Plumbing

Memphis Pluming TN, Barley Services, Kevan Barley offers competitive pricing for plumbing services. Drain cleaning, unclog toilets, water heaters, and remodeling. Serving the Greater Memphis area, in the North Eastern section. Over twelve years of experience in the plumbing business.

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A New Sewer Replacement Scam Using the Camera

Yesterday I spoke briefly with a man who used to work for one of the most well known plumbing and HVAC companies in town. I won’t use their name here, so I’ll just call them Con Man Services. They’re actually not owned by the local proprietor whose name they bear; he sold the outfit to a huge corporation that operates in twenty states under multiple aliases. But they still put the supposed owner in the ads as though it were a local family owned mom & pop grocery. But you know you’re dealing with a lying sack of sewage when he says “And we’ll even give you $250 for that old water heater!”

Anyway, the man I spoke with told me about a slight variation in the sewer replacement scams I’ve written about earlier on this blog. The technique he saw them using at Con Man involved the technician unclogging a sewer using the smallest cutter he could. This would poke a hole in the stoppage, allow the water to drain again, but would not clean the line properly. Then they would run the camera for free and show the customer how bad the sewer looked, hoping to deceive him into thinking that he needed to replace the sewer.

And as if this weren’t crooked enough, Con Man also offers financing; so they could quote outrageous prices for replacing the sewer and poor people would have little choice but to tell Con Man to go ahead, make a little down payment, and then try not to wince while Con Man put the needle in their arm and hooked up the tube through which they would drain these people’s blood for the next few years at the low, low interest rate of 10% or so.

The man I was speaking to said “That was what made me quit. When I saw what they were doing to poor people, I just had to get away.”

I remember hearing a country boy say once, “Hell ain’t too hot.” It was an abbreviated form of the sentiment “Hell may be hot, but it isn’t as hot as these people deserve.” That doesn’t really come from the Bible; but if God ever asks my opinion, I’ll definitely vote to add it to the next edition.

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The Sky Continues to Fall

As I write, the end of the world draws ever nearer. Shelby County now has one confirmed case of WuFlu for every 1,100 people. My odds of encountering someone through random sampling is approaching one in a thousand. For comparison, last year our county had ten times as many people injured in car crashes as we currently have carrying WuFlu. I’m almost afraid to get out of bed in the morning and drive to a job.

The news media are in high carnival these days. They haven’t had so much fun since the PTL Club fiasco in 1987. Every increased number, every young person whose death can be (deceitfully) connected to the virus, every photograph of somebody wearing a hazmat suit sends a shiver of delight through their souls. They put on their PPE and give their alarming reports while their cameraman stands there dressed normally and dutifully recording the charade. The old formula in news reporting is “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that such stories must be put first in the program or the headlines because that’s what customers want to hear about. It’s basic merchandising and I wouldn’t object to it if it weren’t deceiving the community into a panic.

But it is.

I grieve to see a whole city stampeded into blindly following and swallowing what they are drenched with 24/7 from the media.

I see people in their own cars with the windows rolled up, wearing masks. Don’t ask them why. They haven’t stopped to think that the only air they’re breathing is their own.

Where’s the toilet paper going? Kruger, a manufacturing plant up toward Frayser (just north of Harbor Town) turns out over one million rolls of toilet paper per day. Why is it hard to locate any in a store? Because people believe the sky is falling.

You can go to the store. What kind of quarantine is that? If somebody were quarantined for TB or cholera in the old days, could he go to the store? Of course not! You can go to the store, but you can’t go to your friend’s house for coffee. Presumably if you buy something at your friend’s house, you’re okay.

You can’t go to work unless, like me, you’re “essential.” Sit quietly and obey. I think that Dilbert’s Scott Adams says it well:

While the media whip this frenzy up, how’s their income? Certainly the corporation is selling more advertising since they’re offering the buyers more eyeballs. But notice also that the reporters aren’t missing any paychecks. They’re having fun. They get to lounge around, peck on their laptops, complain about Trump, and draw their salaries with no interruption.

Meanwhile these policies of locking down healthy people are wreaking financial ruin like a locust plague. This is when my blood starts to boil. I grew up in an unhappy home. My parents quarreled a lot and it affected me deeply. Do you know the #1 cause of marital discord? It isn’t sex, it’s money problems. We had them. I could write a book, so please forgive me for omitting the endless details. But I watched that man and woman struggle to make it through life. My father was a carpenter and I went to work with him innumerable times from before I can even remember. I watched him work to exhaustion, drag himself home, knock the sawdust out of his pants cuffs, hang up his overalls, go in to eat a very meager supper, and then get up before the sun to do it all again the next day. I remember the one day when he was too sick with a cold to go to work. I was very young, but I remember how strange it was to see him in bed, not going to work. It only happened once. All the other times he was sick, he went to work anyway.

