Dream Makers

A team of twenty-somethings breathes new life into Red Lilly Plumbing and Heating, serving customers in the Hollywood hills.

Contractors who believe the younger generation doesn’t understand hard work, pride in craftsmanship or business acumen haven’t met the crew of Red Lilly Plumbing and Heating in the Hollywood foothills of metro Los Angeles.

This ambitious team of twenty-somethings has resurrected a venerable operation on its way out, turning it into a million-dollar company inside of a year, with technological progress, high motivation and hustle.

Serving a high-end, celebrity clientele that demands impeccable professionalism, Red Lilly resuscitated a languishing plumbing business. Owner Giovanni Torreschico and his team revitalized the firm in part by adding drain and pipe cleaning, video inspection, waterjetting, pipe rehabilitation, and new line installation to the company’s established line of plumbing services. The company also does a brisk business in complete copper pipe re-plumbs of older homes.

Opportunity waiting

“When I bought Red Lilly, it was averaging $24,000 a month in revenue,” says Torreschico, 29. “Everyone in our area knew Red Lilly because it had been around for a long time, but business had dropped off over the years. I’d been working there for several months, and I saw that no one had taken the initiative to rebuild the business.

“I knew the industry was hot, coming from other companies who showed me how to make money. Customers had told me a lot about the company history, and I opened my eyes to the consistency of calls that came in even without active marketing. I saw how much potential it had with such a long list of loyal customers.”

The confidence of youth and a strenuous work ethic permeate Torreschico, the energetic son of Salvadoran immigrants. “I got excited about it, and realized that someday I’d want to buy my own company anyway, so I might as well start here,” he says. “I knew I could make the most of it.”

That can-do attitude led the turnaround of the business, started in 1924 by John “Red” Lilly. When Lilly wanted to retire in the 1960s, he sold to two employees, who ran it until the late 1970s. Then office manager Linda Adams stepped up to buy the company, and ran it until Torreschico, a plumbing technician, approached her with his ideas.

He believed the company could benefit by broadening the service mix, updating its equipment and leveraging the latent earning power of the customer list. Adams saw as much potential in Torreschico as he saw in her business. She noticed his interest in more than technical work and decided he could take the business to the next level.

“Mama Linda — that’s what we all call her — knew I was hungry,” says Torreschico. “I learned how to be a businessman here, and Linda gave me the chance.” She’s still the bookkeeper, and when the business of bringing in $100,000 a month has him tired and dragging, “She and my crew keep me going,” he admits.

Starting over

In the beginning, that crew was made up of Torreschico’s cousin, Pedro Rios, and two other young men with ambition and an attitude to match. It was time to give them the tools they needed to build the business.

“Most of the homes we worked on were older, and we were doing a lot of rehabs,” Torreschico recalls, “so I researched what was out there to help us offer new services for clients who wanted to stay in those homes. I brought in new technology that we can charge for, and then we worked the customer list.”

Rios, now his cousin’s right-hand man, observes, “We still have the original list, and some of our current customers have been with this company for 40 or 50 years. L.A. is big, but it’s made up of small neighborhoods where everybody knows everybody, and most of our work comes word-of-mouth. Red Lilly is known as a company with a long history of solid work, so it’s not hard to sell.”

The team has learned that visual explanations of projects put nervous homeowners at ease. They also help in upselling a job — from a stopgap fix that might come back to haunt the owner to the complete project done the way it should.

Say it with pictures

“When we make a repair call,” Rios explains, “we do a photo presentation, showing how plumbing repair or pipe rehab works. It shows customers exactly what we’ll be doing, where their money’s going, and how we’ll end up saving them money in the long run, especially on rehab jobs.”

On the copper plumbing projects, “We explain and show them how one problem usually means there are others. People come to realize that having us come back every week for another small job doesn’t make sense, so we end up doing the whole house.”

About 80 percent of Red Lilly’s work is residential, and it includes some of the area’s historic homes. It’s no secret that greater Los Angeles is a city where looks count, so in Torreschico’s research, he looked for technology that would be the least visibly disruptive for the older places. With growth in cleaning, rehabilitation and replacement of laterals and 4-inch mainlines, trenchless was clearly the way to go.

