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Episode 18: Building an Extraordinary Plumbing Company With Patience and Integrity


Liz Sears, Nelson Barss, Eric Barlow

Liz Sears 00:01

Welcome to the Business greater than you podcast, where we dive deep into the stories of men and women who have successfully transcended the frazzled solopreneur life and built productive teams with better lifestyle and income.

Nelson Barss 00:13

I'm Nelson Barss, the founder and owner of Utah Independent mortgage Corp.

Liz Sears 00:18

and I'm Liz Sears, founder and co owner of My Utah Agents.

Nelson Barss 00:21

We're excited for you to listen, interact and grow with us. So please share your comments below. And let's get started.

Liz Sears 00:33

All right, we're super excited for today's episode, we have Eric Barlow with Norms Plumbing, and we'd love to hear a little bit about your company, how you got into it, how you started it, all of that

Nelson Barss 00:43

Eric is a good friend of mine. I've always admired Eric's company, Eric runs what I would consider a really good team based plumbing company, right? It's not just one dude, fix the toilets. Right? And we know a lot of plumbers like that, too. But I've been fascinated as I've learned over the years how your company runs and why don't we start tell us a little bit about when you joined the company what it was like then and maybe just walk us through?

Eric Barlow 01:10


Nelson Barss 01:10

How it's grown to where it is today.

Eric Barlow 01:11

Okay, so the company's called Norms Plumbing. Norm is the founder. He was he's my father in law. He's still alive today. He's retired. But I started with him. Shortly after I was married. I was actually in the brick industry being a bricklayer. And, and he invited me to come here to be a plumber. And, and I, you know, all my family said, That's a great career, go for it. And so started with him. And probably it was maybe 92, somewhere in that range. 90-92.

Nelson Barss 01:45


Eric Barlow 01:47

When we started when I started with Norm, it was just him and two other kids. And I was just one of the kids. I was 21 years old, started in schooling. So

Liz Sears 01:59

You know you just told everybody how old you are.

Nelson Barss 02:02

That's a lot of math.

Eric Barlow 02:08

But, anyway, yeah, so in the plumbing industry, you go to school for four years, right. And it's an apprentice program. And so you sign up with the state as an apprentice and go to school for four years and then become a journeyman. So probably was with him 10 years just as an employee, and then started into the administrative side of it, you know, he started teaching me the bids and the different things that way. We was, well, so I always wanted to learn more than just houses. We was always just new homes back then. And started doing some small commercial projects, you know, just who's allowed to let me to do that, you know?

Liz Sears 02:56

Yeah, at that point in time about how many people worked with you guys.

Eric Barlow 02:59

At that time, we had grown to maybe six or eight guys.

Liz Sears 03:04


Eric Barlow 03:04

Six or eight guys, once I got to be a journeyman, then I started training, you know, apprentices as we'd hire apprentices and, and we was probably eight men at that time, when we started doing a little bit more commercial diversifying a little bit. I think we were probably in that 10 to 12 range when everything dropped out in '08

Liz Sears 03:26


Nelson Barss 03:27

And at that time, you already were owner of the company weren't you? Had some ownership?

Eric Barlow 03:32

Yeah. So it was right at about that time, about two years before that, that Norm decided that he was going to start to bring me in as part owner and start, we started that transition in there. So it was the way that that happened was over a year, several year process was planned to be a five year buyout. And it was kind of a profit sharing buyout. So and then, you know, as things fell out, that became longer for the complete to complete the buyout.

Nelson Barss 04:04

During the recession.

Eric Barlow 04:04


Nelson Barss 04:05

Because the hard times, right?

Eric Barlow 04:06

Yeah, so, but during that time, we also, that's when we learned a lot more about how to diversify your company. And that makes a huge difference. And so now on the back end of that, that's been, you know, proven to be a lot more lucrative for us as far as that goes.

Liz Sears 04:24

So it's interesting, what first appeared to be like, you know, the world crumbled under your company turned out to be the piece that now is making you the most money,

Eric Barlow 04:32

Right? Yes. Yeah. Because we was forced in out of the housing industry, because it just went away.

Liz Sears 04:38


Eric Barlow 04:39

And started. Luckily, we had already done some small commercial, but even the small commercial people were forced into the larger commercial or the large commercial forced into maybe in the end to the bigger industrial stuff, you know, so everybody kind of had to take different different looks at What they wanted their company to look like, you know, during that time, but it was yeah, it was a struggle during those days, that's for sure.

Nelson Barss 05:06


Liz Sears 05:07

We know we're both in it.

Nelson Barss 05:09

Yeah, we all went through it in different ways. I remember talking to you about that, and about just keeping your head above water. And, you know, I was in the same boat, we were, I had a company that I shut down and brought home all the debt with me, and but you guys made it through, you stayed it stayed in business and just kept keep your head above water? And

Eric Barlow 05:27

Yeah, I mean, it was, there was no profit to be made during those times. But if you worked everything just right, and he's able to balance things and make it work. And we, you know, we carried probably 12 to 15 employees, during that time, we landed a couple of apartment complexes that were very helpful to us that just enough cash flow and capital to keep us, you know, going keep everybody going. You know, it's always scary being a business owner, when you, you know, you feel like you have the responsibility for those employees, you know,

Liz Sears 06:02

Yeah, it's not just your own family, your feeding, it's also their's too. So make exactly business coming in and such. So what were some of the first roles that you took over and running the business? Because you started as a technician?

