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diplomat
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5,292 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Just when I had an awesome list of subs in Alaska I moved twice, and now I'm in Portland, OR area for the long haul getting everything started back up again.

I'm having a hard time finding a quality, professional, reliable and reasonable plumbing sub. I'd like to think I'm about as good to work with as they come. I have everything ready and cleaned out the day I say I will. I personally write the checks, and I'll do it the moment the job is done. No delays, no check is in the mail, no homeowner hasn't paid me yet.

I have a steady stream of work and I can complete about 3 jobs a month that require permitted plumbing work. Low volume but steady.

The negative is job size. Maybe half of my jobs are little 5x7 bath redos where I just need a tub and valve installed, and later trim. Two 2 hour visits. The rest are more involved with re-pipes, additions, sub-slab, often 8-16 man-hours for rough in.

I've contacted about 15 plumbers and had mostly negative or non-existent response. Google, craigslist, and recommendations from supply houses.

The few responses I've had are giving me flat rate numbers that are well over the ~$200 an hour I'd be willing to pay for a plumber and apprentice. I'm looking for good to work with, reliable, etc, not the cheapest.

I guess this is kind of just a rant, but any suggestions on where to look and maybe what plumbers want to here from me?
 

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Super Moderator
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IMO, two things going against you....

You are the FNG in town with no reputation.

Second is residential remodeling...normally a HUGE PITA for subs.

Just keep asking.

Two good bets:

an older semi retired guy....or

a new guy trying to get established.....

Good Luck...:thumbsup:
 

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diplomat
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Discussion Starter #4
The search continues but I haven't given up yet. It's almost to the point where I could employ a plumber full time for less money.
 

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Banned
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I have to agree with Griz.....if someone calls me out of the blue to sub.....it raises concern if I bite.......I don't know you so I have to keep short accounts.....and sorry if my trucks rollin.....I'm makin money
 

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Look for a service plumber. Thats what our plumber does primarily. He used to do a lot of big multi family stuff, now he wants to do smaller stuff and service work. Doing our work gets him in with our homeowners, who are not the type to work on their homes. We give our clients the names and contact info of all the MEP subs when we complete their projects.

As far as remodel subs go, it would be tough for a lot of trades, like drywall to get on something like a bathroom. We do a lot of additions and whole house remodels, so the subs bear with us on the smaller jobs. But we have an in house painter/drywall guy for just that purpose, and cabinet finishes. That way I dont have to call a sub to drywall or paint a bathroom.

When we first started we started strong, built a few houses and some additions, then had an 18 month period where we didnt have a good sized job due to the recession, other than one house and a cottage. I got pretty good at doing everything I could legally do at that time.

Like Griz said, your new in town. Your a good contractor, it wont take long to get a reputation among the subs as a good guy to work for.
 
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The new guy is a way to go for subs on remodels if you are in tuned with the local trades reps. When my roofer died, we did a lot of our own roofing for a while while trying to vet a new one. We generally only do R panel and U panel in house, I sub dimensional, standing seam and tile ( except for tile repairs sometimes) generally. The guy we ended up going with was an installer who was subbing from roofers with his crew. He was trying hard to break out as a roofing contractor. He is everything you look for in a sub, prompt, well healed and does clean, professional installs. I refer straight roofing jobs I dont want to him all the time, and sub quite a few to him every year.

Same thing for my painter/drywall guy.

Both subs have been with me for 3 years, both businesses have expanded because of their hard work and determination. Meanwhile they still like doing my work because I am not a cheap skate and we pay promptly.
 
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diplomat
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Discussion Starter #8
I may have found my guy. I'm trying him out on a small job and then I have a good sized one to jump start our working relationship.

I think I pretty well understand all the concerns subs have when hearing from me and I think after a couple jobs they will be happy. I will even schedule the entire project around their down days so they keep busy and making money. I'm pretty skilled in all the trades and ill happily do anything I need to to keep projects on track.

It's been humbling. Things were going so well before, I was turning down 80% of new work, and I pretty much always had a sub eager to do the work for me. Now I'm back to the start, I'll be filling in doing anything I legally can.
 