Daddy used to say that he never joined a union because he was afraid that he might have to go on strike one day, and he couldn’t afford not to work.

Such people as he was are being sidelined by this tyranny. Our rulers should be making every effort to structure the needed precautions in a way that balances the interest in public heath with the rights of free men and the need to work.

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A Special Update Regarding the Covid-19 Crisis

Here at Barley Services our highest priority is the well-being of our customers. Since everybody else, everywhere we turn, is announcing the virtual shutdown of civilization because of flu season, we figure we’d better let you know what we’re doing to save humanity in the coming weeks.

Not one thing.

Life goes on at Barley Services. If you need service, you get service. If I die from the Wuhan Virus, I’ll post a notice here so you’ll know not to bother calling.

As I write, one person in 10,000 in Shelby County has been diagnosed with WuFlu. Surely others are infected, but show no symptoms yet. It will get bad, I’m sure. This stuff will kill you (if you’re in a high-risk group). So will ordinary flu. So will cars.

Numbers are of the essence. In the 2017-2018 flu season, how many Americans do you suppose the flu killed? The answer is 80,000. Did you care? I didn’t. I just went to work anyway. A quick check of my calendar from those months shows no gaps. But 80,000 sure sounds like a lot, especially compared to the 544 deaths in the USA from WuFlu as of this evening.

In Italy, 75% of the WuFlu deaths are of people above 70 years of age. NONE are of people below 30 years of age. Numbers are of the essence.

I know that WuFlu is more contagious than regular flu, is more dangerous because it attacks the lungs directly, and can overwhelm the hospitals. Anything that interrupts its onward march will reduce the number of people it kills.

But hey! I know how to save more lives than all of this total shutdown will save. Just drop the speed limit everywhere to 30 mph. Automobile wrecks kill 40,000 Americans per year, including children. If no one goes over 30 mph, nearly all of those lives will be saved.

Why don’t we lower the speed limit to 30 mph and save those 40,000 lives? Answer that question and you’ll know why this current shutdown needs to end.

At Barley Services, we’ve ended it without even beginning it. I and/or my loved ones may die from this virus, or another sickness, or a car wreck. Bury us and carry on. Death is a part of life. I know where I’m going when I die, and you can know that for yourself, too.

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If I Charge $175, why does Vampire Plumbing Charge $650?

I hurt my leg a couple of weeks ago and have been laid up. I’ve gotten better and am working a little, but I’m not getting back on roofs yet.

A landlord called me last week because a sewer had stopped up. I’d cleaned the sewer at this house before, so I knew that it had to be done from the roof.

Photo of Barley Services - Memphis, TN, United States. Cleaning a sewer from the roof

Being unable to do the job myself, I advised the landlord to have some laborers dig down to the pipe in the front yard, open the pipe, get someone to unstop the drain from there, and then cover it all back up. Instead, she called Vampire Plumbing, possibly the most well-known drain cleaning business in the nation (although they go by a different name in public). They came by and quoted her $650 to hit it from the roof. She declined. She says they were polite.

Later I ran into an old friend who is now working for another big shop in town and, as we discussed plumbing, I told him about Vampire’s price quotation. He sheepishly confessed that his company charges $575 for the same job.

Why do they charge such high prices?

One reason is their business model. They have a lot of overhead like advertising, land, vehicles, earth-moving equipment, office personnel, thieving employees, upper management, stockholders, and lawyers. I, on the other hand, have none of that except my one truck.

Another reason is that they don’t want to do the job from the roof for safety reasons. Although they readily get up on roofs for other, smaller jobs, there are some added risks with a main sewer. A high price motivates a customer to just go ahead and allow the company to dig in the yard with a backhoe and install a cleanout there so that the service can be done more easily, safely, and cheaply in the years to come.

These two reasons, however, do not fully account for the price difference between them and me. They could charge less and still cover their overhead. They could work safely from the roof with proper training. (I do.)

No, they charge what they do because they are greedy rapacious jackals.

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They Almost Scammed this Guy

My post about the sewer camera scam has gotten a lot of attention.  People now google such terms to find out whether the plumbing company is trying to buffalo them into handing over thousands of dollars unnecessarily.  I’ve probably gotten a dozen jobs from Memphians like that, but it was especially heartwarming to get this email from Pennsylvania:

Dear Kevan, Thank you so much for your well written article on Sewer Replacement Scams. I recently had a sewage backup in my basement. I called a plumbing company I had trusted for years (they used to be small and family run; now they are large and who knows). They sent the tech with the “roto-rooter” machine. He pulled lots of stuff from the pipe, including loads of toilet wipes. Yet he was not able to clear the pipe. “Needed to send the truck with the water jet and camera” ($650; I had no choice). He only charged me $65 for his failure.

