AT OAK CREEK Plumbing Kitchens & Bathrooms in Oak Creek, Wis., service is of the utmost importance, as it should be for any plumbing company. Dan Callies, owner of Oak Creek Plumbing, and wife Denise run the company along with a 2,500-sq.ft. showroom, displaying the latest kitchen and bathroom products.

From concept to completion, Oak Creek Plumbing’s goal is to help the customer remodel her kitchen and or bathroom as innovatively as possible while keeping it within budget.

“We believe remodeling should be a ‘win-win’ situation with our customers receiving high quality products and unsurpassed service and the contractor benefiting from a loyal customer,” says Callies. “From our first complimentary visit, to plan development and project completion, the skills of our staff will help the customer make the best use of design and product options available while staying within the customer’s budget.”

Communication is key

When a customer visits the showroom, the first step is to set up an appointment with a relationship manager (designer) to access what the customer is looking for, explains Callies. There are two relationship managers on staff to help customers with the design concept they are going for. The relationship manager then determines if what the customer is trying to achieve is a good fit for the services Oak Creek Plumbing provides.

“If it’s a good fit, we sit down and probe deeper about specifics, what they want to accomplish, their budget, selection process, etc.,” says Callies. “We then create a presentation and proposal. If the customer goes with the proposal, then an estimated schedule and time frame of the project is given to the customer.”

When working on a project, Oak Creek Plumbing focuses on the mechanical side of the job first then the aesthetics.

“We are a unique plumbing company — when we go into a project we are looking at the mechanical side of the job, then the aesthetics on top of it,” says Callies. “Many companies look at aesthetics first and then see if they can figure out the mechanical aspect.

“When we look at a project we look at the realistic options of possibly moving the mechenical items (plumbing, electric, HVAC), and how much this can affect the budget of the project,” explains Callies. “Maybe moving the toilet to a new location might not affect the budget much, but might make the bathroom more efficient. We look at these options up front and eliminate any hidden costs that may occur.”

A remodeling checklist is used to make sure no detail is missed and nothing comes as a surprise to the customer. It also includes product selection. The remodeling checklist focuses on communication between the relationship manager and customer, so they are both aware of all project details.

“I rather have a customer say no to something instead of coming back to us, saying I wish I would have known that I could have done this or that,” says Callies. “The checklist makes the customer think of different things, such as converting a tub to shower. To establish relationships and to continue the relationship we need to give very good service, and the checklist helps the relationship manager communicate with the customer about all the options available to them.”

Callies says that happy customers often refer Oak Creek Plumbing to others. “We have so many referrals from word of mouth,” says Callies. “We go to the State Fair and to local home shows too, and it’s amazing how many of our customers stop by our booths at these shows. We just let the customers visiting the booth talk about the projects we have done for them. This speaks for itself, when a past customer talks about how happy they are with our work.”

Internal training

Callies makes sure his staff is current with all the new industry trends and possesses top-notch customer service skills. On a monthly basis, the relationship mangers attend an internal meeting to keep their customer service and design skills up-to-date, and technicians attend bi-monthly internal meetings.

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“Our plumbers are union, so they already need credits for code training,” says Callies. “We also do internal training on customer service skills and protocols. Basically we want the technicians to present themselves to the homeowner in the best possible way. “The techs are my company, they are me. Even when the techs are driving around, they are representing Oak Creek Plumbing. And even when they go to a fast food restaurant wearing the company shirt they are representing us. They represent the company wherever they go.”

The bi-monthly meetings the techs attend cover a variety of different skill sets, such as improving customer service skills, working efficiently and effectively, and how to keep the homeowner involved in the service call. Bob Siepler, plumbing manager of Oak Creek Plumbing, plans and oversees the technician training meetings.

“I do try to vary the topic from week to week in order to keep things fresh and interesting for the techs,” says Siepler. “One week we may discuss plumbing code topics and the next week it could be how to successfully close a sale. We also invite manufacturers reps in to act as a featured speaker at our training meetings. That way, we can keep current on our product knowledge and stay abreast of any changes or improvements to the products we install and service.”

Since Callies is big on giving customers the best service possible, he encourages his technicians to be open minded, so they can look at situations from different perspectives. He is also open to new ideas his technicians may have.

“When a tech has a difficult day or situation I will talk to them and tell the tech that sometimes they need to have a paradigm shift on how they think about what they do,” says Callies. “I do encourage different thought processes and different thinking. And I also want to hear other ideas and options. However, we do have a company policy to stick with the current system, but if there is a better system out there I want to hear about it.”

According Siepler, all the techs go to great lengths to make every service call as pleasant of an experience as possible for the customer.

“Our tech arrives in a fully stocked, clean service vehicle, shows his photo I.D. badge, and presents his business card,” explains Siepler. “Then he inspects the problem, gives a solid, up-front price quote, and once approval is given, he performs the repair on the spot. Our techs are also expected to be clean-cut and in a clean, pressed uniform.”

The technicians also use a marketing folder when they go on service calls, helping them communicate effectively with customers.

