How To Come Back Strong From a Down Period

Kansas’ Pat the Plumber was a young company but growing quickly when the 2008 recession hit. When it was profiled in Cleaner magazine in 2011, it was still in the early stages of overcoming that setback. The years of perseverance ended up paying off.

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Just about no one escaped the effects of the recession that hit around 2008. While Pat Grogan and his wife had gotten their Topeka, Kansas-based plumbing company, Pat the Plumber, off to a rapid and promising start in 2005, they were blindsided by the crash of the economy as business fell off dramatically, with customers seeking only basic or emergency services.

“It was bad,” Grogan told Cleaner magazine, when Pat the Plumber was featured in the May 2011 issue. “If people had backed-up drains or sewers, they didn’t worry about fixing the original problem, they just wanted things cleaned out, minimal service. It was a real gut check that forced you to run your business smarter.”

Grogan was doing exactly that at the time of the 2011 article, experiencing a gradual bounce back in business but still keeping operations as streamlined as possible with only three technicians in the field and an office manager — slightly less than the overall staffing pre-recession. Fast forward seven more years, and Pat the Plumber is evidence of a business being able to fully recover from a severe down period.

Pat the Plumber was last featured in the magazine in May 2011.
Pat the Plumber was last featured in the magazine in May 2011.

“We cut back, streamlined, stretched out vendor payment terms, negotiated rate reductions with our insurance company — we got competitive in everything we did. We went into and out of the red using personal funds. We regrouped and put every single item, every expense, under a microscope,” Grogan says of the recovery process. “We got really efficient in everything we did, such as paying attention to things like geographical dispatching to keep calls together and minimize driving time. I became a better businessman because of it. Gradually the phone began to ring and every call that came in, we figured out how to help that customer in one way, shape, or form. I had employees and their families to take care of and we vowed to fight it every step of the way. We weren’t going to lie down just because of a bad economy.”

January 2017 marked another turning point for Pat the Plumber in the process toward full recovery. That’s when Grogan finally decided he needed to step back from certain management responsibilities and delegate instead.

“That was a dark time for me going through those business changes as well as some personal changes — all of which changed me as a person,” Grogan says. “I’m a visionary business manager but not a great day-to-day people manager. I struggled with my employees and some left. I know my business and how and where I wanted to take it, but after 12 years of fighting it, I finally understood I needed to get out of my own way and take a back-burner position when it came to employee management.”

Grogan named an operations manager to oversee personnel issues, allowing himself to concentrate on other areas of the business. One thing that has required extra attention is the addition of HVAC services to the company’s offerings.

“During the bad times, our customers were asking when we were going to add HVAC services because we were sending those requests away to other contractors. This was a market void in a rebounding economy, so I learned a whole new trade,” Grogan says.

Today, the company’s official name is Pat Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Personnel turnover has ceased to be a problem, with the company currently 13 employees strong, including Grogan — an operations manager, a customer/dispatch service representative, an HVAC estimator, a plumbing estimator, and eight service technicians in the field. The once-red ledger books now look very healthy.  

“Last year, we did between $1.5 million and $2 million and this year we’re tracking to be over $2 million,” Grogan says. “The 2016-2017 growth rate was 35 percent and we’re showing about a 30 percent increase for 2017-2018. That’s a pretty good recovery and it’s allowed us to purchase our own 5,000-square-foot building to consolidate all our service capabilities.

“We’ve built our company on a culture of consistent service every single time. If you expect to be the best company out there, you have to be the best every single time on every single job. Every single customer, no matter whether it’s changing a washer on a faucet or doing a complete sewer line replacement, every job matters. And now, with five of our staff in leadership roles as part of an Entrepreneurial Operating System, all of us have been empowered to work toward a unified goal. It’s truly awesome to have everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction. The changes we’ve made have all been for the better.”

And sometimes when you’re focused on growing a business the right way by trying to help yourself, fate comes along to provide a little additional assistance.

“There’s a ton of product involved in all we do,” Grogan says, “and we got an unexpected boost as the result of winning a $25,000 RIDGID upgrade-your-equipment sweepstakes. Kind of like an extreme home makeover for a business. We ended up with all new inspection camera gear, plus other items that changed our business capabilities dramatically.”

Playing Catch-Up

Cleaner has been revisiting companies profiled in the past to see what has happened to them since they last graced the pages of the magazine. Check out these other update stories about past Cleaner contractors:

Company Looks at Fine-Tuning Operations Following Rapid Growth

Sticking to Key Business Principles Drives Company's Growth

Young Plumber Continues to Grow Longtime LA Firm

Company Doubles Revenue By Sticking to Its Customer Service Principles

Contractor Adapts to Changing Demands of Service Area

Company Maintains Success By Cutting Back Service Offerings

Company Finds Success Staying Small, Focusing on Niche Market

Franchise Route Proves Successful for Upstate New York Drain Cleaner

Recruiting Local Talent at Core of Company’s Growth Strategy

Plumbing Contractor Fully Embraces Trenchless Technologies

Company Thrives With Hydrodemolition Niche

Adding Septic Service Sparks Growth For Drain Cleaning Company


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