Featuring Eric Dutton
Intro: Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity, the leading podcast for residential service contractors, sponsored by Service Roundtable and hosted by David Heimer.
David Heimer: Hi, this Is David Heimer. Today, we’re speaking with Eric Dutton, founder and president of Dutton Plumbing in California. The Plumber you’d send to your mom’s house. Dutton Plumbing is a large successful well-respected plumbing company. They’ve been recognized as North American Plumbing Contractor of the Year, they were awarded the Service Nation Sales and Service Award, and they were honored with the George Brazil Trailblazer Award. And those are just the awards that I can think about, I’m sure there were a lot of other ones. I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing Eric before, he’s an innovator, an industry leader, and he runs a fantastic company. And truthfully, I just like talking to Eric, so it’s always great to have him on the podcast. So, Eric Dutton, welcome to Profiles In Prosperity.
Eric Dutton: Thanks David. You always make me feel good.
David Heimer: So, a very interesting time that we’re in right now. The time of COVID, I guess you’d call it. And one of the great things about this is, plumbers and HVAC people have been deemed essential, which of course we knew all along. But you know, nevertheless, for a number of people, this is an anxious time, including some people in our industry. What are you doing at your company?
Eric Dutton: Well, now I agree, a hundred percent, very anxious time. Something that we’ve never had to face before. I mean, the thing about it, and this is stuff that horror movies are made of, secret viruses sneaking around killing people or whatever. I mean, this is a flu, it’s something we’re not prepared for, and everybody is scared and I agree. What we do here is, I just kept a real positive attitude. I realize that this is something that will pass and we operate in an industry that is needed. So again, the plumber protects the health of the nation. We’re all familiar with that slogan or those that are plumbers. And this is where we get to live that. We are looked at by society as, you know, different things, the butt crack plumber, the bubble plumber, whatever. And we will take it because we’re here to serve, and we’ve always done our job. And I speak for plumbers, when I say plumbers, I mean service personnel, heating and air, electricians, but I can only speak from the point of a plumber. I have this unhealthy pride in my trade, always have, I’m in a social setting with lawyers, doctors, I will proudly introduce myself as a plumber.
David Heimer: As you should, by the way.
Eric Dutton: Oh yeah.
David Heimer: It’s a great profession.
Eric Dutton: If anybody can make a difference in the world, it is plumbers. Without us, there is no society, there is no civilization, there’s no healthy human life. So we need to know, right now, people need us. And I talked to other business owners who are, you know, the sky is falling, they’re laying people off. They’re just putting out the vibe that nobody wants our services, nobody wants us in their house. We’re going to batten down the hatches and ride this thing out and see where it comes up. And you know, and hopefully the government will give us loans, and the SBA will give us loans, and they’re applying for these in advance.
I’m not going to apply for any damn loan, because I’m not going to fail. I will not focus on that, because what you focus on is what you get, we all know that. So, I’m here to win. We just had the strongest March of any year ever, for top number sales and profitability. We’re going into April full steam ahead, our sales are up, our call board is booked and busy, and we just have to have the right attitude. I mean, obviously, I have it, whether I’m just ignorant or hitting the fan or whatever. I know that we will succeed, I spread that through my company, it’s the culture here.
We’re all upbeat, you know, we interact safely at six feet, we’re super careful, which I can’t urge enough, make sure you’re careful. We have a full-time employee going through the company every half hour, wiping down door knobs, light switches, and any public surface. Our guys are wearing their masks, they wear a fresh pair of gloves, and shoe covers at every call, they maintain the six foot distance. So yeah, we get that. We’ll be paranoid to that amount, but not beyond that. So customers want us in their house. Our phones are ringing, and half of them, the first question they ask is, “are you guys open?” Hell yeah, we’re open, and we are ready to come out.
We are even doing outbound calls for maintenance checkups, and getting a little pushback, not a lot because people are home, they’re sitting around. They might as well make sure their plumbing is working. So, we’re on all cylinders here. We’re in Southern California, I don’t know if it’s different here than anywhere else. So, you know, check back with me in a few weeks and we’ll see if I’m still as enthusiastic. But this is our time to shine. This is what we were built for. This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for, chest out proud. We need to be brothers and stand by each other and take care of society. Society needs us, our neighbors need us, our employees, our families. They count on us right now and we have to be stronger and more confident now, than any other time in our careers. This is an important tipping point. You know, this will define who you are, who your company is. And the public is watching, they’re not going to forget that you were there, and not price gouging, and not doing all kinds of weird, underhanded, trickery sales, and whatever to encourage people to call. Just be there genuine to help, and that’s all I got, and that’s what I’m doing. So wish me luck.
David Heimer: So what are you doing to pump up your team? What do you tell them about?
