This is a transcript of our recent interview with Phillip Maurici of The Clean Plumbers.
To listen to the recording of the interview – click here.
>>: Well thank you guys for joining us on today’s podcast Plumbing Marketing Profits. We will share ideas and strategies on how you can most effectively market your plumbing business. Today we’ve got the pleasure of talking with Phillip Maurici of The Clean Plumbers or Phillip Maurici Plumbing at the Tampa Bay. We’re just going to be picking his brain and getting some great ideas and strategies from him so without further ado let me welcome Phillip Maurici. Phillip thanks for joining us.
>>: Well thank you for let me participate.
>>: Absolutely. I know I’ve had the opportunity to see you in action and work with you at some level. I know that you run a world-class plumbing business down in Tampa. I just think this is going to be great content, a great information that the other plumbers and throughout the country can benefit from. I guess let’s just start if you could tell us a little bit about your business, how long you’ve been around, approximate revenue if you’re comfortable with that number of trucks, just some demographic information about Phillip Maurici.
>>: Well I’ve been in plumbing business about a little over 30 years. We have 10 trucks and 14 employees. We do about two million a year…go ahead.
>>: Okay so that as far as services obviously your plumbing specifics you stay in the plumbing side of the business, do you do mostly residential or mix of residential-commercial, a new construction, or what are your primary services?
>>: We primarily do repair and service in both commercial and residential but we do some remodels but very little work for contractors and new construction. In the past I’ve spent I guess this way for about 15 years. The first 15 years we’ve got a little bit of everything.
>>: Okay now mostly residential and commercial but mostly repair services for the most part?
>>: That’s correct – actually I prefer doing residential because then you can collect when you get done and you don’t carry a big accounts receivable for the commercial. I would say a good rule of thumb is about 20% of your business should be from the commercial and that’s about it. Unless you want a bank we’ll…the companies you’ll get paid 90 days or so.
>>: Right so more from the casual perspective than anything else will just make sense because you can go out to provide service, get paid and don’t have to carry those receivables?
>>: That’s correct.
>>: Excellent. Well, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about how you got started and 30 years is quite a tenure in the business. How did you get started? Give us a little bit of background?
>>: Well my background is I live across the street from a plumber and an all around and as a kid I helped in separate the brass and copper that he collected and scrap and that’s where I started. I also went to college and was a [inaudible 0:03:47] teacher taught industrial arts for two years; all the time in college and even when I was teaching I got part time plumbing service. Then in 1971 I started plumbing fulltime as a service man and did a little bit of new construction during that time but there are very little. Then in ’82 it’s when I started my business and been growing out ever since.
>>: Excellent, going strong, going active, that’s quite a tenure. As we start to get into the meat and potatoes, what the marketing strategies are and how you went from what seems to be a relatively small plumbing company up to the two million dollar plus 10-truck company – I like to think marketing really comes down to three core components. You have to know what your market is or who you sell to then you’ve got to craft the messaging – why you’re unique, what’s you do that’s different and then you could start to look at media – how you advertise, where you advertise. Let’s start with market. Who would you identify as your, I guess, your target customers there in the Tampa Bay market or how do you identify who you’re ideal customer is?
>>: Well the residential middle class people that don’t know how to fix plumbing themselves and need someone else to do it. We target that and we try to deal mostly with the benefit of using our company.
>>: Okay which I guess would go into message, which is your unique selling proposition. What would you do identify as your benefits are the main selling proposition for your company?
>>: Well, some of the things I advertise is that you talk to a live person all the time or in recorder that’s important to people. You also want to [inaudible 0:06:06] on being timely and calling ahead – that’s important to people – doing what you say you’re going to do. You need to put that in terms of the benefit to the customer. You wouldn’t say that we’re always on time, you would say you’re not selling on waiting and wondering when and if the plumber is going to show up because we call ahead and let you know exactly when you’re coming.
>>: That’s powerful the distinction between, “Hey, we’re going to be on time” and what that benefit actually relates for the customer so they can start to feel, “Wow okay that’s the benefit I’d like to have in working with a plumbing company.”
>>: I know…
>>: Go ahead.
>>: No, I said I know you’ve done a lot of good work crafting the messaging behind your business with the “we do plumbing different” and find out more and really explaining how you actually do plumbing different and positioning that in the eyes of your customers.
