Contractor Finds Value in Achieving Good Work-Life Balance

After being highly focused on building a successful business for 17 years, Matt Mertz is enjoying taking a step back to make more time for his personal life

Contractor Finds Value in Achieving Good Work-Life Balance

 Mike DiSanto and Dylan Belfiore of Matt Mertz Plumbing complete a trenchless sewer repair in Pittsburgh.

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Master plumber Matt Mertz spent 17 years building his company, Matt Mertz Plumbing, into a $12 million-a-year business with 50 technicians, over 50 service vehicles, and a large roster of equipment that enabled the firm to provide a wide range of services.

But in November 2021, Mertz sold his Pittsburgh-based business to Armstrong Comfort Solutions, a division of the Armstrong Group, and slid into a new role as the company’s director of plumbing operations.

The arc of Mertz’s swift rise and subsequent departure from the rigors and stress of running a large plumbing outfit offers two important lessons for owners of plumbing and drain cleaning companies. The first takeaway: Never underestimate the power of a sustained, well-funded and creative marketing blitz. And second: Be aware of the toll exacted by putting in mega-hours and doing almost everything required to run a company.

Looking back, Mertz, 41, says he is extremely proud of what he built but also glad that he tamed his ambitions.

“Now I work 50 hours a week, not 80,” he says. “I sleep a lot better. I feel a lot of guilt about things I missed out on with my wife and daughters. I let the business consume me. I was hyper-focused on winning and making more money and lost sight of what’s really important.

“My goal now is to be a better husband and father,” adds Mertz, whose company was racking up annual revenue of $6 million, employed 20 people and ran 27 service vehicles back when it was last profiled in the March 2015 issue of Cleaner. “Now my nights and weekends are mine — they don’t belong to Matt Mertz Plumbing anymore.”


A fourth-generation plumber who struck out on his own in 2004, Mertz was always ambitious about growing the company. His goal was to run 50 service vehicles, something he achieved by 2018 at age 37.

The main driver of that growth? Large investments in marketing, particularly radio advertising. Mertz estimates he spent up to $1 million annually on advertising.

“To get to 50 service trucks, I realized I had to really get into advertising and market myself more creatively than anyone else,” he says.

Mertz tried everything from print and TV ads to direct mail campaigns, but he didn’t see a great return on investment. He then tried radio ads in 2012, which turned out to be a game-changing marketing strategy.

Despite having no marketing experience, Mertz developed the ads himself. Most of them were 60-second ads supplemented by 15- and 30-second ads.

The ads ran on about eight local radio stations between 30 and 50 times a day, typically during the morning and afternoon drive times. Mertz changed the ads every three months. Sometimes he hired the most popular DJs on each of the stations to narrate the commercials.

“I started with $4,500 a month and found that wasn’t enough to move the needle,” Mertz says. “Eventually we did $40,000 worth of radio ads a month and covered every demographic during the morning and afternoon drive times, when the most people are listening. We basically owned the airwaves — we drowned out everyone else because they weren’t willing to spend as much as I spent.”

The company also tracked which ads worked best by asking customers how they heard about the company, Mertz says.


Mertz firmly believes that when people constantly hear about a company, they develop a comfort level and affinity with said company — even if they haven’t yet been a customer. As such, he capitalized on every advertising opportunity that made sense.

“There’s great value in getting there first and establishing a place in the market,” Mertz says. “To really dominate, you have to gain peoples’ trust. And the best way to gain their trust without actually working with them is through effective branding.”

A good example is so-called Radio Data System technology, which enables radio stations to send digital information along with their program signal. In this case, Mertz paid about $7,000 a month for the right to continuously scroll the company name along the bottom of vehicles’ dashboard monitors, right below where the name of whatever song is playing and the artist who recorded it is displayed.

That $7,000 included scrolls on five radio stations, 24/7.

“As soon as that became available as an advertising option, I locked it in and renewed it every year,” Mertz says. “It cost about $84,000 a year, but it was worth every penny. People are always reminded about you. Even employees from other plumbing companies are constantly seeing our name. It’s a really good branding piece.”