Eric Dutton: Well, we now do not allow our technicians inside the office area. Our office is split up, upstairs and downstairs. Downstairs is dispatch and managers, service managers, the techs need to stay out in the warehouse area. So we have a separate coffee area set up there. I, in the mornings, will be out there with them enforcing the six-foot distance, because you know, we’re plumbers, we’re tough, right? No virus will hurt us, so I just have to keep reminding these guys that they have the best attitudes. They’re not intimidated, they’re not afraid, so we’re a little too comfortable. I said, don’t be paranoid, but let’s just respect the six foot rule. And I just talked to everybody and kept them encouraged, to let them know that we’re depended on.
These people need us now more than ever, they need their bathrooms to work, they need things in their house to function properly because they’re all home now. Their plumbing systems are being used now 24 hours a day, where in the past, maybe 10, 8 hours a day, you know, that’s it. So I just keep them focused on their value. How important they are, not just to themselves or their family, but to society. We are there on the front line, we’re warriors at this point, and I even made a joke with a couple of the guys saying, God, if those bars weren’t all closed, you guys could go out there tonight and cute girls would walk around the firemen to get to you.
David Heimer: Walk around the firemen to get to the plumbers. I like it.
Eric Dutton: Yeah. This is our time. This is where we can stand up and say, you know what? We’ve been here the whole time, un-noticed too soon what we do. But now, we thank you for your appreciation, because I think, ultimately, we will come out looking like heroes. If we all keep our heads – take care of people first, don’t focus on the profits. I mean, that’s been one of my philosophies most of my career, is focus on the people, focus on the process and the money follows automatically. So don’t be encouraged to raise your prices. I’ve had all kinds of people telling me ideas of combat pay, charged $300 just to come to the house. No, don’t do that. That’s not who we are as people, as plumbers. We’re not that, we’re here to help you.
David Heimer: That’s not the kind of person that you would send to your mom’s house, is it?
Eric Dutton: Not at all. And that’s again, that’s our slogan. Thanks for the plug there. I like that. The plumber you’d send to your mom’s house. And that’s one of our barometers here for the right thing to do. We use it for hiring. We use it for pricing, for customer service, everything. So it has helped us to serve this really well over the years.
David Heimer: I’ve heard that you guys are doing some innovative stuff, some fun stuff around advertising at this time.
Eric Dutton: Yeah. We thought, you know, our marketing message, it’s, some of it is on YouTube, some of it is at different places. But we do a lot of radio advertising. And it’s usually parodies between myself and my mom over the phone. And well, we always have a positive, upbeat, kind of jokester way about us. So this thing with the toilet paper, in the beginning of this whole fiasco, where people are ordering toilet paper, they only advertise things we normally do has our last leader drain clearing, which has $73 drain clearing. So now we offer $73 rolls of toilet paper, it includes a free drain clearing, but we’re selling for $73 a roll. And as you might imagine, we’ve had some great – people love it. And a few people that feel it’s underhanded, but I guess they just don’t get it. And you know, we’re offering different financing plans now, no interest, no payments for six months, just to help people deal with, maybe they’re not working and they don’t have the income right now. But we’re trying to flex to the environment that we’re in, and still keeping a sense of humor along the way.
David Heimer: So what about recruiting and hiring? And I’m guessing that layoff is not a word that exists in your vocabulary. Are you looking for people?
Eric Dutton: Yes, we are. That’s one of our biggest challenges right now. We have a full-time recruiter just out there trying to find people, and we do pretty well. But lately, the last month we’ve had no hires as plumbers. We all know apprentices and laborers are pretty easy to find. But we’re looking for some seasoned service techs. And again, they do exist, I get it, we grow most of our own. But we have such rapid growth, we definitely need to have a few guys kind of ready to go, that we can fine-tune. And we’ve got our feelers out everywhere. We’ve even done a new thing that you can text mom, M.O.M To 25000. It’s a text recruiting thing, you do a two minute application process to get you into the works, to be a plumber at Dutton Plumbing. Of course you have to be in the Southern California area, so I’m not poaching anybody, so anybody who just heard that looking for a job, don’t do it.
David Heimer: Great idea though, recruiting by texts. Make it easy for people, right?
Eric Dutton: Oh yeah. Let’s figure out, how do people communicate? I mean, my sons are in their late twenties and early thirties. And if I want to communicate with them, if I call them, I don’t get an answer. I have to text, and that’s the age group we’re kind of hunting for. So let’s find the way they communicate. And we’ve had some pretty good luck with it, and we just kind of launched it about a month ago, so we’ll see how it works out.
David Heimer: In times like this, one of the things people say, it’s really important to stay in touch, communicate more than you’ve communicated in the past. What are you guys doing to communicate with people? They come in every day, I’m assuming, for training, meeting, but what about during the course of the day, are you guys doing anything special there?
