Bizzy Bee Plumbing Sets a High Bar for Professionalism and Customer Service

Distinctive marketing efforts and an emphasis on quality service create business buzz for North Carolina plumber

Bizzy Bee Plumbing Sets a High Bar for Professionalism and Customer Service

Bizzy Bee technicians Ryan Stanton (foreground) and Matt Darrow clean a sewer lateral to prep it for epoxy coating.

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When Robert Schwachenwald moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and established Bizzy Bee Plumbing in 2011, he had one service truck. He focused primarily on service and repair work and wore a bunch of different hats to keep the business going.

By comparison, Bizzy Bee now employs 17 people, runs seven service trucks and offers a variety of services, including new-construction plumbing and trenchless pipeline rehab. Moreover, revenues have increased roughly 50% every year, to the point that Bizzy Bee now is a multimillion-dollar-a-year company in terms of gross sales, Schwachenwald says.

The recipe for such rapid growth was a combination of strong marketing efforts, investments in advanced technology and skills-enhancement training for technicians, plus an emphasis on quality and professionalism.

“I’ve set very high standards for providing our clients with quality craftsmanship at a reasonable value,” Schwachenwald says. “Whether we’re called out to repair a leaky faucet for a residential client, contracted to work in commercial buildings or hired to complete an extensive trenchless project, quality and professionalism is of the utmost importance and can never be compromised.”

Schwachenwald and his wife, Zeljka, who has a marketing background, moved from Los Angeles to escape the “rat race” there and be closer to family. He ran a plumbing and drain cleaning company in Los Angeles and figured that doing the same thing in Raleigh made sense.

“We came in with the mindset that succeed or fail, we’re going to be here for a while,” he recalls. “I had no choice but to make it work.”

A strong brand

There are plenty of plumbers in the Raleigh area, so Schwachenwald knew he’d need to build a strong brand to differentiate from competitors. Since great brand recognition starts with a memorable name, the Schwachenwalds and a friend came up with Bizzy Bee.

“There are some Busy Bee plumbers around, but no one spells it like we do,” he says.

Schwachenwald also wanted a distinctive logo, so he found a website where freelance graphic designers compete to develop company logos for a fee of $350. The winner was a designer from Indonesia, and Schwachenwald immediately trademarked the logo, which features a smiling, muscular-looking bee holding a drain machine cable with a cutting head in one hand and a monkey wrench in the other. The company’s slogan is, “We make your honey happy.”

Trademarking the logo cost $375 for a filing fee, plus attorney’s fees. “I used an attorney because it’s so important to do it correctly,” he says. It also cost another $1,100 in attorney’s fees to update the trademark filing after five years (essentially to confirm it’s still being used), and it must be renewed at the 10-year mark. Schwachenwald says it’s money well spent.

“We get calls from other companies around the country that want to use our logo,” he explains. “It’s a critical part of our branding and, as such, it must be protected so other companies can’t steal it.”

To further boost brand recognition, technicians also leave customers with a unique gift as they leave jobs: a small jar of honey. (See "A sweet strategy," below.)

Equipped for any job

Investing in a wide variety of equipment that can handle whatever technicians encounter is also critical to success. “We invest heavily in technology to better serve our client base,” he says. “Many of my peers are shocked to see how much equipment we have and the investments we’ve made, but it’s for the betterment of the trade, the environment (through less landfill debris from opencut work) and our clients.”

For service trucks, Bizzy Bee relies on three Ford Econoline cutaway vans with Knapheide bodies: two high-roof Ford Transits and one Transit with a Knapheide body. The trucks feature shelf-and-storage systems made by Adrian Steel, American Van Equipment (a Safe Fleet brand) and Weather Guard (a brand owned by the WernerCo).

For pipeline inspections, the company owns seven RIDGID SeeSnake cameras — two standard-size reels, three Minis, one microDrain and one microReel — as well as a P350 flexitrax crawler unit made by Pearpoint (USA), a brand owned by Radiodetection. Bizzy Bee also owns several RIDGID NaviTrack Scout, SeekTech ST-510 and SR-20 pipeline locators.