Eric Barlow 06:13

Sure, so well, the first few steps is the way I especially looking back now, of learning of that was the training part where you take new guys and train them, how to complete the jobs, right, the way, the way that I was trained to do it, training someone to do what you do, right? Was the very first steps and it's not like you notice it at the time, it's not like they're, you know, they take your site and say, you're now going to become a trainer, but they just give you an apprentice, and you start trying to do it.

Liz Sears 06:47

There you go.

Eric Barlow 06:48

So he can help you get your job done, can do it right. Now, you don't have to go back and fix everything. Yeah. And that's where you start. And then when I started moving in towards the office stuff, it was mostly bidding, you know, learning to bid jobs. In the beginning, I would go out and do the on site bids, you know, because there's always remodels, or there's job site walkthroughs, and things like that, that you have to take care of. And that's where, you know, I started doing more of that, you know, and then running some of the jobs like the purchasing front end, like kind of, I guess it's more like a project manager, you know, being a project manager of that job, or a foreman, you know, in Norms Plumbing, it's kind of the same role. Either way. It's a little different now. So project managers might have a different role, the girls in the office or more of the project managers and the foreman, are the guys out running the job physically on, you know, going into the job meeting, safety meetings, all that kind of stuff.

Liz Sears 07:50

So back when you're a smaller, you are doing both roles, and then as you grew, you're able to split it.

Eric Barlow 07:55

Right. And so when you move out of residential into commercial, there's a few more steps you have to take, you know, with OSHA, and with the safety protocols that you have, there's a lot more layers. And so it's nice to have a project manager that can run the, the submittals and the paperwork end of it from the office side. And then have the foreman who's just out there physically running the men, making sure that you're on task, you know, as far as timing goes, or your schedule goes, things like that, make sure the products there, the materials are they're being installed properly, things like that.

Nelson Barss 08:32

So fast forward with us now to kind of the current day or tell us how how did your company run now how many guys you have? How many trucks do you guys send out every morning out for jobs?

Eric Barlow 08:42

Yeah, so we have maybe I think 10 trucks, maybe maybe 12 trucks but we have 22 employees right now. Most all of them are running two man trucks. You know, we on the service end of it, we sometimes will send single guys

Nelson Barss 09:03


Eric Barlow 09:03

To do service. But But now so fast forward to now we've during those rougher years, we learned to diversify. So we don't just do new construction. We don't just do remodels. We don't just do commercial, but we we also do some service, you know, which is like you call you wake up in the morning, your water heater is out. You got to find someone to call that's the service. And so we have a couple of guys that we like to dedicate just to service and which is nice, because that's good cash flow, right?

Nelson Barss 09:36


Eric Barlow 09:36

If you can do service because you get paid right on the job. It's quicker than 30- 90 day.

Liz Sears 09:41


Nelson Barss 09:41

I can imagine

Eric Barlow 09:42


Nelson Barss 09:43

So then you have 12 trucks every morning.

Eric Barlow 09:46

Yeah, so we send out about 10 trucks a day every day, going every which way from Logan to Sandy or wherever, you know, sometimes even up into Wyoming too.

Nelson Barss 09:59

Okay, wow

Eric Barlow 10:00

We do some jobs on Kemmemmer and Evanston things like that.

Nelson Barss 10:02

So how do you manage the logistics of it? Who decides? Who goes where every morning? Do you guys have like a team meeting every morning do

Eric Barlow 10:09

Not every morning we have. So as far as big company meetings, but we just stay in communication, daily. Company meetings, we do quarterly.

Nelson Barss 10:18


Eric Barlow 10:18

It's usually a safety meeting, training and kind of mix it all into one for about an hour.

Nelson Barss 10:23

It's a lot less than I expected.

Liz Sears 10:25


Nelson Barss 10:25

Like I thought maybe you do like a daily rah rah thing in the morning or something like that

Eric Barlow 10:29

No, they all come in, in the morning, but they all come in at different times. Because based on what their job is, where they're going. Some guys like to come in at 530 in the morning, and head down to Sandy to an apartment complex. And get there early and get set up and that kind of thing. Where others that have service calls that don't start till eight or 830, because you know, people just don't want to wake up at seven to have a plumber come in. People come in a little bit later, you know, yeah. And then some people, you know, so we have a group of them that come in at different times base based on where their jobs are. But we usually have a group of us that meet every day, I'm there every morning to answer questions and talk to them, go over their work orders or their jobs, you know, and also when they come in at night, a lot of times we'll have a little bit of team meeting at that time. But, but more just as crews per job, not really as a as an entire company, you know?

Nelson Barss 11:27

So how do you do you? Do you kind of know every single job that's going on and try to? How do you oversee quality? For example? How do you make sure that stuff's getting done the way you want it to be done? Right? And, and I imagine you're sending them out new guys and experienced guys, and just wondering how you just keep it from blowing up? So much going on.

