe you determine the length and the diameter, and then set it.” He says having both lining options allows Peerless to offer the best services for customers. “The new systems give us versatility to get in and get the job done quick without destruction to the building.”
With a current division of 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial work, Rushing says pipe lining is quickly increasing the commercial side of his business. “I used to work for homeowners or building managers, now most of my business is for other plumbers,” he says. “They haven’t invested in the new technology and don’t want to, so we’re doing pipe restoration and lining for them.”
Lining jobs for nursing facilities, government buildings and large plumbing corporations are becoming the norm. Most of those jobs are blown-in epoxy using ePipe with 1/2- to 2-inch-diameter pipes, says Rushing. “If the lines are bigger, I call in ACE DuraFlo corporate and we work together,” he says.
Rushing says one of the challenges with commercial jobs is the time it takes to get paid, which is partly because residential jobs usually have such a quick turnaround in comparison. “When we’re doing residential I get paid every day or the next day,” he says. “In commercial, I fall right in line with normal payments, which is 30 to 45 days.”
Specialty lining jobs provide relatively speedy payment times. “We get paid within days to two weeks because the problems are so severe that we can just about dictate the payment terms, which is very unusual in contracting,” he explains.
Peerless recently did lining work at three prisons in Florence, Ariz., which involved some special challenges. “Prisons are a challenge because it takes about two hours to have all your tools and equipment inventoried and inspected on the trucks, and sometimes photographed,” says Rushing. “You’re working in confined areas so you can’t move around.”
Rushing attributes the shift in commercial work to the specialty trades. Industry professionals have to make a bigger investment in training over the years than in the original license and equipment, he says. And that’s something not all plumbing and drain cleaning companies want or can afford to do.
“Most plumbers don’t talk to other plumbers unless they work for the same company,” says Rushing. “Around here, I’m starting to become the ambassador among medium to larger plumbers because they don’t want to get involved in that business.”
That has also helped attract new clients for sanitary sewer lining jobs. “In the commercial business, it’s other plumbers who bring me in,” Rushing says. “We’re getting recommended by plumbers all over town — some of them we don’t even know.”
Rushing says local plumbers know Peerless is in the epoxy and lining business because they search online for Nu Flow or ePipe in the Arizona area.
Making an impression
As a one-stop shop for consumers, Peerless has been able to maintain a steady business and also grow through the economy. “We’ve been going along, not making waves,” Rushing says. “We’re lucky to keep the same people.”
Relationships developed across generations have been the reason for much of the company’s growth. “I did the grandparents’ home, I did the son’s home, and now I’m working on the grandchildren’s home,” Rushing says. “Our 9,000 repiping jobs have carried us through bad times.”
Word-of-mouth promotion and a website for each division of the business also draw customers. Rushing says they have just about given up on Yellow Pages advertising. “We’ve survived and kept on growing with our resume of jobs and websites,” he says.
Moving on up
Peerless has always leased a warehouse and office with locations in three regions surrounding Phoenix, but with the additional services offered, the company is combining the sites into one location and recently broke ground on a new 2,700-square-foot warehouse and office. The main Phoenix location now includes Rushing’s home and business.
“Looking at the economy, we didn’t know what was going to happen, so we purchased a 2-acre lot with a nice home on it,” says Rushing. “It had a big basketball court at the back, which is being constructed into the warehouse and office. The savings from moving from a bigger house to a medium house just about paid for the property.”
Building the large warehouse will help protect vehicles and equipment from the harsh southwestern climate, which is key to Peerless continuing to serve its large region. It can be damaging for the seven Ford, Chevy and Toyota service vehicles to park outside in the dust, heat and constant sun. “We want to keep our equipment looking good,” Rushing says.
Building the business does not stop with equipment investments or generating new customers. Rushing stresses the importance of building relationships with others in the industry.
“If I see a plumbing truck or somebody at a gas station, I usually stop and say ‘hi.’ I introduce myself and hand out a business card,” he says, adding that he might end up spending a dollar on a coffee during the visit, but it’s all worth it.
He likes the old-fashioned way of making friends, some of which turn into business connections and result in jobs. “Seventy-nine cents to make a friend is the cheapest investment you’ll ever make,” he says.
A connection at a local trade show paid off when Rushing struck up a conversation with Keith Turley. Turley owns Frontline Mechanical, Inc., a heating, air conditioning and plumbing company in Glendale, Ariz. “The next thing we knew, we’d become friends,” says Rushing. “We’ve gotten along so well over the years that we worked together on several jobs and we’ve got a couple million-dollar jobs in the evaluation stage right now.
“His crews come to work for me on my crews doing pipe lining and cleaning. We’ve cross-trained his crews. That way if I need six extra people, I can just call him up. We share the profits, and we both enjoy it.”
Grooming the next generation
Friendliness and family ties run deep at Peerless. Jade, Randy’s wife, works from the home office and handles all the paperwork and bills, allowing Rushing to focus on sales and quality control. “She’s a peach,” Rushing says.
General Manager Christian Rushing has worked for his dad since he was 12 years old. At age 30, he is being groomed to take his dad’s place within the next five years when Randy retires.
Randy has instilled one vital piece of advice onto Christian and all the technicians before sending them out into the field: “Make sure customers think they’re getting more than they’re paying for.”
As most companies learn sooner rather than later, happy customers are repeat customers. “I want them to know what’s available on the market,” says Rushing. “If somebody else or another product would be better suited, I’d rather walk away from the job. I want happy people — especially me.”