Plumber Works to Build Strong Community of Tradespeople in Philadelphia

Daniel Gallagher runs a successful business in the City of Brotherly Love, also taking the lessons he learned from mentors and helping teach them to the next generation of workers

Plumber Works to Build Strong Community of Tradespeople in Philadelphia

Daniel Gallagher and Juan Roman prepare for a jetting job. Despite being owner, Gallagher still spends a lot of time in the field thanks to the help he says he gets from his family, including his mom, sister and wife. 

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Daniel Gallagher is a Philly guy through and through.

He was born in Philadelphia and has lived in the city by choice all of his 42 years. An old-school fella, he’s loyal to the city and its people. He’s a no-nonsense businessman with an unapologetic humanitarian streak.

“If I hadn’t grown up in this city, I don’t know where I would be today,” says Gallagher, owner of Daniels Plumbing and Heating. “I didn’t have to stay in the city, but I did. Some of my friends here I’ve known since I was 7 years old. I still see guys all the time who I grew up with — except for those who died from drugs.”

That last offhand remark is telling. Among those fatally victimized by drug addiction were Gallagher’s father, as well as a 24-year-old brother and a master plumber who taught and inspired Gallagher. He does not look back through rose-colored glasses though.

“I’m still standing,” Gallagher says.

Besides God, Gallagher credits two people with keeping his feet planted on a path to successful living. One is his mother, Theresa Gallagher, whom he describes as “a tough Italian lady. We’d come in Saturday night and Mom would smell our hands for any evidence of drugs or alcohol.”  

Another major influence on a young Gallagher was one of the master plumbers he worked with as an apprentice.

“The first night I went to their organization meeting, that guy and others were up there in three-piece suits,” Gallagher recalls. “They held themselves in a certain way, as if to say, ‘This is how you do it when you’re a plumbing professional.’” 

Two decades later, that still makes an impression on Gallagher.

“I handle myself the exact same way,” he says. “I’m usually either in my work clothes or in a suit. I’m really fortunate to have run into those guys.”

It helped Gallagher acquire the skills that have made him successful running his own company for 17 years now. And he is also working hard at being a mentor for the next generation of Philly plumbers and drain cleaners.

Family effort

A large majority of the Daniels Plumbing and Heating work is in the city. The company’s 7,000-square-foot shop is there too, on Torresdale Avenue not far from the Delaware River separating Pennsylvania from New Jersey. A second location — Gallagher calls it a cousin shop — opened in an old turnpike building on Second Street Pike in Bucks County outside the city.

Daniels Plumbing and Heating also has a new office where Gallagher’s mother works, handling all the internals such as contracts, workers’ compensation and other paperwork.

“Mom was always involved in business, running a catering business and others. She also operates a drug addiction recovery program that helps people get clean,” Gallagher says. 

In fact, two Daniels Plumbing and Heating employees came from the program.

“Some people might look down on that, but we’re a second-chance company,” Gallagher says.

Also helping run the business is Gallagher’s sister, Caitlyn, who handles payments and other office duties. Gallagher’s wife Judy is not on the payroll, but she is also indispensable, Gallagher says.

“She allows me to devote all the hours, blood and sweat that I put into the business,” he says. “She handles all day-to-day operations in our home. She’s an old-school neighborhood mother. At any time there might be a dozen of the neighborhood kids there, grabbing something to eat, shooting some basketball out back or watching a Phillies or Eagles game.”

The family assistance is key to getting Gallagher out in the field.

“It gives me freedom,” he says. “People come to the shop and think they’re going to see me, but I’m 100% hands-on in the field, from jobbing to service to camera inspections. I’m either in the jetting truck or a service truck, or I’m overseeing stuff.”

Work routine

Many of the company’s calls are for drain cleaning, but each day brings a mix of work, according to Gallagher.

“We do one or two excavations a day, residential service calls, jetting lines, installing water heaters, some HVAC,” he says.

About 85% of service calls are residential — that is, individual homes plus contractual work for the city’s low-income housing units and emergency referrals from the Philadelphia Water Department.

Workdays at Daniels Plumbing and Heating start at 6 a.m. and the first person at the shop is usually the company owner himself. There’s a philosophical reason for the early start, Gallagher says. “I like problems to happen before noon, not after.” 

Among his 15 employees are two plumbing apprentices. On Monday mornings, the team gathers to talk about safety and new products, and to brush up on techniques. Each day they pile into six trucks and head for homes and other job sites. If excavation is in the offing, a truck will pull away with a trailer carrying either a Bobcat skid-steer or a JCB backhoe.

Two trucks each carry Spartan 738 skid-mounted jetters for cleaning lines, plus a 100-gallon water tank. General Pipe Cleaners and Spartan Tool belt-fed machines are Gallagher’s preferred cabling brands. The company’s battery-operated hand tools are mostly from RIDGID.