Eric Barlow 11:48

Yeah, and that it can be a challenge at times. But I try to go out, you know, like, we come in, like I say, when they come in at night or in the morning, almost on a daily basis, every single guy I talk to okay, you know? If I don't see him that day, I usually call them that day, and just see, how's your job going? Is there anything you need? They're in constant communication with the girls in the office. So my wife, Angie, she's the office manager and her sister Debbie is basically the same, like an office manager, but but they run the daily like, Debbie, does both of them do the scheduling, they answer phone calls, and that kind of thing. As far as scheduling, I mean, like the service end, you know, so so if you called in right now, unfortunately, you'd probably be two weeks out, you know, say you called in with a water heater out or something, suppose all broken, you know, she would say, well, we're scheduling for this certain day, and she has a calendar in front of her with everybody's schedule on it, you know, so the man, when they come in at night, they can see, you know, say they're wrapping up with house job or you know, a project, then they'll see right where their next project that they're headed to. And then we try to order their materials ahead of time. So that's what I do inside the offices, just try to keep the schedule in line. Keep the man you know, if they have questions, and then I'll go do his job site visits every day, you know, at least.

Liz Sears 13:17

Whichever ones makes sense.

Eric Barlow 13:18

Yeah. And sometimes when guys need help, or they want to go over something, have question on something. But a lot of our guys are just, you know, they've been there for a lot of years, you know, 8-10 years, and then they can run the whole thing without me ever even seeing the job, you know, and 100%. And so, sometimes I just get in the way.

Nelson Barss 13:38

That's a luxury, right?

Eric Barlow 13:39


Nelson Barss 13:39

So let's talk about how you keep them that long. Like, what is your mentality for hiring new guys and making them last and

Liz Sears 13:48

Keeping the ones you've got happy?

Nelson Barss 13:49

Keeping those ones that are so valuable?

Eric Barlow 13:52

Well, I mean, a big part of it is, you know, I try to look at the way when I was a tech, right, or, or on the payroll out, you know, in the in the field every day, you know, the things that I liked being treated like, you know, like the respect of giving them their opinions, you know, and when it comes to plumbing, something, I mean, we have state codes, and certain ways that has to be done for the inspectors. And other than that, they can put together however, they want to put it together, you know, I don't want to micromanage them, I don't want to. Another thing is I've learned and this is something I've learned through trial and error, which is to try to keep levelheaded control the things I can control and don't lose it over things that I can't control,

Liz Sears 14:46

Which is pretty impressive in the construction business because that's one thing that I've noticed a lot is there are some hot headed people in the industry and so just being able to, like you said just stay level headed makes a big difference.

Eric Barlow 14:58

Yeah, and so, you know, giving them the freedom to to know that they're in charge of their own success and allow that to happen is one of the biggest things, one of at least my philosophy if had to do it now, different places you go, there are different ways. I mean, there's some guys that have tracking devices in every van that, you know, check them, they know when the door opens and closes, they know when they come and go. And that's just not something that I would feel good about if I was a worker. So it's not something that I implement on my workers. I just in one of the things that I tell them, every time we have a meeting, it's one of one of my sayings is- I'll never ask you to do anything for Norms Plumbing that I'm not expecting to pay you for. And all I ask is that same, same honesty in return, which is, if you're not working for Norms Plumbing, if you have something to do during the day, go take care of it. But be honest with me about your, you know, that you're taken off or whatever. And so, and I got a great group of guys that, you know, I think through example, the guys that have been there for a while, and the new guys come, you know, I mean, I hope that everybody stays honest and fair. And when they do they get treated honest and fair back. I tried to give we give them all the benefits. I mean, we're competitive that way, as far as if you don't, these days, because it's such a tough market for keeping guys and and getting guys,

Nelson Barss 16:27

I imagine in your field, it's almost like dogfight to get any employee good plumbers to stay or

Eric Barlow 16:33


Nelson Barss 16:34

Do you guys getting recruited away sometimes?

Eric Barlow 16:36

All the time. It's always a battle, someone will walk into a job and offer him $2 more an hour than they're getting or whatever.

Liz Sears 16:44


Nelson Barss 16:45

So you got full benefits for them in and that sounds like a lot of what you're saying is just just respect, and trust

Eric Barlow 16:52

Full benefits, respect, trust, you know, you know, we were very, you know, we do job tracking. So, one of the questions I like to ask the guys when they come in and do one on ones is, is what do you like, you know, what do you feel like you're successful at job tracking has made a huge difference for us that way. Meaning, if we send a guy to do a house rough, like, if you're building a new home, and we send a guy out to do your home, we can see how he does on that home at the end, if we made a profit if we hit our margins, or whatever.

Nelson Barss 17:27

So when you talk about job tracking, you're talking about an accounting method of tracking per job, all of your revenue and expenses, you can see which of your employees are profitable, which are not,

Eric Barlow 17:37

Right. And the thing that helps us with that, and I don't like to bring them in and give them the negatives and say, but what we can see is what they're most successful at. Like we got some guys that when you send them to do a grocery store or a commercial job, they'll just nail it. I mean, they just it's just what they enjoy, you know, but if you're not doing something that you enjoy every day, it's going to be you're not going to be as productive. And so if I and that's what I tell him look we can bid anything out there that's on the market we can be anything from a hospital to a somebody's house, you know, or we can just do water heaters and toilet change outs if you want to. You know, so what do you like, what do you want to see yourself doing and what are you best at you know, so if I got a guy that is good at putting in houses doing house roughs, you know, plumbing drainage and water lines, versus and he wants to go do water heaters and things services to a person's house, but he's just doesn't quite have success in that then, you know, then I might show him those books and say, Look, you're a lot better here. This is where you do better.

Liz Sears 18:48

How often do you do those one on ones with them?