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diplomat
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Discussion Starter #9
I'm sure some of my issues could just be not understanding this market, which might bear the numbers that seem crazy to me.

For example, a common small job for me, I don't make much money but it's easy to schedule and i could live off of only these if needed, is a small simple bath update.
Day 1: set up, demo and clean
Day 2: install new tub and valve in the morning, cbu and waterproof surround
Day 3: install the majority of the tile, all if possible
Day 4: wall sand, repair, skim. Grout
Day 5: sand walls, touch up, prime, paint. Install vanity and toilet, plumbing trim
Day 6: usually something pushes the end day here

Before, a simplified breakdown of my numbers, normalized to $100 hide the true numbers:
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, overhead and profit
$20 plumbing and electric sub
$100 cost to customer

Now it's more like
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, oh and profit.
$40 plumbing and electric sub
$120 cost to customer. A 20% increase just due to subs.
 

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I'm sure some of my issues could just be not understanding this market, which might bear the numbers that seem crazy to me.

For example, a common small job for me, I don't make much money but it's easy to schedule and i could live off of only these if needed, is a small simple bath update.
Day 1: set up, demo and clean
Day 2: install new tub and valve in the morning, cbu and waterproof surround
Day 3: install the majority of the tile, all if possible
Day 4: wall sand, repair, skim. Grout
Day 5: sand walls, touch up, prime, paint. Install vanity and toilet, plumbing trim
Day 6: usually something pushes the end day here

Before, a simplified breakdown of my numbers, normalized to $100 hide the true numbers:
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, overhead and profit
$20 plumbing and electric sub
$100 cost to customer

Now it's more like
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, oh and profit.
$40 plumbing and electric sub
$120 cost to customer. A 20% increase just due to subs.
That could be many things, like getting higher prices than your used to because your starting out again doing smaller jobs, smaller jobs mean more PITA money to some subs.

Might be the new locale has higher rates than your used to.

Might be the economy is up there and the subs raised their rates.

I pay attention to what stuff is going for, but I dont get hung up "too" much on the subs prices as long as they seem reasonable. My drywall sub has gone up considerably over the last year per sq ft. He is charging quite a bit more for remodel drywall vs new stuff like my additions or a whole house gut. I dont blame him, he is making it while it is there. Also, on a remodel, I figure re texturing the whole affected area now, so it often ends up being more per sq ft than new construction drywall.

There are a couple excellent subs that id like to switch to because they are that step above good, but cant really afford them right now without lowering my mark up, and my current subs are good, just require some watching as far as the little things.

Another good thing for service MEP guys is they are a bit more reactive when you are in a jamb, like finding a surprise behind a wall. They are used to emergency service calls. I like to be proactive with my schedules, but sometimes stuff happens.
 
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Windwash
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589 Posts
I'm sure some of my issues could just be not understanding this market, which might bear the numbers that seem crazy to me.

For example, a common small job for me, I don't make much money but it's easy to schedule and i could live off of only these if needed, is a small simple bath update.
Day 1: set up, demo and clean
Day 2: install new tub and valve in the morning, cbu and waterproof surround
Day 3: install the majority of the tile, all if possible
Day 4: wall sand, repair, skim. Grout
Day 5: sand walls, touch up, prime, paint. Install vanity and toilet, plumbing trim
Day 6: usually something pushes the end day here

Before, a simplified breakdown of my numbers, normalized to $100 hide the true numbers:
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, overhead and profit
$20 plumbing and electric sub
$100 cost to customer

Now it's more like
$50 materials
$30 self performed work, oh and profit.
$40 plumbing and electric sub
$120 cost to customer. A 20% increase just due to subs.
That is a very aggressive schedule if you can make it work:thumbsup: No inspections? How are you doing new tub, toilet and vanity without new flooring?

I agree with Jaws that you should find a service plumber.
 

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Talking Head
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5,388 Posts
I pretty much only do small remodels and I have found that service MEP's are the way to go. They can actually fit me into their schedules and they have enough flexibility that I can do a demo on Monday and they'll still be able to fix the surprises on Tuesday. Passing their name on to customers and other contacts keeps them pretty loyal. Along with paying the bill on time. I usually have to pin my plumber down and make him tell me an amount on inspection day so I can cut him a check.

