Q&A: 6 Experienced Commercial Plumbers on Their Plumbing Career and Love of the Trade
Last month, we explored the impact of the construction industry on everyday life. Today, we’re taking a closer look at some of the people that make up this powerful industry.
We had the privilege of interviewing six contractors, each with 10 or more years of experience in the trades, to learn about what they do, how they got to where they are and their advice for people considering a plumbing and construction career.
Meet the Contractors
Travis P. Abaire
Current Job Title: Owner of T.A.P. Plumbing and Heating
Experience in the Trade: 21 years
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Current Job Title: President of Impetus Plumbing and Heating
Experience in the Trade: 10 years
Location: Bolton, Ontario
Current Job Title: President at Allure Mechanical Inc.
Experience in the Trade: 14 years
Location: Vernon, British Columbia, Canada
Current Job Title: Owner of Groundswell Mechanical Ltd.
Experience in the Trade: 18 years
Location: Oxford, Mississippi
Current Job Title: Owner of T&T Plumbing, LLC
Experience in the Trade: 27 years
Location: Mission, British Columbia
Current Job Title: Owner/Entrepreneur at Westridge Mechanical Ltd.
Experience in the Trade: 15 years
Here’s What We Learned
1. Tell us about your current job and what you love most about it.
Travis P. Abaire: As owner of T.A.P. Plumbing, I enjoy the freedom of being on my own. I enjoy remodels and additions, as well as creating and engineering a plumbing system that is either really old or missing and bringing it up to current codes. I also enjoy the challenge associated with service work — like trying to take the worry out of a homeowner's mind and put them at ease by resolving the issue.
Terence Chan: I run my business called Impetus Plumbing and Heating. I love the trade and business aspect of running a business. I love how I’m able to create something and have people know us as quality. I love the struggles, the sweetness and the ups and downs of it all. Every day is a challenge, and no day is the same.
Matthew D’Andrea: As the owner and operator of Allure Mechanical Inc., I’ve faced challenges that I never knew one could face. It has shown me respect for past and future entrepreneurs. There are many rewards that come with entrepreneurship. My favorite is the satisfaction received from designing and delivering a great product.
Travis Molzahn: I am the owner of Groundswell Mechanical LTD. We are a small plumbing company serving the North Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia, Canada. I have a strong passion for my trade and love how diverse the plumbing industry is. Every day is different, and the many avenues of the trade keeps my job very interesting.
In general, I really enjoy the satisfaction of working with my hands and creating plumbing and heating systems that serve a valuable purpose to customers. I am also very passionate about training apprentices and trying to instill a sense of pride for the trade in younger generations. The money isn’t all that bad either!
Tim Traylor: I currently own and operate my own plumbing company. I’ve been in business for 16 years. I do mostly service and repair plumbing and gas. I like doing service more than new construction because I feel that it is more rewarding. I get to troubleshoot and repair all sorts of problems. I love helping people with their plumbing issues and delivering the outcome they hoped for.
Vincent White: Currently I am the owner and logistics manager of Westridge Mechanical Ltd. The best thing about my current job is coming up with solutions for the never-ending daily challenges presented throughout various jobs. It is a very rewarding feeling to look back on your day, even if you’re exhausted, and see how much you were able to accomplish.
2. What does your typical workday look like?
Abaire: My typical day depends on the schedule. Because I am a one-man show, I schedule service calls all in one day so I have time to dedicate to remodel projects. If an emergency comes up, I address it that day.
Chan: I wake up, do my morning routine, and I go to work! What is considered work? To be honest, nothing really. It doesn’t feel like work when you like what you do. For example, days are not always planned but are spontaneous enough to stay on track of what needs to be done so that the business runs smoothly. Some days, I will eat lunch with the boys, go to job sites to say ‘hi’, meet people and just chat (could be contractors, suppliers, manufactures or just random people I don’t know and I want to connect with), or stay at home and make videos. In essence, no day is the same and nothing is ever typical on my end.
D’Andrea: It starts with espresso, followed by a coffee. Then 60-100 phone calls and 70+ emails later, the day is done, and you wonder how you can be more efficient. All joking aside, hard work and communication with our clients and team is what keeps our business going.
Molzahn: Each day is different. Being the owner of a small mechanical company, I get to wear many hats. Some days, I get to put on my tools and meet the crew at a new home build or renovation. Other days, we work in commercial spaces, such as office buildings, retail stores or restaurants. When I’m on site, I get to work alongside my crew and train them in the ways I was taught. But I also get to see them progress in their own individual plumbing journeys and help develop their own strengths. It is highly rewarding.
