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The Gem Plumbing Dynasty

By Bruce Freeman

Anthony Gemma is a lawyer and a plumber, probably the most successful plumber you’ll ever hear of; in fact, he and his family are building a plumbing dynasty in Lincoln, Rhode Island that may change the face of the plumbing industry forever! The youngest of nine children, Gemma started as a plumber’s helper when he was 10, as did his bothers. By the time they were college-educated men, the brothers had formed a different vision of the plumbing business, one dominated by investing in employees’ training, performance and appearance.

If you’ve ever wondered why independent plumbers charge so much per hour, there is a reasonable explanation. Plumbers often experience up to 50% down-time when they make nothing at all, so they must charge enough per hour to cover all those hours when they are on-call and cannot do other things. Obviously, if you build a plumbing business with centralized administration, call booking and bill collection, you can increase efficiency and lower rates a bit, but employee turnover is a constant problem which compromises services levels.

The Gemma brothers, Larry, Eddie, Lenny and Anthony, realized that to transcend the traditional problems associated with plumbing; they needed to build a new business model which empowered employees by investing in their education and future. The training they provide includes both technical and professional skills which range from personal hygiene and appearance, including shoe covers to protect customers’ floors, neatness, addressing the customer, and even more.

Gem Plumbing wanted to be recognized as an honest company you could count on when you need help, so they began teaching employees about the right attitude. They encouraged employees to go out of their way to do random acts of kindness; buy someone a cup of coffee, help change a tire or whatever opportunity came along – believing that kindness would come back to both employee and business ten-fold. Finally, they trademarked a short poem on the back of their business cards to encourage recipients to pass the favor along . Dedicated to excellence, they made it their mission to provide world class customer service and practice random acts of kindness.

By 1982, three of the brothers had joined the firm and Gem Plumbing had grown to about 40 employees. By 2002, with Anthony at the helm, Gem Plumbing employed over 80 people and enjoyed over $14 million dollars in sales, but only 2% of people surveyed knew their name. Now, with a successful track record for their business model, it was time to focus on branding the business to provide the foundation for further expansion. Everyone remembers the catchy 70’s Tommy Two Tone tune, Jenny, which contained one of the most famous telephone numbers ever recorded, 8-6-7-5-3-0-9. (You’re probably singing it in your head right now and will be all day.)

Based on their volunteering spirit and reputation for kindness and honesty, Gemma managed to convince the organizational owner’s of the phone number to allow it to be used by Gem Plumbing as a brand identifier. A funny song parody and radio advertising followed, which brought their name recognition from 27% in 2003 to 50% by the end of 2004. By then, 8% of the people in Rhode Island knew their name and phone number by heart.

With the assistance of PSI (Plumbers Success International), a trade organization that specializes in the plumbing and heating industry, they adopted the slogan, “the smell–good plumber”. “Smell-good” is memorable because it catches your attention in the same way an upside down bill-board would – you know something is wrong, but you have to think about it to determine what – most people would say the “good-smelling” plumber. Now, Gem Plumbing services 5 New England states with 300 employees, 160 trucks and over $33 million in sales.

Professor Bruce’s Words of Wisdom

Anthony Gemma and his family have big dreams. They want their company’s service to be the best - clean, reliable and on-time, every time. In so doing, they have actually changed the landscape of the plumbing business in New England. By instituting standards for their own employees, their example is raising the bar for every plumbing company they compete with. This is the kind of excellence that turns a family-run company into a business dynasty.

Case History:  [EXTERNAL]

Entrepreneur’s Strategy:

Build a company through dedication to service and personal excellence. Build brand recognition via radio advertising of a catchy song.

Could This Work For Me?

Nobody goes bankrupt from providing service that’s too good. Once your service level is stellar, it’s time to advertise and a catchy song that contains your phone number is a very effective method.



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