Eric Dutton: Yeah, we’ve actually – and you know a lot of my staff David, Falconer and some of the other guys, and we’re very tech-savvy, which I don’t know if that’s even necessary, with how simple technology has become. But we’ve stopped our technician meetings, our morning meetings and we do them remotely. So everything is done, on FaceTime, with their tablets and we’ve broken it up into smaller groups, so the service managers each have a portion of the text, so they do their morning meetings that way. In addition, even with our daily huddle, which is all the managers, we do about a 15-minute huddle every morning. We decided to do that remotely as well. Even though most of us are still in the same building, we just thought we’d play with it. And surprisingly, I feel it’s way more effective. It seems to be the information exchange is more specific, it goes quicker, and we might stick to that format, moving forward. You have to be flexible with it, you know, and use the technology that’s out there to be safe.
David Heimer: So sales, March, great sales. And typically I’m guessing that March is probably not such a great month for you guys in general. I’m not sure, but it was a great month for you?
Eric Dutton: Yeah. And normally, of course, like most of us, we track everything. And when March comes along, March and April, we kind of prepare for our maintenance calls, prepare for additional marketing, some postcards, newsletters, whatever we have to do to get the call count coming in. And you know, we’ve been adjusting our marketing well, as we track everything. But this March, even with the virus, we’ve had our strongest March ever. So, I’m obviously not saying it’s the virus that has created that, but it hasn’t hurt it. So any changes we’ve made on our marketing, moving forward, you keep getting the calls coming in. We’ve been able to take advantage of it.
And again, I think, back to the virus thing, just not allowing that as an excuse to not succeed. Because if you want to find an excuse, not to do well, what better time than when there’s a virus going around, it’s staring the whole world. You could sit back and be a victim here, and no one is going to blame you, no one is going to call you a punk or a quitter, a loser. Nobody! We’re going to say, yeah, we get it, look at the world. I don’t play that at all. I will allow others to do that, but I’m not going to do that. So we’ve already started our April really strong, it’s just a couple of days in, sales look really good, teams are strong, nobody’s sick. And we’re doing everything in our power to keep it that way, onward and upward, you know.
David Heimer: Leadership starts at the top, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re setting an example for everybody in your company. The company is doing well, you’ve made all the steps you need to make. You stay out in front of everybody, keep them involved, keep them informed, change your advertising to go along with it. Sounds like everything’s going really well. What’s next?
Eric Dutton: Just more of the same, you know, we anticipate a lot of growth this year. I mean, that was the plan at the beginning of the year, and that has not changed. In fact, I’m actually anticipating this little hiccup we’re going through as a huge advantage. So I think we’ve all kind of been feeling this recession, eventually, it’s going to have to hit well. I think this is a quick adjustment, that’s going to get over really quick. That’s going to take the place of a traditional recession, because it’s creating one. It’s an artificial one that’s being created through this virus. And I think we’ll come out of it really strong with a real strong momentum, and just a couple months down the road here, I think things will blow up and we’re just going to keep charging forward. So we plan some big growth this year and some good profitability. And I can’t wait for the end of the year to sit back and look at it.
David Heimer: So, you know, one of the things that we learned from Service Nation Alliance members during the last recession, was that they didn’t really cut back. They just continue to push forward, they always grow, they might not have grown as much as they would have if the economy hadn’t slowed down. But they continue to grow. But the exciting thing was, the things they put in place when the economy was slowing down. The work they did then, positioned them for tremendous growth later. So when the economy turned, they were well positioned. They did really well, and I think that’s going to be your experience as well. And you’ve been through this before.
Eric Dutton: Oh yeah, we did really good during 2008. We had, I believe, as I recall, about 25% growth that year, but again, kind of, I think what it is, I don’t preoccupy myself with what’s going on around me. I’m not ignorant and totally ignore everything. But I don’t let it adjust my state, I try to keep my focus and you know, keep it positive. You can either let life happen to you or make it happen for you. And I choose the latter because I’d rather create my own destiny. I don’t want to be a victim of some other person or other circumstance that I have no control over. What’s empowering about that? You know, so I just know that I’m responsible for me, my 80 employees, my family, and my tens of thousands of customers that count on me every day. I will not disappoint, I will not let people down, that’s just not how I’m built. I’m in it to win it.
David Heimer: Awesome stuff Eric. I really appreciate it. I feel like in your next portion of your career, you should be a motivational speaker BEcause I’m all pumped up.
Eric Dutton: Maybe so David, I don’t know, we’ll see. I like being a plumber, it’s too much fun.
David Heimer: It is a fantastic profession. Well, Eric, thank you so much for doing this. I really do appreciate it, it’s great information. I know the people that listen to this, will get a lot out of it. So thank you very much.
Eric Dutton: Anytime David. I’m always here if you ever need me.
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