Spotlight – Garrett Hart, President, Hart Plumbing Southwest
HOUSTON – When you look around Garrett Hart’s office, it’s easy to see why his company, Hart Plumbing has been successful for three generations.
Hart says he combines a strong work ethic along with a dedication to service and promoting a positive culture both in the office and in the field. His employees reflect the same work/play ethic. The hardworking crew receives bonuses, work closely together as a family, and know how to have fun.
A sports fan – and comic book fan – Hart’s office walls include a jersey from JJ Watt, an autographed poster from the Astrodome days, signed by Nolan Ryan, and comic book covers signed by Stan Lee, plus a photo of Hart riding in the BP MS 150 from Houston to Austin. There’s also an impressive speckled trout.
Hart, a Baylor grad, is married to his college sweetheart and has two small children under the age of 5.
Tell me a little about your background. Where did you go to school?
I went to Baylor and got a degree in finance and real estate. I also own my own real estate company, Garrett Hart Properties. I went to St. Thomas Episcopal in Meyerland. When summertime came, I was out in the ground digging and putting in underground plumbing.
What did you learn in college that helped you in your career at Hart Plumbing?
A lot was learned at Baylor. Looking at financial statements and seeing what looks wrong, what looks good, how to effect and change the business just by looking at the numbers.
When your dad asked if you could run the company with him, what was your first thought?
I said NO! I really wanted to go to school. I had worked every summer in the field since I was 13. He actually wanted me to join him right after high school. But I wanted to go off to college.
What are your earliest memories about the family business?
Figuring out how to dig trenches in 110-degree heat. I worked in the Woodlands and all over Houston. Dad was a plumber and mom owned a title company called Gulf Land Title. My aunt is still in title business in Sugar Land.
What was your first job?
My first job working for Dad. I really never had another job. After college, I applied for a position as a financial advisor and received an offer. After some thinking, I declined the offer, and decided instead to go to grad school and work for my dad part time. Pretty much to figure out if I really wanted to work at the family business. Dad said to give Hart Plumbing six months, and if you don’t like it, then you can do your own thing, be a stock broker or trader. I attended the University of Houston two-year grad school program. After graduating, I started working for my dad full time.
Now that you’re at the company, what is the culture like?
I have to say we are a very tight knit group of people. We have 55 employees. A half a dozen people in the office and the rest of my guys are out in the field all around the city. We have a couple of workers up in Dallas and Fort Worth, too. I try and keep in touch with all of them all the time. I go out and tour the jobsites regularly and hang out with them as much as I can.
Do you do any special shindigs for the employees?
We do fishing trips. Hackberry, LA and Bay Flats in Corpus. Mostly redfish and trout. We do a NASCAR trip twice a year to the Ft. Worth motor speedway, and have season tickets. My main foreman, Billy, who has been with the company for over 40 years, takes three of our employees with him. Sometimes foreman and journeyman plumbers, and he rotates so that everybody gets a chance to go. I usually go once a year. It’s always fun with a few celebrities around. ZZ Top performed there to kick off the races. Duck Commanders and Richard Rawlings are usually there, too.
What is your philosophy regarding customers?
We take them to lunch, we visit them. We establish one on one relationships with everyone – which is always good.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in your business?
How to treat your employees well. You take care of them and they’ll take good care of you. And take good care of your customers at the same time. We work with our vendors on a lot of trips and outings too and they also have a good relationship with our employees.
This type of work is all about safety. How do you train your workers?
We hold safety meetings at job sites once a week, covering important points like wear your hard hats and safety vests. Important topics.
When hiring new employees, what do you look for? What’s the tactic for hiring?
We look for experience in plumbing of course. Sometimes you have to take a chance and hire them and see what they can do and watch them.
Any personality traits stand out when hiring new employees?
Depends on the job. Hardworking. Being able to withstand the Houston summers. Honesty is also an important trait.
What’s your advice for someone interested in starting a new business?
It takes a lot of capital that’s for sure. Just to get going. Building good relationships with the supply house. Make sure you have a good group of guys in the field that you can trust. And a couple of key people in the office – like a good estimator. Very important. You can’t make any mistakes.
When not working, where in Texas would you be relaxing?
We have a place in Galveston where we can get away to on the weekends. My kids love fishing. And they love the beach, too. Movies. Love comedies. My most recent movie was Lego Batman. Our house has the movie Trolls on repeat all the time. Along with the movie, Moana. I think our family watches the movie every day, pretty much. And the soundtrack is on repeat in the house so there’s a lot of dancing from my daughter in the kitchen.
Do your kids show any interest in plumbing or what dad does?
I hope so! Then I can retire!
What is a hobby you have that is a big stress reliever after a long day?
Days are long. We open at 7am and close at 4pm. Emails and phone calls can last longer. I live down the street so I don’t have far to go. But usually to get away from the office I head out to the golf course or go fishing.
What famous person would you like to sit and talk to if you could?
Jimmy Kimmel would be good. I’d like to ask him what’s your day like? What do you do when you are not making people laugh!
Have you traveled anywhere special? Either for vacation or business?
We’ve recently been to Costa Rica with Pfister Faucets. We did a volcano tour with hot springs, rode in an ATV through the jungle. There’s a giant hot springs resort at the bottom of this active volcano. And there are about 25 natural hot springs all around. We took the four-hour ATV ride through the jungle. The halfway point is a giant waterfall, where you can jump in, then drive on about another hour to a restaurant in the middle of basically nowhere, with a beautiful view of the rain forest. The restaurant was a tiny place. I kept thinking, how did the employees get to work? How did they get food all the way up here? It was amazing. Middle of really nowhere.
Any other locations?
I’ve also been fly fishing in Wyoming. We stayed at the lodge on the North Platte River for three days. We got on a boat called ClackaCraft Drift Boat, where you have a fisherman in the front, a fisherman in the back and the guide is in the middle with two oars. So there’s no motorized anything. They drop you on the river and you fish for maybe eight hours and float 15 miles down the river and catch rainbow trout all day. But it’s catch and release. We took lots of pictures that day! The lodge hosts are very protective of the fish, and have a lease on a certain part of the river. It’s possible to catch 40 fish a day per person.
Have you traveled outside the country?
Last year I went to the Paloma and Rheem water heaters plant in Nagoya, Japan. They have a giant tankless water heater plant there. Myself and another group of plumbers and builders took a once-in-a-lifetime trip for 10 days. They own part of a baseball team there and we all got to go.
I see the large sign that looks like the company logo in your office and sits proudly behind three basketballs in cases. Tell me about that.
The logo is the original sign from dad’s first office. It was at the Corporate Drive and Highway 59 location for over 20 years. I had this office built here on Eldridge Road (in Sugar Land) about a year ago.
Two of the basketballs are from the Rockets. The middle case has a Baylor football helmet signed by Robert Lee Griffin III, nicknamed RG3. One of the basketballs is from the Rockets team when Yao Ming played. Got that one at a charity auction. The second NBA basketball was with the Rockets team from 2008.
What about the fish on the wall?
It’s a 30’ speckled trout caught in Baffin Bay while wade fishing. I used a live croaker for bait. Caught it while wade fishing for six hours. It was worth every minute. –dh
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