Eric Barlow 18:51

Try to on a monthly basis.

Liz Sears 18:54


Eric Barlow 18:54

Doesn't always happen.

Nelson Barss 18:55

That is busy. You've got 22 guys, it's like one a day.

Eric Barlow 18:57

Yeah, I mean, you know, it doesn't take a long time to sit down. It's not like a full on interview.

Liz Sears 19:03

What would you say? Like 15-30 minutes?

Eric Barlow 19:07

Yeah, maybe. Not even maybe five to 10 minutes. But yeah. To where we can just talk about what they what they're doing, you know, a good, good long, like a personal interview would might only come twice a year, which is like the raise, during the raise times. You know, so we give them raises every, like, usually it's every April and every October. And so, but this year, we did one early just because of the inflation and all that's going on but but yeah, we and that's just like clockwork. So that's one good thing that people know when they come here is that they don't have to come to ask me for raises. They just know that they're going to happen now the size of their raise is based on how well they do and that's usually when they would come in and talk. You know,

Nelson Barss 19:54

That's good. I like that. Instead of sitting around just wondering is this guy ever gonna give me a raise? No. Hey, I gotta talk to Eric in October

Eric Barlow 20:01


Nelson Barss 20:02

And I'm gonna work towards that so that I can show well, and hopefully you're in a good raise. Yeah. So why not just hire more service guys? And there's demand there. And it seems like you're choosing to be comfortable at your size right now even mentioned you had opportunity to grow huge

Eric Barlow 20:20


Nelson Barss 20:20

With an investor and get bigger. So what what plays into your decisions to grow? Obviously, you've grown over the years, you've added trucks and guys, how do you decide what's the comfortable level that you're happy at?

Eric Barlow 20:31

Yeah, that's hard. That's a hard decision to make, you know, a lot of it is workload. Like for one thing, like, like we talked earlier, you feel like you're in charge of taking care of those families, right? I mean, I want to make sure that I'm not, you know, that's another thing that bothered me through the many years that I've been in this industry is seeing these companies that will land a huge job, and then they'll just rake in a whole bunch of guys, and perform the job that they're doing, and then just lay a bunch of guys off, right. And, to me, that's just, you know, you're not going to have anybody wanting to stay with you, if you're that kind of a employer. So, you know, I want these guys to feel like they have stability, for however long did they want to stay in the business or stay with us, you know, what I mean, and as much growth as they want. So, you know, that's so to me, that's where the growth, you know, a lot of times, and this is through through our business, the very best guys, obviously, and not always, because I try my very best to have the very best guys understand that you don't have to be an owner of a company in order to be successful and have a good income, you know, but a lot of them, that's what they want to do, they want to go out. And, you know, just like, the reason why we're doing this podcast is so that we can give those guys the confidence in starting their own business if they want to, you know, and I, I've never like we, I've had so many guys that we've trained, and they've gone, I can't even tell you a dozen, maybe 20 spin offs of Norms Plumbing out there, other businesses, that are guys that I've trained or had worked for me for 10 years or more, and they decide they want to go do their own thing. And so I've never, you know, I never want to be that one, the person who deters someone for chasing their dreams, you know, so the will find other guys will find ways to go. And most of the guys, that's left me, we're all still good friends, you know.

Liz Sears 22:41

I just barely heard a story about a guy who he would often have people that he trained up, spin off and go somewhere else. And one of them was who was telling the story about the first guy and said that he did a kind of a welcoming party for him by putting five framed pictures of himself in the new guy's office.

Eric Barlow 23:00

Perfect. I like that.

Liz Sears 23:01

So you should start getting framed pictures of yourself.

Eric Barlow 23:03

That's a good idea. I like that

Nelson Barss 23:08

I had someone asked me once, you know, what are you going to do if he decides to go start his own company? One of my employees Yeah, doing really well. And someone's like, Well, why aren't you worried about him leaving and starting his own company? And I had to think about as like, well, that would kind of suck for me, but it'd be great for him.

Eric Barlow 23:23


Nelson Barss 23:24

And I think we would still be good friends. Right? But I have to constantly try not to sabotage him is I have this temptation. Like, I don't want to show him too much. I don't want to tell him, you know, the secret sauce or whatever, because I don't want it to be too easy for him to go. And I think that he, he would sense it. If I was doing that. Right. He would sense that I'm holding back that I'm not trusting Him. And I'd probably loose him faster if I was treating him that way.

Eric Barlow 23:53

Yeah. And I mean, you'll have more success within your own company, by giving them that freedom, you know, being honest and open with them. You know, and maybe giving them little extra perks here and there, you know, like, sometimes with with my company, some of my lead guys, if they do a project, and they do really well, because we you know, we track the jobs. And that comes back and I'm like, Wow, you did an excellent job with this. And I'll show them so that they know how successful they're being and then I'll give them you know, nice little bonus check or something with it. Say, so, you know, thanks for doing that, you know, so. But yeah, eventually, they may have a dream that they want to do their own thing. And when they do, you know, it's all I can do is, you know. Help them out and send them on their way.

Liz Sears 24:43

Yeah, there are certain personalities that that's kind of where they're going to end up anyways, as soon as they learn enough about it. And then there's the other personalities who absolutely love letting it be someone else's ultimate burden.

Eric Barlow 24:53


Liz Sears 24:54

And they get to just grow their business inside of it. So in the way that you've grown it, it sounds like you kind of satisfy both types.

