Monica Ryan, CEO of Village Plumbing, talks about growing a service business.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: And, welcome back to Texas Business Radio. I’m your host Matt Register here as always, along with Jay Curry.
Jay Curry: Hey, Matt. I’m having some fun. This is good times. There are so many successful women entrepreneurs. Every story has color. It’s really fun.
Matt Register: Well, last week and this week we are doing a series on celebrating women entrepreneurs. We have a lot of ladies in here that run some very, very successful businesses and we’re going to continue to talk about that. We are just getting warmed up. If you have your questions, get them in. 844-814-8144 is the 24 hour call in line. Get your questions in through, we monitor #tbr on Twitter, go to the website, texasbusinessradio.com. See the entire broadcast in beautiful high definition video.
Monica Ryan, president of Village Plumbing. Monica, welcome to the show.
Monica Ryan: Thank you for having me. It’s an honor.
Matt Register: So tell me a little bit about Village Plumbing. I think we’ve probably all heard of you, seen your commercials, that kind of thing. Tell us a little bit about Village Plumbing.
Monica Ryan: Village Plumbing and Home Services started in 1946. My parents started it. My dad had just come back from World War II and he started out on a truck and in a couple of weeks he had hired a couple of plumbers and was selling jobs and it just kind of took off from there.
Matt Register: And the rest is history, right?
Monica Ryan: The rest is history.
Matt Register: Now you took over the company as a very young woman.
Monica Ryan: Yes I did.
Matt Register: Tell me a little bit about that transition and how that happened.
Monica Ryan: My dad had a lady that was going on pregnancy leave. And so he called me and he said I’m stuck, I need someone to answer the phones for me and do some paperwork and I didn’t have a job so I said, “Okay, sure, why not?” It’s just six weeks. And I thought it’d be six weeks, I’d find a job and move on. But she didn’t come back to work and I never left work.
Matt Register: So how old were you when you took over the company?
Monica Ryan: 23.
Matt Register: 23 years old and all of a sudden you are in charge of your own company, a growing company.
Monica Ryan: Yeah, it probably wasn’t growing that much then. Well my aunt was still there then. And so she was kind of, we were doing it together a little bit. But my dad had gotten ill so I got thrown into being the person there to take charge and look important.
Matt Register: So you had a little bit of on the job training?
Monica Ryan: Yeah, a lot of on the job training. Became a very good actor very quickly.
Matt Register: Absolutely.
Jay Curry: You grew the company kind of slowly at first and then more recently you’ve just exploded with it. What’s that all about?
Monica Ryan: Well I think we just inched along for a very long time and I thought that was kind of the thing to do. And it was. We were very successful and had a lot of fun times and so my husband and I, we decided that we wanted to double it. We just decided and we had some reasons for that. But you know, it kind of seemed like an impossible task but we thought, well everybody else is doing all these great things and we thought this would be something good for our employees, it would give more opportunities and we’d just have a lot more fun.
Jay Curry: And all of a sudden you had to get organized, you had to have plans, you had to have key people, you had to start hiring. And here we go.
Monica Ryan: Yeah. It was fun. I mean it was scary because we put a lot of money into it. Before that we just kind of took the money that we were used to and did a little bit better each year and we were happy with that. And suddenly we had to really concentrate our efforts and be at work 24/7 again.
Jay Curry: So you’ve doubled in what? The last two or three years?
Monica Ryan: We doubled in three years and then last year we made some more management changes and so we just kind of stayed the same. But then this year we made another bump up in our budget so far.
Jay Curry: Big plans for the future?
Monica Ryan: Yeah. So far it’s doing well. We’ve added a couple of managers that started in the last three months. So kind of had to have them have a little time to get their feet wet. And now they’re taking off. But it’s really fun.
Matt Register: You mentioned opportunities for employees. And this goes back to a culture, really, that your dad felt very strongly about when he started the company. Tell us a little bit about that culture. And we talked a little bit during the break about you know, how strongly he felt about opportunities for working class blue collar guys that foster an environment where they had some opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t. Tell us a little bit about that and how you’ve been able to maintain that, even through the growth.