The company also paid to advertise on six billboards located throughout Pittsburgh; since merging with Armstrong, that number has increased to 12, Mertz says.

“Trying different things is the only way to find out whether or not they work,” he says. “You can’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone with your advertising spend because at the end of the day, advertising is what brings large volumes of people to you. Word of mouth isn’t enough. If you want to set yourself apart, you have to do things differently.”


Of course great advertising campaigns aren’t very effective without great customer service to support the branding efforts. Along with solid hiring and training practices, Mertz ensures great customer service through significant investments in productivity-enhancing equipment.

For drain cleaning services, the company owns about two dozen RIDGID K-60 and K-1500 sectional drain machines; a trailer-mounted Warrior water jetter (4,000 psi at 18 gpm) made by Spartan Tool; a Model 184 trailer-mounted jetter from Mongoose (4,000 psi at 18 gpm), a brand owned by Sewer Equipment; a MICROpremium robotics cutter built by IMS Robotics EN; and more than a dozen RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras and NaviTrak Scout pipe locators.

Technicians also rely on a variety of jetter nozzles: Warthogs made by StoneAge, Lumberjack and Ice Bears from NozzTeq, and Root Rats made by Chempure, plus cables and cleaning attachments from Picote Solutions.

“It’s always nice to have options,” Mertz says. “If one doesn’t do the job, you have something to fall back on.”

For installing new sewer lines, the company relies on roughly a dozen excavators made by Caterpillar, Bobcat and Kubota.

The company also owns a pipe lining system from Perma-Liner Industries; two SC-75 tracked concrete buggies made by CanyCom USA; a pneumatic horizontal boring tool from Grundomat (a brand owned by TT Technologies); and trailer-mounted air compressors from Ingersoll Rand and Kaesar Compressors.

In addition, the company runs 114 service vehicles that include Ford Transit vans, GMC Savana cut-away vans, Chevrolet Express vans and Nissan NVs. Some of those vehicles are equipped with truck bodies made by the Unicell Body Company, Monroe Truck Equipment, Reading Truck and Knapheide Manufacturing Co.


Another factor in the company’s success has been extreme efficiency. To Mertz, that includes matching the right technicians with the right jobs and dispatchers that route trucks in the most efficient manner.

“It’s not complicated — just be efficient,” he says.

The strategy worked, he says, noting the company was generating a 42% profit margin when he sold it to Armstrong Comfort Solutions. Part of that substantial profit margin was generated by lean staffing; Mertz preferred to do most things himself rather than hire managers, estimators and so forth.

“But I did too much — wore too many hats,” he concedes. “So when I turned 40, I took a long look at my life. My mother had died young at age 39, and with that in mind, I decided I didn’t want to run a 50-employee business anymore.”

Mertz had heard that Armstrong Comfort Solutions, a member of the Armstrong Group, was moving into the home services industry in western Pennsylvania, providing sewer line repair/replacement, heating, cooling and plumbing services.

“It’s a big company with vast resources,” Mertz says. “I felt that if they figured things out, they’d be difficult to compete with. So I reached out to them. I didn’t want to sell the company to a private-equity firm that would only resell the company again because I didn’t want my team to go through that. Instead, I was looking for a company that would provide great pay and benefits to our team and treat them well.”

Mertz is proud of the fact that every employee stayed on board after the merger. He credits Don Tacik, the president of Armstrong Comfort Solutions, for making all employees feel at ease with the transition.


As Mertz looks back on the nearly 20 years he ran his own company, he says he’s not surprised at how well things worked out.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think I’m usually a step ahead of everyone else,” he says. “And I was always out working — no one was going to outwork me. I also am blessed to be smart and good at marketing. And I’ve always held myself to a high standard, which is reflected by my success.”

Now Mertz is busy helping management at Armstrong Comfort Solutions figure out how to expand its geographic service area.

“We want to have a plumbing footprint everywhere that Armstrong has a cable footprint,” Mertz says, noting that one Armstrong Group division provides cable television, internet and phone services. “I’m looking forward to being part of the next chapter in their story.”


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