Eric Barlow 25:02

And it's, you know, when you're starting your own business, the one thing you don't understand is that when you're a worker, and you're out there, and you're, you're getting great wages, right? I mean, most of the guys are in between $30 and $40 an hour right? In, which is good, decent living for these guys. And, and then, you know, sometimes they think well it would be so much easier, I wouldn't have to work as many hours to get that money. But the truth of it is, you put a lot more hours in then what is reflected, you know, especially when they're out there right now, and I'm over here with you guys. You know, and I'm like I got this podcast thing, I got to do, I'm running to Ogden, then I'll call you when I'm done. Like this guy's just driving around goofing off all the time, that's all he does, you know?

Nelson Barss 25:47

Well I was I was telling you earlier, we've had quite a few people we've invited to come on the podcast. And it's kind of a good sign if they have a strong team or not if they can come. Yeah, because you know, you've been super flexible. We've had to try this like three or four dates, and we keep canceling on you. And you're like, Yeah, I can be there. And I'm just like, that's, that's really cool that he's got the flexibility. And he's got enough trust in his team, whatever, that he can work his schedule around whatever he wants to do, right?

Eric Barlow 26:11

Yeah, yeah.

Nelson Barss 26:12

I mean, that's the dream. But look how many people it takes for you to have that lifestyle. You've got 22 guys, you got your your wife and your sister in law back in the office. I mean, it's not just, it's not possible. If you just are one man show, if you're visualizing starting something and doing it by yourself? Yeah, it's no better than just being an employee. Right? It's worse by far.

Eric Barlow 26:13

Yeah, exactly. So when you start off in business, it's like, you want to have your own company, you want to be the guy that runs the company. But the reality of it is, you're being steered by the company, the company's running you. And that's the way it is, and until you until you get to a point where you can release the the reins or whatever, you know, to let the other people that, are your team members, go run their own jobs and do their own things. And don't you don't have call them and say, How's this going? Or how's that going? Did you get this done? Did you get that done? You just got to know that they're out there, doing what they need to do and getting it done? Then I can come here comfortably and not have to worry about what are all the guys doing. And especially, but that's what, that's why I say you gotta go layer by layer, when you're building a company, you know, you can't just because if I had the same mentality I did when it was five guys, or three or four guys, and I was there with every guy and, you know, looking at everything that they did, make sure it's perfect quality control and all that, then you wouldn't be able to do it with 20. And some of these guys that have 50 or 100 employees, they wouldn't be able to do it either, you know?

Liz Sears 27:48


Nelson Barss 27:48

So when you hire it, I'd love to know what your philosophy is with hiring guys. Do you look for experience? Do you want no experience?

Eric Barlow 27:55

I would take just about any guy that wants to work. To be honest with you. I you know, these days, I mean, yeah, in a perfect world, I would take you know a guy and bring him in and interview him and make sure that he's, you know, doing what he wants to do. But, you know, a lot of times, like I get kids from the ward, and

Nelson Barss 28:16

Yeah, I've seen when you're in the halls at church, just be like, hey, come get my work for me.

Eric Barlow 28:21

Somebody's dad will come up to me and say, Hey, can so and so and have him start Monday. If he wants to, you know we've got plenty to do, we'll send them out there. And some of them love it and make it a career. And some of them decide that this isn't for them, you know, but But yeah, I'll take I mean, any guy that calls me up wants a job.

Nelson Barss 28:40

But is that just a function of the market right now?

Eric Barlow 28:43

It is.

Nelson Barss 28:44

Is it just how you've learned to do it that you like to do it that way? Because you're given everybody a try?

Eric Barlow 28:48


Nelson Barss 28:48

You're not trying to filter too much?

Eric Barlow 28:50


Nelson Barss 28:50

You're not doing like resumes and background checks. And, like, No, I don't like his personality or whatever. Like, bring him in. Yeah, I have tried the opposite for a long time. And I would say my success rate is probably worse than yours. Right? And we have this really long interview process. And I think I got somebody I'm gonna love. And then day one, I'm like, what have I done? Who have I hired? Right.

Eric Barlow 29:13

Yeah. Sometimes it's sometimes you know, you get that way, especially when yet it's harder to hire guys that are experienced or that you know, are already journeyman or come from a different company. That's always because they're set in their ways or they want to compare you with somebody else like that guy that I was at had newer tools and you know, the guy you know, that guy always had us in new trucks. Or he always this or that. So it's hard that way, you know, but I'm, you know, as busy as things are and is, like you were saying before, how do I not just grow and get more service guys. I mean, that would be great if I could, and that's what the conversation I had with the person who wanted to make us, you know, take us to go big was, where am I going to find the employees to make this happen, you know, and it's just not easy to do. And that's where we're stuck with right now is, you know, if you're lucky if you can find somebody that just wants to come to work every day, it's not always fun working outside. And me, I love it. I mean, I like to be outside. I'd like to see the sunset every night. I like to be out there in the morning and the cold air. And, you know, it's hard for me to be if I was like this all day inside the place, I would get bored. But, and but sometimes when it's wintertime, and it's cold and snows blowing sideways, it's not too fun.

Nelson Barss 30:43

And you're in Wyoming.

Eric Barlow 30:47

Or when it's burning hot outside is not too fun.

