Community-Oriented Plumber Strives to be the Alpha and the Elite

Diego Lujan created Alphalete to serve his community, including plans for a trade school and franchise system

Community-Oriented Plumber Strives to be the Alpha and the Elite

 The Alphalete Plumbing crew includes (from left) Bryan Lau, Donny Vigil, Mercedes Garcia, Walter Sandoval, owner Diego Lujan, Floyd Adams, Robert DuPignac and Cruz Gonzales.

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Diego Lujan is making a name for himself.

Besides giving his Colorado plumbing business the unique name Alphalete Plumbing & Heat, Lujan is reinventing what it means to be a community plumber and to be fully engaged in a community. The firm has steadily grown over five years from one employee to 10 and is already rebranding itself as it adds another major service component.

Lujan’s surging success was officially recognized in November when an organization affiliated with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce — the Hispanic Business Council — awarded not one, but two, 2020 awards to the company: Hispanic Business of the Year and, to Lujan personally, Rising Professional of the Year.

Lujan doesn’t bring up the awards himself, but he doesn’t mind explaining that they’re pegged to the rapid growth of his business and to his community involvement — “the way we serve our community. We’re here to solve problems, not add to them.”

Creating a name

Alphalete is a word Lujan created by joining “alpha” and “elite.” First and best — that’s the reputation Lujan wants for his company. So, from five notebooks of possible business names that he compiled as a teenager, he selected “Alphalete” as a registered company name in 2015. He was 27 years old.

“We are the alpha of the industry and want to become elite,” Lujan says. “I googled the joined words and found only two other companies in the world with the name.” The company’s trademarked symbol is a stylized lion, which also has roots in Lujan’s early years. “My father is named Leon and the lion was bred into me.”

Lujan grew up in an entrepreneurial and construction-oriented family. He says he did “every trade growing up. I wasn’t interested in college and loved working with my hands. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to be a roofer. Then I fell in love with plumbing.”

After registering the name, he worked for a plumber for another year before making the leap. “I would work eight hours a day as a plumbing superintendent for a company and then work another eight hours on my dreams of being in business for myself. Finally, when I felt I couldn’t give a hundred percent to the other company, which is unfair, I put in my notice and opened the doors to Alphalete Plumbing & Heat.” He worked alone for a year before hiring his first employee.

Five years in, the most frequent service calls for the company now are to clear drains and repair or install water heaters. He places about a thousand new water heaters each year in older neighborhoods in and around Colorado Springs.

About 60% of his service calls are residential, the rest commercial. Some 30% of all of his work is plumbing new homes, but Lujan wants to reduce that part of his workload in favor of more service calls. “When the economy tanks, service calls are where it’s at. And I love serving homeowners, as opposed to working for contractors.”

Calls to Alphalete Plumbing tend to come from inside Colorado Springs, but service trucks make regular runs outside the city limits, too. A frequent destination is Manitou Springs, a nearly 150-year-old tourist town picturesquely situated west of the city near the base of Pikes Peak.

“We spend a lot of time in that town,” Lujan says. “It’s a challenge to work there because everything you get into is going to take a patch or a full replacement. But sitting there on the mountain next to Pikes Peak, it’s all worth it.”

Expanding services

Recently Lujan decided to add HVAC services, so the company name has grown to Alphalete Plumbing, Heating & Air. The expansion of services was partly serendipity: Lujan met Bob du Pignac through a mutual friend and the two men found they had much in common. He brought du Pignac aboard.

“I wanted a full home-services business,” Lujan says. “Plumbing and HVAC go hand in hand. I’ve had so many customers ask me if we would service their furnace, but we weren’t set up for that. Bob is a perfect fit to do that.”

The company’s new senior HVAC technician has a master plumber license, earned in California, from which du Pignac moved to Colorado some years ago. He became an expert HVAC technician and a licensed mechanical contractor. The 65-year-old du Pignac is eager to share all of his expertise with another generation of technicians at Alphalete. Now, plumbing apprentices at the company also are HVAC apprentices.