>>: Right. It’s not enough to just say we do plumbing different. You’ve got to tell the how different are you. One thing we’re also known as The Clean Plumbers – that’s a trademark of us between plumber’s trademark by Phillip Maurici Plumbing and that makes a step up to the plate. If you leave a mess, the people are going to call. It makes your plumbers be more diligent in their cleanings. It also helps the image of your company. I believe that it’s made a big difference for us in stating that. It creates a heightened awareness for the customer of your cleanliness because a lot of times you could be playing, clean up at yourself and everything but the customer just expects that and didn’t realize what a nice job you did in that area – it draws an attention to it and calls for heightened awareness and I think that’s important.
>>: Excellent, that’s great to know. Clearly, you got to clearly define market a really strong message and a strong unique selling proposition why it choose you overall the plumbers in the Tampa market. Let’s start to talk about some actual marketing strategies or marketing tactics that you’ve deployed. Tell us just a little bit about what your marketing mix is – everything from direct mail, Yellow Pages even broadcast home shows. Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing currently to market the company?
>>: Well, currently we’re doing a newsletter to our existing customers. I let them talk a little bit about that. We have found that in keeping your existing customers, it’s very important and to do that you need to send them a newsletter. It doesn’t have to be a big fancy thing but people only use plumbers maybe once a year, maybe every two or three years. They might not remember who was that good plumbers that I had and then they go into phonebooks or they go into internet and whoever pops up says we’re going to call them and then you’ve lost the call. You need to stay in front of the customer by sending a newsletter that “Oh yeah that’s the guy I used.” and you can maybe input a coupon and the [inaudible 0:10:11] you can always use it to call you then you become their plumbers – that’s very important…
>>: It’s really solidifying that relationship with your existing customer so they know why they trust you and will remember you become remaining top of mind. You’re saying you actually send these newsletters in the mail. I guess…I’m sure that the folks would want to know what kind of content do you put in that newsletter…I mean what do you say?
>>: Well I usually have a couple of sections. One might be something we’ve done things like “Plumbing in Outer Space,” “Plumbing in the White House,” some of the history of plumbing back in the Roman days, some little informative articles like that. You have also another little spot that you’ll do a soft sell like the benefits of having a water softener or explaining what tank, what water heaters or hybrid water heaters – a section on that and then usually I put a note from the owner or feature an employee with their picture tell a little bit about them but because it’s not an advertisement that you’re sending out that’s going to be a direct response like a sale or something. I mean I guess you can improve that but I like more of what you call a soft sell approach where you just…and in the mind of…they’ve already used you and now you’re pretty good, you’ve done a good job for them last time and everything went fine but just so that they will remember you two or three years down the road when they’ll call you the next time.
>>: Excellent and I think you’re giving us those additional tidbits on what you put in there, it might help to bridge the gap in some guys’ mind where they like, “I understand the idea of a newsletter but what the heck what I say.” Thank you for that. What else are you doing I guess to get the phone ringing and to connect with customers?
>>: Well traditionally, I believe that the best…if you don’t do anything else you do a newsletter – that’s the first thing you do. Years ago the next thing plumbers did when they wanted to grow because frankly word of mouth is you get your most leads from word of mouth more on that. The next thing that people did years ago was the phonebook and boy that increased the business and they used a start with a small ad and let it grow but nowadays that’s not enough because we have the Internet. We need to be Internet marketing and the optimization where you’re going to come up near the front page or on the front-page every time. Josh is a very good source for doing that. His company is very, very good and I checked the amount and number of different people all agreed that he is doing a fantastic job for me and I highly recommend it.
>>: I appreciate that. I definitely don’t want us to be the a little fast on why Josh is great to do your Internet marketing but I do appreciate that. We talked about Yellow Pages and we talked about Internet. I just want to circle back to the Yellow Pages real quick because you mentioned it used to be the predominant place and you used to be where you get a lot of business from it. Are you still in the Yellow Pages? I mean the big question I’m getting is, is there any value in the Yellow Pages today and we’re talking this interview is 2012 October. Where are you at with the Yellow Pages in today’s market?