To clean drains, the company invested in five Super-Vee hand-held drain cleaners, made by General Pipe Cleaners; two JM-1000 Mini-Jet toolbox jetters (General Pipe Cleaners); RIDGID K-60s, K-400s and K-45s; two mainline drain machines made by Duracable; four Spartan Tool 100 drum machines; and two Brute water jetters (one skid-mounted in a truck and the other cart-mounted) and a Drain Invader electric-powered portable jetter manufactured by Jetters Northwest.

The company also owns a RIDGID SF-2500 SuperFreeze pipe freezing device, General Pipe Cleaners Cold-Shot pipe freezing unit and General Pipe Cleaners Hot-Shot pipe thawing machine, plus a 4016 trailer jetter (4,000 psi at 16 gpm) built by US Jetting.

Bizzy Bee also owns a variety of drain machines made by Picote Solutions, including Micro Millers, Maxi Millers, Maxi Miller Power Pluses, Mini Cleaners, Cannon fast-lock pipe lining systems for branch lines, and Mini and Maxi pipe coating systems. It also uses Europower generators.

Other investments include a pipe lining system and accessories made by Perma-Liner Industries and pipe bursting equipment built by TRIC Tools.

For plumbing, crews use RIDGID ProPress tools and PEX pipe made by Uponor. For tablet-based dispatching and field-service scheduling, the company uses ACOWIN and ACOTRUCK software developed by Team Management.

Keeping employees on board

As Bizzy Bee grew and added technicians and service vehicles, Schwachenwald knew the company would have to make a serious effort to stem turnover, especially with the labor shortage looming over the plumbing industry. He does so by emphasizing professionalism and offering benefits and ongoing job training and certifications.

To underscore the importance of professionalism, technicians wear uniforms and are trained to treat customers’ homes like their own. As such, they use things like dropcloths, shoe booties and countertop drop mats to keep homes clean, he says.

Technicians also receive ongoing training that ranges from defensive-driving courses to working with scissor lifts and obtaining certifications to become authorized installers of certain brands of water heaters and other products.

“Training and education are some of the most important values you can offer your staff,” he says. “Whether it’s the dispatcher, the apprentice on the shovel or the lead technician, constant training is stressed here. Our customers know that not just anyone is walking into their homes when our technicians arrive — they’re well-trained and well-educated professionals.

“We provide opportunities for professional training and classes for certifications, plus we recommend reading materials. We also hold weekly staff meetings, which cover things like what we did well the prior week, what we can work on and best practices that technicians may have found.”

Good training, better service

Ongoing training not only boosts technicians’ confidence, it also provides another level of customer service. More often than not, Schwachenwald notes, a Bizzy Bee technician is the third or fourth person arriving at a home to fix a problem.

“That’s where we get repeat customers,” he says. “Our techs walk in and offer solutions that others didn’t, because our guys are properly trained and educated. I also like to think it helps them feel more loyal to the company because they know we’re investing in them.”

To enhance employee-retention efforts, Bizzy Bee also offers health insurance and retirement plans. The company also strives to treat employees like family.

“It definitely takes a team to do what we do, from technicians in the field to people in the front office,” Schwachenwald points out. “You shortchange your customer if you can’t offer them technology and customer service. Solving problems quickly with educated technicians and supporting technicians with the right kinds of technology that provide value for customers — it’s all part of the business.”

Charging customers prices that are high enough to generate sufficient profit margins also plays into the employee-retention efforts. If margins are high enough, there’s enough revenue to pay employees better and keep investing in productivity- and profit-enhancing equipment, Schwachenwald says.

Trenchless crusader

For the last five years, Bizzy Bee has been slowly breaking into the market for trenchless pipe rehabilitation technology. But the ride has been a bit bumpy because many municipal officials aren’t familiar with technologies such as pipe bursting, pipe lining and pipe coating.