“I wish I had that opportunity in the trade when I started, learning both trades at once,” Lujan says, adding that he remains a plumber first. “We always will emphasize plumbing. That is my first love. It is just an added business within the business.”

The makeover in advertised services — that is, adding HVAC to promotional material — is coming along. Once company vehicles are wrapped with the additional service prominently displayed in the name, Lujan is confident the expansion of services will be a “gold mine.”

Lujan presently has eight company vehicles. The newest is a 2020 Ford Transit van, the popular work truck with a sliding cargo side door powered by a 275 hp V6 engine. “That is going to be the prototype van for the company. It should inspire us to work hard to get more of them.”

The work trucks carry the normal staples of plumbing and drain cleaning equipment, in this case, Spartan 300 mechanical snakes and RIDGID SeeSnake CS6PAC and Compact2 cameras. When an outside drain or service line needs repair or replacement, Lujan rents an excavator.

The mix of company equipment keeps evolving. Lujan says he is on schedule to procure a jetter this year to keep up with the almost daily demand for drain cleaning. “About halfway through this year, we hope to start offering trenchless pipe work, too.”

Just how committed he is to providing complete service was demonstrated to one customer in 2020. A homeowner contacted Alphalete about replacing an Orangeburg sewer line. The property owner owned a landscaping business, so his property had numerous landscape features. The only practical way to replace the line was to dig up the old and lay a new one, which threatened to also lay waste to the newly manicured grounds

“There was a ton of river rock and boulders, and most plumbing companies would have said, ‘You’ll have to move all this stuff out of the way.’ Instead, we helped them move the landscape materials and to protect what remained from excavated dirt. After we put the line in place, we helped him move the boulders and things back where they were.”

The extra work paid off in more ways than one. “The homeowner was impressed and since has referred more than $150,000 in work to us. Doing stuff like that for customers encourages other people to come to us. It builds the business.”

Teaching the trade

Lujan says he is building his business on four pillars: educate, elevate, motivate and inspire. The goal is to achieve at least one of these in each transaction with his customers. “If we can do this, then we have won. Our goal is to inspire our community. I want them to say, ‘Hey, if Lujan can do it, I can do it.’”

His commitment to education is capped by plans to open a trade school for plumbers, operating it out of his 3,500-square-foot office-warehouse. Eventually, it will be relocated into a separate new or leased building.

“I am passionate about trade education,” Lujan says. “Plumbers in Colorado now have to have eight hours of continuing education each year, which is great. We will offer it and a full apprenticeship program that will be registered with state and federal agencies.”

Lujan himself will be among the school’s faculty members. His company’s apprentices will have free access to the school. “I’m pretty excited about this. It will serve the community and the business and the cause of education.”

And the business won’t be sacrificed to the school. Lujan’s vision is more far-reaching than that. He says he hopes eventually to make Alphalete Plumbing, Heating & Air into an operation that can be franchised. Gearing up for that — as well as getting the school going — may consume the next few years, “but within 10 years I want it to be a franchise-able business and to have multiple locations operating across the country.”

Lujan credits his wife, Brittany, for the progress the company has made. “She’s a full-time mom and I wouldn’t be able to do this without her. My wife and kids are the driving force behind my success.” The couple has four children.

The business owner seems to have blended the various facets of life — work, community, family, self — into a single challenge. To anyone aspiring to start his or her own business, he says, “It is a lifestyle, not a career. You have to want to welcome and to solve the pressures and problems that arise. If you don’t love solving pressure, then you won’t succeed as a business owner. If you don’t like serving the community, then you have no reason to get into business.”

Daunting as it might sound, Lujan encourages people to go for it. “We are only going to live once, so we should give it all we’ve got. If we do, then win, lose or draw, at the very least we will have shown we had the nerve to try.” 


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