>>: Yes, I’m still in the Yellow Pages and I think it’s important to be there. We also need to have yourself budgeted for how much you want to spend. If you’re a small company, you don’t might not want a full-page ad, go large. Sometimes the yellow page people will try to sell you more than you can afford I have seen people, “Oh, I will put a full page in that and I’ll grow,” and the Yellow Page people will say “Oh yes” but you’ll not wind up to lose your money on that thing. You have to track it and you have to have your people ask how did you get us today – if it’s from the Yellow Pages or some other source but it’s very important to be in the Yellow Pages – depending on your size and how much your budget is. I like to spend about 10% of what I bring in, in the advertising and that keeps me growing. If you cut back you’ll find it to – you’re sliding backwards. You need to do about 10% and that gives you if you’re doing a million dollars a year and then that’s a hundred thousand you can spend on advertising. You have to budget yourself on how much I want to do on each form of advertising. The Yellow Pages still works. Sometimes it’s a little hard to track because it’s here on TV or you’re on a billboard or somewhere else. They might gotten your link from there and they’re gone to Yellow Pages and now when you asks them they’ll say that they got it from the Yellow Pages but really they got it from the billboard that you have it down the street and they just went there to get your number that day but we find today there’s less and less people going to the Yellow Pages, more and more going to the internet – that’s why it’s very important to be there on that front page.
>>: No doubt. You mentioned two things I want to kind of go back to that which I think were powerful the 10% of revenues back to marketing, is that something you’ve done from day one or that you somewhere down the road decided, “Hey, I need to have a strategic point here to spend money on marketing.” How long or how deep into your business that you start doing that?
>>: Well, when I went strictly service about 15 years ago, I actually learned that from going to the seminars and that’s very important to be a lifelong student in learning what you need to do to grow in your business. You do that by joining an organization that has seminars that teaches you that type of thing.
>>: Excellent and one of the things I want to get to down towards the end of this is some of the seminars or some of the books or some of the programs you’ve been involved in and you found to be useful to help you grow the business so we’ll definitely come back that. As for your Yellow Page that is…I mean are you half page, full page, quarter page…how large are you at this point in the…
>>: Actually, I’m pretty large. The rates have come down. Having the rates come down like they have in the last three or four years then I probably would’ve been the much smaller in the Yellow Pages but it has become – I’m paying half of what I used to pay and getting more as well.
>>: Right okay. You still…if we go to Tampa and we pull out the Yellow Pages, we’re going to find that Phillip Maurici The Clean Plumbers with a pretty large prominent ad?
>>: That’s correct.
>>: The reason I go to that – I mean obviously like you mentioned, I personally do internet marketing for plumbing contractors but I definitely think you need to have a strategy that encompasses offline marketing as well and counter intuitive to what I might think there are still people looking in the Yellow Pages, some of your best prospects, those people that have discretionary income that are above the age 55 that can afford to pay without really worrying about the cost would still potentially look you people there’s something could be said especially since all your competitors are pulling out, you can get a lower cost and still have prominent advertising and a great source for you as a plumbing business.
>>: The other thing you’ve touched on…I mean you mentioned billboards, TV-hour, are you doing any of that type of marketing today and if so how much and where? Just to elaborate on that piece a little bit.
>>: Yes. I’ve done a little bit of billboards. It was very hard to track. I didn’t feel that I got big response from it. I’ve done some radio in the past and radio has gotten more expensive than cable. TV cable is relatively inexpensive and it really works, it’s how I held my business in the last couple of years then I’ve been on TV. You can target zip codes from that and you can also target what areas I mean through the zip codes but you can travel it through your busy times, you want to might be…when you’re real busy, you might not want to be on TV as much as when you have the slower periods of the year and so that’s another thing to consider when you buy the TV. It’s…being on cable to me is cost-effective versus being on a particular network. A lot of people they, “Oh I’m on TV” but there’s couple ways you can be on TV – you can be on TV with your local station to their sales department which costs a lot more than being on the cable. The cable only has so many slots they can sell. You have to pick and choose which stations and how many slots they have. Availability can be limited in cable sometimes but to me it’s more cost-effective than going to the local stations.
>>: Okay, excellent. It sounds like you’ve tried radio, TV, billboards, and right now a new way that the thing that’s working best is the cable ads.
>>: What type of messaging are you putting on this ad? Is it “If you need a plumber call The Clean Plumbers or…what type of that…
>>: [inaudible 0:22:08] on any ad that I do, I deal in benefits and if you’re a company that advertises six [inaudible 0:22:17] main benefits to the customer then you’d want to choose one of those or maybe two and talk about them in the ad so that it becomes a more powerful message.
