HPAC Magazine

The “New-School” Plumbing Business

Vancouver’s Impetus Plumbing & Heating is embracing social media and breaking down old-school perceptions.

August 10, 2022   By Dan Vastyan

Terence Chan, founder of Impetus Plumbing & Heating in Vancouver.

In 1990, Bill Chan emigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver. When he arrived in Canada, Chan bought a Street Fighter arcade kiosk, the first of many such investments on his way to becoming one of the area’s arcade pioneers. Like many immigrants to North America, Chan’s entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic thrived.

In some ways, Bill’s son, Terence Chan, followed the same entrepreneurial path, although in a more roundabout way in the beginning, and in a completely different market.

“I was a straight-A student in high school and entered the University of British Columbia’s engineering program,” says Terence. “That’s where my grades faltered, due almost entirely to my love of video games and the freedom to fail like I’d never experienced. I dropped out and floundered for a few months. My parents suggested a career in the plumbing trade, suspecting that an opportunity to work with my hands would be a good change.”

Chan enrolled in the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Piping Foundation course, at which point he realized that he wanted to give his all to becoming the best plumbing and heating professional he could be.

“The trade bit me,” he explains, as he fell in love with creating things. After trade school, Chan ultimately took on positions with five different firms. He started working on commercial hi-rise installations; he then went into sales with a distributor, before heading back into the field for service experience.

Later Chan went back to school specifically for hydronic system design. No matter what he was doing, Chan was fully invested.

“When I graduated from trade school in 2011, I set a goal to become the best plumber in the world,” says Chan. “Each job change was a calculated decision to gain the experience I needed to eventually start my own firm. I quite literally took notes on sales, service, design, installation and business management. I recorded what each company did well and what they did poorly.

Toward the end of his information gathering period, Chan made price lists and paid for his own business licenses. Reviewing his many experiences, Chan had a revelation:  changes to company cultures across all sectors of the trade were vital.

“Company culture directly impacts the public perception of the trade and impacts our ability to recruit and retain the right employees and deliver a phenomenal product,” he says. “At the end of the day, company culture dictates profitability.”

Launch of Impetus

Chan founded Impetus Plumbing & Heating in 2015, serving the greater Vancouver area. His motive was to two-fold; to challenge himself and to enhance the perception of the trade.

“The trade has always been perceived as blue collar,” he says.  “And how often do you hear someone use the term, plumbing career? At its core, my passion stems from closing the gap between widespread perception of the trade and what a modern, professional plumbing and heating company really does.”

Referrals have steadily multiplied.

Impetus hired its first of seven employees in 2017.  The company has no niche aside from taking everything they do to the next level – whether involving commercial, residential, service, installation or renovation work.

It is not uncommon for an eyebrow or two to raise after experiencing the company’s quality of work and the employees’ dedication to their craft.

Socially Active

According to Chan, the most effective way to change perception of the trade is by providing professional, interesting, informative and entertaining content on social media, and then backing it up with outstanding work.

Chan invests up to an hour a day on social media resulting in Impetus being visible on nearly every mainstream platform.

“Social media does a lot more good than bad for a business, at least when used correctly,” says Chan. “We reach customers, potential customers and potential hires.  Beyond that, we’re changing the perception of the trade in the minds of countless young people who may not even be in our area.”

Social media has become a critical recruitment tool for Impetus. Chan prefers to hire from social media because his followers are aware of the company’s culture, and they’re largely of the generation that’s in tune with his goals; bringing a professional, young presence to the trade.

“Another benefit of social media is the ability to network with manufacturers and other companies that serve the trade,” he explains.  “I’ve aligned Impetus with companies that have the same vision I do.”

A number of years ago, Impetus was approached by Jobber, a job tracking and customer management app that Chan now uses to run his business. He has allied himself with a number of other companies in similar fashion.

“The companies I collaborate with on social media are always those whose products I use, and beyond that, they have to be actively trying to improve the trades. Jobber does that,” explains Chan. “I also met Sean Giberson, Canadian sales manager at Taco Comfort Solutions, through Instagram. I learned that Taco is a family-owned company that’s built a community of forward-thinking trade pros through online training and interaction. Their goals align with all of mine perfectly.”

Residential Showcase

Right as COVID-19 made global headlines and lockdowns began, Chan purchased his first home with a vision to make the residence an Impetus Plumbing & Heating showcase.

“We were so inundated with calls from customers who were uncertain whether or not they could get a service professional to help them that I didn’t even have time to decide between a fixed or variable mortgage,” says Chan. “The emergence of the pandemic ultimately set back my renovation timeline by a year. Dealing with the other trades, limiting the number of workers in the home, and eventually material shortages really hindered progress.”

Now, in 2022, Chan lives in the home but admits it’s only 85% complete.  His plan to completely renovate the 30-year-old, 2,900 sq. ft. home is slowly coming to a close.

