Blaine: This is Blaine with "A-Train Creative" talking to Gary Browne from the parts department of Village Plumbing & Home Services. We were just talking earlier about the stuff that you do from the parts counter there.
Gary: We provide service or original service replacement parts for all the major brands and even a lot of brands that no one had even heard of before as far as faucets, toilets, even water heater service parts.
Blaine: So, I guess that happens a lot, all of a sudden something breaks down and you have to get the part somewhere.
Gary: Well, sure, and a lot of homeowners have gotten to the point to where maybe they don’t want to pay to have something replaced, maybe they don’t want to pay the price to have it serviced. Many of them are able to do some of these services themselves. They may need the correct parts to do it with and there’s nobody in the business really to provide those parts, and we do provide those parts.
Blaine: So, for example like when I had my shower fixed, it turned out that it was some particular part within the shower fixture that was causing the problem, but still there’s no way I could have known to replace that. But some people actually can do that themselves; just buy the part.
Gary: Many people like yourself come to this counter and tell me what the problem is and I ask them if they need one of our technicians to come out or would they like to try and repair it themselves. As soon as they tell me they would like to try to repair it themselves, then I’ll find out what brand it is that we’re working with and I will pull up a parts break down for that product and I’ll point out to them which parts they should be replacing and let them know if we have it or if we need to order those parts. If we don’t keep it in our large inventory of parts, we’ll order it for people. Many times we get overnight for people those correct parts, and many times it’s as simple as having someone tell them exactly how the handle of a faucet comes off, how to pull off the few pieces they need to pull off in order to get to that part that needs to be replaced. So, it’s a pretty unique service because even the professional plumbers here in town come to this parts counter and get the same advice and the same parts so that they can do repairs and charge people for those repairs.
Blaine: Yes. Can they also just access you over the phone and maybe figure out what part they’re looking for? Do they need to pretty much come and see you in person?
Gary: Well, how wonderful it is that we have the technology now to take pictures with our cellphones and be able to send them via email, or to a web page, to at least be able to share some initial pictures to see what we’re dealing with. Many times we can answer the questions over the phone just by looking at pictures. There are occasions where I’ll ask them to bring the parts in to me so that I can hold them in my hand because there are maybe too many parts that look just like what they took a picture of, so I may need more details and may ask them to bring it here to the counter.
Blaine: So they can maybe bring it if they have a smartphone or something that can take a picture of it and then come in to Village Plumbing and just show you the picture right there on their smartphone. Can people do that?
Gary: Oh, yes. People bring their smartphones in, they bring their digital cameras in, they take their memory cards and pictures and bring those in to me. I mean, it can be done in many different ways.
Blaine: So, what are the most common parts that need to be replaced, let’s say, from the kitchen?
Gary: From the kitchen they’re usually valve stems or cartridges or their kitchen faucet, and also spout seal kits or the seals that when the spout starts leaking at the base it provides the pool of water on those faucets and on the counter tops. So, many times it’s a $1.50 part and as simple as unscrewing the spout from the base of the faucet and putting those new seals in. It’s common for housewives to come and talk about this and get the correct seals and go home and do their own repairs for that minor fix.
Blaine: Well, I find it interesting that you said a lot of times plumbers will come to you for the parts because you’re actually a pretty trusted source to go to even for plumbers, right? Do plumbers also find it hard to get some of these parts?
Gary: The plumbers cannot get these parts anywhere. The plumbers usually try their best to get them anywhere they can that would be a lot cheaper. The original parts are 2 or 3 times more expensive than some copycat parts that are being sold from the Asian marketplace. When we get our parts, they’re high quality original parts and the plumbers, of course like I said, they try to find them elsewhere cheaper but there’s not a lot of money to be made off selling parts so there’s not a lot of places doing this. Of course, our money is made with these parts when we go in to the homes and do the service work. And the same for the professionals that come in to our shop. Many of the pros, including our own guys, will need help from our parts counter to understand how these parts or exactly which parts should be replaced. They can do the labor part of it but they need your help to explain how the part works and why it is the part that is needed in this particular case. And there’s no book that teaches that either. That’s got to be somebody that knows. You can’t read a book or take a course on this. You’ve got to have the experience in this type of business to know these things.
Blaine: Totally. Like you were mentioning, I think Village Plumbing has been in business since 1946?
Gary: Since 1946 and many of the plumbers that worked with Village Plumbing since that time have went on to open up their own businesses and become master plumbers and become successful plumbers in our city.
Blaine: Okay. So, you pretty much have been a big influence on plumbing in this town.
Gary: Village Plumbing has been a huge influence on plumbing in this town. Back when Village Plumbing started, there was a big need for plumbers and very few around, so we were filling a need during that time of big boom that was going on and have always filled the need since then.