My days are also sometimes filled with meetings with customers and salesmen, office paperwork or service calls for plumbing and heating repairs. It keeps me busy, but it's all good. As I mentioned, the constant changing work environment and different hats I get to wear prevent me from ever getting bored.
Traylor: I’m usually on my first job by 8 a.m. Some days I may do four calls, and some days I may do eight calls. It all depends on what type of jobs come in. I feel really good when I can get eight calls in by 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m.
White: It can vary drastically from day to day. Some days are purely spent in office, while others may be on sites for meetings or just quality control checkups, and yet other days are a combination of both site checks and office work.
3. What made you choose your career path?
Abaire: I wanted to do something that was not only mentally challenging but also physically challenging. I had the opportunity to start working with a plumber who specialized in new construction. I did the interview and he hired me on the spot.
Chan: My parents told me to try plumbing after I dropped out of university. So I did, and I wanted to be the best at what I do after I failed out of university. That’s how plumbing became a thing for me.
There’s nothing specific that drew me to construction. People said it makes good money — and it does! But the reason behind me working in the trade isn’t because of money. I personally just enjoy putting things together and being proud of it. Just gives a great sense of accomplishment. I think it would’ve reflected on anything else I would’ve done. But specifically, building something is the real reason I joined.
D’Andrea: The truth is that my father is an electrician. He's owned his own business for over 30 years. Growing up around this trade made me learn I wanted nothing to do with it. I enjoyed working with my hands but was attracted to the mechanical industry. The sense of danger, knowing the piping you're installing could be capable of diminishing a building or the wellbeing of others puts a level of respect on the trade not understood by most.
There is an allure to the construction field that I believe is truly only understood when you share the passion and pride of being able to say you and your team played a major role in constructing a certain place, whether it’s a major corporation's place of business, someone's home, an event center, shopping mall or restaurants. I truly believe this is a reward many share in the industry, from developers, engineers and architects to coffee truck drivers. Being a part of something is better than nothing.
Molzahn: I kind of fell into my career. I’ve heard lots of people say, “I never dreamed of having a plumbing career,” and I am one of them. My dad worked in construction and as a farmer for most of his life. He taught me from an early age the value of labor work, and as a young boy, I remember helping out on the farm doing chores, repairs, pulling weeds, caring for animals and building or repairing things around the farm. I always enjoyed creating things with my hands and with tools. But when I was in high school, the trades were not advocated for very much. Instead, university and college degrees seemed to be more on the forefront as future career options for students.
I graduated high school and started university undecided on what career path I wanted to pursue. After two years of a science degree, some accumulating debt and still no clear direction, I felt I needed a break. So I dropped out and got a job as a laborer for a general contractor. I worked for him for the next two years doing a variety of tasks including concrete work, forming foundations for new houses, painting, finish carpentry and landscaping. Eventually I found myself on a framing crew.
I was feeling kind of bored with framing and so on a whim, I started cold calling plumbing, heating and electrical companies in my area to see if anyone wanted to take on a new plumbing apprentice. I just wanted to try something new. Fortunately, I landed a plumbing apprentice job two days later with a growing, family-run plumbing company. They sponsored me as an apprentice at the age of 22. I fell in love with it. I’ve been plumbing ever since, and now I am 35 years old with a couple Red Seal trade certificates under my belt.
Traylor: My first job was in a grocery store bagging groceries and stocking shelves as a teenager. Then I was offered a job with a local plumbing company. I was actually mistaken for my older brother when I was offered the job. My boss called the house asked for me but thought I was my older brother. I never looked back. That was in 1993.
Working in the trades is rewarding and challenging. My plumbing career has taken me to places I may have never had the opportunity to go to or see if I wasn’t a plumber. Also, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some pretty important people and a couple of famous people.
White: My father owned a large plumbing and heating company while I was growing up. I spent many hours working with him during spring breaks and summer vacations. Even though he retired before I was ready to run his company, I always had the ambition of starting my own business and building it from the ground up.
4. How did you get to this place in your career?
Abaire: After years of working for other people and feeling unappreciated, I decided the only way to get rid of that feeling was to work for myself and start my own plumbing business. That is what I did, and I enjoy every bit of it.
Chan: I got here through grit and experience. Much of my experience in working at a job came from helping my dad out with his arcade business. Seeing him stress, doing things right or wrong and running his business really helped me in working in the trades. Seeing all of that, I was able to adjust and work for different companies and excel in my preference since it helped me create a more focused mindset.
D’Andrea: Becoming a licensed plumber in Canada requires an apprenticeship in which you complete 9,000 working hours along with three terms of schooling. That is the easy part. The road along the way is what challenges you, mentally and physically.
Growing a relationship with a mentor or role model that you get along with will help you the most in your career. My mentor and role model did exactly that for me, from teaching me how to work to guiding me down certain avenues. I am grateful for the leadership I have had, and now it is my turn to inspire and guide others.