The camera and jet crew arrived and cleared line. Problem though. “You see that water laying in the pipe. Shouldn’t be any water at all. You got a bellied pipe under your garage. Only gonna get worse. You should be OK for a couple of weeks. I will give you an estimate to repair it.”

He cavalierly handed me an estimate for the repair…$10,500. Since then the company has called twice to ask when I would like to go ahead with the job. When I told them I would like to get other bids, the rep said, “We will beat any written price.” Red flag.

Been 4 weeks without issue. I’m not saying I don’t have a problem; so I will watch it. However, it sure seems quite a bit like the scenario you wrote about. As time goes by, if it becomes obvious that this was attempted larceny, the plumbing company will have social media hell to pay.

Thanks again for your alert.

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I Survive Solely by Word of Mouth

I recently got a call from a lady (Donna) who got my name from her air conditioning man.  I can’t remember how he originally got my name.  I recognized Donna’s street on the map, but nothing else rang a bell.  When I arrived, she recognized me as the plumber she’d used seven years ago.  She had lost my card and forgotten me.  Luckily her a.c. guy put her back on the right track.

Seven years ago she had gotten my name from her friend Gina.  Gina had learned about me from Amy.  Amy met me because her real estate agent sold her a house with a problem and he heard about me just in time to save thousands of dollars that another company was about to charge Amy for an unnecessary sewer replacement.  That real estate agent was involved in his church’s governing board and, knowing I was a reliable service tech, sent me to his pastor’s house one evening for an emergency.  Since then I’ve probably picked up ten customers from that congregation and referrals.

There was a time when I remembered everyone’s pedigree, sort of like those lists in the Old Testament of who begat whom.  The web has become far too complex now; I can’t keep track of the genealogies any more.  Today I got a call from a student at the college where I taught ten years ago.  He remembered thinking back then that I was a reliable person and today he sent me to an emergency at his parents’ house.  I couldn’t count the jobs and customers and referrals that have proceeded from the people I met at CBU.

This has all been done without “advertising” in the ordinary sense of the word.  On July 31st, 2001, I sent out about 300 letters to potential customers, announcing the opening of my business and including a refrigerator magnet with my portrait on it.  That was, indeed, direct mail advertising.  It was also the last money I spent on advertising.  The phone began ringing the next day and it has continued to ring ever since.

I don’t ask people to call me; I’m too busy already.  But when they call, I try to fit them in somehow.  Often I have to give them the number of some other plumber because I can’t get to them anytime soon.

I always dread leaving town now.  Most people look forward to a vacation when they can “get away from it all.”  Well, I’d like to do that, too, but I worry about my customers.  If I’m not here, they’ll have to call someone else and they’re liable to get robbed.  They rely on me and they trust me enough to send their friends and loved ones to me.  Not letting them down is a matter of conscience with me.  Maybe that’s why they call.

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How to Choose a Plumber

Short answer: call me.  It streamlines the process.

Longer answer: don’t use the phone book.  That was easy, I know.  Nobody uses the phone book any more.  I have to remind myself often that my own kids are in their thirties and there’s a multitude out there who grew up doing things differently than my generation.  So let’s generalize the principle: don’t respond to advertising.

Ads, by and large, are intended to deceive you.  They aren’t trying so much to convey accurate and useful information as they are trying to make you think things that will move you to call the phone number.  If the truth would do it, that’d be great.  If the truth wouldn’t do it, then they’ll show you something else.  For instance, they might show you a service tech who is clean, white, and slightly gray-haired, not too fat or thin.  He won’t look like a plumber in Memphis, in other words.  And who can blame a plumbing company for hiring models to deceive potential customers?

Remember, ads cost a lot of money and somebody’s got to pay for them.  The plumbing company doesn’t intend to bear that cost; they intend for you to bear that cost.  That’s why you’ll pay them double or triple what you’d pay me.

Ads also feed you a lot of *ahem* fertilizer.  They show you various phone numbers for different parts of town — but they all ring the same phone.  They show you a special number if you need emergency service — but it, too, rings the same phone.  They offer discounts and coupons, but no way to verify that they haven’t made up the difference by slightly adjusting the price upward first, which can be accomplished in any of fourteen different ways.