“The theory is to develop a relationship by using the marketing folder,” explains Callies. “Every tech has this when they go into a house.”

The folder contains a whole house inspection list that the technician goes through when on a call. There is also a brochure of products and services, so the technicians can discuss different products and services available; a Best Price Insurance Program, offering customer piece of mind; ultimate service agreements; and a perpetual warranty that warranties a product for its life, among other items for the technician to discuss with the customer.

Growing the business

Oak Creek Plumbing was started in 1972 by Ron & Barb Callies. At that time, Ron worked on new houses and small commercial work.

According to Callies, the business was doing well until the ‘80s when there was an economic downturn, and his father downsized the business, but at the same time there was an opportunity to open a plumbing showroom, featuring plumbing parts people needed for repair of their home systems. Barb managed the retail store while Ron managed the service and repair portion of the business.

When Callies graduated from high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so he decided he would become a plumber, and he went into the apprentice program.

“At first it was tough and I wasn’t sure if that was what I should be doing, but my dad told me to stick with the program and get certified, and then I could do whatever I wanted to, just so I would have certification was the main thing,” explains Callies. “Once I started understanding the engineering behind it, I became passionate about plumbing. I even studied the code book. In class I used to be the guy asking all the questions, but I ended up becoming the guy answering all the questions. It was definitely a neat transition into being passionate about the trade.

“Once I started working in the business in 1993 it was my dad, mom and me running it. This was great, but I always had a vision to grow the business.”

A tub liner product that Ron saw in California was the product that gave Callies the opportunity to grow the business.

“My dad thought it was a good idea, so we incorporated this into our business model,” said Callies. “At that time we were doing new construction and service repair and a little remodeling and this opened a new revenue stream for us, and changed focus of the company from new construction into more remodeling.

“The company in California referred us to Luxury Bath Systems, located in Chicago, a start up company at that time,” adds Callies. “We were one of their first clients. At this point we started controlling our destiny instead of letting the general contractor control our destiny.”

In 1999 Dan purchased the company. His wife Denise is the office manager, and is also in charge of payroll and human resources. The staff is made up of nine plumbers and two relationship managers. The company also staffs six carpenters and drywall installers. They were brought on staff when Luxury Bath Systems was added to Oak Creek Plumbing’s business model.

“With this system we put a brand new acrylic tub and walls over the existing cast iron and tile wall,” explains Callies. “Since this was more of a carpentry trade than a plumbing skill we thought we could provide a better installation with the carpentry skills.”

In 2008 Callies decided it would be good for Oak Creek Plumbing to team up with Kohler and become a Kohler registered showroom. “It gives us instant creditability, and Kohler has also helped in advertising co-op programs,” explains Callies.

“They helped design and offset some of the costs for truck wraps for our vehicles. Our local rep is also stopping in and working with us to keep updated on Kohler new products and training for installation and service of their products.”

Current trends In 2010 Oak Creek Plumbing started Golden Horizons, a division of the company that is solely dedicated to providing barrier-free solutions for any home. Callies started Golden Horizons because he noticed a trend in clients wanting universal accessibility since people are living longer.

“Safety is a major issue,” says Callies. “The kids, baby boomers, who have to take care of their parents, are now looking for safety features. The parents probably should have done this years ago to their homes and they didn’t, so now the kids are doing this.”

Callies sees Golden Horizons as a go-to company in the area when someone has a question or concern regarding converting a bathroom for the aging.

“This targets more of a commercial aspect, such as apartments, hospice care, and other such organizations that can refer people to us,” explains Callies. “We can do an onsite assessment for the clients and see what their needs and options are.”

Another trend Callies has noticed is an interest in sustainable products, but he makes it known that energy-efficient and water-conserving products are much more than a trend — they are here to stay.

“We were green before it was cool,” says Callies. “The tub liner system is green. We are putting something over the tub, not removing the tub and putting it in a landfill somewhere.”

Oak Creek Plumbing also sells products such as tankless water heaters, low-flow showerheads and faucets, and HET toilets. The company carries all major manufacturer brands, including Kohler, American Standard, Toto, Gerber, Delta and Moen.

“A good amount of people come in asking about green products, and many people ask about tankless water heaters, based on saving money,” says Callies. “They are not thinking about the environment, and in this case they are making a decision strictly on the investment, not the cause.”

Regarding high-efficiency toilets, at first there were concerns about them and how they flushed, according to Callies.

“Now toilets are engineered much better, and there are more options in that respect,” explains Callies. “Some flush one gallon or less now. Dual flush is also available. We have done a few dual flushes in homes. People that are on a private system, a septic tank or holding tank, that want to conserve water are usually interested in dual flush because it’s a cost savings besides helping the environment.”

When asked about how many people come into the showroom requesting green products, Callies tells CONTRACTOR that people do come in asking about these products, but in the Midwest it’s a different mind set than in the West.

“Out west water is scarce, and it is budgeted out there, so the mindset here is so different since there is no budget,” explains Callies. “Sometimes there is a price for going green, some of these items are expensive, but as long as people are asking about it, it’s a good sign.”