State of the Contractor: Most Efficient

John Baethke & Son Plumbing Inc. was started by John Baethke in April of 1993. Prior to that, John’s father had a business that was not incorporated that was also known as John Baethke & Son Plumbing. Since 1908, the business had been off and on.

Prior to the “first” John Baethke & Son Plumbing, John’s grandfather owned a plumbing company called Illinois Sewerage and Drainage. His grandfather also had another company in Illinois that offered power rodding, which he eventually sold to a large corporation. So, one could say that the Baethkes entered the plumbing business all the way back in the 1930s, as John’s grandfather always said that his career started during The Great Depression.

John is proud of his family’s history in business and the work that the company does today.

“We are not known for being the cheapest, but for quality and service. Above all,” John said.

Over the past year, business has been steady for John Baethke & Son Plumbing. The company has not had a negative sales year for plumbing since it has been in business. But, that does not mean that there have not been challenges.

In 2002, the company entered the HVAC market. After seven years of frustration, John decided to sell that end of the business and return to straight line plumbing. Then, in 2008, the company was forced to organize by the union. The company adapted and is doing well.

Then, there was the challenge that has puzzled many in the industry: the Internet.

“I want customers to be as educated as possible. But, one thing that happens that is not good for anyone is when they shop online and then wonder why the installed job is so much more than they could have bought that one part for,” John said. “There are so many things that they don’t consider. In addition to the one part they look up, there may be other parts that are also needed to perform the installation. There is also, obviously, the labor and benefits for the person performing the work. There is the cost of the person answering the phone, the person that fills the trucks with stock and runs parts, and the other 3,292 overhead items needed to run a professional plumbing business.”

Despite the technology transition, John Baethke & Son Plumbing has managed to continually satisfy its customers. The company has received customer service honors such as the Torch Award for Business Ethics, the Angie’s List Super Service Award, and The Chicago Reader’s “Best Plumber” honor.

John said the company is able to provide high-quality customer service because the staff understands the need to perform fast, effective work.

“Even though we are a union company and our cost of doing business is considerably higher than other non-union contractors, we are still very competitive. We do this by having excellent staff,” John noted.

John continued, “In our office, our people make sure to use every means possible, like our GPS tracking, to most efficiently track and dispatch our people. We have two warehouse people that can be to a service person’s location quickly, in the event that their truck doesn’t have what they need. This is rare because the trucks are restocked daily and have over $40,000 worth of relevant material.”

At John Baethke & Son Plumbing, the plumbers are well-trained and receive nearly 50 additional hours of training every year. John invests in every tool possible to help his plumbers, such as Ridgid Sewer Video and Locating equipment.

“A lot of companies have just one or two for the entire shop to share because the investment is about $10,000 each,” John said. “We make the investment of having one on every truck. This saves time and gives the customer the best service at the same time.”

The company’s plumbers and staff don’t take the tools or training for granted.

“All the technicians are avid consumers as well. And for that reason, we are all readily considerate of the correlation between time and money,” explained Bill Pope, manager of the warehouse at John Baethke & Son Plumbing. “Rather than taking up too much of our customer’s time with pointless rhetoric, we quickly get to the heart of their issues, leaving them with a range of options best suited for their individual and particular plumbing needs.”

Staff makes good on John’s investments by maximizing their work in the field.

“We can find the problem in minutes and give options for the work. All of the plumbers are experts on service,” said Rodney Tracy, service plumber at John Baethke & Son Plumbing.

John is pleased with the company’s workflow and efficiency. His goal for 2015 is to perfect and maintain their current approach.

“I don’t anticipate any crazy growth. We are at a very comfortable size, and I believe we are at a perfect size to give the best service possible in the most efficient manner,” John said.

Getting to this point has not been easy though for John. He learned a lot along the way, and advises that those coming up in the industry do the same.

“Since I was an apprentice, I have always sought out other plumbers and contractors to discuss our trade. I believe, firmly, that you cannot do it alone,” John said. “If you are going to be successful it only makes sense to share with others. In discussions with other contractors, when I thought I was helping or teaching them something, it never failed that I learned as much or more about how I can better my business.” 

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