3 Mountains Plumbing upgrades to tougher equipment as the company diversifies
When the drain cleaning team at 3 Mountains Plumbing is gearing up for work they ask, “Where’s Eagle 1 today?”
That’s the nickname they’ve given to their trailer jetter, an Eagle 300 from Jetters Northwest. The nickname is a hint for owner Bill Kerrigan: The team plans on having an Eagle 2 and Eagle 3 someday.
The way the company has grown, it’s a definite possibility.
Kerrigan bought the Portland, Oregon-based plumbing business in 2006. The company was then operating as a subcontractor for remodeling and custom home building. Under Kerrigan’s ownership the company made the shift solely to residential service, a change that was completed 2012.
“At that point it was me and three other plumbers,” Kerrigan says. “We’ve grown a lot — we now have about 27 employees — and part of that growth has been building new divisions within the company. The service plumbing piece was the most logical focal point for the first couple years. And then about 2 1/2 ago we said, let’s start building a drain division and focusing on drain cleaning.”
Oregon has different licensure for plumbing versus drain cleaning, so a lot of plumbers don’t do drain cleaning work — one reason Kerrigan wanted to develop that part of the company. “We started building a drain division and we kind of just bootstrapped that for a few years.”
About a year ago, when the drain cleaning team had grown to four or five people, Kerrigan knew it was time to buy a new jetter. The team was getting by on an old gas-powered jetter that “sort of works when you treat it right. But it’s a little frame thing — a glorified pressure washer. Then we had little electric ones. But they just weren’t getting jobs done like we wanted.”
On a friend’s recommendation, he called Steve Allen, a residential and commercial plumbing service contractor in Hawaii, for some advice on buying a jetter. “We had a number of different conversations during which he kind of laughed at me about what we were calling our drain team and drain equipment, and was like, here’s what you need to do.”
It was the first time Kerrigan looked into what he calls “the serious jetting equipment,” but it didn’t take him long to make a decision. Soon after getting introduced to Jetters Northwest by Allen, he pulled the trigger on an Eagle 300 trailer jetter with a wireless remote.
“It doesn’t fail. It’s an awesome machine. The only problems we’ve had with it have been user error, like if a guy forgets to put the fill cap back on the tank.”
“The Eagle 300 has allowed us to focus on building out the drain team and a sewer division. A year ago at this time we were subcontracting all of our sewers out to a local dig crew and now we do all of our sewers in-house. 2017 is going to be our year to build the sewer division. We do it bit by bit, one foot in front of the other.”
One of the most significant factors contributing to the growth of 3 Mountains Plumbing is Kerrigan’s involvement in the Nexstar Network, which he describes as “a national co-op of independent service contractors, plumbers, electricians, HVAC” — and the best organization he’s ever belonged to.
Nexstar was started in the early ’90s as a way to help tradesmen learn how to run a business. “The main catalyst was a guy named Frank Blau Jr. He’s still around today, kind of a scion of the industry. He wanted it to be an education-focused peer group, essentially. It started out with a handful of guys and now I think there are over 550 companies that are members across the country.”
Nexstar operates in St. Paul, Minnesota, and hosts training sessions multiple times per month in different cities. “They teach service techs how to talk to customers, build rapport; we call it the Service System, it’s a whole process for building trust and educating customers on how their systems work. Nexstar also has customer service rep, dispatch and manager schools.
“It’s a tremendous organization and the thing I love most about it is, when I was making this transition to service, I knew I needed help. But everything that got sent to me in the mail just felt like trash. It was all sales and profit-driven. That doesn’t bring value and it doesn’t bring a longtime customer. But then I stumbled upon Nexstar, quite fortuitously. Immediately as I started reading the literature on the website, I was just taken by the philosophy of the organization, which fell so in line with my own personal and business philosophy.
Kerrigan has seen his own attitude toward business align with those of his fellow Nexstar members, and the vendors he works with, like Jetters Northwest. The focus is always educating the customer: explaining how things work and showing the best way to get the job done.
“That’s the best approach. Whether or not you gain that customer today, if you’re providing the education they’re going to remember you because of the generosity of spirit. And that comes back.”