Nelson Barss 30:49

I have a coach that I follow. And he talks a lot about, you know, make your mortgage shop like a restaurant, you decide how many seats you want to have in your restaurant. And when you're full, you're full. And if people have to wait, they have to wait outside to come in and have a seat. I wish I would listen to his advice more because for me, it's like, Hey, we're in the middle of this huge boom rates are low. I'm just gonna grow so I can handle all that demand. I'm gonna put up my sails and catch the wind. Right?

Eric Barlow 31:15


Nelson Barss 31:15

Which I think is great until the wind goes away. And now you got this empty restaurant, all your people are hearing crickets. And so I think there's a lot of wisdom to just deciding, no, I'm comfortable with this volume. And and you talked about loyalty to your people not wanting to have to do a layoff. It's much better to be a little more demand than your handling.

Eric Barlow 31:36


Nelson Barss 31:37

And just that's job security for everybody. Right?

Eric Barlow 31:39

Yeah, they get a little more overtime, they get, you know, it's right now they get as much overtime as they want, which is great. That's, that's one thing that's difficult is not taken on. And that's, you know, another thing that you would want to warn new starts is don't take on more than you can handle right now. Number one, it's gonna make your life miserable. Because it's same with you guys. If you have too many clients, it's, you know there just going to be unhappy,

Liz Sears 32:07


Nelson Barss 32:08

Do you have any horror stories with that? Do you have any experience where you just grew too fast, or you got too big or took a job you shouldn't have.

Eric Barlow 32:14

Yeah during those times when it was rough years. There was one job we did for UDOT, that we it was way out of my range, you know, that we just bid up. Well, back in those days, you have to understand, you know, carrying 15 people, we were doing, you know, maybe $2 million a year in gross revenue, right. And but there was very little out there to find. So when you did bid jobs, it was really, really tight. And and I would literally be stuck inside of an office all day long bidding jobs, maybe a million dollars a month, sometimes both Norm and I both bidding, as much as we could gather every job that came across, you know. And out of all those jobs, you might land less than 10%. Some really sometimes some months, even less than 5%. Right? So very, very little jobs, would you land out of all the numbers that you put out. And so we landed one for this UDOT maintenance facility. And when we got done, Jobs said and done, I had bid it wrong. We put way too much labor into it. It was way too far. It was clear up in Kamas And by the time you know, it was all certified payroll because it was a state job. So you know, you have to make sure you're paying proper wages more money. By the time we was all done, it was $40,000 in the hole. Yeah. Well, okay, this didn't work out. You know, so. Yeah. So I mean, there's, there's those hard learning lessons that you learn if you grow too fast, or take on something that's a little too big, that you're not ready for either manpower, or purchasing power, or whatever it may be.

Nelson Barss 34:03

But would you do that job today? If you had the, it's not too big for you now, right?

Eric Barlow 34:07

No, we do jobs like that no problem. We're doing Layton Fire Department is bigger than that job.

Nelson Barss 34:11

Yeah. So you probably just learned through hard experience, but you didn't give up?

Eric Barlow 34:15

Yeah, no.

Nelson Barss 34:17

I have a friend. This is an interesting contrast because I have a friend who's a plumber. And I was talking to him about the recession the '08 '09 crash. He had probably same number guys you had. You said you had like 12 guys. Yeah, right. He said he had about that many guys. And when the crash came, he held on to all those guys. As long as he could. And he regrets not letting him go sooner.

Eric Barlow 34:40


Nelson Barss 34:40

He says they would have found jobs they would have been fine. But you know, I had him sweeping the shop and just trying to keep them busy and and now because he got burned so bad because he just he just lost money trying to keep these guys employed,

Eric Barlow 34:54


Nelson Barss 34:55

He just operates as a solo guy now. He doesn't want a team sometimes he'll bring one person in to work with him right.. But what do you think is the difference? Or what? What I see as the difference is, is how hard you had to work. Or you did work to find work.

Eric Barlow 35:11


Nelson Barss 35:11

Right. Instead of saying, oh, they're sweeping the shop, right?

Eric Barlow 35:15

It was, it was definitely a matter of just sheer willpower during those times, you know? And, and, yeah, cuz there was a lot of people that was just going bankrupt, you know, or just saying, I can't do it anymore. And, and, you know, we had a big apartment complex that was going on, that was out by Kennecot. And that ended up being also a big huge money pit, you know, to where the company that they ended up going to end up going under the contractor that we were with.

Nelson Barss 35:48

They went under?

Eric Barlow 35:48

Yeah. And but we were, you know, we were kind of fortunate because we had some of these government jobs, that was also a HUD home jobs, what was the prevailing wage, government job. But it was just really, really difficult. So all its, you know, we had to mortgage out everything we had, we had to come up with our own capital. I mean, we was at the brink of just saying, We can't do this anymore. And then somehow it would work. Last second, it would work. Or sometimes we wouldn't make payroll in the last second, we would find, calling everybody that owed us money, and we'd find enough payment just to make payroll.

Nelson Barss 36:25

Did you ever just think about laying people off?

