Park Lane, a small but busy plumbing services company located just outside of Edmonton, Canada keeps a decidedly low-key digital profile.
There’s no website, no social media presence to speak of, no blog content, no YouTube videos and no Google Ads to peruse, though the one online review they got in 2012 is pretty sweet.
That said, Park Lane has been around 32 years now and is doing just fine, thank you very much.
“The thinking behind not marketing is just wanting to service the customers we already have,” says Ann Lane, better half of the husband and wife duo behind Park Lane. “They give us enough work, all day, every day. There’s no need to start flooding the market.”
91% of 18- to 34-year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
– Bright Local, 2017
From its rural acreage/world HQ, the current iteration of Park Lane has been servicing the commercial/residential and condo market exclusively since August of 2015. It’s a short enough drive into the city but a long way from where the mom and pop business began in 1982.
“The thinking behind not marketing is just wanting to service the customers we already have. There’s no need to start flooding the market.”
In the beginning
Back in 1985, Ann’s husband was “ . . . a number working for someone else,” who wanted to start his own business. “I thought he was crazy,” Ann recalls. “He was like, I’ve got the tools. I’ll just buy a truck and that’s it.”
By staying agile to the opportunities that came their way and relying on Ann’s income from her own job when things were lean, Park Lane survived the early years.
“We got the few jobs we needed and managed to keep the bills paid,” she says. “After a while, more work started to come in fits and starts, but to keep things afloat we were having to do all sorts of residential work and were always chasing money.”
So, as a strategic move, Park Lane formed a partnership with an HVAC company that served commercial clientele.
“They were getting calls for plumbing from their clients and turning it down. We were getting calls for HVAC from our clients and turning it down . . . it just made sense,” says Ann. “For six years we worked together out of the same office. At one point we had 8 employees. This was when we really understood that commercial work was where we wanted to be.”
“But then the economy dived, the oil patch companies started laying people off, and by the time we realized how it was affecting us the phone had stopped ringing.”
Scaling down and leveling up
When it was time to detach from the partnership, Park Lane went back home, to the two bay shop on the rural acreage outside Edmonton.
We generate an average of 13 leads a month for local service companies. See how we do it.
“It was scary at first wondering what would happen to our commercial clients,” says Ann. “Would they deal with a mom and pop operation, or was what they really wanted office people, lots of trucks and people in uniforms?”
Turns out what they really wanted was what every customer wants: good service, fair rates and a decent human being to talk to when needs be.
That’s been more than enough to win business from some elite brands, including Starbucks, Subway and the Jim Pattison Group—a stalwart Canadian enterprise with hundreds of commercial properties.
“Our clients were wonderful. They’d been through economic ups and downs themselves, so they understood what was happening with us,” says Ann. “As soon as we reverted back to our old brand and small operation, all our old clients started calling us and they’ve never stopped.”
When they call, I treat them as a friend. I empathize and feel bad if they have an emergency. They know that we’re going to do whatever we can to help them. This became our reality.
That’s when Ann and Park Lane realized their business wasn’t really about plumbing. Rather it’s about the relationships they have with their customers.
“When they call, I treat them as a friend. I empathize and feel bad if they have an emergency. They know that we’re going to do whatever we can to help them. This became our reality,” she says. “My husband is a smart guy. He does great quality work and knows his way around every plumbing issue.”
“So we’ve got the listener, and we’ve got the fixer, and that’s what our customers want.”
High maintenance means low risk
The beauty of commercial plumbing work vs. the residential market is its predictability. Backflow tests, for example, are something every commercial building in Edmonton must have completed annually—Park Lane is certified to do just that.
“There’s a lot of scheduling and early mornings involved but it’s very steady and great filler work,” says Ann.
This predictability gives Park Lane lots of vision into their revenue cycles and the ability to align income with expense and overhead, which is low given the size of the company.
“We do a lot of maintenance on boilers, hot water tanks and such,” says Ann. “When we have those, we don’t need new customers, otherwise our steady clients’ maintenance work would end up getting pushed. The preventative maintenance deals are always best.”
We’re so immersed in this because it’s been our life for so long and we love what we do. We get to work with our friends day in and day out, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Asked what advice she’d offer Park Lane when the business was just getting started 32 years ago, Ann is unequivocal.
“Maturity,” she says. “The younger us took everything personally because we didn’t have a lot of work. We had to put food on the table so we did jobs we probably wouldn’t do now and sometimes it came back to bite us. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, like only working for one client. Don’t chase residential work—it’s too hard to collect. Don’t do things you’re not good at,” she says.
“Do the work that you know will pay the bills and learn to deal with people in a lighter, friendly way.” Following these maxims, Ann says, “Makes the job seem like it’s not a job.”
“When our business shrunk again, it felt like it was just the two of us, but our clients were right there with us.” she says “We’re so immersed in this because it’s been our life for so long and we love what we do. We get to work with our friends day in and day out, and that makes it all worthwhile.”
“It’s so easy now. We have the best of both worlds and we love it.”
Lightning round with Park Lane Plumbing!
What is your favorite Jobber feature?
How I use the program. I keep track of a lot of the equipment information in Jobber – serial numbers, location of equipment, etc. – using custom fields. I create my recurring job then on the day of the visit I see I need to do my communications to schedule a specific time and can see all of the info I’ve recorded. People think I’m a genius. I can easily grab invoices and attachments for my customers all at once, adding value for our customers that not many plumbing companies can. If I lost Jobber tomorrow, I’d be devastated.
What is your top marketing channel?
Word of mouth/referrals.
What is the most valuable tool in your work toolbox?
Something really cool happened with Jobber’s quote approval feature this morning. I did up two quotes, and no sooner than I sent it I got an email notification that one had been approved. I could see our customer signed it, and there was no need for them to email me about it—brilliant! A lot of times we send out quotes and just wait, and two this morning have already been approved. I can’t say enough good things.
Outside of work tools, what would you never leave home without before a day in the field?
More Jobber stuff! When I had a question they caught it fixed it within 2 days—great features and the best support. They’ve answered everything I ever asked and then some, like how to attach a picture to an invoice. They constantly evolve and try to make everybody happy. I’m just some small company, but I’m never made to feel like I’m a peon with stupid questions.
What do you do outside of work to unwind?
We have been building a cabin—it’s become our happy place. It’s all built by hand by myself, my husband and our two boys. It’s a place we go to entertain, we go boating, we sit on the beach and eat and drink with neighbors and have many potluck parties and games nights. Our kids come out with their friends, we had our 25th anniversary out there, we had my husband’s 50th birthday out there. And we work hard out there, it’s not like we sit there and do nothing. A lot of our time is put into making that cabin into a beautiful home. We work hard in the yard all day, and finally it’s 5:00pm and the neighbors text us about happy hour. Then we just stop and look at the work we’ve done. It’s a lovely, lovely cabin. It’s our unwind for sure.
There are over 120,000 plumbers in the United States. Don’t let a larger plumbing company service your neighbors.
– IBISWorld, 2018