Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Innovation Plumbing started as an idea in 1990, and officially in 1991 when my dad got his C 36 plumbing license for the state of California. I was two years old at the time.
My name is Andrew Tomasetti and I am a second-generation leak detector with my dad, Bill Tomasetti at Innovation Plumbing of Modesto, California.
With 30 years of experience, there's a lot of depth to what we do. We started out working with restoration contractors directly. When a property or a structure would burn down, we would subcontract with the general contractor to put back all of that destroyed plumbing.
We still do that. But over the years, it's evolved.
We've become plumbing experts for a lot of insurance carriers. They look to us for our expert opinion on various matters that are related to water plumbing.
We stand by our name, Innovation Plumbing. We've been early adopters to thermal imaging technology and acoustic leak detection technology, and we've been really on the cutting edge of just nailing down the leak detection industry and perfecting it for ourselves.
Over the years Innovation Plumbing has grown and evolved into a devoted list of repeat customers who are more like family to us. Makes sense, in a family business!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My dad, Bill, got into plumbing because he had no other option. At 19 years old, he couldn't take time off to go to school because he had to make money.
Get up every day and do the same thing. Be very consistent.
His older brother was a used car salesman who had just sold a truck to an up-and-coming plumbing contractor who happened to be looking for some help. So my uncle told my dad, hey, this guy, he needs a plumber.
Bill just took that and ran with it. When my dad does something, he takes it to a hundred percent. After working as an employee for a few years, at 27 years old he started his plumbing and leak detection business.
I was raised in the business and learned plumbing just growing up.
I saw the opportunity with doing leak detection and water damage inspections for insurance companies, and then I took that to a hundred percent. Same kind of mindset as my dad. Whatever you're going to do, just do it to your fullest and make it successful.
He started as a plumbing company, and I kind of evolved it. And I'm still trying to take it to the next level, you know?
Describe the process of launching the business.
Those were the days when you could go through the yellow pages and call people up. So that's what Bill did. He found a restoration contractor, then that was his first account where he got repetitive business and started making a living out of it. He just called a bunch of people out of the yellow pages until someone said yes and he could prove himself to them.
Since he had already worked as a plumbing employee, he had all the tools and the truck he needed. I think he had some money saved up as well. Not a lot.
I know along the way he borrowed money from his dad one time, and he borrowed from his father-in-law one time. Both loans were $3000. Which, at today's inflation rate, would be around $6000 each. He's very proud of the fact that he paid them back sooner than he told them he was going to.
The transition of ownership and responsibility from my dad to me has been a very natural progression. Nothing abrupt at all. My dad’s getting older, and he’s getting tired. He doesn’t want to answer the phone, he wants to focus on his work in the field.
So I started accepting more responsibility. I began by taking over our phone line. I was more responsive, and I was getting customers the answers they were looking for. Even before I had our phone, everybody just started naturally gravitating towards me and calling me and reaching out to discuss their next project.
I like building relationships that will turn into profit over the long term. He likes to work with his hands, get the job done, and feel good about the product that he puts out. He gets a lot of pride and satisfaction out of that. So we just kind of fell into our strengths, and fully embraced letting each other go in the direction of what we naturally excelled at.
From there I just started listening and figuring out what the customer needs were. What are they looking for? What can I do better? Just being very receptive. I got more confident in my ability to listen and deliver what the customer was wanting.
We started including different technologies based on customer feedback. People wanted to see moisture and thermal imaging, so those are two tools we’ve implemented since 2017.
How did you start working with insurance companies? How is it different to work with them vs a regular customer?
Doing contracting work for insurance is a difficult industry to get into. There's only one main competitor for a reason!
The way we got into it was when my dad first started his plumbing company, it was really hard to stay busy from random jobs from homeowners. He started looking for an account that was going to keep him busy.
He found a general contractor that specialized in dealing with insurance agencies. This man rebuilt houses and buildings that were damaged in a fire. After subcontracting as a plumber with him for a while, the insurance agents started to notice my dad did a better job than the competitor. He worked faster, his prices were fairer, and his work was of higher quality in general.
AAA was the first insurance company to directly hire my dad for leak detection without going through the other contractor.
Eventually, a big contractor that we worked for almost went out of business and had to scale down and let go of 90% of their employees. All of their project managers scattered like the wind, and a lot of them landed jobs with various insurance companies. So that turned into a big opportunity because their companies needed a trusted vendor for leak detection and plumbing restoration, and they all knew us already.
Contracting for insurance agencies is different because you're dealing with a business versus an individual. It's more transactional, less emotional. It's more black and white, less gray. There's no real negotiation. Our prices are fixed. There's that flat rate they’ve agreed upon. It's a lot simpler, honestly.
