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From toilets to tanks

image Steve Williams, owner of Houston Water Heaters, with his wife Jocelyn and kids (l to r): Alex, Valerie and Stevie.

HOUSTON - For Steve Williams, owner of Houston Water Heaters, the “aha!” moment came when he was working for another company and had to do a hot water heater install for a lady. When he handed the $1,000 check for the job over to the company’s receptionist, that’s when he knew “I was on the wrong side” of the transaction.

 

 

 

    Two years later when that company laid him off, Williams had “$35 in the bank and the rent was due.” He then hand-painted “Centerline Plumbing” on the side of his little Datsun pickup and ventured out on his own in 1991.
    The only glitch was: Williams really “never wanted to be a plumber. I still don’t like it,” he laughs. He started plumbing after high school, working for his town’s water department. He and some other guys would do plumbing work on the side, during their lunch breaks. “We used to make more money during lunch than we did on our jobs.”
    While running Centerline, as well as being a sub-contractor plumber for Lowe’s, Williams discovered that the real money wasn’t in faucets, but hot water heaters. “When you sell a hot water heater,” he explained, “it’s a big ticket item.”
    Thus, he got out of plumbing and started Houston Water Heaters in 2008 and never looked back. “We switched to hot water heaters in ’08 and it took off like a rocket,” Williams said.
    “I went from toilets to tanks,” he laughs.
    Going from a worker-bee to an owner-bee came naturally for Williams, as he has “always been independent.”
    Williams said he gets calls every day to do regular plumbing work but turns them all down.
    Williams’ company installs around 1,000 regular hot water heaters and 500 tankless heaters yearly. They only do retrofit installations.
    Speaking of tankless water heaters, Williams says they are the future, after a rocky start several years ago. They are so much better these days, and Williams predicts that in 10 years, we’ll all be tankless. With no pilot light continually running, keeping 80 gallons of water hot all the time, tankless heaters just make sense. No more running out of water, he says. Which means future generations will never face having a head full of shampoo and cold water coming out of the shower, something we’ve all experienced if we were at the end of the bathing line in our families.
    When a tankless water heater is installed, it goes in the same spot of the old heater it’s replacing.
     Houston Water Heaters has fully licensed plumbers to install their heaters. (He uses exclusively Rheem heaters.)
Williams has nine employees and three office locations in the Houston area.
    Williams takes pride in the neat, clean, meticulous work they do. To take an old, broken hot water heater out of home, they use actual body bags bought from a morgue to transport them. They are waterproof, and rusty, dirty water isn’t dripped in someone’s house. Williams says that people “really appreciate the extra care that we take.”
    They even install leak alarms on the tanks so that if a leak occurs, they are notified and they get someone out immediately to fix the problem.
    Instead of doing the rather messy work that he used to do as a plumber, Williams oversees his company’s day-to-day operations from his Sugar Land location. They do both residential and commercial work. He says they are the first and so far strictly water heater-only company in Houston. While plumbing paid the bills when he was doing it, Williams said he didn’t start making “money-money until I started selling water heaters.”
    It’s probably safe to assume he no longer drives a little Datsun pickup truck anymore.
    Houston Water Heaters is a retrofit hot water heater company in the Houston area. -dsz.


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Dan Zulli dan@constructionnews.net