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October 2011
Plumb Crazy to Please Customers
By Barbara Fagan

     Is your plumber on your Christmas card list? If you answered “yes” then there’s a good chance your plumber is Chris Vigna, owner and president of All About the Pipes Plumbing, Inc.

     In addition to Christmas cards, Vigna regularly gets Thank You cards from his customers and has even received baby gifts when he and his wife Michelle had their children. So what inspires such goodwill?

     Courtney Jackson, a customer since 2008, says, “All About the Pipes is extremely professional. It starts from the time you book the job until they are through with the clean up. We had an irrigation pipe burst recently, flooding the front lawn. We called their emergency number at 8:30 that night and received a phone call back within the hour.

     “We’ve used other plumbers before and they were fine, but they weren’t memorable and I wouldn’t ever have recommended them to others. I highly recommend All About the Pipes. It’s not just about a sale. They look out for the best interests of their customers.”

     “I’m motivated by helping people,” Vigna says. “That’s what’s important to me. I want to keep that customer for life.”

     “We have customers from the first year who still call us,” he says. “We’ve even had general contractors call at the request of a homeowner who insists that the contractor use us for their plumbing work instead of the contractor’s usual sub. That kind of customer loyalty means a lot.”

     Satisfied customers do more than just send Christmas cards. They tell their neighbors, they write testimonials and they post reviews, all of which have build a strong reputation and recognition for All About the Pipes Plumbing.

 

Angie’s List Honor Roll

     It all started with an urgent phone call. “’I’ve got water all over’,” Vigna recalls Amy Norman saying. Norman had never used Vigna before but found an All About the Pipes Plumbing business card at a local coffee shop.

     “I’ll be there in 10 minutes,” Vigna replied.

     Norman had several leaks in her bathroom. “We fixed the problem,” Vigna remembers. “Amy was so happy with the work, she told us that she was going to post a rating for us on Angie’s List. She was the first one to post about us.”

     Norman might have been the first, but many more happy customers have followed, and business for All About the Pipes Plumbing has grown with each one. What was once five or six calls a day grew to the teens and then the twenties.

     “That’s when the people from Angie’s List called,” Vigna says. “They told me they were getting so much positive feedback about the company that they were going to list us on the Angie’s List Honor Roll.”

     In 2005, All About the Pipes Plumbing first earned Angie’s List Super Service Award, a distinction awarded on approximately 5 percent of all the companies rated who achieve and maintain superior service records with the rating company. All About the Pipes Plumbing has earned this distinction in every year since 2005 in multiple categories.

     The company was also featured in the Angie’s List magazine and recently Vigna was invited to attend an Angie’s List VIP event in Las Vegas honoring their service providers from around the country.

     All About the Pipes Plumbing’s outstanding reviews on Angie’s List caught the eye of Vicki Payne, producer and host of the PBS home improvement program For Your Home when she was looking for contractors to feature on her show.

     “We’ve worked with All About the Pipes since our third season,” says Payne. “We want to give the best information to our viewers so whenever we feature something mechanical, we bring in real contractors. Chris is delightful and professional. If it’s about the pipes, he’s on the show.”

     For Your Home, which is produced and shot in Charlotte, was syndicated a year ago and is now available in 60 percent of U.S. markets. Payne intends to use Vigna for future shows and for plumbing-related blogs on the show’s website.

     “Chris is part of the group, a loosely formed board of directors, that plan future projects for the show,” Payne says.

     Vigna admits, “Sometimes it’s hard for all this to sink in. Just a few years ago I was running the business from a corner of our bonus room.”

 

Following a Pipe Dream

     Vigna had always been interested in different aspects of building. His dad was an architect and he started working in masonry as a part-time job while he studied architecture and industrial design in college.

     When the masonry work slowed, he helped out a plumber in the area who needed extra hands. He found he loved the constant problem solving involved in plumbing.

     “It was difficult work,” says Vigna, “but I enjoyed the challenge of figuring it out. The plumber was a big NASCAR fan who frequently travelled to Charlotte. He was always talking about the work opportunities here.”

     It didn’t take long to convince Vigna to make the move. The two worked for a Charlotte area plumber for a while, and then in 1997, his friend started a plumbing company that Vigna managed. In 2003, Vigna decided it was time to go out on his own with All About the Pipes Plumbing, an unusual name resulting from a friend’s offhand remark.

     “I used to be a pretty hardcore cyclist,” Vigna recalls. “I still am to some degree, and we cyclists call our legs ‘our pipes’. One evening a friend was joking around about how the guys who cycle are constantly talking about their legs and she said, ‘It’s always all about the pipes. You should call the business All About the Pipes.’ My wife and I started thinking about it and it worked on several levels, including alphabetically in the phone book, and so it stuck. Customers tell me it’s catchy and easy to remember.”