>>: Okay, excellent. We got a pretty comprehensive mix of offline, online. As far as the Internet is concerned, you talk about Internet being a powerful source for you. Obviously you’re doing SCO and to grow [inaudible 0:22:54] well of that, what are you doing…do you have a pay-per-click marketing strategy? Are you doing anything along those lines as well?
>>: Okay, there’s number of different ways that you can buy. A lot of people are after your business with pay-per-click. Maybe people don’t understand –there’s basically three sections when you go to especially Google, Yahoo, or something. You’ll have the section at the bottom and that you don’t pay-per-click, it’s basically free but everybody’s trying to get there so you have to do things to customize yourself that means the more times you’re online and in some form it’s going to move you up the ladder as well as the keywords you use in which you’re putting for it. How do you say it and how many times you say it will move you up in the position there where you will appear on or near the front page. The next thing is the pay-per-click section and that’s actually above the screen section. It’s usually I think three or four people that will pop up on the top and that you have to pay every time someone clicks on it that opens up a lot more…people will go to that a lot of times than they will into the body. It’s…if you have an attractive website they might click on that first and then open it up and “Oh no that website’s been look pretty good” so it’s important to have a good website. Then there’s a section to the side that’s also a pay-per-click and it works a little bit differently which I think Josh could explain that a little better than I could but…
>>: I think you did a great job there explaining the differences between the paid and the organic. It sounds like you’re doing a little bit of both. You’re doing some pay-per-click, you’re doing organic. You’re getting a pretty solid quantity of inbound calls and opportunities directly from the web too.
>>: Right and you can also on the web click some unique phone numbers in there so it could helps you track where the calls are coming from which is a good [inaudible 0:25:46] versus being on TV. How many unique numbers can you have for everything but I guess you could track some TV from putting a separate number on that but then again it’s really going to get your number from the TV, they’re going to go to your website.
>>: Right as far as other online advertising, do you do any lead buying services? One of the plumbers we’re talking that they’re using things like ServiceMagic and eLocal Plumber where they can pay for a lead. Have you done any of that?
>>: Yes. Well actually I did that in a director that sent out and I were talking…but I haven’t done…I guess Angie’s List is another one that I do. I had some advertising on there as well as Yelp but the other type of like 1-800 plumber – I don’t do any of that type of stuff.
>>: This is something I found a lot is activity in Angie’s List generates good business and it’s also a great source for not just good business but per activity. I know you have a number of reviews on Angie’s List where you got a great reputation that serves you really well on that channel.
>>: Right and that’s important that if you got a complaint on Angie’s List that you handle it and it can work against you. If you’re of these guys they won’t call back someone who’s complaining then it can really work against you.
>>: No doubt and then you’ve got to be strategic with how you handle those types of things. As we look at this you’ve got a pretty comprehensive marketing mix. If you have to point it at any of this right now is you’ll…you’re predominant source, what would you see is driving the best leads or the most leads for you right now?
>>: Well the mail.
>>: The newsletter, the 30 years client-based is still going to be your predominant source of business – very good feedback.
>>: Well the mail –it is the king.
>>: If you work in an office or something, you have plumbing problems going and say you tell your neighbor, “Hey, I have an appointment from…” you know a good plumber – that’s the first place to go. Usually after that then you might well I’ll go online and Google plumbers and [inaudible 0:28:44] they want to get a plumber that’s close to them. It used to be that in Yellow Pages we didn’t put the address in there because you might cover a whole geographic area if you’re the largest company even if you may have trucks all over the place it really don’t matter. It’s not going to be more cost-effective for the customer to get someone close but in the old days that’s what they used to think.
>>: Sure. It goes back to the power of having some to the power of having some tangible follow-up with the customer whether it’s a newsletter or e-mail or something to remain top of minds when they need you again or when a friend says, “Hey you know a good plumber” they’ll think of The Clean Plumbers or Phillip Maurici Plumbing and you’ll get that word of mouth business which is so powerful. As we kind of wrap this up, are there are any new services within plumbing that you found to be really profitable whether earlier you mentioned water filtration systems and tankless. In other parts of the country we’re hearing a lot about trenchless, we’re hearing about re-piping. Are you [inaudible 0:29:59] any of those markets or are you finding anything to be super lucrative for you in today’s economy.
