Focus on Service and Addition of New Services Drive Growth for Plumbing Company

Family-owned company lays down specific guidelines for growth and customer service.

Focus on Service and Addition of New Services Drive Growth for Plumbing Company

Denny Kelley uses a RIDGID SeekTech locator to determine where a lateral connects to the mainline.

Looking at the history of Shelton Plumbing is a bit like following the up-and-down path of a roller coaster. At one time, the company had up to 20 employees, but owner John Shelton didn’t enjoy the dynamics of a larger company and scaled down to just himself. 

In 2005, John’s son, Josh, joined the company and a new growth mentality took hold. “We wanted to grow,” says Josh Shelton, who is now CEO and president of the company based in New Kensington,  Pennsylvania. “Times had changed, and advertising was very different.” 

The company used to advertise in the newspaper or depend on word-of-mouth, but Josh noticed it was getting harder to stay busy. “I wanted to grow this business and just keep up with the times,” he says. 

That meant embracing new methods of reaching out to customers as well as being open to adding new services like relining. “We looked for ways to stay in contact with customers and to provide more options and better service, and it started to grow,” Shelton says.

Ramping back up

At first, the company remained only Shelton and his father. The workload eventually increased beyond what the two could handle on their own, so in 2008, Shelton’s sister, Sarah Kimmel, came aboard to handle payroll and accounting as well as answer calls and coordinate schedules. 

Shelton’s brother-in-law, Denny Kelley, a licensed plumber, also came on board early in the growth phase. The company now has seven employees. Five of them are either licensed plumbers or apprentices. 

The customer base is primarily residential with a small amount of commercial. Service and repair make up most of the workload in a 25-mile area near Pittsburgh. Shelton Plumbing currently operates on leased property with several buildings and storage areas but is considering purchasing its own site as the business grows. 

The service fleet includes an Isuzu with a Hackney body, a Chevrolet box truck, and a Ford pickup truck. A Kubota backhoe is used for minor excavations, and outside help is brought in for any major excavations. The company also has cameras and drain cleaning equipment from RIDGID.

Branching out

In early 2016, Shelton began researching relining as an additional service the company could offer. With Pennsylvania imposing mandates on municipalities to reduce inflow & infiltration and limit the amount of water ending up in treatment plants, he saw an opportunity. 

While I&I is a municipal problem, private laterals are a major contributing factor. 

“Our cities are handling the systems, but when it comes to an individual wanting to sell their home, excavation to replace or repair is very challenging as well as expensive,” Shelton says. “Relining saves time, liability and money. This is a way to solve the problem by sealing a system and stopping root infiltration as well. It can do some amazing things.” 

Shelton admits that when he started thinking about the technology and the huge investment it would require, it was intimidating. The Pittsburgh area is one of the busiest regions for lining because of the age of the infrastructure, homes and other buildings. 

“I found it fascinating and wanted to get into it,” Shelton says. 

He did his research and settled on a system from Perma-Liner Industries. The company was in the relining business by June 2016. Shelton Plumbing also purchased an 18-foot trailer from Perma-Liner Industries called the Turn-Key Trailer. 

“This trailer has everything needed to go onto a job site,” Shelton says. “We do not have to put in any extra tools and are able to take it on the job site and complete the job with no hassle.”

Spreading the word

From the beginning, Shelton realized that relining would pay off if the company made its services available to other plumbing operations in the region. “Not everyone is going to want to spend the money to get into relining,” Shelton says. “Because of my father’s reputation, we have a network of other plumbing companies that will want to use us when they need this technology.”

Having the relining service has been a benefit to the company’s success. Financially, it has contributed to healthy sales figures, going from $500,000 in 2015 to over $800,000 in 2016. 

“We are doing one or two relining jobs a week and have worked for other plumbing firms in the region, either as a subcontractor or as a contractor,” Shelton says. “We always work with the assurance that we do not want to take customers away from a plumbing competitor. In our area, we network with many other plumbing firms and help each other out whenever there are problems and we can be helpful.”

Focus on employees

Treating employees well has always been a hallmark of Shelton Plumbing. Because of that, the company doesn’t offer 24/7 services. The company is open five days a week, and in extreme situations, they will go out during off-hours to help a client or they refer the call to one of the other firms they work with in the area. 

“We just don’t jump to every emergency because we are a small company and we want to honor ourselves and employees with a weekend for family activities,” Shelton says. 

Finding plumbing technicians is always a challenge. Shelton says he wants dedicated employees who will stick around for more than a few years, and not constantly being on call for emergency service has helped with that. 

“Plumbing is not easy, and we deal with all the elements. It is a messy job,” Shelton says. “People don’t often want to be dirty. This job can wear you out, which is another reason that our decision to have the weekend free for our employees and ourselves has been a benefit for all.” 

He admits that there is a risk they might lose a customer by not offering 24/7 service. He stresses that the goal has never been to have a large company but to focus on quality service and improving the lives and welfare of the staff, their families and the customers. 

“Our customers will wait for us,” Shelton says. “We know it is a competitive world out there and there are big companies in our area.”

The future

Shelton took ownership of the company in 2014, as his father plans to retire in the near future. He says he didn’t anticipate becoming a plumber, but having worked in some “dead-end” jobs, he realized there was a lot of job security in the plumbing industry. 

He has also come to realize that running the company is a lot different than being an employee. 

“I wear a lot of hats,” he says. “I work with my guys to prove we are a team and nobody is above the other. We work like a machine and hold each other together. We are not looking to grow a massive company, and we’ve gotten busy focusing on quality customer service.”

Coming to the aid of others

If there is one thing Josh Shelton has carried on since taking over Shelton Plumbing from his father, it’s being charitable and always lending a hand. 

“Over the years, my dad has helped out in many charitable ways,” says Shelton, owner of the company based in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. “We support local charities but have ben active by sending members of our team on disaster relief mission trips in the United States and around the world.” 

When a tornado hit Henryville, Indiana, in 2012, Shelton Plumbing joined with other members of a local plumbing firm and spent weeks clearing and helping the community recover. In 2011, when a tornado hit Rainsville, Alabama, the company helped install showers in conjunction with other plumbing firms for volunteers who did not have proper facilities. 

“Living a life of service is something we can take pride in,” Shelton says. “We gain the trust of people by just doing the best we can. We help out in many ways whenever we can.” 

Shelton Plumbing also went to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild homes. In 2010, after a massive earthquake in Haiti, the company sent some of its crew there to assist in school repairs and to help supply more than 200 students with water filtration systems, food, school supplies, and medical supplies. 

“I have paid a lot of attention to my father over the years and have been led by his example,” Shelton says. He also gave credit to his Christian faith, saying he isn’t who he is without that. “Feast or famine, we give him praise for it all.”


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