Quality Control

Pipeline Plumbing employs a straightforward approach to business success of hiring qualified workers and doing good work

Quality Control

Pipeline Plumbing owners Lori and Adam Faren started the business in 2004 out of the garage of their home. 

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When Pipeline Plumbing owners Adam and Lori Faren went hunting for a promotional phrase that would reflect the core values of their Portland, Oregon, metro area business, they came up with “Where quality meets integrity.” Beyond being catchy, it turns out the phrase actually describes how the company operates.

“We have a good reputation,” Adam says.

The reputation pays dividends, including with inspections.

“I feel like when an inspector comes to a job we are on, they know it is Pipeline Plumbing doing the job and that everything is being done properly,” he says. “We fail very few inspections.”

Such respect was earned, of course, and didn’t just happen. The company has methodically followed a business plan pegged to a simple formula: Assemble a good team, do good work and stand behind it.

PROVIDING A VITAL SERVICE

How long has Adam Faren been plumbing? His father was a Southern California plumber who took his son along on service calls. He was all of 18 years of age when he completed his first plumbing job on his own. Except for one year when he ventured into marine maintenance work — which he says mostly was plumbing — the 52-year-old tradesman has been working with pipe and plumbing fixtures all his adult life.

In 2004, the Farens decided to parlay Adam’s skills into a business. They set up shop in the garage of their home in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego and Pipeline Plumbing was born. Notably, the address of the company’s Instagram account is Pipeline.Plumbing.Drains. The almost afterthought reference to drain cleaning was a nod to customer demand for the service. 

“I didn’t want to exclude drains, but it wasn’t the main focus,” Adam says.

Rather the focus broadened to include it. His customers sometimes would say something like “Oh, I wish you did drains,” or “I had a bad experience with a drain cleaning company.” In response, the Farens stepped up and offered the service. 

Though drain cleaning still isn’t reflected in the company logo, one of the company’s 18 employees exclusively works on drains and sewers. As needed, he has at his disposal a Spartan trailer jetter that produces 3,000 psi at 12 gpm.

“He stays busy every day,” Adam says.

Less than a year after starting the company, the Farens moved it 6 miles away to Tigard, a city of about 50,000 people that sits next to Interstate 5. The office location provided the company more public exposure than the garage afforded and gave its service techs ready access to a network of state highways.

It seemed like a good start, and was. Then the 2008 recession arrived. But the economic downturn had little impact on the 4-year-old company, which is when the business owners realized that service plumbing is not very susceptible to vagaries in the economy.

“We learned how vital the business is, that plumbing is a central service,” Adam says. “It withstood the recession of 2008-09 and then the COVID disruption. We slowed down our remodel plumbing for about a month when COVID struck, but that’s all.”

BUILDING A TEAM

Pipeline Plumbing has two categories of crews — service plumbers and remodeling/new construction plumbers. Cross-training? Forget it. 

“We started off with everybody doing everything,” says Lori, who brought to the company her business office experience. “It was not efficient at all. Stocking the work truck for each type of plumbing can be very different because they are two different types of work. We quickly learned it was better to separate the teams so they could focus on their specialties. It’s worked out very well.”

Three remodeling crews and five residential and commercial service teams roll out each day — plus the drain cleaning tech. Among these tradesmen are eight journeyman plumbers and four apprentices. Revenue that rolls in from this fieldwork is split about 50-50 between the divisions, according to Lori.

The company relies on Spartan for hand-held pipe cleaning equipment, says Adam, that being the brand that he grew comfortable with over the years, while inspection cameras guiding the techs through pipes are from RIDGID.

“RIDGID cameras are a little more expensive, but they are user-friendly and the company keeps coming up with easier ways of doing things,” he says.

If a water or sewer line requires digging up to repair, the company rents a mini-excavator. If the line is buried quite deep — that is, 4 feet down or farther — and shoring will be required, Pipeline Plumbing subs out the work.

SLOW GROWTH APPROACH

Houses dating from the early 1900s are common throughout the Portland metro area, so failure of cast iron infrastructure is not unusual. Pipeline Plumbing regularly cuts out and replaces failed pipe on commercial and residential properties. But lining the failed pipe is something else.

Portland proper has not yet approved a patch or lining system for use inside structures in the city. Until municipal approval of lining or patching comes down from City Hall, the Farens are holding back from investing in the technologies for use in their surrounding service areas.

“We really are thinking about lining and patching,” Adam says.

For guidance on what system to adopt, they are looking to drain cleaning specialist, Brent Steele, who has worked at Pipeline Plumbing for seven years.

“He’s a really good researcher and has dug into what product is working best. I’m leaning on him,” Adam says.

The caution the owners demonstrate in investing in technology illustrates a business philosophy they openly state on their website, where it says, “Pipeline Plumbing is all about slow growth …” More than anything else, the growth of the company is pegged to the people wearing the Pipeline Plumbing shirt, Lori says, and the quality of work they perform.

“We kind of only grow as fast as we have the people, because we have the work. We probably turn away four or five calls a day,” she says. “We could be 10 times the size we are if we didn’t take the time to surround ourselves with good people.”

“People who don’t fit into the organization, we avoid hiring,” Adam adds. “This can be a bit of a hindrance in the hiring process, but it’s important that someone coming in is a good fit.”

That means the person is skilled and teachable and, frankly, congenial.

“We get applicants who are cranky or grumpy and obviously are not going to be much fun to work around. They need to fit in,” Adam says.

When they do hire someone, the person tends to stick around. Adam ticks off the years of his employees — 18, 17, 13, “a couple of 10-year employees, lots of five-year employees. Our retention is really good. People who do leave are leaving for opportunities we can’t provide. They want to start their own business or move into management, but we already have management in place.”

Adam gives credit to the people he has hired through the years for making the company successful.

“Our veteran employees are a key part of the success of our company. We could not do what we do without these good people,” he says.

Congeniality aside, the bottom line is not how convivial company meetings are, but how effective company employees are in accomplishing the work in the field. Adam says hiring capable people is more of a challenge on the remodeling and new construction side of the business. For one thing, they must meet the expectations of the company’s longtime building partners. 

“We have really good relationships with our builders, some of whom we’ve been working with for 17 years. We don’t want to jeopardize that,” Adam says. “We’re not even taking on any new builders so we can make sure that we can keep up with the work our builders are giving us now.”

THE KEYS TO SUCCESS

Quality and integrity, in hiring, in service rendered and product delivered. Adam was asked how those concepts actually play out day to day. First, he says, “We definitely own our mistakes. No one is perfect. If something is wrong, we never try to point a finger at someone else.”

Second, gouging a customer is a no-no. “We don’t try to talk someone into buying something that is unnecessary,” he says. “We try to treat our customers as we would want to be treated. Overselling somebody, doing work that doesn’t need to be done, we would terminate someone who did that.”

Third — and this is the quality piece — Adam says, “We want the work done right. That never varies, even if we lose money because we didn’t bid correctly. Too many companies operate from a profit standpoint, instead of turning out good product. Builders use us because of our quality work, but they also know the integrity piece is there.”

All of the above is topped off by being considerate of customers in their homes or workplaces.

“We put tarps down and clean up afterward like we were never there. We don’t leave cigarette butts all over the job site,” Adam says. And such courtesies are recognized at the end of the workday.

It follows that Pipeline Plumbing customers are return customers — and the source of referrals. In fact, aside from “a little ad” on Angie’s List (which now calls itself Angi) that generates several calls a day for the company, the Farens largely depend on word of mouth and referrals to stay busy. And busy they are.



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