First they inspect the line with a color LCD camera. If necessary, they install CIPP lining with the Perma-Lateral system from Perma-Liner Industries Inc. For other rehabilitation jobs, the company uses the Undertaker pipe bursting system from Spartan Tool LLC. The business also owns a Spartan Sidewinder jetter.

The City of Los Angeles sometimes calls Lilly as a contractor when its public works department, just down the street, becomes overburdened. “We have a good working relationship with them,” Torreschico says. “They know they can depend on us, because we don’t give up till the job is done right. Everybody works together.”

Growing the business

Building the business enough to keep 14 technicians busy has been mostly a matter of hammering away at marketing. Aside from repeat customers, Torreschico says, “I’ve been running ads in some smaller community papers and magazines, in the Yellow Pages, and on bus benches.”

Rios adds, “We also do a lot of courtesy reminder calls and send out flyers. We offer free sewer line inspections, and customers who are moving let their buyers know they work with us. People here are all busy, and when they have a problem, they don’t want to have to live with it and worry about it. They call us because they know we get the job done, and they’ll pay a fair price.”

Many wealthy people call the company, says Torreschico. “We’re in the Hollywood foothills, so there are lots of people with money who are willing to pay for good work, but we’re not the most expensive,” he says. “We do research to see what others are charging, and we stay at competitive levels, but it’s more about the value and personal exchange.”

Keeping motivation high

Torreschico works at keeping employee morale high, even with long and sometimes grinding hours. “We get through it by motivating everyone to go out there and do their best,” he says. “We have meetings every day after work. We brainstorm ideas and discuss them, and everyone gets heard. We get together to talk about what worked on real jobs, what didn’t, and how to avoid problems.

“And you’ve got to give your guys incentives. We give them cash bonuses. We take them to Lakers games, on jet-ski trips, even on trips to Las Vegas to see the fights. We go to each other’s houses to have barbecues. We’re a lot like family here, and you work harder when you’re all friends.”

Rios and Torreschico have come up with a good way to spark extra activity among the crew. “We have a board in the shop where all the technicians chart their bonuses, explain how they bid jobs, and post record completion times,” says Rios. “It drums up some friendly competition.”

Technicians speak highly of the company because they are treated well, Torreschico notes. “We make a personal connection with our employees and then they do that with our customers,” he says.

Professionalism counts

Professionalism is highly prized among Hollywood’s elite. “We have to be extremely clean and professional wherever we work,” Rios explains. “We constantly clear, clean and sweep walkways. It’s obvious there’s a job going on when you’ve got a hole in the yard, but it’s clean everywhere else while we’re working. Our guys are uniformed; our trucks are new and clean.”

Lilly purchased $100,000 worth of vehicles at the 2007 Pumper & Cleaner Expo. Lilly’s fleet consists of 1997 and 2000 Ford vans, 1998 and 1999 Chevrolet Vans, two 2005 GMC Savana vans, and a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado Truck.

Celebrity clients also appreciate honesty. “Everything’s negotiable in life, but whatever you tell them the job and the cost is going to be, that’s what it is,” says Torreschico. “We build in for surprises, but we always go above and beyond. We don’t nickel and dime them to death. That makes people not trust the industry anymore.”

Going above and beyond means making Lilly crews more valuable to their customers than the competition’s. In the Land of the Deal, Lilly’s customers are often highly stressed by nature. When there’s a backed-up drain or other emergency, says Rios, “We don’t make a stressful situation worse. We arrive on time. That’s the biggest stress-buster, because people expect contractors not to show up when they say they will.”

Keeping customers happy

“We also use comic relief, maybe make a joke to put them at ease. We distract them from the problem for a while, check out their house and property, and talk with them. Then, when they’re calmed down, we’ll come back and discuss their plumbing problem.”

Obviously, it’s an approach that works. “We’ve had customers buy us lunch,” says Torreschico. One even gave Rios a Cadillac. “She was a screenwriter,” Rios says. “I was doing a lot of work at her place, and she said she just got sick of seeing my old hunker car (this was before Lilly had enough trucks for the whole crew). So she just gave me her Cadillac. It was old, but in great shape. It just needed a wax job and a little work!”

Clearly, work doesn’t faze this group of young cleaning contractors. And apparently, the Land of Dreams extends off the big screen and into a little shop nestled beneath the famous sign on the hills.


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