Blaine: Yes. Well, plus your location is so central. I remember talking to a guy one time who said that one point where Bissonet starts to curve used to be the edge of town! Back in the day Houston was way smaller and yet Village has always been right there in the center of it, so I think it’s kind of cool. And so many homes were built back in the 40’s and 50’s. That was a boom time. And so, you’ve had experienced working in with all those plumbing parts from the very beginning. That’s cool.
Gary: Well, I grew up in this neighborhood, so one of the things I can say just about our little area for West Loop and Bellaire and I guess anywhere between the West Loop and maybe 288 is… I’ve been in and out of so many of these homes and a lot of the faucets that are in these homes are no longer made. And the same with toilets. Many people might have a colored toilet that is no longer made in that color and what do you do if it needs service or repair, you know? Village can come out and we have technicians that can service that toilet. We also carry the parts for it, while other companies are either coming here to buy the parts or just simply telling the client that they’re going to have to go back in with a white toilet because their toilet is no longer made, and those parts are no longer made, which is not correct. If they haven’t done their research to make sure that’s correct, but we do know that these toilets and these older faucets can be salvaged if someone wants to do so. In many cases it’s not allowable to do so but if they want to, the parts are here and ready to go for them.
Blaine: I have a question about maintenance, you know, because with automobiles, people generally know that you’re supposed to have your car looked at periodically and parts are going to go bad, so you will replace them before they fail, but in plumbing, the things that people can do to make sure something gets looked at periodically and maintained. Do you recommend some sort of plan to keep people watchful for things not failing, like that? Or how do you do it?
Gary: First of all, water leaking anywhere needs to be addressed immediately. The longer the high pressure of water leaks, the more it cuts into the metal that’s connected to it, so it’ll actually cut a groove in it just like if you took a hacksaw blade and started cutting in to the metal. So, leaks will never repair themselves. They will only cause more and more damages the further they go. One of the biggest maintenance things I would tell anybody, first of all, a pet peeve of mine is that I wish every home had a pleated filter on the end of the waterline coming to their home because many times even though the city provides great water force, many times the lines are open, they’re broken into or whatever and they are full of rust, sand and sediment. To prevent that from getting into your faucet and your water heater is a tremendous help in making things last longer. Another thing I would tell people as far as maintenance is that the tank water heater is a place that stores a lot of that trash that comes into the line. It’s a holding kettle basically. In a gas tank water heater the burn is on the bottom, but if you’re holding a big pot of sand, sediment and rust, you’ve got an insulating material there that has to be heated hot enough first before you can start to heat the water above it. It creates damage to the water heater. It makes the water heater work a lot less efficiently. It gives a lot less recovery and whenever you are pulling water out of that hot water heater, you’re bringing new water in, you’re disturbing all of that stuff and you’re shooting it out of the end of the outlets out of the water heater and into all your shower heads and your faucet aerators and your valve stems and cartridges get clogged up with that stuff and then just creates a maintenance nightmare.
Blaine: So now you’re just going right over my head. So, what I’m saying is, what I want to ask you, going back to what you said previously about the line running into the house, something about pleated something… What was that?
Gary: Just a whole house filter.
Blaine: Is that something that Village recommends and can be easily set up for a household?
Gary: Yes, usually the main line coming into the house can be fitted with the whole house filter, which will greatly reduce maintenance cost just by keeping the water clean.
Blaine: I see. And then you were saying that would also affect the hot water heater.
Gary: Not only the life expectancy of the water heater but also the efficiency. The money you spend to turn on the gas, it works more efficiently than it’d work without the filter.
Blaine: That’s so interesting Gary, because I think people need to start to think of their plumbers as people that can help protect their house. They can help protect, I mean, it’s a big investment, your house, and to just so carelessly not think about maintenance is not a good idea. You should work with a trusted partner, someone like Village Plumbing & Home Services who can recommend the right things to do to maintain your house and to catch problems before they occur.
Gary: Well, sure. Another thing that I would add to it is it’s good to work with a partner that first of all can discuss things with you before you make a decision. Many of the plumbers in town can go into a home and do any work that they were asked to do, but when you start to ask questions about how something works or how to make changes that will be more energy efficient or help their products last longer, you know they got to send them somewhere else that can help them. We don’t have to do that. We’ve got a counter here where people can ask questions and get answers that will not only affect them right now but throughout the years of operation in that house.
Blaine: Well, plus your technicians are very highly qualified so when they come to your home and you start asking them some additional questions, they’re going to have all that knowledge and experience.
