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How Many Plumbers Does It Take to Fix a Leak?

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Too many. If you have ever needed a plumber you know what I mean. This past week, I needed one. And many calls and voice mails later, one of them finally returned my plea for help. But, of course, after he came to fix my problem, I had to reschedule. Why?

Because I needed a shower valve, about a $200 part, and my plumber just happened to have one on his truck, and all it would cost me is a little over $1100. So I politely declined, ran all over town to find one, and remain without a shower in our bedroom until the plumber can return. So what's wrong with this picture?
1. Plumbers in my area are in such short supply, they can't keep up with the demand.
2. Therefore, most don't bother to call you back, leaving you hanging.
3. Then when you do find one, they often are booked out several weeks in advance. So you wait.
4. And when they do make it to your problem, their parts are over-priced and you can either pay the ransom or you can do what we did--reschedule until you can buy the part at a reasonable price.
If only these situations occurred with plumbers, we could live with it. But we find the same lack of service and fair pricing exists in every industry and practiced by many companies, leading us to ask: Who is the customer here? Who does this business serve? Me or the bottom line?
I understand supply and demand. But that is only part of the reason for a lack of response, service and pricing that greets customers faced with repair or replacement needs. Some of those in a position of scarcity are taking advantage and charging excessive mark-ups and combining it with horrible service. I believe that attitude reflects on business universally, even if we are not engaged in the practice.
Am I wrong? Do consumers paint with a broad brush and when faced with bad service and high prices attribute that attitude to all business? Do they think of us as greedy before ever doing business with us or do they judge us as individual businesses not as a class of businesses?
Are brands affected by group think or can individual brands within an industry rise above others by resisting the temptation to reduce customer service to cut costs and increase their margins to raise profits?
Should a business always compete on that basis, or should some step us, increase customer service to meet demand and lower their margins? Doing so means that at the end of the day our top and bottom lines will show at the very least a short-term decline?
But what would the long-term hold for such a company? Can we guarantee that customers will flock to us in the numbers necessary to make-up for increased customer service and lower prices without any decline in quality?

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Lewis Green, Founder and Managing Principal of L&G Business Solutions, LLC, ( brings three decades of business management experience. L&G Business Solutions, LLC, represents his third company. Additionally, he held management positions with GTE Discovery Publications, Puget Sound Energy and Starbucks Coffee Company.

In addition to his business experiences, Lewis is a published author and a former journalist, sports writer and travel writer. His feature articles have appeared in books, magazines and newspapers throughout North America. He has taught in public schools; lobbied for organizations both in state capitols and in Washington, D.C.; delivered workshops, seminars, and training programs; and made presentations to audiences in colleges, businesses and professional organizations. Lewis also has served as a book editor with a large publisher, the Executive Editor overseeing four magazines, and a newspaper department editor. Lewis served eight years in the U.S. Air Force, where he received the Air Force Commendation Medal.

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  • by David Reich "my 2 cents" Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    Certain 8industries have become knownb for various forms of poor service. Plumbers and other contractors have a rep for not following through. You'll get them to come and scope out a job, but then they never respond with an estimate. They may be great plumbers or painters or whatever, but lousy businessmen. But they manage to keep busy because they're in such demand. Telcos have become known for poor customer service, and we either switch from one to another, get the same bad customer service, and finally resign ourselves to accepting it. Not so in many other businesses, especially in ours. We don't deliver and provide responsive customer serice, we're history. (Maybe I should have gone to trade school to learn plumbing.)

  • by Lewis Green Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    David, I think you are right but I still wonder if all of us don't suffer some blowback from those who earned a reputation providing bad service. By the way, the plumber I went with provided excellent service and good work, but I had to sell my soul to pay the bill.

  • by Tangerine Toad Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    Lewis: There's an old joke about a surgeon who was operating on a man. During the operation, he learned that the man was a contractor. So a few hours into the operation, he stopped, pulled off his gloves and started to clean up. The patient, who was conscious, looks at him and says "Doc, where are you going?" And the surgeon says "I have to go get something from my truck. I'll try and get back to finish up next week." Now I'm mangling the joke, but you get the point: if anyone else treated customers the way contractors do, it would seem absurd. There's a website called "Angie's List" that provides a list of reputable local contractors. (I believe it's a pay site.) And there are a few national chains that have launched as well, promising accountability. But to your point, I think people, especially in more upscale areas, feel that contractors (plumbers, electricians et al) operate in their own special universe (with employees of chain/discount stores a close second-- check out my post about WSJ reporter Laura Landro's experience with Kmart) and do not tar all businesses with the same brush. Yet.

  • by Lewis Green Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    Thanks Toad. I get the joke and it seems to fit the image most of us have of contractors. I think you are right about the broad strokes, until we get screwed elsewhere, like at K-Mart.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    This is the classic problem of scarcity: the power is with the plumber. However, that is no excuse for poor customer service. Period. In addition, a plumber who did well with customer service could really get rich. They are leaving money on the table.

  • by Elaine Fogel Mon Oct 1, 2007 via blog

    Don't you just wish the tables would turn one day and some trades will find themselves without a ringing phone? When they're on top, many don't value customers. But what if supply outweighed demand? What then? Their poor service and lousy response would likely make them a bit more customer focused. In the meantime, we're at their mercy.

  • by Lewis Green Tue Oct 2, 2007 via blog

    Neil and Elaine, Yes, we are at their mercy, which is the power of supply and demand. My plumber told me that the company he works for struggles to find and hire plumbers and offers a $10,000 finder's fee.

  • by Neil Anuskiewicz Tue Oct 2, 2007 via blog

    Normally, the response to a shortage is that more supply rises to meet the demand. Will that happen with plumbers? Are there more people training to become plumbers? We can hope. We can hope.

  • by glenn Wed Oct 3, 2007 via blog

    As a plumber(not an owner), I can tell you that I work from 7am til sundown(around 7pm). I do not make much money and we have to deal with people that think they are the only customers. That may be why there is a shortage of plumbers.(not to mention all the butt crack jokes). But, I guess the joke is actually written on your bill.

  • by Mike Wed Jul 16, 2008 via blog

    Sorry to those who have had bad experinces. I am a plumber with my own business. I try to provide the absolute best for my customers. I have no call backs due to my work. I understand both sides of the fence. I pay for my truck to be worked on, doctor, A/C man, etc. Proper planing prevents poor performance. Some poeple should point the finger at themselves first.

  • by cory Thu Oct 22, 2009 via blog

    As a plumber i will say i always respond and give as promp service as time allows.Think before you speak though if its raining and you are flooding chances are the entire city is.As i have been in the trades for 15yrs thats all we get is a bad rap. I rarly see a homeowner touching there waste but you want us too.Careful who you look down your nose at.

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