Two things about the service guys that I run into: 1. I call them regularly to remind them of upcoming projects, even the day before. Their schedules can get crazy so it's better to remain in their mind than get stood up and complain about it. 2. They usually have higher hourly rates. It's worth it to me.
 

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diplomat
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5,292 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
After a huge amount of searching I think I found my guy. All the right attributes and cheaper than I expected. He isn't actually a service plumber. He does new construction for a contractor or two that keeps him busy half the time and fills in the rest with remodels.

He did a bathroom for me today and was great. Probably the smoothest bathroom I've ever done. Demoed and roughed in all before 3pm. Also met with me for more than an hour for a much more involved job.

Thanks for the CT support.
 

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diplomat
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5,292 Posts
Discussion Starter #14
If anyone cares, an update: Things are going well. My plumber is fantastic, the best I've ever worked with. I found a good electrician, and HVAC guy. Any by odd coincidence, my glass installer is an old acquaintance and good friend of friends from Alaska.

Also, he doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to start using CT member Metro M&L for flooring if possible!
 

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Andrew, I've read your experience with interest. With my wife about to finish law school and Rhode Island being a small state, I feel I could easily end up starting fresh in another New England state or farther away.

My hypothetical anxiety is due to the idea of starting over with new subs & suppliers. I can sell and am confident in my abilities to locate/close work but I, like you, would be another strongly rooted, local contractor forced to start fresh. Glad to see as of your last post, that all is well with your new subs.

Have you had good luck with your new Portland suppliers? I have 2 great local supplier salesmen that both have sent multiple jobs my way(other contractors and homeowners). If treated well, loyal and maintain a trust that you'll do right by their recommendation, these guys can be one of the most valuable assets around.

Best of luck continuing on.
 

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Talking Head
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Matt, I've started up twice in New England and it's not that bad, provided that you ARE from New England. It's a weird little place. I've never had much luck with suppliers but I haven't really spent much time trying to develop them either.

When I first moved to Portland, ME I dropped my card off at the local yard and a paint store when I was picking up supplies and they both gave my card to the same GC who was complaining he couldn't find good guys. I got hired as a sub on my third day in the state.
 

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diplomat
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Discussion Starter #17
Matt,

I also moved because the significant other was going to school. She's working now, and everything is awesome. Ultimately, as a younger contractor, starting over was a good thing. It forced me to do some of the things from scratch that kind of fell into my lap before. With more experience, I'd like to think I can do things better this time.

Really all it takes is what any contractor should expect: A lot of hard work. I do everything I can to be the best GC for my subs as well as my clients. So far this has continued to pay off through referrals and loyal subs.
 

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Matt, I've started up twice in New England and it's not that bad, provided that you ARE from New England. It's a weird little place. I've never had much luck with suppliers but I haven't really spent much time trying to develop them either.

When I first moved to Portland, ME I dropped my card off at the local yard and a paint store when I was picking up supplies and they both gave my card to the same GC who was complaining he couldn't find good guys. I got hired as a sub on my third day in the state.
Ethan, I've only ever worked in RI, and eastern Mass. Being a local, born and raised here has it's advantages and a certain level of comfort. I've also benefited from being a 3rd gen contractor when it comes to acquiring subs. Many of the same guys who had an excellent relationship with my dad, now work with me. It's almost like a level of family loyalty is expected on both sides, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Matt,

I also moved because the significant other was going to school. She's working now, and everything is awesome. Ultimately, as a younger contractor, starting over was a good thing. It forced me to do some of the things from scratch that kind of fell into my lap before. With more experience, I'd like to think I can do things better this time.

Really all it takes is what any contractor should expect: A lot of hard work. I do everything I can to be the best GC for my subs as well as my clients. So far this has continued to pay off through referrals and loyal subs.
Glad to hear it, Andrew. The things we do for our women! All kidding aside, I'm excited for her to finish up and happy being a contractor gives me the flexibility to pack up and leave.
 
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