Monica Ryan: Yeah I think Dad, he came from a very large family where they didn’t have a whole lot. All of them ended up being in the trades, which is a phenomenal thing. I’m so sad that we’re cutting that out of the schools now and stuff. Wish it would get back to that. We’re working on that again.
Matt Register: Agreed.
Monica Ryan: But Dad always felt like the plumber protects the health of the nation. And he felt very strongly that they should be paid just as well as doctors and lawyers and all the white collar professions. He didn’t have a lot of education so he didn’t know all the details of that and how hard that was gonna be to go forward with. But he was one of the first trades people in the country that provided health insurance for his employees. And until it was very long ago, we used to provide 100% for families and the staff. But, of course, it’s gotten so expensive that it’s just unrealistic for us.
Matt Register: Sure.
Monica Ryan: However, it’s something that we went forward with and that I’ve really made part of our mission. And the managers understand that, that this is part of what we do. We provide a place where people, if they’re willing to work hard and learn a trade, that they can go out and they can earn an incredible living. I mean, our guys do really well, especially compared to the market. We have a couple of competitors that have taken this on too, and I’m so happy to see that. Because these guys go and they work really hard.
Matt Register: Well so often it’s a race to the bottom. It’s nice to see something that is not. That perhaps is creating a race to the top. That would be a really good thing. We talked in the break as well about some of the things that, advice you would give other women entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs regardless, as they are starting out. Because I suspect over the last several years, there’s a few lessons you’ve learned, right?
Monica Ryan: A lot. We don’t have long enough for all those lessons.
Matt Register: That’s right. So tell me a little bit about what advice you might give somebody that’s starting out that’s trying to grow their business or start their business or get a foothold in the market and what you would suggest that they do?
Monica Ryan: Well I think the first thing I would do starting out, and I did this when we decided to grow, I went and visited shops that were doing what I wanted to do. And one of the guys at my shop has a saying. He says, “If you want to be a rich person, you don’t go hang out with the poor people to find out how you do it. You go hang out with the rich people.” And so what I did was I decided to go hang out with shops that were double the size that I wanted to be. And it was amazing. They just took me under their wing, they helped me. I could call them, I still call them, you know, and ask them. Because they’re still bigger than me.
But it’s an opportunity to give back and I think all of us, especially the more successful you get, the more you want to give back to people who haven’t made it yet.
Matt Register: Sure.
Monica Ryan: Not just your community and all kinds of other things, but there’s a pride thing about, “I have all this information and now I want to give it to somebody that can really use it.” And when you use it and do well with it, you can’t get rid of them. They are around you all the time and it’s so nice. And it’s nice to feel like you have your back, someone has your back. Because when you’re at the top it’s kind of lonely. And as an owner of a business, and all owners of businesses have been here, you go hide in your room sometimes because you can’t let people know …
Matt Register: Sure.
Monica Ryan: I mean when I had situations where I couldn’t make payroll, I couldn’t let the employees know that. I had to act like everything was okay.
Jay Curry: Sure. So your advice, though, would be if you want to really get serious about growing, is to go listen to other managers, other leaders, other entrepreneurs and learn from them.
Monica Ryan: Yeah I would find people that have done it. And people who have had bad things happen, they’re the best.
Matt Register: Oh yeah, you can learn a lot of lessons vicariously through other folks, right?
Monica Ryan: Absolutely.
Matt Register: And in turn, not only go do that but also be willing, once you achieve some measure of success, to be able to pay it forward and do it again to somebody that is below you. Well I appreciate your time, Monica Ryan, Village Plumbing. What’s the easiest way to get in touch with you?
Monica Ryan: 713-REPAIRS
Matt Register: 713-REPAIRS or villageplumbing.com. Monica, thank you very much. This has been a lot of fun. We are still warming up, guys.
Jay Curry: Certainly are.
Matt Register: We got a lot more very successful entrepreneurs coming your way as we continue to talk about celebrating women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. Guys, get your calls in. We’ve got to go to a break, we’ll see you right on the other side, don’t go anywhere.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.