     Vigna’s brother came up with the logo of a pipe in the shape of a “C” for “Chris” and Vigna started handing out business cards.

     “The company literally started on the bike,” Vigna says. “I’d keep business cards in my jersey and hand them out to other cyclists.”

     Vigna had to build the business from scratch. “On my first few jobs I didn’t even have all the tools I needed,” he remembers. “The money from the first jobs went straight into buying tools.”

     Jobs picked up and equipment was moved from the backyard to a storage unit and then a second and even a third storage unit was added. What began as a one-man, one-truck operation now boasts six trucks and an office off of Woodlawn near South Boulevard.

     Vigna’s customer base is a mix of residential and commercial work, broken down further into new construction, remodeling and renovation with a core business of service. He credits this diversification as a key factor for his growth during difficult economic times.

     Vigna and his wife Michelle spend evenings scouring over reports. They want to ensure the current economic conditions don’t cripple the business or its employees. They noticed a shift in business in 2008 through 2009. “New construction fell off and the gigantic remodels and additions we had been working changed to more modest remodels and renovations,” Vigna says.

     “But when there was a lull in new construction, commercial was still going strong,” Vigna adds. “When commercial started to slow, renovations picked up and then there’s always been the service business. That goes on no matter what the economy’s doing.”

     Remodels and renovations remain a strong business for All About the Pipes Plumbing and Vigna admits he’s partial to this business segment.

     “It’s the most intricate part of plumbing and I like the challenge,” he says. “With my background in architecture and drafting, I can review the prints and communicate easily with the builder, the architect and homeowner. It’s what I enjoy the most.”

 

The Right Business Tools

     In addition to five plumbers, All About the Pipes Plumbing also employs a business manager and a customer service manager in the office. Vigna is looking to hire another plumber and technician, but applicants may be surprised by the lengths to which Vigna goes to find the right employees.

     “I interviewed a plumber recently,” Vigna says, “and after the interview he told me, ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never had a two-hour interview before. And I’ve never taken an assessment.’” The in-depth interview and assessments are just some of the tools Vigna now uses regularly.

     “I’ve been working with Carolina Business Coach for over a year now,” he explains, “and I’ve learned how to better manage my current employees and how to effectively hire new employees.”

     “Communication is key. It’s paramount,” says Vigna. “Coaching has helped me communicate more effectively with my employees. It’s shown me how to best motivate and retain them. It also lets us figure out the best way to communicate with our customers. Some people want a quick, to the point explanation. Others want more detail and to go through information more deliberately.”

     Ongoing training is also important to Vigna.

     “Employees meet regularly,” he says. “We review positive and negative feedback and I even ask employees to solve hypothetical scenarios to keep their skills sets sharp.”

     Vigna also researches and gets certified in any new technology in the industry. Many of the blogs on the company website highlight his research, explain new products or give helpful tips to homeowners. He considers the extra steps he takes to be an investment in the future of the company.

     “The business tools help me improve in-house and field efficiency and develop a marketing strategy and future goals,” he explains.

 

Growth and Giving Back

     Vigna has big plans for the future of All About the Pipes Plumbing. He was getting a lot of phone calls from South Carolina so he recently became licensed there to serve that market. He’s also looking to purchase a building to house his expanding business. Hiring plays a part in both current and future plans.

     “We’d like to be at 10 trucks in the next couple of years,” Vigna says. “We plan to hire a field manager now and a warehouse manager soon.”

     But business growth has an additional aspect for Vigna. He strongly believes in giving back to the community that has supported him for the last eight years.

     Recently All About the Pipes Plumbing donated their time and service to install a new water heater and repair and refit the bathrooms and kitchen of a town home for the local non-profit, A Child’s Place. The town home will be used to transition a homeless family into permanent housing.

     And Vigna combined his love of cycling with community service when he organized a local bike festival in partnership with CharlotteSportsCycling.com and Bicycle Sport.

     In addition to a bike rodeo for the kids, the Bike Fest provided safety instruction and bike and helmet safety checks. All About the Pipes Plumbing also donated helmets to kids who needed them. Vigna is working with the other sponsors to make the Bike Fest an annual event.

     But even with all the awards, shows and community involvement, Vigna realizes that the success of All About the Pipes Plumbing rests solidly on the basics.

     “We treat our employees and customers with respect, show up on time and strive for excellence in our work—and we don’t forget the little things, like calling a customer to tell them we’re on our way or wearing shoe covers to protect a customer’s floor,” he says. “We want our customer to be totally satisfied with our work. We don’t just want a job; we want to gain a customer for life.”

Barbara Fagan is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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