Service-first approach helps Michael & Son grow from a one-truck operation to an East Coast leader in sewer and water service.
When 6-year-old Basim Mansour tagged along with his father during electrical repair calls in the 1970s, he had no idea that one day he would own the company and grow it from a one-truck operation to one of the nation’s largest privately owned plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling companies with more than 500 employees.
In 1990, Mansour took over the electrical contracting company after the untimely death of his father. Thrust into the responsibility of running his family’s business at the young age of 19, Mansour left school to dedicate his time to the company. Through times of recession, the company overcame struggles and thrived while other established companies were failing.
Nine years later, Mansour saw the opportunity to grow from electrical contracting to residential electrical service. From there, the company began adding other residential services, including HVAC, plumbing and sewer/water. When the plumbing division, which includes sewer and water, was added in 2004, the company promoted it heavily to help it grow.
“We dedicated a lot of attention to go after it, and we started by getting involved with low-profit-margin work for big retail shops, such as installing water heaters, disposals and plumbing fixtures,” Mansour says.
After heavy advertising and a lot of job calls, local customers became aware of Michael & Son plumbing services. As the residential client base grew, the company hired talented professional staff, including plumbing and excavation managers with extensive experience in those areas.
Today, the plumbing division, which accounts for 40 percent of the entire company’s profit, performs every residential service from simple drain cleaning to full sewer replacement via open trench excavation, pipe bursting and directional drilling. Underground boring accounts for 99 percent of the company’s water service installation.
When the company’s first location in Washington, D.C., became successful, Mansour decided to take a risk on additional expansion.
“I wondered if we were doing well in D.C. because we got lucky or because of good timing,” Mansour says. “I didn’t know just how good we really were, so I wanted to open a location where people wouldn’t know us, but it would still be close enough so I could watch it carefully.”
Next, Michael & Son opened locations in Richmond and Virginia Beach in 2009. When those locations became successful, Mansour grew more comfortable with continued expansion. In total, the company opened six locations in a four-year time span. Revenue for the sewer and water division in the Washington, D.C., location alone was $500,000 in 2009, but jumped to $4 million in 2013. This year, the company projects revenue of $5.5 million for water and sewer in the Washington, D.C., location.
Dedicated customer service
Mansour attributes the company’s success to attentive customer service, based on the philosophy that customers are the boss.
“Everything we do is for the customer,” he says. “When all of our efforts are for taking care of the customer, then everything goes right for us. I remind our staff that although I sign the checks, without the customer, the signature would be worthless.”
To Michael & Son, providing customer service means doing what’s right for the customer, regardless of time and cost.
“Quality control is a philosophy we live as managers,” says Ken Heflin, manager of water and sewer. “Basim holds managers accountable for issues or problems. If a complaint comes in, we have one hour to come up with a resolution. This idea is enforced all the way to the top of this organization.”
To stay on top of competitors, Michael & Son offers a robust warranty of 20 years on labor and lifetime for materials. To further stand out, the company has one of the only 24/7 service operations in the area, providing service the same day or next day for water and sewer problems.
The customer experience is especially important to Michael & Son. Last September, the company built a customer call center in the Richmond office that seats up to 137 service representatives for taking customer calls. Currently, the company is handling more than 4,000 calls per week out of the call center. An average of 30 to 40 representatives work in the call center at any time, but the company is holding weekly job fairs to hire more staff in preparation for growth.
“We want the ability to handle more call volume so we can get to our customers faster,” Mansour says. “When our customers call us, we never want them to be greeted by an automated system. They will always hear a friendly human voice on the other end.”
To address customer concerns or problems, two staff members are dedicated to customer relations. These specialists are trained to deal with customer issues, understand the limitations and resolve problems so customers stay happy. Designating people to this task helps relieve other staff members from customer relations responsibilities.
“We want our customers to be satisfied with our work, so this provides an outlet to get things taken care of,” Mansour says. “I can’t expect all of my staff to know how to treat a problem in the same manner. I can’t take a chance on losing a customer because we didn’t do everything necessary to solve an issue. That’s what the customer relations team does.”
A mighty fleet
Michael & Son owns more Vivax-Metrotech inspection equipment than any other contractor in the country, with 12 Vcam inspection systems and locators. These inspection systems are especially important for the company because they are used to provide free camera inspections after a paid drain cleaning job is completed. Michael & Son offers CCTV inspections for residential, commercial and municipal customers.
“A free camera inspection builds value into the work we do for the customer,” says Heflin. “It allows us to get to the root of the problem so we can properly diagnose what’s going on and provide the best service possible.”
The company’s water and sewer division has an extensive fleet of equipment, including eight Ford 450 utility body trucks for excavation crews, a Sterling single-axle dump truck, two additional Ford 550 dump trucks, a Ford 550 with interior box-mounted jetting equipment and 12 Sprinter short wheelbase vans for drain cleaning. A new pump truck will be added later in 2014 to expand current services.
Additional equipment includes a Ditch Witch JT922 directional drill, six John Deere D50 rubber track excavators, a John Deere D35 rubber track excavator, HammerHead pipe bursting equipment (with burst heads and fusion equipment for pipe up to 6 inches), RIDGID K1500 and K50 snaking equipment, a Vivax-Metrotech HL 5000 leak detection device with an 810 locator, Wacker Neuson compactors, STIHL concrete saws and ultraShore shoring systems (Safety Corporation of America) for excavations up to 15 feet deep.
Heflin says the company is planning to purchase a second directional drill and a vertical drill in the coming year to address the growing demand for trenchless water and sewer repair.
“Trenchless technology will be the way everything is done, and there will be less excavation in the future,” he says. “We are gearing up for that now.”
Owning such an extensive fleet of equipment presents management and storage challenges. The company has a storage yard where all equipment is returned when a job is completed, but as operations expand this year, Heflin plans to find another lot or warehouse just for storing the excavation equipment.
A heavy promotional schedule has been important for company growth. Michael & Son runs advertisements on local television, radio, Internet and Yellow Pages. Technicians use specialty yard signs at job sites and provide leave-behind slips for customers to reference in the future.
The company sponsors local athletic teams, including the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards. The unique blue design of the Michael & Son service trucks provides an instantly recognizable look, which the company uses as a branding tool.
At Wizards games, a blimp shaped like the Michael & Son truck flies around the arena dropping prizes for spectators. At Capitals games, the Zamboni is wrapped to look like a blue Michael & Son truck.
“There aren’t a lot of blue service trucks out there, so people see the trucks and already think of us,” Mansour says. “All of our advertising has to work together. When we touch people in more than one way, they remember us.”
Despite all the promotional activity, Mansour is certain that the workers themselves provide the best advertising.
“When we dig in someone’s yard, it’s very disruptive,” Mansour says. “We put all our dirt on tarps and plywood to reduce disruption to the existing grass. We take extra steps to make sure we minimize the damage to the yard. It takes more time and money, but it makes the yard look better. The best advertising is having our guys do their jobs well and take pride in their work.”
Ditch Witch - 800/654-6481 - www.ditchwitch.com
HammerHead Trenchless Equipment - 800/331-6653 - www.hammerheadtrenchless.com
John Deere - 800/503-3373 - www.johndeere.com
RIDGID - 800/769-7743 - www.ridgid.com
Safety Corporation of America - 800/746-7464 - www.shoring.com
Vivax-Metrotech Corp. - 800/446-3392 - www.vivax-metrotech.com
Wacker Neuson - 800/770-0957 - www.wackerneuson.com