Featuring DIRK PAYNE
David Heimer: Hi, this is David Heimer. Before we get into this episode, a quick apology. Dirk and I were both suffering internet issues as we did this interview. So there’s some small places where the sound quality just isn’t as good as I would like. Sorry about that. However, Dirk’s story is powerful, instructive and worth hearing irrespective of the sound quality. So thanks for listening and make it a great day.
Intro: Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity. The leading podcast for residential service contractors, sponsored by Service Roundtable and hosted by David Heimer.
David Heimer: Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity. I’m David Heimer. Thanks for joining us. Dirk Payne is the owner of Sunshine Plumbing and Backflow Prevention in the Baton Rouge Louisiana area. I’ve learned that Dirk is a fourth generation plumber and a third generation shop owner. He is married to his junior high sweetheart and they have three kids. His oldest son is a licensed plumber and works in the business with Dirk. How cool is that? Family tradition continues on. And after we get through the business part of this interview, I’ve got to ask Dirk about the Highland games, because it turns out that Dirk travels to participate in the Highland games. I don’t even know what those are, but it sounds cool. So Dirk Payne, welcome to Profiles In Prosperity.
Dirk Payne: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
David Heimer: How did you get into this industry? It’s kind of a family business, it sounds like.
Dirk Payne: It’s a family business. You know, I grew up – my dad owns one of the largest plumbing shops in Louisiana, and so we grew up in it. I’ve been on a plumbing truck since I was 12 years old. I swore I would never be a plumber. Took a break, went to college for a few years. Came back, and went to work in the industry.
David Heimer: So was it the case that you found out it was something you really did like? What happened?
Dirk Payne: I like making money. I just couldn’t make it out there in the world just struggling, so I went back into plumbing and the money’s great. I’m very good at what I do, so I was a top paid hand and the money brought me back in. And that’s the way it’s been. I’ve worked for my dad until I was 35 years old. My dad sold the business to my older brother. I helped him make the transition, then I went out and started my own business.
David Heimer: Now, what year was that?
Dirk Payne: That was 14 years ago. So 2008, I think.
David Heimer: So tell us a little bit about your company now.
Dirk Payne: Up to 2016, we were a good sized company. Had 10 techs. We were very profitable, we were 20% profitable. It didn’t matter if you sent me a $1 check or a $10,000 check, 20% of it went into the savings account. And then in 2016, we got hit by a national disaster, a flood, in which we lost everything. We lost my house, my business, we lost 18 vehicles, RV’s, motorbikes, every toy. We literally walked away with nothing in 24 hours. And so we had to start over. And it was pretty hard, because we had to struggle to get back on our feet. And now we’re like a startup company again. And we’re up to six techs now, you know, we’re growing again.
David Heimer: If I understood you right, it wasn’t just that it devastated the business, it devastated your personal life as well. I mean, your house was destroyed also?
Dirk Payne: Yeah. My house took eight feet of water inside of it. Fun fact, my house is four feet off the ground, so my front yard was 10 foot deep. So when I literally say, we woke up with nothing but the wet clothes on our body. When we left, that’s all that we had left.
David Heimer: So you guys had to evacuate then, is that right?
Dirk Payne: Yeah. We evacuated by boat to get to one truck I had left still running at the time, and I ruined it running rescue missions, running people back and forth until the water got too deep and drowned that truck out. And we called another boat about 10 hours – it was abandoned, what we thought was high ground – and we had to catch another boat out to get out for about a 15 minute boat ride to get to dry land.
David Heimer: Oh my gosh. Well, how long were you guys out? At what point were you able to come back?
Dirk Payne: My house was actually underwater for six days, or the water receded far enough that we could actually get inside the house. Came in and looked at the damage, looked at everything and made it to my – you know, my office sat on a really piece of high ground and we tried to get to it. Well, we realized it was flooded too. And it took us a while to get to it.
David Heimer: In a situation like that, everything has fallen apart. Your house is gone, your business is gone, how did you proceed?
Dirk Payne: The first week, it was really kind of numb. I just knew I had to figure out what I was going to do, because you know, we were homeless at this point. I had no home, had no shop. So once we were able to figure out the damage at the house and at the shop, I realized that my shop took the least amount of damage and so that’s where we started. You know, you just had to come up with a plan and start with baby steps. We came in there, gutted at the shop, cut the sheet rock four foot up on the walls, ripped everything out, threw out everything, got wet on the side of the road. And we lived for two and a half years inside my tool rooms of my gutted out shop as we rebuilt our house.
David Heimer: Wow. And were you trying to operate the plumbing business at the same time then?
Dirk Payne: Yeah, we didn’t operate for about six weeks. We didn’t produce a single call. We just could not do it. We didn’t have no vehicles. And so we had to figure out how to get going again. I finally – a good friend of mine that owns a plumbing company, he found out how bad off it was and he brought me one of his spare trucks. And that’s how we got started again.
David Heimer: Oh my gosh. What a sweetheart of a human being, right?
Dirk Payne: Yes, without that same man, we would not have gotten started.
David Heimer: So you decided to rebuild, did the thought cross your head to pack it in, move somewhere else, do something else?
Dirk Payne: No, the thought to move was never in my head. The thought of giving up was, but the thought of just flat out quitting and moving was not an option. You know, I took this opportunity to show my kids what losing everything and starting over looked like. And so it was a great teaching moment. If you could say anything, it was a great teaching moment for my kids to see what not quitting looks like.