“I wanted to incorporate everything we can do in a residence,” says Chan. “Radiant tubing already existed on all three stories and in the basement, so we had a great baseline. The mechanical room and bathrooms became my key focus.”

Chan kept the mechanical room in his home under the stairs to demonstrate what his company can accomplish in a small space.

The Impetus company colours are on full display inside the home. Each of four bathrooms feature black granite and gold fixtures, made by Riobel. Two of the restrooms feature six-function showers, while another has a large tub filler. The home also has a dog wash.

“Most homes in Vancouver have mechanical systems crammed into the smallest space possible, and my house is no exception. It’s under the stairs,” explains Chan. “I could have moved it to the basement, but I wanted to display our capability within the confines of the average home in our area.”

To meet a big hot water load, Chan paired a condensing Navien NPE-240A instantaneous water heater with an NFC-200 combi boiler. If needed, the cascading system provides over eight GPM of DHW. Impetus re-plumbed the entire home and installed dedicated DHW return lines.

Currently, the home’s three radiant zones are served by a Taco 0015e3 ECM circulator and Zone Sentry zone valves with press fittings. Both circulators in the system feature isolation flanges. All Taco components, including boiler feed valves, dual check valves, circuit balancers, the 4900 Series air separator and the 4900 Series magnetic dirt separator and zone control.

Chan ran extra thermostat wires in case he decides to split existing zones in the future.  The mechanical room has plenty of flair too, similar to what Impetus provides on all their boiler systems.

A black and metallic gold epoxy pour was applied to the board supporting the boiler and components. The zone controller, water heater and boiler are all wrapped in matching gold vinyl, and green LED background lighting is powered when the boiler fires.

Elevating style: Chan’s showcase mechanical room has metallic gold epoxy on the wall board and gold vinyl wrap on water heater, boiler and zone controller, backed with LED lighting.

Pride in Work

 “Seeing to those details exhibits quality and cohesiveness,” said Chan. “I did it in my house, and I do it in customers’ homes, too. We’re not ‘butt-crack’ plumbers. We have software and new technology. We assemble controls systems. We have uniforms. We diagnose electrical issues.

“The trade is actively evolving, and I want to help drive that, both locally, through our work, and on a much larger scale via social media.”

Chan has even created a plumbing group in Vancouver, the BC Plumber’s Association.  The group is small for now, formed to facilitate business discussions among professionals who want to see the industry advance.

He believes that too much of the trade is still old-school, and that old-school mentality is why, according to him, there’s still so much price resistance in the market.

“When people ask us what our hourly rate is, I nicely explain that they have the wrong company,” explained Chan.  “That’s not us. We have five stars for a reason. People hear ‘plumbing’ and they think blue collar. That needs to change.” <>

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Mentoring Future Competition

Service technician Calvin Quan works full time for Impetus Plumbing & Heating, but he also owns Ethos Plumbing and Heating—a one-man business he operates on a part-time basis when he’s not working for Impetus.

Quan left high-rise/commercial plumbing in 2019 and transitioned to service plumbing, and Terence Chan of Impetus has been mentoring him with the intention of helping him truly strike out on his own one day. In doing so, some would say Chan is doing himself a disservice, but he claims the opposite.

Chan is mentoring Quan on how to run a business. He seeks out opportunities for Quan to gain more experience, tackle new challenges and run projects on his own. At every step, if there’s an opportunity for improvement, Chan explains how the situation could have been better handled. Chan allows Quan to also see how the company runs, hiding nothing.

“Calvin is a young, ambitious individual,” says Chan. “He came from a few companies, much like myself, and decided he wanted to learn his final lessons at Impetus. When he does step away from Impetus one day, he’ll be ready to show us what he’s really learned here.”

Impetus service technician, Calvin Quan, plans to strike out on his own, with the blessing of Impetus owner Terence Chan.

Quan doesn’t have concrete plans to leave Impetus yet. He feels there’s much more to learn before he decides to make the move. His current goal is to learn and experience the back-end operations of the business. When he leaves Impetus, his plan is to lend Chan an extra hand from time to time.

“When people learn of this, they ask me why I’d go out of my way to help someone who will become strong competition someday. I don’t see it like that,” explains Chan.

“It’s great to see people grow. It’s great to build community. There’s so much work out there, and quite frankly, I trust that Calvin won’t go after my clients. If he did, and if he succeeded in doing so, it just means that a) I never did a good enough job for my customers or b) they were never my customers to begin with!”

“By helping Calvin, I know that when he goes out on his own, there will be jobs that he can’t handle himself, or there will be jobs he’s too busy to handle,” continues Chan. “That’s when our relationship will pay dividends. We can always be there to help each other!”  <>

 

Dan Vastyan is president of Common Ground, specializing in marketing communications serving the construction industry with a focus on plumbing, mechanicaland HVAC markets. danv@seekgc.com

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