Miami Plumber Finds Varied Pathways to Success

Joe Jaremko’s three-decade career in the trades has taken him in many different directions, and he remains as committed as ever as he prepares his company for another service shift

Miami Plumber Finds Varied Pathways to Success

The team at Arko Plumbing includes, from left, Alejandro Naranjo, head plumber; Juan Carlos Alonzo, plumber helper; Medardo Huerta, plumber; Guillermo Lazo, plumber; Joe Jaremko, owner; Ryan Hayes, manager; and Mark Garcia, plumber helper.

Interested in Cleaning?

Get Cleaning articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Cleaning + Get Alerts

Joe Jaremko has had a varied trades career, experiencing both ups and downs.

“Always making money, though,” says Jaremko, 62, owner of Arko Plumbing in Miami.

He started plumbing reluctantly, became a journeyman plumber, opened a shop of his own and finally became a court-recognized “expert” in the field. Now he’s sort of starting over once again but is determined to be on top of his game even better than before. 

“A year ago, I sat down and made a decision,” Jaremko says. “Should I retire or keep working? I decided I couldn’t part with the company. I get too much satisfaction out of the work. I don’t have to work. I want to work and I’m in a position now that I feel like a parent to my employees.”

The businessman has opened another chapter in his plumbing career.

Learning the trade

The Florida native grew up around the trades. Jaremko’s father was a general contractor and Jaremko loved to visit job sites, often where four-plex residences were being constructed. Other extended family members were brick masons and electricians. Jaremko liked working with his hands, too, and believed auto mechanics was his calling.

One day his father questioned his son’s mechanics focus, drove him down to a structured plumbing apprenticeship program and enrolled him. Jaremko liked it well enough to excel in the program — his father must have known his son pretty well — and he now looks back with satisfaction at the experience of learning from master plumbers. He was a union apprentice and an eager one.

“Every time I learned something I’d look forward to using the skill and learning something else,” Jaremko says.

The work was mostly in high-rise buildings, but Jaremko ultimately gravitated to residential subdivision work, helping build custom and tract homes in the Miami area. Then he moved to service work as a plumber for General Plumbing.

“I used to think I was a plumber until I went to work for a service company,” Jaremko says.

In 1988, after three years of “learning a lot” on service calls, Jaremko was ready to take the plunge and open his own business. The move rather surprised him.

“I didn’t realize I had an entrepreneurial bug in me, but there was just something that would not let me be satisfied working for other people,” he says.

His exit from the service company was not particularly sweet. His employer tried to discourage him from leaving.

“‘You think it will be easy working for yourself?’ he told me. “‘You’ll find out it isn’t. You won’t last six months.’ Well, here it is 36 years later and I’m doing fine. It was his pushback that challenged me.”

A bit of serendipity came into play at that moment, too. As Jaremko was weighing whether to start a business or not, a celebrity death helped resolve the situation. A high-profile Miami personality, Don Aronow, who built the Cigarette Racing boats and raced them in venues around the world, was murdered.

“After Aronow died, my partner and I went to snake out the drainlines at Aronow’s house,” Jaremko says. “We found a huge diamond ring in the drain.”

They turned it over to Aronow’s widow, who said it wasn’t hers.

“‘I guess this was Don’s gift to you,’ she said and gave back the stone. The diamond was appraised at about $25,000,” Jaremko recalls.

It was timely seed money for a new company. The company was dubbed Arko Plumbing. Jaremko wanted the company to be one of the first ones listed in the Yellow Pages and his mother came up with the name. Arko was a one-or-two-person operation at first, with his wife answering the phone. For a couple of years, Jaremko survived, mostly on word-of-mouth referrals. 

Business was up and down, mostly up, according to Jaremko, but progress was interrupted by the unexpected passing of his wife.

“Life happens,” Jaremko says, looking back. He pressed on.

Different pathways to success

During the past three decades, Arko Plumbing has continued to experience success, but it has been a fluctuating success story. As a young business, the company was “stuck” for a while operating with four service trucks, Jaremko says, then grew to as many as 20 trucks. Then it scaled back to three or four trucks again, where it remains today.

One growth factor during the period of expansion was the abundance of cast iron drainpipes in the area, which “are failing at an alarming rate,” according to Jaremko. Vintage waterlines mostly are copper or galvanized steel and largely are still intact. “The drainpipe deterioration might be partly from soil conditions, but mostly the problem is they were engineered to last a hundred years in the ground but only are lasting 30 or 40,” he says.

At one point, Arko Plumbing advertised “cast iron colonoscopies,” that is, inspection and replacement of cast iron infrastructure.

“We did hundreds of cast iron replacements,” Jaremko says. “The insurance companies would pay for it and the jobs just kept coming in. The average ticket was about $4,500.”

Eventually, Jaremko became immersed in a tangential facet of the industry. One of the insurance company people working with him on the cast iron infrastructure situation referred Jaremko to Morgan & Morgan, one of the largest injury law firms in the country. It is an aggressive outfit, declaring on its website that “we have the resources to take on the biggest bullies in America.” Jaremko was hired by Morgan & Morgan to give testimony in plumbing cases.

“They asked me to come work for them as a trial expert. They offered me the kind of pay I couldn’t ignore,” he says.

To put a number on it, Arko Plumbing — through Jaremko’s testimony — has for the past four years averaged $3 million in testimony billing.

Unfortunately, the bloom has come off that rose. After the Florida Legislature nullified some of the financial opportunities for law firms in injury cases, Morgan & Morgan pulled back. As recently as April 2023, 80% of Arko Plumbing’s revenue stream was from expert testimony. That has fallen to 50%, so Jaremko says he is going “back to my roots” by building out his drain cleaning business.

Fifteen years ago, Jaremko remarried and, perhaps coincidentally, the business found new stability. His office manager has been with Arko for all of those 15 years as have three of his crew members. “They all have stayed with me through thick and thin,” he says.

His service crews work in and around Miami, with most out-of-town work being camera inspections and hydrostatic testing of residential systems. All of Arko Plumbing’s customers today are homeowners and other residential property owners.

Big goals

Arko Plumbing operates with four new Nissan service vans loaded with Milwaukee battery-powered tools, RIDGID cameras and drain cleaning equipment, and Picote milling machines. The company subs out any excavation work needed to replace a line, so there isn’t a mini-excavator in the fleet of equipment.

Nowadays, Jaremko doesn’t get to dirty his hands often repairing or installing a pipe or fixture. Instead, he shows up to a job site in his pickup to chat with a customer. “I still could do just about any plumbing task I need to working from my pickup. I just choose not to. It doesn’t pay for me to do that.”

Did he have a favorite task when he was handling tools every day? “It was helping the people,” Jaremko says. “I got the most satisfaction from helping someone. I’m a people person and salesman and I love helping people solve problems. It’s not just money. I’ve written off jobs, done them for nothing. It’s about helping people.”

The future of Arko Plumbing is bright, partly because the market in Miami is strong, partly because Jaremko still has goals he wants his company to meet. He has it all laid out, from daily and monthly plans all the way to a 10-year vision of the operation.

“I’m still hungry,” Jaremko says. “I was just writing my mission statement and vision statement. I want to create a multi-million-dollar business and create opportunities for my employees. I have seen how to do that.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.