David Heimer: Good for you. So tell me about the rebuilding. How did you guys proceed?
Dirk Payne: Like I said, the first thing we did, the most important thing was after we got both the house and shop completely gutted, you know, the most important thing was getting revenue back going again, because without my business, I had nothing. I mean, we had a good amount of money in the savings account, but that depleted extremely fast because the overhead of your business does not stop. It’s there. That monster just sucked all that money up. And so once we got back on our feet, got the one truck rolling, and then we just slowly started crawling, the insurance money started coming in. We went out and bought a couple old juice plumbing trucks to get our feet started again, and we slowly crawled out of it. But it took us about three and a half years before I really pulled my head out of my rear and really started focusing on my business again and growing it. Before, really for about three and a half years, it was just a three man operation around here.
It was me and my son and one other guy. And we just did not have the energy nor the will to do it again. February of last year when COVID hit, somehow or another – I don’t know if it scared me or what – but it lit a fire inside of me, and we started working hard, growing the business, taking opportunities. And I saw that we were growing really good, really fast. I didn’t know how to control it. And that’s how I ended up joining Service Alliance because I was like, my brain is dead from the flood and I don’t know how to control what I’m doing, and so we came here for guidance. You know, we went from – 2019, we did $700,000. Last year we did 1.4. So we kind of got on fire and got to moving really fast.
David Heimer: Way to go man. So what do you think you’ll end up doing this year?
Dirk Payne: It’s probably going to be about 1.5 this year. We don’t have as much growth with this year, but [7:54 Inaudible] slid out, so we have lost a tech because I’m not in the field as much. So we’ve got that one year where, you know, as a boss, you slide out and you kind of get that little dip, but the whole thing’s growing. We’ve also just added another truck. So we are spending all my money on wraps and new hydro blasters and we’re doing very well at the moment.
David Heimer: You know, I love your trucks. The Sunshine Plumbing, you’ve got the rubber ducky. Has that always been your brand or is that new?
Dirk Payne: No, that was always my brand. We started out when I first went in business. Basically, what you see on my trucks now is what we had then. It’s been updated a little bit, but it’s still just a rubber duck, it has been our mascot the whole time.
David Heimer: Well, I love it. It’s really beautiful. And I think it stands out and pops. It’s friendly, it’s family friendly, it’s funny, it’s cute, memorable. That’s fantastic. This is kind of a tough question, but inevitably in a difficult time like this, you learn things about yourself, you learn things about life and business. So what are your takeaways from this experience?
Dirk Payne: That I am stronger than I ever thought I was. To go through this was very humbling. To be knocked from good profitable company and be knocked all the way down and be humbled is tough. But I found out that I’m stronger than I ever was and more resilient because I’m finally starting to come back. I became a lot more empathetic with people in bad spots over this. Probably the biggest change in my life is I no longer get upset, I don’t holler and scream and I can actually feel other people’s hurt, you know, when it’s outside of their control.
David Heimer: You know, I am unfamiliar with how business insurance works. Did you have business insurance? Was that at all helpful during this?
Dirk Payne: It was a little helpful. I learned a few things that nobody even consider having, where my insurance paid for the truck when it went underwater. What it didn’t pay for was all the equipment in the back of it because it was a national disaster. So if you take your truck and drive it off the road into a pond, everything’s covered. But because it’s a national disaster, just the truck’s covered.
David Heimer: That’s ridiculous.
Dirk Payne: Yeah. Same thing with your office. They paid pennies on the dollar because it was a storm. So we basically got walls, carpet and computers. That’s basically all my stock on the floors and everything, all that, all the [10:20 Inaudible] machines, all that was just garbage. You didn’t get no reimbursement for it. So needless to say, I do have a storm rider now on my insurance policies.
David Heimer: So a storm rider covers that kind of stuff then?
Dirk Payne: Right. And it did not cost that much more.
David Heimer: Well, Dirk, this has been fantastic. And I appreciate you sharing this story. I mean, it’s a difficult and painful story to hear, but you know, it’s one of those things how we all learn from hearing other people’s experiences, good and bad, right? So thank you for sharing this. And now I want to hear about the Highland games. What the heck is that?
Dirk Payne: Well, Highland games or the Scottish games, what we’re most famous for is throwing telephone poles. You know, we do the heavy stone throws and telephone poles – they’re actually called cabers – I get to travel the globe doing that. I travel every month.
David Heimer: Where have you gone?
Dirk Payne: I’ve gone all over America. Before COVID, I traveled every month [11:16 Inaudible] country to go compete. And then, of course, Scotland – it was supposed to be in Ireland this year, but that didn’t happen because of COVID. It gives me an opportunity to go – there’s no money made in it, it’s all just bragging rights, you know? I’m a 52 year old man and I can still pick up and throw a 300 pound stone and throw a 25 foot telephone pole. So it’s just bragging rights.
David Heimer: That’s impressive. Sounds like a lot of fun. You’ve got to make sure you let us know next time you’re going so we can post some stuff about it on Facebook. We’d love to see it and follow you, that would be a good time.
Dirk Payne: Alright.
David Heimer: Thank you my friend. I sure appreciate this time with you. Please keep in touch, let us know how it’s going. I’m so happy to hear that things have recovered for you. And I know you’re going to continue to grow and do well. So thank you for sharing your story with us. I appreciate it.
Dirk Payne: No problem. Thank you, David.
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