Eric Barlow 36:28

We did, yeah. But, you know, by that time, you're because we were lucky enough to be carried way into it with a good project we were on in Logan, we did the Blue Square Apartments up there. And that that project was a good project. So all of our guys was able to stay busy. Then when that project ended, we you know, we were scrambling during all that time. So they had been carried into the recession by a year at least. So now if I let them go, they're really gonna have a hard time, you know? And so we just just kept I mean, yeah, we did think about it a lot. But we just kept pushing forward and making it work. My philosophy was, if we can keep it, like you say, with the sails., I use the exact same scenario, right? Instead of just cutting the sheets and burning them for warmth. If we just hang on to them, then when the wind starts up, again, we're going to have these big sails that we can just open up, right, yeah, just pick right back up again. And so when we carried them through, it cost us a lot. But I feel like we were very much blessed. Because on the back end,

Nelson Barss 37:36

The payoff

Eric Barlow 37:38

Yeah, because

Liz Sears 37:39

Exactly what you wanted

Eric Barlow 37:40

We turned around, yeah, now we have a crew, and reputation to where we want, we have guys that want to come work for us, because they know that we're going to hang on to them, and do whatever it takes, you know, to keep busy and keep them. And at least in now, our guys they took, like, we did drastic things back then like, you know, we didn't want to cut health insurance. But we we took a 5% cut across the board from me all the way down for every single person in the company, we brought them all in and said, What do you want to do? Do you want to, you know, we can't sustain. We have to do something. So do you want to as a company, we let them all just kind of have discussion on it. And we said Do you guys want to take all your benefits away? You know, you're you're paid vacations, your holidays? You're that kind of stuff, keep your health insurance, of course. Or do you want to keep all your benefits and do a 5% cut and we'd ran all the numbers and we said we got to get this much we can get this much we can survive for another year. So they all said lets 5% cuts right?

Liz Sears 38:42

And it's pretty amazing that everybody was kind of in

Eric Barlow 38:46

They was all in. There were all let's do it. Let's do a 5% cut, you know, they didn't like it, but they knew that they couldn't go somewhere else. Maybe they wouldn't get a job if they left, you know. But then when it turned around. Now they was all making, you know, because I like made it up to him. Like when you own if it turns around when it turns around and will then we're going to take good care. Yeah. And we're going to make sure that you're well compensated. And so, you know, I'm not going to, you know, go try to brag and say that our guys make more than the top guys, because there's always guys out there that are willing to pay more, you know, but But our guys, you know, I try to take good care of them, especially those who stuck through that time, you know, then

Nelson Barss 39:29

There's another contrast in my mind. I remember, I worked for a guy when we were running a mortgage office and I made a comment to him like, well, let's gather everyone together. Let's, let's see what they want to do. And his comment was like, I'm not interested in their opinion. I don't want to know what they think. Right? It was like, there's two different philosophies, right? And sometimes I think about that comment from him when I'm running my business. And I'm like, okay, something needs to be done here. Should I pull some people in and poll them and get their thoughts? So should I just be the leader? If I just be the boss and just decide what's best? And throw down a decision? I think probably a little bit of both sometimes has to happen. Right? Yeah. But do you have a philosophy on that? Do you just generally?

Eric Barlow 40:12

Yeah, I feel like if if, you know, if there's something like that, like a policy change, or something major, that's going to affect the guys. Yeah. You know, I think it's a good idea. Again, these guys are all intelligent men who do this for their living, this is still their living, you know, they, they choose to come to work for Norms Plumbing to make their living for their family. So I want to give them the respect to say, what do you think about this policy change? How do you think we should fix this problem?

Nelson Barss 40:41


Eric Barlow 40:42

You know, rather than, and I may steer them, and maybe their ideas get thrown out, but, but still, I'd like to be able to bring them in and let them feel like, they're, because one of my biggest things that I've always tried to push on these guys is take ownership, you know, you're wearing, you know, a Norms Plumbing shirt or your, you know, know that you're a part of this, this is, you know, take ownership of it, so that you can know that, you know, you want to be able to say you're working for a successful company, so make the company successful. So that, and, you know, people know me, I'm not, you may get other plumbing owners that come in here that do really do look nice. dress nice, you know, drive super nice cars and stuff like that, but I'm not here to, you know, I don't exploit my guys for more money. I mean, we got to make a living and always Norms Plumbing comes first because that's the business, right?

Liz Sears 41:40


Eric Barlow 41:42

But, you know, they know that if there's, if we make a lot more money, they're gonna make a lot more money, because I'm not going to just get rich and, you know, squeeze them like a turnip for everything that they're worth, you know what I mean? And I think that's my the way my philosophy is now I'm, like I said, I'll never be that fancy guy, but I'll make a good living. And I'm fine.

Nelson Barss 42:07

And you have a great business.

Eric Barlow 42:08


Nelson Barss 42:08

You have. I think, when I say you have a great business, you have a great reputation. You have great people working for you. Right?

Eric Barlow 42:16


Nelson Barss 42:16

It's profitable. It's stable.

Liz Sears 42:20

Put things in your day, right.

Nelson Barss 42:22

Come do a podcast right afternoon. Yeah,

Eric Barlow 42:25

I guess. Yeah, I gotta get some free time they get free time. See, I want them to be able to go to their kids soccer games, just the same, you know?

Liz Sears 42:33


Eric Barlow 42:34

That's the whole reason. You know why we're not bankers or something where we make lots of money, but we're stuck at one place. You know? So we can have that freedom.

Nelson Barss 42:46

Well, thank you. I don't know if you have any more questions for Eric or you want to go to the fire round? Or

Liz Sears 42:50

I think we're good to go to the fire round. Thank you, by the way. Yeah. Loved your your input, the way you treat your employees, all of that.