Some people don't like it and prefer working B2C. That way, they get paid as soon as the job is done. With insurance, you do have to do fillings, which takes time. You've got to keep your books straight. So it's not cash on delivery. Some people don't like waiting, but we’re fine with it.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We haven't spent any money on marketing until this year. Recently, we began working with a digital marketing agency, Genuine Growth Marketing. We were very hesitant to work with any marketers, and it took a long time to find the right people. I’m a plumber first and foremost, not a marketer, and ESPECIALLY not a digital marketer! So we needed help. There’s no avoiding the fact that we live in a digital age and that’s what people care about these days.
We wanted a new website that reflected our brand. Our old site just wasn’t conveying the fact we were experts in our field. It didn’t even really say what we did. Who knows how many potential customers we lost because of that.
We also opted for them to build us a second, separate “rank and rent” website. This one is less branded and more focused on showing up in search results for leak detection in Modesto. As we wait for the new SEO site to rank, we’ve seen an increase in calls from our Google Business Profile as people who find us are more likely to call since we have a professional website.
We also got our service vehicles wrapped with our company logo and phone number. On the back of the truck, there is a QR code so people can easily find us on the web.
All that being said, repeat customers are still our bread and butter. Here's how we do it:
Number one, the service has to be top-notch. But number two, you have to be a person that people want to do business within general. Some people put out a great product, but they're not personable or they're not nice individuals.
Having high integrity always being very truthful and doing what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it, will put you miles ahead of the competition already.
And if that ever changes (because that's just life) just let people know right away. We aim to be honest and upfront with people about things like that.
Repeatability is key. Get up every day and do the same thing. Be very consistent. Your customer needs to know what to expect.
If you obsess over customer experience, then customers go tell their neighbors, their friends, their families. That's word of mouth, and that's what has kept us in business all this time without spending any money on marketing.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We're strictly brick-and-mortar. I'm just taking what we're doing and putting it on a larger scale. I want to expand to all of California, then all of the West Coast, and eventually become nationwide. But I always want it to feel like a small family business, no matter how big we get.
The problem is the things that you need to become more efficient cost money. Once we get a little bit bigger and we're able to implement some of these strategies and software like Service Titan, I think we could springboard. Because of the way that we do business, once we implement those things to boost efficiency, it's going to blow up pretty fast.
I want to grow, but I don't want to lose sight of always putting the customer first. The main thing is keeping the core principles.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think about that a lot. I am so contrarian, it hurts me in the long run. I'm always going against the grain—always second-guessing everything that's mainstream. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s bad.
For example, I own a Ford F-150. It's the most purchased vehicle in America, and I can see why! I love my truck. But there was a long period in my life where I would look at the most popular thing, like this Ford truck, and refuse to use it.
It's not that I don't want to be a contrarian. It's good to surround myself with people who think differently. But if I could just understand the mainstream, I could use that to my advantage. Whether I agree or disagree, just understanding the thought process would be extremely advantageous as we try to reach a wider audience.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
A plumber is only as good as his tools. We use cutting-edge products like PEX tubing, Pro Press, thermal imaging cameras, sewer cameras, micro-cameras, and the Fisher M Scope.
I'm active on Linkedin, but don't do social media beyond that.
I know that to level up, we need to get way more organized. My next goal is to implement Service Titan, which has everything from analytics to funnels.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Honestly? The most influential book for me has been the Bible. It’s so versatile, it can help in any situation.
As far as business goes, I follow Ray Dalio. All his books are good, but his book The Changing World Order offers a lot of insight into financial systems.
I also have a subscription to Hedgeye for financial analysis.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
To any business owner or human out there: it's not about you.
Having kids and being in business with my dad, has taught me that the quicker you get that nailed down—the quicker you can die to yourself—the faster you will see the results that you were always hoping for.
That's been my personal experience going from a very self-centered person to who I am today.
I think we all start there. Kids are very self-centered individuals, so we have to grow. We have to learn how to be a servant and have a servant's heart and attitude. In life and business, it's a game-changer.
And if you can adopt those principles now, early on in a brand new business, your customers will know that you will be there for them. They'll know that you will help them.
Obsess about the customer experience. Don't obsess about how much time you're spending with them, or what else you could be doing. Invest time with that person.
If you build a real relationship with your customers, you will pull each other up through hard times. COVID was a rough year, and I don't know what we would've done without our friends, neighbors, colleagues, church, family, and customers.
I always come back to that. Obsess about the customer. Put them first, and put your needs last. Then you will find your needs fulfilled beyond your wildest dreams.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re hiring for a full-time general plumber in Modesto, California. Dependability is the most important trait anybody can have. We can teach the skills necessary to be a great plumber, but we can’t teach dependability. Email me directly at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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