Second-Generation Owner Successfully Blends New Pursuits With Old Business Tenets

A second-generation owner takes over a longtime California plumbing firm, upholding his father’s sterling reputation while also injecting it with his new ideas

Second-Generation Owner Successfully Blends New Pursuits With Old Business Tenets

From left, Mike Prencavage Jr., Mitch Prencavage, Mike Prencavage Sr., and Vicky Prencavage pose in front of the company fleet along with other members of The Family Plumber crew.

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The Family Plumber in Los Alamitos, California, is, as they say, not your father’s plumbing store, not even if you’re Mike Prencavage Jr. While he retained the original tenets of the family business after he took the reins 11 years ago from his father, the new generation thoroughly reinvented the company. 

“One of my biggest challenges as a second-generation owner was to try to live up to my father’s reputation,” says Mike Jr., as he is known to other local contractors. “He had such a great reputation. I wanted to continue his operation but expand it, keep the same core values but pivot off that and grow the business.”

To facilitate the transition from old to new, Mike Jr., 34, took the love of the trade that he first felt as a teenager and incorporated college-learned business management techniques. It was a winning formula. 

The Family Plumber has since grown from a two-truck operation in and around Los Alamitos to a fleet of 22 vans answering calls all across Orange County and southern Los Angeles County. It has outgrown its pure household plumbing identity as well and offers an array of repair and drain and sewer cleaning services.


Mike Prencavage Sr. was a dissatisfied factory worker in the 1980s and decided to do something about it. Because he was drawn to the plumbing trade, he became an apprentice. Though he originally had no intention of running his own shop, five years later in 1988 he was a journeyman plumber with a C36 contracting license and a business.

In 1990, he redubbed the shop and incorporated it as The Family Plumber.

“My brother had just been born, so family was on his mind and he thought it was fitting,” Mike Jr. says.

The company name was also in character with the founder’s hopes for the enterprise, which especially targeted residential customers.

“He was very family-oriented with his customers, building relationships with them,” Mike Jr. recalls. “When he was just getting started, he would go out free of charge to help a family in need with some small plumbing job.”

The company slogan? Just like having a plumber in the family.


The elder Prencavage is retired now and his namesake — who also has his journeyman license and contractor certification — has systematically grown the company, including the residential side of it. The work is not all replacing fixtures and installing water heaters either. A majority of The Family Plumber’s service calls are to clear or repair sewer lines. 

“Here in Southern California, the biggest thing is our sewer systems are extremely old,” says Mike Jr. “A lot of them are cast iron or Orangeburg and are deteriorated. All the underground piping here is aging.”

The Family Plumber responds to plugged pipe calls with vans carrying RIDGID K-60 mechanical drain machines and either US Jetting or Patriot Sewer Equipment jetters, mostly the latter.

“We have five Patriot jetters, ranging from small to mid-sized,” Mike Jr. says, adding that he prefers the Patriot because it’s fully wireless in operation and its dolly carries 300 feet of hose. “That’s amazing. It’s compact and you can do a lot more jobs in confined spaces.”

If a pipe, upon inspection, is seen to need more than snaking and clearing away of roots or some other blockage, The Family Plumber crew is equipped to take the next step and fix the pipe itself. Or to replace it. But the first choice is to repair it whenever feasible.

“We are in the repair business,” Mike Jr. says, “not the complete replacement business. We prefer to repair infrastructure if it’s repairable. That’s our philosophy.”

The company relies on Perma-Liner technologies to repair pipes. If lining a failed pipe is deemed the best solution, a new coated felt tube is pulled into position and cured in place. If the existing pipe isn’t stable enough to support a liner, a TT Technologies pipe bursting system is employed. 

“Perma-Liner has been great for us. They have the whole gamut of products,” Mike Jr. says.

About 90% of the time, he adds, a failed pipe is lined by The Family Plumber crews, rather than bursted. 

Other tools in the service vans include RIDGID inspection cameras and a full complement of Milwaukee hand tools. Jokes the owner: “With the amount of tools we have with a thunderbolt on it, we should have part ownership of the company.”

Also in the equipment lineup is a TT Technologies Grundomat pneumatic boring tool that hammers horizontally through soil for insertion of water, gas and sewer lines.

“We use it all the time for residential properties,” Mike Jr. says.

Another quickly growing segment of the business is advanced diagnostics of residential natural gas systems. Those service calls are not driven by old and failing systems, according to Mike Jr., but rather by the state government’s concerted effort to discourage gas appliances.

“The electrification of California is the big thing,” he says. “They’re trying to remove natural gas from homes as much as possible and a lot of people are trying to get gas appliances installed before they’re banned. We’re getting a tremendous amount of business because of the electrification process.”

He adds that the company’s gas diagnostic work gives it an edge over competitors.


Expanding The Family Plumber over the past decade has not been by fits and starts. Mike Jr. describes it as “steady and comfortable.” It has meant moving office personnel into a space three times larger. The office is managed by his business partner and brother, Mitch Prencavage. 

Growth also required a much larger, lockable fenced yard for all of the company’s service vans and equipment. The vans are Dodge Promaster 2500 high-roof vehicles that Mike Jr. says he switched over to from “gas guzzler” box trucks.

The diversification of offered services has also meant more is demanded of The Family Plumber technicians. In response, Mike Jr. opted to cross-train his crews rather than have some members specialize in plumbing, others in relining pipes, and so on. 

“That’s something different about us,” Mike Jr. says. “I send all my guys to the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association trade school in Orange County. I want them to learn every aspect of the business. I call it being ambidextrous. It allows us flexibility in emergencies to send any of the crew members to fix a problem, and it grows their professionalism and knowledge base.”


Such innovative responses in day-to-day decision-making partly are the fruit of Mike Jr.’s involvement in two industry organizations. One is the more than 30-year-old Nexstar Network, a Minnesota-based, members-owned organization that offers training, coaching and peer relationships to residential service company leaders. Mike Jr. joined the network eight years ago.

“It has been great for expanding our business and in understanding process. In business, it’s all about process,” he says.

The other industry group he has relied upon is the aforementioned PHCC, which also provides networking and training opportunities. Mike Jr. is, in fact, president of PHCC’s Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino counties chapter.

“It has been wonderful for tech training, for expanding our professionalism,” he says. “PHCC has been crucial to our success.”

Mike Jr. says the growth of business activity not only is good for the company’s bottom line, it also benefits individual employees.

“My viewpoint is that expansion betters our employees’ lives,” he says. “I’ve felt that, as the business grows, the employees are happier. Better pay. More time off. Expanding the company is a way to better our employees’ lives.”

That might sound unusually altruistic, but it perfectly harmonizes with other indicators dating to the attitude of the company founder. Mike Prencavage Sr. started a continuing practice of delivering food to local police and city hall officials as well as to a local youth center and the chamber of commerce office.

The Family Plumber also supports the local Special Olympics chapter and various faith-based organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse and Tijuana, Mexico ministries, through which the senior Prencavage does “missionary plumbing” in several states. After fires raced through the Hawaiian island of Maui last year, he was there building mobile laundry units for people whose homes had been destroyed.

Mike Jr. says he hires like-minded individuals who share his interest in being involved in the community.

“I want people who are willing to go the extra mile for our customers and the community. Our clients sense that,” he says.


So the expansion of The Family Plumber continues. Mike Jr. has set his growth sights on a north-south plane that would have the company opening a second location next year in or near San Diego.

“My brother Mitch and I are in it for the long haul,” he says. “We’re fully invested in the company and in our employees. We want to continue to see growth in our employees and in clients without losing the local feel. We are young enough and have the time and drive to grow the business.”


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