Company Doubles Revenue By Sticking to Its Customer Service Principles

Ten years after being featured in Cleaner magazine, Atomic Plumbing and Drain Cleaning continues to find success as it celebrates 50 years of doing business

Company Doubles Revenue By Sticking to Its Customer Service Principles

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Honesty and integrity are the core principles that Atomic Plumbing and Drain Cleaning has focused on during its 50-year history serving Virginia Beach, Virginia. It leads to exemplary customer service, which owner Jim Steinle cites as one of the major factors behind the company’s past and continued success.

“We don’t just say we’re the best, we earn that honor daily,” he says.

Atomic Plumbing was a $2 million company with 18 employees when it was first profiled in Cleaner magazine in 2008. Today, the company has 29 employees with 14 service trucks generating about $4 million in annual revenue and running at a 9.8 percent profitability rate.

“As a company, we have made customer service our No. 1 priority, everything from answering the phone live to 24/7 service,” Steinle says. “We empathize with people when they call in with a problem and we continually update our customers as to their service status. My entire call board gets renewed three times a day, at 10 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Dispatchers call every customer and give them an update on where they are on the schedule.”

Before technicians head out on a call, customers are notified a tech is on the way and the employee's name and photo is sent by text or email so that customers know who to expect at their door. When an Atomic Plumbing technician shows up, they present their business card and go out of their way to make the client feel as comfortable as possible by explaining what needs to be done. Halfway through the project, they outline what they’ve found, how it can be corrected, and what it will cost.

“Every day, in every way, customer service is our top priority,” says Steinle.

And that emphasis has turned into revenue for the company. Atomic Plumbing has a list of over 25,000 customers, many having given out rave reviews for the company’s quick response and professional service. Atomic Plumbing has a Better Business Bureau rating of A+ and has received a rating of 4.99 out of 5 possible stars based on customer reviews, according to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Atomic Plumbing was last featured in the magazine in the October 2008 issue.
Atomic Plumbing was last featured in the magazine in the October 2008 issue.

In the last 10 years, Steinle has also continued to work on building his business acumen, something he struggled with in the early years of taking the company over from original owner, Jim Lane.

“When I came to work for him, we were a three or four-truck operation that worked days, nights, and weekends for an annual revenue of less than $500,000. I was allowed to buy a quarter of the business as an incentive toward future succession. When Mr. Lane passed away and I assumed ownership, my next 10 years were brutal,” Steinle says. “I was a good plumber — there wasn’t a problem I couldn’t fix — but I knew nothing about business. I worked out of a truck doing the same thing over and over, 80 hours a week. We cleared a profit, but we weren’t moving forward.” 

So Steinle welcomed outside assistance.

“I learned from people smarter than me,” he says. “Instead of opening my mouth to let others know how sharp I was, I paid attention to what others had to say and, in the process, learned about things like flat-rate pricing and profitability. I joined trade organizations like PHCC (Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association) and Nexstar that provide a wealth of industry information of how others have achieved success.”

He spent time around successful people and became a magnet for information tidbits that might move his own company forward, little things like customer courtesy and clean uniforms. He studied business procedures, worked with an accountability coach and a business/marketing coach.

“While technology has improved some over the last decade (things like better pipeline locators and  more sophisticated camera equipment), our remediation processes haven’t changed much. What has changed is how you attract and retain customers,” Steinle says. “Marketing isn’t the same anymore. In the old days, you advertised in the Yellow Pages. In today’s world, people have access to social media and online reviews to find vendors. We’ve also made our service trucks more visible, wrapping them with bright orange, yellow, and red lettering on a dark blue background that screams Atomic Plumbing and can be seen half a mile away as we head to jobs all over town.”  

Steinle also emphasizes how important his employees are to the company’s success, so he makes sure his retention efforts are strong.

“I take care of them,” he says. “I pay them better than anybody else in town. And over the last 10 years, our benefits package has improved — the company pays 80 percent of health benefits, 100 percent of vision and dental and all schooling costs. I take good care of my employees because I want them to take good care of our customers. They are my personal representatives.  

“Six of our 14 service techs are master plumbers and the others are journeymen or working toward master plumber. I have seven apprentices now for a reason. If there are good techs, they already have a job, so we grow our own. We spend a lot of time and effort, hiring the right people to begin with, folks with good mechanical ability but little skills and we train them our way right from the start. If they’re just there for a paycheck, you don’t want them and I’ve got apprentices lined up at my door who want to come to work here.”

Including his time as only an employee, Steinle has been at Atomic Plumbing for 39 years now. Just as Steinle was mentored and became part of the ownership succession plan early in his time with the company, he’s now doing the same for Atomic Plumbing service manager, Paul King. With 23 years on the job, King is positioned to eventually be the next person to lead the company and continue what it has established in the last 50 years.


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