Ask any receptionist at a plumbing shop, “What question does a customer ask the most?”  Every receptionist, without exception, will answer instantly “What does it cost?”  There are about 3,000 counties in America, and every one has at least one plumbing shop; some have fifty.  Two hundred thousand receptionists answering the phones five days a week, and they will all give you the same answer.  So what does every shop say in its ads?  “Fair, reasonable pricing,” or something to that effect.  “You know the price before we start.”  That, my friends, is no comfort.  They want you to think good things about the cost so you will call them instead of a competitor, but what you read or saw in the ad has nothing to do with how they price their services.

They may claim to answer the phone around the clock, but that is farmed out to an answering service, and it may be in an office a thousand miles away.  I’m serious!  The operator will make an appointment and then call some dude in your town who’s totally asleep, wake him up, and give him the bad news that a job has come in.   He’s likely to call you back and explain that he has two jobs ahead of you and can’t get there for three more hours.  Then he goes back to sleep.

How do you choose a plumber?  Ask your friends, your coworkers, your car mechanic, or any other sentient life form that might have had some dealings with plumbing repairs.  In short, get a referral.  I’ve seen online recommendations for companies I’d never recommend, so I’m afraid a satisfied customer whom you don’t know is not automatically a reliable source.  On the other hand, I have gotten quite a few customers who found me listed on their neighborhood’s web site.  I haven’t examined those sites (one usually has to be a member to gain access), but they seem to be more reliable because the people involved know one another.

I’d guess that 95%-98% of my new customers find me through word-of-mouth.  Maybe four a year find me through this web site and maybe ten through neighborhood web sites.  My Yelp listing (which is free) pulls zero most years.  I don’t craft my reputation, I just allow it to be what it is.  Look for a plumber who doesn’t have to advertise.

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Now Accepting Bitcoin

To my knowledge, I have become the first and only plumbing shop in Memphis to accept payment in Bitcoin.  This is a continuation of the pattern I began in 2001 when I became the only plumber in Memphis who accepted the Diner’s Club credit card.  I think I processed only one transaction via Diner’s Club, but I enjoyed the idea of using a card with such a name on a sewer-cleaning call.

Bitcoin is different.  There’s nothing absurd about using it to pay for plumbing services or for anything else.  I like the idea of cryptocurrency mostly because it gives some people the heebie jeebies. If Bitcoin succeeds, I’d like to be in when it happens.  If it fails, at least I can say I tried.

Bitcoin has been falling in value lately.  Nine days ago I placed an order for 1.00 BTC at $391.  Luckily, a few days later, the agent (Coinbase) canceled my order due to some dumb technicality, so I didn’t see my investment drop to $359, which was the price this past Monday, the day on which I placed another order for 1.00 BTC.   It is now Thursday night and Bitcoin is currently valued at $344.  Oh, well, nobody ever said that revolution would be easy.

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More on the Water Line Insurance Scam

Earlier I wrote a post about a scam that’s going around, but I didn’t name names.  I got another version of the scam in the mail today and it irritates me enough to go ahead and identify the perps.  Luckily, nobody reads my blog; so if they come after me, they can’t claim damages.

The outfit is HomeServe and the big name they use for promotion is Rudy Giuliani.  (Apparently he’s got some skin in the game — which doesn’t matter one way or the other.)

Their latest disgraceful move has been to mail out material that is carefully crafted to look like it came from the utility company.  To be sure, each piece in the mailing has a paragraph stating that HomeServe is an independent company separate from the utility company.  But why did the graphic designers make it look like it came from the utility company?

I know the answer.  And if your capacity for abstract thinking is high enough that you can read this without moving your lips, you know the answer, too.

For several reasons, I consider such deception to be nearly the lowest form of scumbaggery.

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Install Glacier Bay Faucets

Glacier Bay is the “house brand” for Home Cheapo’s plumbing fixtures.  In other words, it’s just a label they slap onto some disgraceful junk made by Hu Flung Dung far across the ocean.

Glacier Bay is good at making their stuff look presentable.  A hapless shopper wouldn’t know the difference.  Six months later it’s gonna look like it’s been through the war; but on the shelf at Home Cheapo, a Glacier Bay faucet looks pretty good.

But it isn’t good.  It’s bad.  Bad, bad, bad!

I found one on a customer’s sink one day, dripping woefully.  Customer said it was installed about a year previously.  I took it apart and found that the actual cartridge had broken.  (The cartridge is the internal part under a hot or cold handle.)  I had never before seen a broken cartridge, especially not one that had barely seen one year’s worth of residential use.

And get this: I took it to Home Cheapo to buy a replacement and was informed that such cartridges were not available any more.  The customer had to buy a whole new faucet.  You can bet the new one wasn’t a Glacier Bay.

Tonight I got to a house where a Glacier Bay faucet had been leaking internally for quite a while and dripping into the cabinet below.

ruined_cabinet

Don’t you make the same mistake.