Molzahn: I have worked for one company since I started plumbing back in 2007, and my old boss made a huge impact on me. He always made plumbing so appealing and seem like the best job in the world. I now know that it is! He is a highly skilled tradesmen with a vast wealth of knowledge, and I remember thinking, I wanted to be like him and run my own company someday.
He kept me working as an apprentice when others in the company were laid off during the economy dip in 2008. He always pushed me by giving me responsibility and running his smaller jobs sites when I was only a second-year apprentice. He also paid for my trade schooling.
Eventually, as my weekend and evening side jobs started becoming larger and more frequent, he encouraged me to leave his company and start my own, even providing me with some tools and referrals to some of his customers. I really owe a lot to him and still work occasionally for him as a subcontractor to this day. He is one of my greatest mentors.
My dad has also been an amazing support and planted the idea in my head to try plumbing in the first place. He has been my biggest fan through the years and loves to talk shop, swapping construction stories. I owe my work ethic, stubbornness and love for construction to his influence from an early age.
Traylor: My first job in the industry was for a plumbing and electrical company that did mostly service work. We did some new construction and remodels as well. I worked with that company for a while and then got offered a job in new construction plumbing and gas work for residential and commercial buildings. All of my training was hands on. No trade schools were available in my area at the time. I worked for that company and one other before starting my own company in 2004.
White: I grew up in a household with construction as our main business. With that in mind, I knew from a young age that I was not going to get a secondary education, and I simply wanted to get to work full time in the plumbing industry as soon as possible. I started my first full-time job with a large mechanical company that specialized in large-scale concrete multifamily and office buildings. I stayed with this company through my entire apprenticeship and became a journeyman at 22.
After working my way briefly to foreman and running a project with over 40 plumbers, my side company at the time began to flourish. I made the difficult decision to jump full time into pushing my then-side company, Westridge Mechanical, into my main source of income. I was only 24 at the time, but with a strong work ethic and several key mentors from the industry, including my father and another mechanical company owner, I was able to grow quickly in the right directions.
5. What advice would you give to someone looking to follow a similar career path as yours?
Abaire: The trades is the way to go. You get benefits, like no debt from college, a paid apprenticeship and paid internships. Education can be provided for you if you find the right company or go through a union. After four years, you have a license making a plumbing journeyman’s rate. After that, the sky is the limit. You can be a worker, foreman, manager, road super, project manager or own your own company. It is all up to you. All because you decided to take up a trade.
Just know if you want to make it in the trade, you have to work for it. You have to show up on time or — better yet — early, keep your mouth shut and do what you are told, and realize there are no trophies for showing up. You're getting paid to do a job, so do it. Your employer is investing in you. They are investing in your education and taking a chance that you will learn it and improve in your skill to the point of becoming a plumbing journeyman. Invest in yourself as well. Buy tools, ask questions, read your code book and take time to educate yourself.
Chan: Try it out with an open mind. Know that we are at a time of transitioning where blue collar jobs are slowly becoming light blue collar jobs. We are transitioning from blue collar to white collar, though never fully. But things are not like before. There are opportunities everywhere, and you need to make sure you really like it before you do it. If money is your only reason, then you shouldn’t be going into the trades. Also, running a business? It's the same thing; it isn’t just about money. It's about responsibility and accountability. Work on those and you'll become great at anything you do!
D’Andrea: Tough times don't last. Tough people do.
Molzahn: Like any career, the more you dedicate yourself to the trades and work hard, the more rewarding your experience will be. It isn’t just about the paycheck or working for the weekend. Find a company with a good reputation who is diverse in the job experience they can provide you. And make sure they are willing to invest in your career and teach you.
Some companies just want cheap labor and aren’t worth your time and energy. Respect all your journeymen and learn from them, even the negative ones who make your job challenging. Speak up and ask lots of questions. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Some of my best successes have resulted from taking some risks and falling on my face but learning from the experience.
Traylor: If there is a trade school available, go that route. If not, find a good reputable company that is willing to teach you all that you need to know. It’s probably best to work for a company that does both new construction and service work. Work hard and give it all you have. Ask questions, pay attention to what’s going on and never stop learning and doing continuing education. Stay up to date with new products and technology.
White: The most important thing is first and foremost a strong work ethic. Almost equally as important, in my opinion, is the ability to stay calm and professional in the face of strict deadlines and sometimes chaotic jobs. Doing this, you will always be able to be a good example to your staff and also service your customer in a strong professional manner.
Tough Times Don’t Last. Tough People Do.
Think a career in plumbing might be right for you? Learn more about building a career in plumbing and ways to get started.