Gary: Well, sure. I mean, the technicians that go into the home are very much familiar with the needs of each individual home. We feel like our services are customized for each individual home. There’s no one cookie cutter way of doing things and usually our guys are trained to listen to the home owner and find out what it is that they would like for us to solve and we’re more than willing to offer solutions, and sometimes we see things that the home owner hasn’t brought up and we like to put those solutions down as well so that they know that there’s another problem that they haven’t noticed yet. So, we’re well-trained on that. First of all, the guys get trained from the manufacturers on all these efficiency techniques and also maintenance and upkeep, but second of all they have lots of backup here at the office so if they have any questions about anything, we always will provide them with the knowledge that we have here and we will also provide them with a phone call to the manufacturer or that type of assistance that they need. And by the way, many of the technicians take it on themselves to call the manufacturer when they have any questions about a product if they want to make sure that they’re doing things the right way, and that’s something that I can't say about everybody in this business.
Blaine: I just remember that… Well, I had a guy come out… I remember I thought maybe I had broken it because I sort of tried to fix it myself and then I sort of snapped something off I think, so I thought, “Okay, this is impossible now.” I couldn't imagine what the technician from Village Plumbing was going to do, but that’s what he does everyday so he was just able to dig in. It was harder because I had messed it up, so it made it harder. But still, he "easily" got down to the root of the problem and I think it was some sort of nut that was stripped or something like that. It was no problem for him. It was hard work, yes, but he made what seemed impossible to me look easy.
Gary: I’ll tell you something that a lot of people don’t realize. It costs more if you start working on something and start damaging things that can’t be replaced than it would if we had come out there and done what we do best. We do help people with their do-it-yourself needs here at the counter but one of the greatest services that we can provide also is sometimes here at the counter, they want to do something themselves and we tell them that messing with certain things should be left to the professional. We stop them before they even get started so they don’t damage the product. We explain to them why it shouldn’t be attempted and then we actually send our technician out who can do it easily and prevent them from causing severe damages which would have cost them hundreds of dollars to take care of. Maybe we can fix the faucet for a few hundred bucks whereas if they had damaged it bad enough it might have needed to have a wall cut out and it may have needed a tremendous amount of repairs expenses. So, I guess a good commercial for Village Plumbing would be watching maybe a doctor in his doctor’s uniform with a hammer in his hand, hammering on something under the kitchen sink with his wife on the phone calling for Village Plumbing to hurry up and get out there before her husband wrecks her kitchen. To me that’s what I think of when I think of “do-it-yourselfers.” So, it’s a good thing to know how to do it right.
Blaine: Time to call the real doctors, the plumbing doctors, you know.
Gary: That’s right. A great commercial there, right?
Blaine: Right. So you don’t wear white robes. You wear booties on your feet.
Gary: Yes, we wear booties and you know, we’re supposed to bring in a little red carpet to set our home tools down on so we don’t scratch or damage your floor or counter top. I mean, we really pay attention to details. We’re fortunate that Monica Ryan (owner and President) is really into the details, stuff like that. She wants the guys to be presentable and she wants the guys to treat a person’s home with respect.
Blaine: Well, that’s a good point because the thing with Monica is she grew up in the business. Her dad was a plumber, but she brings the female perspective and understands female homeowners and that maybe they’re thinking differently than a guy would. So, I like that.
Gary: The biggest thing that she brings is, the number one thing I would say that Monica brings is, let’s just say you’re a housewife and you open the door to someone that wants to provide service for your home. First of all, that’s an invasion of your privacy, so when you open that door, you’re going to decide within a matter of a few seconds whether you’re going to let the person in or not. If the person smells like cigarette, if the person has hair down past his shoulders and their shirt on top and pants are all baggy and their shoes are covered in mud, she’s probably not going to let that person into her home, no matter how good a plumber they are. And so, those are the little things that Monica notices. She wants our guys to be presentable. When we knock on the door and they answer, she wants people to feel comfortable with us going into their home.
Blaine: Well, you know what, it really helps too because I know when somebody comes to my house, I may not care that much about the little things like that, but my wife totally does. I mean, different personalities, not every wife is like that but in my case, my wife really appreciates the booties and the cleanliness and stuff.
Okay, I’ve been talking with Gary Browne. He works at the parts department at Village Plumbing in downtown Houston. It’s not really downtown, it’s in the Rice Village, just off Kirby there. What’s the cross street? Kirby and…
Gary: Kirby and Sunset. Just south of Bissonet.
Blaine: You can give him a call anytime at 713-581-8353 and just ask for Gary Browne in the parts department or ask for anybody to help you out. My name is Blaine with A Train Creative. I’m going to end this call but it’s been great talking with you.
Gary: Thank you, Blaine.
Blaine: Have a nice day.
Gary: You too, sir. Bye.
Blaine: Alright, bye.
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