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“I was an insurance agent one week and a plumber the next.”
After 18 years working in the insurance industry, John Castro decided to become a plumber after remodeling his own house. He enjoyed helping out the plumber he hired for the remodel and was invited to come along on another plumbing job – he quit insurance soon after, and he’s never looked back.
As a plumber in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles, John has had an enjoyable and profitable career. His son Chris, who we spoke with in our blog post “SUPPLY.com’s Coolest Jobs,” works alongside his father at John Castro Plumbing and has been a customer of Account Manager Robyn Whitcomb at SUPPLY.com for years. In this article, John offers advice for anyone looking to start their own business in the plumbing trade.
1. It takes common sense, hard work, and honesty
These three values are the most important ingredients in the recipe for success, according to John. It was an “honesty first” mentality that set John up to make fast friends with his customers and to get repeat business. Visiting different homes every day and talking with new people has been his favorite part of the profession. Living in Los Angeles, he became a “plumber to the stars,” even working in the homes of customers like Sylvester Stallone!
2. Always save a little bit
“If you make 10 bucks, put a dollar away. If you make 100 bucks, put 10 dollars away. And so on.” If you’re starting a business, you’ll need to have enough money to begin with in order to survive. Once you take off, remember to still always save a little bit at a time. Throughout his lucrative plumbing career, John was able to work for all the money he could’ve wanted, lived in a nice home, and put his kids through school. Now, as people choose universities over trades and the skilled labor shortage grows, there’s an opportunity to get paid very well as a plumber.
3. Advertise everywhere you can
One of John’s main pieces of advice to anyone starting out is to just get your name out there. When he started in the 1980s, he put an ad for his plumbing services in the Greenpages and started getting calls. Pay for advertising, he says, but anytime there’s a chance for free publicity take it. One trick he has up his sleeve: take different a route home each night. The more people who see your truck with the company name on it, the more people will keep you in mind as the plumber to call.
4. You don’t need many tools, just the important ones
Eventually, with the money you save, you can buy more and build your collection. Start out with your hand tools and soon enough you’ll be able to afford more expensive ones – “all you really need for 90% of jobs is a channellock in your back pocket,” John says, though over the years he has accumulated quite an assortment of tools. “If a plumber out there needs any tools he can come to my garage and take some off my hands!” John quipped during our interview.
5. Always work with a helper
“I always worked with a helper – just in case.” One time, John was working in a home that had the dryer from the laundry room vented underneath the house. Lint from the dryer caught fire and John couldn’t get it out – without his helper the situation would have quickly turned into a disaster.
He appreciated having his son around as well, who was a good plumber and sometimes proved to his dad that the new way of doing things just might be better than the old-fashioned way; it’s always good to have someone working for you with a fresh perspective.
6. Keep your head up, learn new things, and be a nice guy
“Treat your business right and it will treat you right.” For John, it’s been simple. Put effort into your work and treat people right, and your business will get a good reputation. As a plumber, you’re helping people every day – John remembers during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, he parked his truck in the middle of the street and there was a line of people down the block who needed plumbing repairs from the damage. It’s a good feeling to know that you’re lending a helping hand and to thoroughly enjoy your job. It’s hard work, but as John can attest, it pays off.
Have any questions for John? Contact him at JohnCastroPlumbing@gmail.com
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