If a water heater is needed, Gallagher offers customers Bradford White units, most of the heaters fired up by natural gas.

“They’re American-made and are made in our own backyard. Plus, I know the CEO, Bruce Carnevale,” Gallagher says.

Gallagher himself does nearly all the company’s camera inspection work. He completed a three-day course on it at Penn State University.

“I’m one of the best around,” he says with Philly confidence. “We do a lot of inspections. Most of the time I have the property owner right there beside me when I’m doing it.”

He relies on a Spartan Trapjumper pushrod camera and its Explorer control box to navigate tight bends in a pipe.

Gallagher and his crew do not do trenchless repair work. Not yet. This is Philadelphia, after all. City regulatory authorities don’t allow methods like pipe bursting.

“We’re looking into the technology, but we can’t use it in Philly,” Gallagher says. “There’s a time and place for everything.”

Philadelphia being an old East Coast city, some of the infrastructure is extremely dated.

“Waterlines are copper. In the last month, we serviced five homes with lead water pipes,” Gallagher says. “Drainlines are all cast iron. Sewer lines are all cast iron or terra cotta. I like terra cotta underground because it ages well. Cast iron scales and rusts.”

His crew runs into PVC only occasionally. Because copper waterlines are the rule, soldering and ProPress repair of leaking lines are necessary skills.

Paying it forward

Because local non-union plumbing organizations positively impacted the younger Gallagher, the Daniels Plumbing and Heating owner is actively paying back his debt to the trade fraternity. 

About a year after he finished his apprenticeship, Gallagher was elected sergeant at arms for Philadelphia’s Master Plumbers Association. He subsequently became the association’s secretary, treasurer and vice president before being elected president five years ago, serving in that position for three years.

Was he successful? Well, membership doubled and camaraderie blossomed when he brought back the annual Christmas party so, yes, his presidency was deemed a success. Gallagher currently also sits on the state board for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association.

And after years of planning, he and others in the Philadelphia Master Plumbers Association are on the verge of re-opening an apprenticeship school. The association is known for starting the first apprentice training school in the U.S. in 1883, but the school fell by the wayside during some changes with association leadership. They have signed a lease for a building and are aiming to host the first class of plumbing apprentices in October. After the plumbing program is established, the school will also offer HVAC and electrical programs.

While apprentices who sign up may come from different backgrounds, Gallagher says the goal is to focus on attracting at-risk youth.

“Our objective is to get these inner-city kids and put a tool in their hands instead of a gun,” Gallagher says. “These aren’t kids in a single-parent home — their grandmothers are raising them. I would like to help them. Too many people don’t want to give them a chance.”

If the organization successfully enrolls at-risk youth, the challenge then becomes inspiring them to stay the course.

“Having a good graduation rate, that’s the challenge,” Gallagher says. “The national rate for apprenticeship graduation is low.”

Consistency is king

It’s a full plate of responsibilities that Gallagher has dished up for himself. Running a successful business. Helping oversee the trades in the city and state by serving on professional boards. Starting up a trade school program with the twin goals of increasing the number of tradespeople and decreasing the number of at-risk youths in Philadelphia.

Where in all that does the future of the company find a place?

“I look around and see some real big plumbing houses,” Gallagher says. “If that’s what God wants me to do, I’ll do it. I used to wonder if I was ever going to open up a second location and God gave me the opportunity. God has given me lots of things to work on, but he knows I can do it.”

A handful of maxims guide his decision-making. One is consistency.

“That probably is my biggest attribute,” Gallagher says. “I do the same thing every single workday. I wake up at the same hour, eat at the same places, buy my trucks at the same place. My phone number has been the same since I was 19. A teacher once told me that 90% of life is just showing up. I do. It works.”

Another characteristic of Gallagher and of his company is the willingness to take on challenges. He cites companies that will dig up a pipe after only working 20 minutes to unclog it.

“I don’t pressure my guys in those situations. If we go out there and persist till the drain is clear, you have a customer for life,” he says.

Gallagher says he derives great satisfaction from succeeding where others have failed. 

Another guiding characteristic is putting people first. Gallagher says he hires people who are personable so customers will be comfortable admitting them to their homes. The plumbers and apprentices are given the freedom to take as long as necessary to completely meet a customer’s needs. His crews don’t receive commissions as an incentive because that can lead to overselling.

“We are in the service business. I’m not a salesman. I’m a plumber. People are buying Danny Gallagher and I want them to get full value,” he says. “I tell my kids that not too many people speak ill of their father. God afforded me the opportunity to help people and that’s what I try to do. It’s better to go to bed with a full heart than a full stomach.”


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