As such, many local plumbing codes don’t allow contractors to use those technologies. “I knew about pipe bursting for years, but I couldn’t use it here until some plumbing code changes occurred in 2015,” Schwachenwald says. “That’s when I invested in a TRIC Tools system.”

At first, Bizzy Bee focused on providing trenchless services for out-of-state customers where the technologies were more widely accepted. At the same time, he kept trying to get the word out locally.

“Most people weren’t — and still aren’t — educated on pipe bursting and pipe lining,” he says. “So I’ve made a great effort to educate them about these technologies. A few local municipalities have embraced our methods, and I’ve written a code proposal to add these pipe rehabilitation methods to the 2021 plumbing code book for North Carolina.

“It’s kind of a big thing. We’re hoping to get approval by May. If we want to do pipe lining now, we have to obtain what’s called alternative-method permission, which costs about $1,500 and can take four to five weeks to get approval.”

After pipe lining is part of the state plumbing code, it’ll open up a whole new market for Bizzy Bee, which is well-positioned to be a market leader. “I never thought I’d be writing plumbing code, but I really, really care about the trade and doing jobs properly.”

The right size

By 2018, Bizzy Bee had 28 employees and was running 10 service vehicles. While growth was definitely Schwachenwald’s goal, the company’s rapid ascent made it more difficult to manage things such as job quality and personnel, he says.

“It started to feel like I was on a rocky foundation. … Things just weren’t 100% in place,” he explains. “I made too many snap decisions, and as a result, some people weren’t doing what needed to be done — we were moving too quickly.

“When you grow too big too fast, it has a negative effect, especially if you don’t have a solid team in place. So I decided to downsize a bit in order to rebuild with a stronger foundation, based on our core crew.”

So today, the company has 17 employees, about one-third less than a year or so ago. Looking ahead, Schwachenwald wants to keep strengthening technicians’ skills and efficiency while continuing to provide quality service at a reasonable price.

“For our trenchless division, we continue to educate our area about the technologies we offer. We recently received licenses to do plumbing and trenchless pipe rehab work in Washington, D.C., Virginia and South Carolina, so we anticipate growing our business outside North Carolina as well.

“We also plan to add an additional service van, which will be dedicated to backflow testing, repairs and installations. We headed into 2020 very strong, with a well-rounded, dynamic and service-focused team.” 

A sweet strategy

Robert Schwachenwald is a big believer in customer leave-behinds, which he says keeps the name of his Raleigh, North Carolina-based company — Bizzy Bee Plumbing — front and center in clients’ minds long after technicians leave.

But instead of giving customers pens, refrigerator magnets or letter openers bearing the company’s catchy name, Schwachenwald came up with something more unique: small jars of locally produced honey.

“It may sound small and uninteresting, but it definitely sets us apart,” he says of the honey, which is produced by The Pleasant Bee. “Most people are completely surprised when our technicians hand them a jar, but they think it’s cute — a great thing to leave behind at the end of a service call.”

Schwachenwald says some people keep the jar on a kitchen cabinet shelf even when the honey is gone, just as a reminder in case they need plumbing work again. “We even have some customers who like the honey so much that they ask if we can drop off a jar the next time we’re in the area. Overall, we get such great feedback about it that we could never stop doing it now — it’s become a company marketing staple.”

The jars cost about $2.50 apiece, and the company buys 150 to 200 jars a month. The honey-maker also owns a printing shop where he makes the custom Bizzy Bee jar labels, emblazoned with the company name, logo, website and phone number. Technicians store the honey in a box in their cabs, he says.

The total cost for the honey is around $5,000 a year. Schwachenwald says it’s absolutely worth every penny, noting that about 70% of the company’s business stems from repeat customers.

“I think the honey plays a role in that repeat business, along with a lot of other little things we do in terms of customer service. It’s part of a full package.”


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