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The Market for Plumbers

The state of “the trades” in this generation, and probably the previous one as well, is abysmal. There’s still room for more decline, to be sure, but that’s a small consolation. Little education (albeit much indoctrination) takes place in grades K-12, so we’ve developed this idea that everybody should go to college. That system of mass re-education and its resultant lifetime of student loan debt scoops up most of the young people and convinces them that they should be able to sit at a computer and make $50k. Who fixes the plumbing?

Generally, the leftovers.

It is not my intention to denigrate any capable individual; I am one and I’ve met others. But bright and capable students these days seldom dream of leaving high school and working with their hands, learning a trade, and building a business from it. One of my bosses, who had been hiring plumbers for years, told me quite sincerely (with acknowledged hyperbole) “all plumbers are either drunks, dopeheads, or lazy.” Students who are otherwise will ordinarily avoid the trades.

Over time, this sorting process has produced a plumbing industry where plumbers mistreat customers (to put it mildly). Small wonder, then, if plumbing companies mistreat plumbers.

Every so often I look around and see what the plumbing companies are up to so that I can warn my customers. I got to looking at ads on Craigslist. Many companies are seeking plumbers to hire. Like lonesome singles in the “Personals” ads, they really try to sound adorable:

See what can be yours:
Top Pay & Bonus Plans
Paid Vacations
Flexible Schedules
Drug free work environment
Steady work throughout the year
Paid training on-site and off site
Best equipped/designed trucks in the country
Full Benefits: Medical, Dental, Vision, Prescription, & life insurance

I began comparing this luscious beauty with what I already have at home (being a sole proprietor) and I saw that all I lack is “paid training.” (When I read the manufacturer’s websites on new products, I have to do it on my own time.) I also happen to know that this company charges $1,500 for a job that I charge $700 for.

This one made me smile:

[XYZ Company] has grown to the point where we are adding 2 premier service plumbers! And we offer premier benefits like health insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, holiday pay, retirement plan and year round work! [XYZ Company] also offers GUARANTEED weekends off! Now who does that?

They’ve “grown to the point” that they’re hiring? Suuure they have. One of their former employees told me a few weeks ago “Nobody can work for that guy.” GUARANTEED weekends off? My friend told me, “Yeah, once a month!

I can’t fix these companies. Like cockroaches, no matter how many you kill, there’ll be more. All I can do is say “Go toward the light.” As a sole proprietor I have decentralized plumbing service with the use of computers and a mobile phone. Memphis could use a hundred more: individual guys building and living off their own reputations, teaming up with friends when a job requires it, providing personalized service to grateful and loyal customers. Maybe the idea will catch on some day.

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