Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, Missoula, Montana, specializes in plumbing, HVAC and boiler service, and high-efficiency systems. Starting his own business out of necessity, or perhaps the illusion of it, Andy Mickelson (@mick_plumb) launched Mickelson Plumbing & Heating New Year’s Day, 2011. I guess you could say it’s all part of Mickelson’s fabric and mental make-up—there Read more
Mickelson Plumbing & Heating, Missoula, Montana, specializes in plumbing, HVAC and boiler service, and high-efficiency systems.
Starting his own business out of necessity, or perhaps the illusion of it, Andy Mickelson (@mick_plumb) launched Mickelson Plumbing & Heating New Year’s Day, 2011. I guess you could say it’s all part of Mickelson’s fabric and mental make-up—there is no end result other than success. “I am a terrible loser; I hate not winning daily,” says Mickelson.
Turning the clock back to where it all began, Mickelson was eight years old when he got his taste of real hard work, helping out his father, a remodeling contractor. “It was easy to have my brothers and me helping out, and at that time, we were eager to get dirty and learn how to build things, and THAT has never stopped,” says Mickelson.
Soaking up knowledge whenever he had the chance, Mickelson has had many great mentors in his first shop, and the UA produces an incredible brotherhood of knowledgeable folks. “Dick Darne was one of the Journeyman that I learned the most from; he had a hip replacement, and a few weeks later I began my service career, carrying his tool bag and being his hands in the field when he couldn’t. All I had to do was listen to directions and retain the methods of his madness. The troubleshooting tactics I learned in a roundabout way were invaluable.”
Nearly 10 years after venturing on his own, who could’ve ever foreseen the situation we are faced with today? “The first quarter was one of the best we’ve ever seen, but April produced only 68% of the average business produced in the first three months of the year,” says Mickelson.
Thankfully, Montana has seen fewer COVID-19 cases than the rest of the country, and the state has re-opened for business. But that’s not to say Mickelson isn’t taking the necessary PPE precautions, and Mickelson is screening all customers at this time. “For the most part, we are not taking on work that can be postponed.”
In general, needless to say, Mickelson loves what he does—creating solutions for his customers. “Service work allows me to do that several times a day. It’s a good thing.”
But thinking of going out on your own? A heavily-involved Boy Scout leader, Mickelson suggests taking its motto to heart—Be Prepared. “Plan, Plan, Plan. There are fantastic resources available to help people prepare to start a business. USE THEM! Also, you have to answer the simple question, am I ready to be a business owner first and a plumber second? If yes, then proceed. If no, rethink the approach get your mind right. Businesses hire good plumbers, not the other way around.”
And those who are thinking of getting into the trades? “Do it, unless you have a better plan that actually pays,” says Mickelson, but he stresses that we need to kill the stigma that the trades are all about hard work. Concerning to Mickelson, those who discourage others from entertaining the idea of becoming a tradesman based on the work being too tough or man’s work. “Anyone who indulges in this tactic is merely afraid of their own deficiencies and nervous about being replaced by someone who may work smarter or harder.”
Sure, there are aspects that are hard, continues Mickelson, but with continued education and exerting oneself, reaching a higher level of employment in the trades is a real possibility. Good work ethics and attitude are noticed—one may not hear about it—but it doesn’t go unnoticed. And, share the knowledge others have shared with you. “I have always found that it is far easier to share knowledge with a willing listener than it is to intentionally with hold it,” says Mickelson.
Mickelson’s career has afforded him a good life with his wife and two kids. “Family time is my favorite. Second would be exercising my 2nd Amendment rights. Both of which usually occur outdoors.”
Yet balancing work/family life is a careful endeavor for Mickelson. “It’s really easy for family to take a back seat and be lost in the hustle. I traditionally try to make sure that work is done during the day and that my ‘Night Shift’ doesn’t start until everyone has begun to wind down for the night. All in all, business has taught me to use my time efficiently, and set priorities, Family, friends, money, seems to be a good flow.
All in all, waking up every day is a blessing for Mickelson. “I’ve told my kids for years that they are the only person who can make their day a bad day, so go into battle and aim for a great day, and worst-case scenario it’ll be OK.”
According to Robert O’Brien, owner at Technical Heating Co., in Mount Sinai, NY, he’s currently spending 80 percent less time working than usual. With New York appearing to be ground zero of the US COVID-19 threat, the company – and many other HVAC and mechanical contracting firms in the area – is responding to emergency Read more
According to Robert O’Brien, owner at Technical Heating Co., in Mount Sinai, NY, he’s currently spending 80 percent less time working than usual. With New York appearing to be ground zero of the US COVID-19 threat, the company – and many other HVAC and mechanical contracting firms in the area – is responding to emergency calls only. Not that many customers are inviting technicians into their homes for anything less than an emergency anyhow.
