In Conversation: Community Outreach During Covid-19
Calgary’s Ace Plumbing and Heating is offering free pick-up and delivery of groceries and complimentary replacement furnace filters and water softener salt to comfort clients during COVID-19. We speak with company owner Jack Devetten.
April 30, 2020 by Doug Picklyk
Servicing the greater Calgary area, Ace Plumbing and Heating is lending a hand during the COVID-19 crisis by offering free pick up and delivery of grocery orders for clients as well as offering complimentary replacement furnace filters and water softener salt to keep people comfortable while they’re staying home.
Jack Devetten (56), owner of Ace Plumbing, was born into a plumbing family. His father was a plumber, and Devetten started as an apprentice when he was 18 years old. By 1995 he started his own company doing residential new construction work, but by 1999 the native Calgarian switched the business’s focus to residential plumbing service and about six years later added residential HVAC to the offering.
We spoke with Devetten on Friday, April 24, to ask about Ace Plumbing and Heating’s community outreach initiative and about the state of his business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How did you come up with this idea of the free delivery service for prepaid groceries, and the complimentary replacement furnace filters and water softener salt? And what do you hope to gain?
Well, we came up with the idea that since we’re an essential service and we’re driving our vans around while other people are not as fortunate, either self-isolating or in quarantine, we should help out where we can.
Our campaign for picking up and delivering prepaid grocery orders actually begins on Monday [April 27]. We’re going to schedule pick-ups at the same time that we’re in certain areas. We have a lot of seniors on our client list and some of them don’t have as many people around to help them out. So we feel it’s a good service to do for the community.
As for the furnace filters, we want to make sure that clients have clean air to breathe, especially if they’re in quarantine. And a lot of people also need water softeners because of the hard water here in Calgary. If your water softener runs out of salt there’s not much you can do about it. So, a furnace filter and a bag of salt really don’t cost that much. And since we’re already carrying them in our vans, when somebody phones up for a call, we schedule a time when our van is in the area, and we can come by deliver the items right into their basement.
As for why we’re doing it. Well, first of all, it’s a community service. We want to make sure that we’re helping out the community. And of course, we also hope that people will remember us when times are good again.
How are you getting the word out about your community services?
We’re reaching out to our client list, phoning everybody and letting them know that we have this service available. We have a radio campaign starting on Monday [April 27], and we’re also promoting online through Facebook.
How many trucks do you usually have on the road?
Currently, we have four. We have six available, but with COVID-19 we’ve had to pull back a little bit.
How has your business changed since mid-March?
We’ve seen about a 40% decrease in work. We’ve found that there are three types of clients now: the ones that are absolutely scared to death of catching COVID-19; the people that are aware of it and understand the social distancing; and then there are other people that are not bothered at all.
So we have our COVID-19 protocols. We phone and let people know that we will be social distancing. We’ll sanitize the door handles before we go in, sanitize where we work. If we’re changing the water heater, for instance, we’ll sanitize the old one, pull it out, put the new one in, sanitize it when we’re done and all of the piping work. When we bring our tools back into the van, they all get sanitized again. And then the surgical gloves come off and then their hands are sanitized again, and then we proceed with the next call.
If customers are uncomfortable with signing the iPad, we can just sign it as an acceptance by phone.
Are your technicians wearing masks?
Currently we ask our clients, would you like us to wear a mask before we come in? I don’t want people to be unnerved with a masked technician coming into the home. And we do make sure that our technicians are safe as well. If they feel that the home is not safe to enter, then they just call the office and we’ll phone up the homeowners and make other arrangements.
Have you had any challenges getting personal protective equipment (PPE)?
We’ve always had PPE in our vans. We have face shields, and we do have dust respirators. And we have purchased some of the N95 masks.
How you would describe this general economic environment in Calgary before COVID-19.
Before COVID-19, I would say it was a normal year. There were challenges, but not any different from 2019. January and February were pretty close to 2019.
Does the current economic climate remind you of the economic downturn in 2008?
In 2008 there were a few people that were losing their jobs, we had about a 10% unemployment rate, oil was still doing all right. It was not as bad, and my business actually expanded in 2009. In 2016, when oil prices hit a an all-time low, that really affected our business. I would say in 2016 our business dropped about 25%. And then 2017 and 2018 we started building it out again.
What’s happening now is people are not only afraid for their jobs, it seems like they’re also afraid of catching this virus and uncertain about what’s going to happen afterwards.
Do you have any sense of how your business is going to look in a couple months from now?
You know, I would say the business will be better in a couple of months, because I think as this curve flattens out things will start to open up again. People will get a sense of relief again, and it will get better. The only good thing about being in the service industry is plumbing breaks no matter what’s happening outside. That was one of the reasons I went from construction into service, because there’s always work in service.
Is there anything that would help your business right now or in the near future?
What would help us in the future, and what helped us in Alberta last couple of years, was the energy efficiency rebate programs? I think if they did that again it would help our industry and it would help lower the carbon footprint again.
Your community outreach program should help to get your business noticed, and is that your face on the side of every company van?
Yeah, that’s true. It is. My wife, Margaret, does the marketing. And 15 years ago, I asked her to put something on the side of the van that none of our competitors would do. So, she said, “I’ve got just the right thing for you.”
So she had the van wrapped, and when I went out and had a look at it I said, “Wow, that’s a big head.”
And then she asked, “So what do you think about it?”
And I said, “Well, I’m beside myself.”
You’ve been at this business for decades and you seem very positive for the future. Are you always so positive?
I think I’ve always been a positive person. If you’re a pessimist and you’re running a business, you won’t run the business very long because you have to realize that there’s a lot of disappointments along the way. And there’s a lot of good things that come from running a business as well.
When it’s an outside influence that you have no control over, like a pandemic, it’s a challenge to keep everything going. I like challenges. This is certainly one I never would have guessed, and certainly one I didn’t welcome. But by the time we’re through it, in five to 10 years we’ll be looking back and talking to our grandchildren about it.
Like it or not, we’re living through history right now.
Hey Canadian plumbing and HVAC contractors, if you have a story to tell, contact email@example.com and let us know how you’re dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Maybe we’ll share your story as well.
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