FALLS CHURCH, VA. — It’s no surprise Keith Bienvenu will become president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National Association this September at CONNECT 2011, Minneapolis. Bienvenu’s involvement with the PHCC and Quality Service Contractors, and knowledge gained from working in the family business for years makes him a seasoned industry professional that is well qualified for the job.
Bienvenu has been a member of PHCC since 1975 and has held a variety of positions, such as Zone 2 Director from 1993-1996, and national secretary from 2003-2004, in the association. He has also served in the offices of Louisiana PHCC and the Metro New Orleans PHCC. Plus he has served on numerous PHCC committees for local, state and national chapters. He is a founding member of PHCC’s Quality Service Contractors, serving as a trustee for 13 years and chairman from 2006 to 2008.
Bienvenu also has extensive business experience thanks to his involvement in the fourth-generation family business, Bienvenu Brothers Enterprises, serving the metropolitan New Orleans area since 1937. Growing up, Bienvenu was a plumber’s helper for the business, and most recently he is the secretary/treasurer. Bienvenu Brothers Enterprises prides itself on quality and dependability by employing licensed technicians experienced in new construction, remodeling and service and repair work, focusing on residential, commercial and industrial projects. The company is also a member of PHCC – National Association, Quality Service Contractors of PHCC, and the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Metairie, La.
PHCC – NA lobbies members of Congress on key issues
Our interview with Keith Bienvenu follows.
CONTRACTOR: When did you start working at Bienvenu Brothers?
Keith O. Bienvenu: I started working for Bienvenu Brothers Enterprises in January 1980. We formed the business in November 1979 and were transitioning everything from my father’s business in that two month period. Our family has been serving the New Orleans area since 1937.
C: Did you always know you wanted to be in the trades or is this something you grew into?
KB: It’s something I really grew into. Our family has been in this business since before I was born.
C: What was your first job?
KB: My first job in the industry was a plumber’s helper. I would go out with the guys every opportunity I had during school breaks.
C: Did you work at any other companies at the start of your career?
KB: No, I have always worked in the family business.
C: What did you learn from your first boss?
KB: My first boss was my dad. He instilled in us a spirit of fair quality service that we still maintain today.
C: What is your title at Bienvenu Brothers and are other family members involved with the company?
KB: My official title with the company is secretary/treasurer, and my daily responsibilities are office management. We are a forth generation company. I work daily with three brothers and two nephews and my daughter also works in the office.
C: What do you think is most challenging for contractors today? Is it running a successful company, finding, hiring and retaining quality employees, or keeping up to date with energy efficient technologies, etc.?
KB: The most challenging is trying to run a competitive, successful company in these lean economic times. One of the advantages of these times is that there is a larger pool of potential employees on the market. Unfortunately, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. It is increasingly costly to have a quality benefit package, but when you get the right mix and you take care of your team you really don’t have any problem retaining them. We always try to keep up-to-date with the new technologies and potential new markets. Companies that don’t cannot survive.
C: Where your company is located, do you see an increase demand for water conserving and energy efficient products?
KB: We’re located in southeast Louisiana six miles from downtown New Orleans. Water conservation in our area is for the most part a nonissue; in fact, a lot of times we have too much water. We as a company have embraced energy-efficient technology and most of the products we use for our clients are energy efficient.
C: Based on business this past year, has the company seen an increase or decrease in residential and/or commercial work?
KB: In the past 12 months we have maintained our split in residential/commercial work and have seen an increase in sales over previous periods; however, with the ever- increasing costs, margins are down.
C: What is the biggest problem facing contractors in the South? What are you hearing from members as being the biggest problem for contractors nationwide?
KB: In the south we’re not much different than the rest of the country — the biggest challenge is running a profitable business in lean economic times. I am a founding member of Quality Service Contractors and daily have communications from members from around the country and hear many stories of how slow work is in their area. We in the South have been fortunate and have not had as big a hit. Throughout this period, PHCC members have been helping each other through job referrals, equipment sharing and business management/diversification tips.
C: How important is political action to PHCC-National Association?
KB: The political arena is very important to PHCC in all three tiers of the federation. Nationally we have hired a new director of government relations [Mark Riso] and he is building bridges on Capitol Hill. Many government agencies now seek PHCC’s opinion on many issues related to our industry, including water and energy conservation and small business concerns.
C: If you could pick two main policy issues that are important to PHCC-National Association what are they?
KB: Water conservation and the effect on drain line carry is the first issue. While water conservation is good, are we creating a maintenance nightmare for consumers? We’re hoping to answer this question through involvement in the Plumbing Efficiency Research Coalition’s (PERC) proposed drain line carry study to determine the effect of high-efficiency toilets on existing infrastructure.
The second issue is lead abatement and its effect on the p-h-c industry. Is the government creating a compliance issue too tough for the average contractor? PHCC is making sure that p-h-c contractors’ voices are heard on all current and proposed requirements for the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Program affecting renovation work in homes and buildings. We’re also alerting members of all training and informational resources that can help them comply with any final regulations. PHCC National has carried the case to Capitol Hill and lawmakers are listening… The issue, as well as problems with the regulation, has received much attention in the first part of the 112th Congress.
C: What can PHCC members to do make sure they are heard in Washington D.C.?
KB: Members need to embrace the PHCC-Political Action Committee, as it will always help with government relations and getting the message out. A good friend of mine has always said, “Get into politics or get out of business.” This is truer today than ever before. We’re strongly encouraging our members to be part of grassroots efforts throughout the year, and we’ve set up systems and events that make it easy to participate. This includes sending letters to Congress on issues of importance, attending the annual PHCC Legislative Conference and scheduling personal meetings on the Hill and in the district. It takes time, but relationship building is the most powerful tool in politics.
C: If you could accomplish just one goal this year as president for either the association or its members, what would that be?
KB: Communication — that is continuing to enhance our efforts to communicate to the industry that PHCC offers valuable business benefits and services that are not available if you are out there standing alone. C: Do you have a list of goals for your presidency and, if so, what are they? KB: PHCC has a long-range plan and following that plan is my goal. The board and the staff spend numerous hours developing programs and services to benefit members and fulfill our mission of protecting the environment and health, safety and comfort of society. A president is only in office for one year and constantly switching gears is counter productive to the sustained growth of the organization.
C: What's the greatest challenge for PHCC-National Association as a trade association?
KB: The greatest challenge is maintaining its competitive advantage. There are many choices out there competing for time and talent of the p-h-c contractor. Fortunately, we have many new strategies in place that will support contractors who want to improve their business and be known as the contractor of choice in their area. If you want a business partner who will help you meet your professional and personal goals, you need to be a member of PHCC.