O’Brien has made use of the time, though, in part by attending online training hosted by a wide variety of suppliers in the heating industry. No time like the present to sharpen the axe.
Over the past six weeks, he has logged in to webinars hosted by no less than a dozen manufacturers. O’Brien is learning for his own sake, but he’s also a NORA consultant, and wants to stay abreast of the issues, techniques and technologies affecting the industry as a whole. In the process, he’s found that some companies excel at online presentations, while others still have progress to make.
“I think the biggest pitfall for manufacturers is to turn online training into a sales pitch,” said O’Brien. “Also, our attention spans aren’t so short that a webinar can only be 20 minutes long. If I’m going block time out of my schedule, it may as well be worthwhile. The best, most compelling webinars are interesting, insightful and maybe even entertaining.
“I’m not usually a fan of webinars, but given the circumstances, there’s not much choice,” he continued. “I’ve been watching the Taco After Dark series of presentations and, without a doubt, it’s by far the best I’ve come across. Having incredibly talented trainers helps, but they’ve done a few other things right, too.” The content for these webinars comes from Taco’s full-day hydronic courses, broken into one-hour segments.
O’Brien thinks that the Wednesday night Taco After Dark series has been able to capture and hold the attention of hundreds of attendees each week for several reasons. The webinar is hosted by Mechanical-Hub.com, increasing its visibility, and its format keeps people coming back.
“Taco After Dark is presented by John Barba, Dave Holdorf and Rick Mayo,” said O’Brien. “There’s back-and-forth discourse between these guys, so the content is conversational instead of feeling like a lecture. Also important, viewers can see the presenters. The entire screen isn’t filled up with a graph or an image. This lets you stay connected to what’s being said. Boring webinars, on the other hand, take too much effort on the part of the viewer to remain engaged.”
The Taco After Dark series is one of several online training platforms currently offered by the company, including Taco Tuesdays and personalized webinars, the latter being available for reps, wholesalers, and their customers.
Taco Tuesday is a weekly webinar hosted each Tuesday at noon EST. The webinar alternates between residential and commercial topics. John Barba and Dave Holdorf host the residential webinars while Rich Medairos and Brett Zerba host the commercial webinars. These webinars last about an hour, with roughly 15 minutes dedicated to Q&A. More than 1,500 attendees have been signed up for a single session.
“Our goal with these training sessions is to learn, socialize and have fun in an otherwise difficult time,” said Holdorf, who appears in the webinars wearing a suit and ascot necktie. “It’s always lighthearted and the feedback has been fantastic.”
Taco’s current online courses aren’t the company’s first attempt at providing online education. Far from it. Taco was an early adopter with FloPro University, beginning in 2009. They’ve been conducting webinars since 2010, all of which are archived on the Taco website. The company has provided a steady stream of online learning opportunities since; over 40,000 people have gone through one of the 12 available programs.
It’s not Mechanical-Hub’s first online education rodeo, either. They also feature Shop Talk on Monday evenings. Their Beyond The Service show on its YouTube channel helps small business owners run successful firms, and they’ve provided content online via Jobsites Plus+, Hub on the Road visits and ProStaff team reviews.
“We’ve pursued online training opportunities more aggressively since the virus showed early signs of escalating,” said John Mesenbrink, Mechanical-Hub president and director of editorial content. “In late January, I reached out to our manufacturer partners, telling them to use Mechanical-Hub.com as a resource,” he said. “Several responded quickly, and the turnout has been great.”
“I think the success of our current online training platforms—with more than 7,000 trained over the past five weeks—is revealing of two things,” said Barba. “Of course contractors have more time right now than usual, but there’s no doubt that we, as instructors, are finding better ways to engage the audience and present the material online. And, participants are becoming better online learners.”
“I’ve been asked if this is ‘the new normal’ for all manufacturer training,” continued Barba. “Definitely not. Online training will never completely replace classroom training. This business has a major hands-on element, and a human element. Relationships are so vital to the trade, and it’s much harder to build those through a computer screen. Though, under the circumstances, we’re doing the best we can.”
Playing it Cool with Radiant Thursday, May 21, 2020 12 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. CDT Radiant heating is a widely recognized technology, one that’s respected for delivering superior comfort and energy-efficient operation. But what about the ability for radiant cooling solutions? Take good notes! Guest speaker Max Rohr, REHAU Marketing and Academy Manager, will explain the Read more
Radiant heating is a widely recognized technology, one that’s respected for delivering superior comfort and energy-efficient operation. But what about the ability for radiant cooling solutions? Take good notes! Guest speaker Max Rohr, REHAU Marketing and Academy Manager, will explain the physics of absorbing heat energy through a network of pipes and discuss application considerations for an energy efficient system design for radiant cooling.
