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Home | AUSTIN | Spotlight | Spotlight - Doug BerryAnn, Doug’s Plumbing Co.

Spotlight - Doug BerryAnn, Doug’s Plumbing Co.

image Far left: Doug BerryAnn and his team

AUSTIN - Doug BerryAnn has a Midas touch when it comes to establishing plumbing businesses others want to buy. He feels his current business of five years, Doug’s Plumbing Co., is a keeper though, and he has found the charm in his third time as a plumbing business owner.








Share a little about your upbringing and background.
    I was born in upstate New York and I lived there until I was 21. I don’t have any family in plumbing; I thought I would be a policeman or a firefighter, like any other little boy.
    After high school, I went into the Navy where I did two years active duty and six years in the reserves. I then moved to Texas and worked for a company where they chemically cleaned semi-conductor tooling, which was kind of a fun job. I did try to go to college for a year at Austin Community College (ACC) for geology, but I realized that you have to have a Masters or a Ph. D. I was starting out at ACC working at a shoe store, and it was miserable; I figured it would take me 10 years.

How did you discover your interest in the plumbing industry?

    I was young and living in an apart-ment complex. My neighbor, who was a young, single guy, was an apprentice plumber. After work, we used to hang out on the balcony and drink a couple of beers, and he was always raving about how awesome plumbing was and how much he loved it.
    On a whim, I called in sick one day to my semi-conductor job and lined up six interviews even though I didn’t know anything about plumbing! I knew zero about it, probably less than the average guy. I was young and I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t have any expectations.
     TDIndustries hired me and I started my apprenticeship in 1998, and I was the first guy in the TDIndustries’ Austin branch to go from a green apprentice to a master plumber, which took me about five years. They sent me to apprenticeship school at night, and I worked as much overtime as possible. Back then, I got in a really small window – it has since changed – where they didn’t have a tradesman’s license; there was only a journeyman’s license available. It took an average of four years and 18,000 hours, but any overtime and schooling counted towards that. I went to night school for plumbing at Associated Builders and Contractors in Austin and then I worked as much overtime as I could, since I was single and didn’t have anyone waiting for me at home. I was able to get my journeyman’s license in 2001, which was fairly quickly. At that time, you only had to hold it for one year before you could apply for your Masters, so I got my Masters license in 2003.

How did you transition from employee to employer?
    I worked for a couple of other companies and then realized I wanted to do my own thing and started a small plumbing company in Austin. It felt natural, and it was exciting and fun. I guess I wasn’t nervous, since I didn’t have any family and I just had to support myself. I had the business for a year, and just had two trucks. I sold it for a small amount of money to HHCC and went to become a service manager for them.
    Then, I got married and my wife and I had a baby. It was hard with us both working in Austin and having a baby with no family here. I decided to start another little company, Sierra Plumbing, in Bastrop – just me and a van – so that if I needed to take the day off to be with my little girl, I wouldn’t be tied into a really stressful job where I would be working late in Austin. I had that company for a couple of years and got up to three trucks, and then that was acquired and I became a service manager again.
    Both times, I wasn’t looking to sell it; I was approached by other companies. Usually I wouldn’t be interested, but anyone with a business understands that it gets so stressful. When you have that carrot dangling where you could get out of it with a little bit of money, then sometimes you take it.
    It took two times for me to realize that I didn’t like being in a service manager position, that I like running the show. Five years ago, I started Doug’s Plumbing Co. in Smithville. It’s structured totally different. I made so many mistakes in the first two that I finally think I have it figured out, and it’s great. We have 11 employees and six trucks. I didn’t expect it to grow this quick; it just kind of blew up! But this time, I’m definitely not selling unless it’s for millions!
What lessons did you learn from your ownership of the other businesses?
    I learned a lot about myself. I was a terrible, absolute horrible manager when I thought I was great! I’ve learned how to manage people and stay calm.
    I’ve also realized my processes and procedures [needed correcting] so that people weren’t making the same mistakes. I have a binder for all of the plumbers for every plumbing task that we do, and it is step-by-step and basic. I make the apprentices read it for whatever task they are driving to out loud on the way to the call. That way, when the apprentice gets there they have their head wrapped around what they should be doing and what the scope of work should be. Even though the plumbers pretty much already know what to do, they hear something that they might need to do that they might have forgotten.
    I also have a matching retirement program, health insurance, paid holidays and sick time. One thing I am really proud of is that no one has ever quit and no one has ever asked for a raise.
    And we do all kinds of crazy stuff together. I rented a house in Port Aransas for us and we spent the weekend there. We went zip lining over Lake Travis. We’ve also had crawfish boils with a live band.

Who has mentored you?
    One mentor was Frank Blau; he’s a pioneer in the plumbing industry who started Nexstar. I was a member of “The Service Roundtable” and there is an Internet forum where you can ask questions. I asked one and he told me to call him. He worked with me for a week on pricing for free. He’ll chew your butt and tell you you’re dumb and you don’t know what the heck you’re doing – and he did! – but once I swallowed that pill, I learned a lot. I also worked with plumbing consultant Ed O’Connell for a little while and he really helped me.
    I’m not in the field anymore, but when I was in the field, if I ever went to someone in a business and they appeared to be successful, I would just ask them what their secret was and what they did. A lot of the answers were the same, so I got a lot of good information just from people who owned their own businesses, keeping an open mind and not being too proud to tell people, “I don’t know.”

What do you enjoy about your work?

    One thing I enjoy is creating a good work environment where people can feel like they have a career, not a job. That’s how I’m trying to structure this, and make it to where they can say they can retire here, rather than always be looking for the next dollar or the better offer. Also, I enjoy meeting all of the people. There’s an instant sense of gratification, too.
As a plumber, you go somewhere and usually something is broken, you fix it and there is a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

    I have a wife, a 13-year old daughter and a 10-year-old daughter. We love being outside camping, hiking and taking our two dogs for walks.
    I also race dirt bikes/off-road motorcycles.  I’ve done that most of my life. I was training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and just got my blue belt, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do both and needed to pick one, so I chose motorcycles. I have two; I have a Kawasaki KX 250 and a KTM 250 XC.

Does your family race with you?

    The girls aren’t really interested in it, and in a way I’m kind of glad. They all know how to ride but they’re not passionate about it. They love to watch me race; the whole family goes to the races and they support me. Actually my wife, pre-kids, used to race with me all over Texas. She misses it and every now and then she threatens that she’ll get a bike and start again, but she’s so busy with her job and the girls that I don’t think she’ll ever race again.

What are your plans for the future?
    Professionally, I plan to keep growing the company. I really want it to be the premiere company in the area. I’m hoping, with everything that I’m doing, that someday we might be acquired. I don’t want to sell it for a little money and work as a service manager again, though; I would like to stay here for a year [after the acquisition] and then have enough money to be done. My Plan B is I purchased the building where I’m at, and it’s only going to increase in value, so maybe I’ll make enough selling the building.
    You never know though, maybe I can build up the business enough for my girls to run it. If they don’t want to be plumbers, they can always get licensed, learn the industry, go to school for business or marketing and take over the business. I’ve also thought about some of the younger guys who are with me; if they stay the whole time maybe I can give them partial ownership. There are all kinds of options.
    I don’t really have any personal goals except for enjoying life and raising the family – and wondering how I’m going to pay for college!
    Subcontractor Doug’s Plumbing Co. offers commercial and residential plumbing installation and services. –mjm

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Author Info

Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net