Nelson Barss 42:57

I would probably say that's the secret sauce to why you've been able to grow and stay successful is just that fierce. loyalty and trust you have between your guys. I mean, that's, that's huge. I'm, I'm excited to try to implement more of that in my office. What we do, so yeah. Okay, tell us about the fire round. Liz. All right.

Liz Sears 43:17

So that one minute to answer all these.

Eric Barlow 43:19

Oh boy. pressures on now.

Liz Sears 43:22

All right, what is your favorite podcast?

Eric Barlow 43:26

This one right here. So like I said before, I don't know a lot of podcasts. I know Joe Rogan has a cool podcast, but I've never heard it either.

Nelson Barss 43:36

Not much of a podcast.

Eric Barlow 43:38

I'm gonna start learning podcasts now. I have to find one.

Liz Sears 43:42

I love it. What's your favorite business book?

Eric Barlow 43:46

So, you know, I don't read a lot of business books. I do read a lot of articles in different magazines, like the, you know, Builders Association magazines, PHC magazines, you know, things that are modern day inputs from other plumbing companies nationwide that I read some of that, yeah, not a not a huge book reader book reader. As far as that goes

Liz Sears 44:09

Well what you are reading sounds very applicable. Alright. How many hours a day do you work? And how many do you want to work?

Eric Barlow 44:16

So? Yeah, work 12 , 12 to 16? Maybe sometimes.

Nelson Barss 44:25

That's crazy. Thats too many

Eric Barlow 44:27

Yeah. Especially my wife. I mean, my wife works till forever, but she works till two in the morning sometimes. But yeah, I would like to be it'd be nice to be no more than eight. Maybe, you know, but I do have some good freedoms. I'm not going to complain.

Nelson Barss 44:41


Liz Sears 44:41


Nelson Barss 44:42

Working probably doesn't feel like work half the time. Right.

Eric Barlow 44:44

Right. Exactly.

Nelson Barss 44:45

You're enjoying what you do.

Eric Barlow 44:46


Nelson Barss 44:46

And who you do it with

Eric Barlow 44:47


Liz Sears 44:48

Yep. Here's one that we forgot to mention earlier is who do you look up to in the business world and why?

Eric Barlow 44:53

Oh, I think I mean, as far as business world goes, I like that Elon, Musk dude,

Nelson Barss 45:00

He pretty impressive, isn't it?

Eric Barlow 45:03

Yeah. Man's in the right place at the right time for everything. Yeah. Just because he's, you know, he seems like he's pretty straightforward guy. A lot of the same philosophies I think seems like he treats his guys good. He's very driven, at least from what I've heard.

Nelson Barss 45:21

I don't think he treats his guys nearly as good as you do. I've heard actually listen his biography.

Eric Barlow 45:28

Is that right?

Nelson Barss 45:28

Pretty brutal guy

Eric Barlow 45:29

Is he? Well, maybe that's why he's the big shot. Yeah, you know

Nelson Barss 45:34

Different level of success. Yeah. If you learn to be a jerk,

Eric Barlow 45:39

I don't need that. Yeah, I'd rather have freedom than money sometimes.

Liz Sears 45:43

Yeah. All right. And final one is what is one piece of advice, the best piece of advice you'd have for our audience?

Eric Barlow 45:49

The one best piece of advice for new business owners. Okay. Is that what you're saying? Sure. Number one, well, I guess the best piece of advice is, don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to go out and chase your dreams. Right? You know, it's gonna take a lot of work. Build it slowly, one piece at a time. And, and just be honest and straightforward with yourself and the people around you. And I think you'll be just fine. You know? That's, that's what I would say

Nelson Barss 46:15

Take it one step at a time.

Eric Barlow 46:17

One step at a time.

Nelson Barss 46:18

It took you a long time to grow this business from 3 where you started.

Eric Barlow 46:21


Nelson Barss 46:22

To 22. It's been 30 years.

Eric Barlow 46:23


Nelson Barss 46:25

And there's been lots of ups and downs through that, but

Eric Barlow 46:28

Lots of ups and downs.

Nelson Barss 46:29

It's good advice.

Eric Barlow 46:29


Liz Sears 46:30

All right. Well, if people wanted to get a hold of you, where's the best place to find you?

Eric Barlow 46:35

Just called the phone number. Our number is 801-825-4411 and it's just Norms Plumbing LLC.

Nelson Barss 46:45

Okay, if you're if you're looking to get into the plumbing business, yeah. Or if you're

Eric Barlow 46:49

Yeah, of if you're a new business owner, you're thinking about it and you need questions. Let me know.

Nelson Barss 46:54

You've been listening to the business greater than you podcast with Nelson Barss. And Liz Sears. Our mission is to help lenders and agents like you

Liz Sears 47:01

If you're either already a full time realtor, or looking to become one and you desire to be highly successful. If you are both a learner and a doer, a hard worker and a total team player. We would love to chat with you about joining our team visit us at

Nelson Barss 47:15

If you're a loan officer or would like to be one we have a path to help you learn the business and develop the skills needed to lead a high performance origination team for better income and lifestyle.

Liz Sears 47:26

And lastly, if you would like to work with either of us, we would love your business.

Nelson Barss 47:30

Do you have a question for a future show? Would you like to be considered as a guest on our show? If so, please call or text our listener line at 801-871-9130

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