Honesty Always Being the Best Policy Rings True for Plumbing Firm

Milwaukee plumber recounts time local TV station performed ‘sting’ operation to assess how honest companies were with customers

Honesty Always Being the Best Policy Rings True for Plumbing Firm

Andy Wyderka, president and co-owner of Heiden Plumbing

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Integrity is a big issue for consumers when they hire plumbers. Unfortunately, there’s no honesty test or truth serum available to customers to ensure they’re not being ripped off by unscrupulous contractors. That is, until a local Milwaukee television station tried to make one. 

About 20 years ago, an investigative reporter for the station ran a “sting” operation that tested the honesty of three area plumbing companies, including Heiden Plumbing, which has been in business since 1925. The company aced the exam, says Andy Wyderka, president and co-owner.

“We were completely surprised to find that we were part of it,” Wyderka says. “But we came out of it looking really good.”

Here’s how the undercover operation worked: The TV station called three plumbers to fix a broken toilet. One plumber said the guts of the toilet needed to be replaced, but a new toilet for $600 would be the right call. Another plumber said the toilet parts were obsolete, so a new one — for $800 to $900 — would be the best solution.

“Then our plumber came in and said, ‘Oh, your tank ball is shot. It has a cut in it,’” Wyderka says.

The tank ball had been intentionally damaged for the operation.

“Our guy fixed it for $85 and walked out the door,” Wyderka says.

The company still promotes this incident on its website as a testament to its honesty. At the same time, it underscores the importance of being transparent with customers about costs, not to mention thoroughly explaining a plumbing problem and how it can be fixed.

If customers ask to see the price of parts, Heiden technicians carry Android-based tablets on which they can call up a digital price book, which they use to price out jobs.

“Sometimes that’s a challenge because people see a price, then tell the techs that they can go online and buy the parts cheaper,” Wyderka says. “So we have to explain that big-box retailers buy parts in massive quantities and often can sell them for less than what we pay for them.”

A bigger issue for some customers is the cost of labor. Heiden charges $165 an hour. But discussions about the high cost of labor, which Wyderka says thankfully doesn’t happen very often, provide an opportunity to educate customers about the need to charge labor rates high enough to cover costs plus yield a reasonable profit.

“We explain that our technicians don’t make $165 an hour,” he says. “That covers the costs of things like service trucks, reliable equipment, fuel, office staff, insurance — the whole package. They’re also paying for our technicians’ skills and experience. After we talk to customers about these things, they usually get it.”


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