→ Is comfort a number on a thermostat? Do designers have more or less more control options?
→ Why are hybrid radiant/forced-air systems the best way to handle sensible and latent loads?
→ Condensation?! No sweat. How do you avoid condensation in a radiant cooling system?
→ What is the most humid U.S. city with a radiant cooling project?
→ What inputs does your control system need to operate a radiant cooling system?
→ What are the most common installation types for radiant cooling projects?
Max Rohr is a graduate of the University of Utah. He currently serves as REHAU Academy Manager (Leesburg, Va.). Max is a self-described hydronics and thermostat nerd. He has worked in the hydronics and solar industries for 20 years (or however many years Hot Rod is willing to admit to the Division of Child Labor) in the installation, sales and manufacturing sectors.
Turning wrenches since he was 17 years old, George DeJesus (@georgetheplumber) considers himself relatively lucky during these crazy times were going through, as the service calls are still trickling in, with some days bit slower than usual. During the current state of the trades during the pandemic, DeJesus says it’s hard going into customer’s homes Read more
Turning wrenches since he was 17 years old, George DeJesus (@georgetheplumber) considers himself relatively lucky during these crazy times were going through, as the service calls are still trickling in, with some days bit slower than usual. During the current state of the trades during the pandemic, DeJesus says it’s hard going into customer’s homes right now, but he is taking the necessary precautions to take to keep himself as safe as he can. Pandemic or not, “I’ve learned to never get too comfortable that the jobs are going to come in,” says DeJesus. “You have to give great customer service so you get called the next time.”
DeJesus transferred to a trade school during his junior year of high school and got his first plumbing job at 17, and he hasn’t looked back. “High school just wasn’t for me. Finding this trade was my savior; I could have gone down a very bad road but I got a job, learned this trade and found I could be good at something. From there, it was easy to apply myself. I continue to learn every day, and teach when I can,” says DeJesus.
Having worked with various companies throughout the years has helped DeJesus become very well-rounded, learning more skills with each experience. For the past two years, DeJesus has worked for All Clear Plumbing and Drains, Succasunna, N.J., where he specializes in boiler and drain cleaning residential work, finding gratification in troubleshooting the most difficult service work jobs. “I love being a plumber. It’s hard work but when you have a difficult job and figure it out, it leaves you with great satisfaction,” says DeJesus.
DeJesus considers himself very fortunate to have had many mentors over the years, but perhaps none more influential than his father, a very hard working and dedicated general contractor. “There are new skills to be learned and I try to learn as much as I can about each position I take. The friends that I have met through the years are great guys and I love learning and sharing skills I know with them.”
What advice would DeJesus give to someone thinking about entering the trades? “It’s hard work but a good living. Don’t be lazy. If I’m showing you how to do something, pay attention and get involved. Keep your phone in your pocket. Measure twice and cut once,” says DeJesus.
One outlet DeJesus has found most satisfying and beneficial is social media. “I have definitely found social media to increase my friendships and knowledge,” says DeJesus. “It’s amazing that no matter how much you think you know, you can still learn more. I talk to most of my Instagram friends more than the friends I have locally. They can relate to what struggles come with the job and can celebrate the triumphs. I’m so thankful to have been able to make friends with so many great people.”
Yet one of DeJesus’ biggest struggles is balancing work and family time. In his “spare time,” DeJesus likes going to the movies with his wife and family, and he enjoys taking day trips and weekend trips. “I tend to put too much into my work. Even on my days off or when I get home, I tend to be catching up with IG and social media,” says DeJesus. “Lately, I’ve been trying to teach my kids some of the trade, and I do listen to my wife when she tries to focus me back to family time. Well, most of the time.”
In the end, DeJesus is a craftsman and he is proud of the work he does, and it shows. In fact, when asked when the last time he said, “Man, today is a great day!” he responded that it happened last week with his last boiler install. “I stepped back and felt that it was probably one of my best and favorite installs.”
With hard work and his willingness to get better, the trades have been good to DeJesus. You get what you put into it. “Not many people can say they make six figures and don’t even have a high school degree … well, at least working legally!” says DeJesus.
The first episode features Caleffi’s training and education manager, Bob Hot Rod Rohr, as he discusses how to effectively remove air from a boiler system. https://youtu.be/u3ZLZXltGMc Read more
The first episode features Caleffi’s training and education manager, Bob Hot Rod Rohr, as he discusses how to effectively remove air from a boiler system.