>>: Well you need the calls and then you need something along our stuff like re-pipings are I believe they’re very profitable and that’s an important part of my business is the re-pipes and replacement of bringing lines and stuff and waterlines. We do water softener quite a bit, a lot of water heater business. These are some other areas that if you’re in the phonebook or you’re optimizing that you want to include in your advertising, you target them other than just plumbing or drain cleaning. It is a lot of other things that you could put in and under or talk about in your newsletter from time to time. There’s also sewage jetting of the lines to clean drain lines and that’s another profit to me that you can develop and talk about in your advertising.
>>: Excellent that’s some good tidbits and really high profitable things that the plumbers could be aware of and make sure that they are starting to maybe put some marketing out around to get the transaction value up a little bit higher. What would you say to the plumbing business that might be where you were maybe not 30 years ago but maybe like you said 15 years ago when you’re getting things off the ground. Are there any specific nuggets of wisdom or insights that you would offer to say, “Hey there’s just some things that would hang my hat on”?
>>: You mean to grow in the business?
>>: Yes. I know you’ve given a lot I mean if you feel like you were cover it but if there’s anything else that you’d want to say to that plumber that’s maybe in the second, third or fifth year and just trying to take it to the next level?
>>: Well, I would say one thing I believe it’s important is to be honest and has some integrity that means you always do the right thing even if everyone’s looking. A part of that is don’t pay your employees on straight commission basis because I believe that that leads dishonest plumbers then they say you more or things that you don’t really meant or want. Frankly I’ve been there behind a lot of companies that pay on commission that don’t…they’re very dishonest. I need to say that but it’s bad for the industry. I think it’s important to give a little incentive pay to your plumbers but I don’t think it should be more than 5 or 10% of his total pay.
>>: Doing that, I think it’s a lazy management. If you can train and teach your people to actually look for the second thing that’s wrong when you’re in a home then going through the straight commission it’s going to help you short time but I think it’s going bite you later on.
>>: Okay, that’s great feedback. The one last thing we mentioned earlier on we said we will come back to what was some of the training that you did or that you still do – I mean obviously you’re a big believer in education and personal growth, were there any specific training courses or specific training organizations you were involved with that you felt gave you some good ideas and insights?
>>: Yes. I belong to Quality Service Contractors, which is part of the Plumbing, Heating and Cooling organization…
>>: Okay QSC.
>>: QSC…I belong to the Plumbers’ Success International for a number of years PSI and went to their training and everything. I’ve also done some little business consulting through Michael Gerber and I don’t even know if they’re doing that or not anymore but you’ll able to study very good course on business through Michael Gerber and get some more information from him from the book the E-myth which I think anyone in business should read.
>>: I agree and I’m 99% sure he’s still doing his personal coaching through the E-myth system and how to systemize your business – that’s fantastic. Those three QSC, PSI, Michael Gerber, and the E-myth information, any marketing specific training you’d recommend or even books that you read that you thought really [crosstalk] to your plumbing business?
>>: One book is the Wizard of Ads by Roy Williams. I think that’s very good it gives you the meaning of what should be in the ad and it’s very simple, easy book to read and this one by Levinson the Guerilla Marketing that’s good to read. I don’t know. I have read another book on branding and what that means but I couldn’t quote you the correct title – if you’ll be going to a bookstore find some on branding which is…there’s number of specs in advertising. We talk about word of mouth the, I think the newsletter and then we have the phonebook and the internet and then you go into branding type things to put you in the mind of the public and that would be TV, billboards, radio, and things like that. One other thing that I failed to mention is your trucks. I still see plumbers that’s a billboard ride around and they have very little graphics, very little design on there and they might going to global business very well and get no without having some attractive trucks on the road.
>>: Right and that’s been a powerful source and a good way to assume you got 10 trucks, they’re nicely wrapped, and it’s got messaging and cold actions – that’s another powerful source. This has been phenomenal. I can’t thank you enough but I’m sure the plumbers that are listening to this can’t thank you enough for the time that you spent just to share 30 years of plumbing experience with us and how you took your business from the ground to really lucrative business. Thank you again for your time.
If you guys would like to get more ideas, strategies, techniques on how to market your plumbing business or you’d like to listen to other interviews like this with successful plumbing entrepreneurs, you can go to plumbingmarketingprofits.com and subscribe to the podcast and you’ll get an e-mail as new interviews are posted.
Again Phillip thanks for your time and we’ll talk to you again soon.
>>: Thank you.
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