In 1990, Bill Chan emigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver, British Columbia. When he arrived in Canada, Chan bought a Street Fighter arcade kiosk, the first of many such investments on his way to becoming one of the area’s arcade pioneers. Like many emigrants to Canada and the United States – especially those from Eastern nations – Chan’s entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic thrived.
In some ways, Bill’s son, Terence Chan, followed the same entrepreneurial path, though the journey may’ve been a bit more circuitous in the beginning, and in a completely different market sector.
“I was a straight-A student in high school, and entered the University of British Columbia’s engineering program,” Terance says. “That’s where my grades faltered, due almost entirely to my love of video games and the freedom to fail like I’d never experienced. I dropped out of college and floundered for a few months. My parents suggested a career in the plumbing trade, suspecting that an opportunity to work with my hands would be a good change.”
Chan enrolled in the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Plumbing Foundation course, at which point he realized that he wanted to give his all to becoming the best plumbing and heating professional he could be.
‘The trade bit me.’
“The trade bit me,” Chan explains, as he fell in love with creating things.
After trade school, Chan ultimately took positions with five firms. He started working on commercial high-rise installations, went into sales with a distributor, then back into the field for service experience. Later he went back to school specifically for hydronic system design. No matter what he was doing, Chan was fully invested.
“When I graduated from trade school in 2011,” Chan adds, “I set a goal to become the best plumber in the world. Each job change was a calculated decision to gain the experience I needed to eventually start my own firm. I quite literally took notes on sales, service, design, installation and business management. I recorded what each company did well and what they did poorly.”
Toward the end of his information-gathering period, Chan made price lists and paid for his own business licenses. Reviewing his many experiences, Chan had a revelation: Across the trade, changes to company culture were of greatest importance.
“Company culture directly impacts the public perception of the trade and impacts our ability to recruit and retain the right employees and deliver a phenomenal product,” he says. At the end of the day, company culture dictates profitability.”
Impetus: 1. An impelling force; an impulse. 2. The force or energy associated with a moving body. 3. Something that incites; a stimulus.
Chan founded Impetus Plumbing and Heating in 2015, serving the greater Vancouver area. His motive was two-fold; to challenge himself and to enhance the perception of the trade.
“The trade has always been perceived as blue collar,” Chan says. “And how often do you hear someone use the term ‘plumbing career’? At its core, my passion stems from closing the gap between widespread perception of the trade and what a modern, professional plumbing and heating company really does.”
Referrals have steadily multiplied. Impetus hired its first of seven employees in 2017. The company has no niche aside from taking everything it does to the next level – whether involving commercial, residential, service, installation or renovation work.
One certainty runs through it all: The quality of the company’s work and dedication to craft raises eyebrows.
According to Chan, the most effective way to change perception of the trade is by providing professional, interesting, informative and entertaining content on social media, and then backing it up with outstanding work. Impetus is on nearly every mainstream social platform available. Chan invests up to an hour on social media every day.
“Social media does a lot more good than bad for a business, at least when used correctly,” Chan adds. “We reach customers, potential customers and potential hires. Beyond that, we’re changing the perception of the trade in the minds of countless young people who may not even be in our area.”
Social media has become a critical recruitment tool for Impetus. Chan prefers to hire from social media because his followers are aware of the company’s culture, and they’re largely of the generation that’s in tune with his goals, thus, bringing a professional, young presence to the trade.
“Another benefit of social media is the ability to network with manufacturers and other companies that serve the trade,” he explains. “I’ve aligned Impetus with companies that have the same vision I do.”
A number of years ago, for example, Impetus was approached by Jobber, a job tracking and customer management app, that Chan now uses to run his business. He has allied himself with a number of other companies in similar fashion.
“The companies I collaborate with on social media are always those whose products I use, and beyond that, they have to be actively trying to improve the trades,” Chan says. “Jobber does that.”
Chan also met Sean Giberson, Canadian sales manager at Taco Comfort Solutions, through Instagram.
“I learned that Taco is a family owned company that’s built a community of forward-thinking trade pros through online training and interaction,” Chan adds.
Right as COVID-19 made global headlines and lockdowns began, Chan purchased his first home, with a vision to make the residence an Impetus Plumbing & Heating showcase.
“We were so inundated with calls from customers who were uncertain whether or not they could get a service professional to help them that I didn’t even have time to decide between a fixed or variable APR mortgage,” Chan says.
The emergence of the pandemic ultimately set back his renovation timeline by a year.
“Dealing with the other trades, limiting the number of workers in the home and eventually material shortages really hindered progress,” Chan explains.
Chan says his home and showcase is 85 percent complete. His plan to completely renovate the 30-year-old, 2,900 square-foot home is slowly coming to a close.
“I wanted to incorporate everything we can do in a residential atmosphere,” Chan explains. “Radiant tubing already existed on all three stories and in the basement, so we had a great baseline. The mechanical room and bathrooms became my key focus during.”
The Impetus company colors are on full display inside the home. Each of four bathrooms feature black granite and gold fixtures. Two of the restrooms feature six-function showers, while another has a large tub filler. The home also has a dog wash.
“Most homes in Vancouver have mechanical systems crammed into the smallest space possible,” Chan adds.
Chan’s house is no exception. It’s under the stairs.
“I could have moved it to the basement,” he adds, “but I wanted to display our capability within the confines of the average home in our area.”
To meet a big hot water load, Chan paired a condensing Navien NPE-240A instantaneous water heater with an NFC-200 combi boiler. The cascading system provides well over 8 GPM of DHW if needed. Impetus replumbed the entire home and installed dedicated DHW return lines.
Currently, the home’s three radiant zones are served by a Taco 0015e3 ECM circulator and Zone Sentry zone valves with press fittings. Both circulators in the system feature isolation flanges. All Taco components, including boiler feed vales, dual check valves, circuit balancers, 4900 Series air separator and 4900 Series magnetic dirt separator and zone control are products carried by Chan’s local rep, Glenn Wong with Canadian Aqualine Sales.
Chan ran extra thermostat wires in case he decides to split existing zones in the future. The mechanical room has plenty of flare, too, similar to what Impetus provides on all its boiler systems.
A black and metallic gold epoxy pour was applied to the board supporting the boiler and components. The zone controller, water heater and boiler are all wrapped in matching gold vinyl, and green LED background lighting is powered when the boiler fires.
Pride in work
“Seeing to those details exhibits quality and cohesiveness,” Chan says. “I did it in my house, and I do it in customers’ homes, too. We’re not ‘butt crack’ plumbers. We have software and new technology. We assemble controls systems. We have uniforms. We diagnose electrical issues. The trade is actively evolving, and I want to help drive that, both locally, through our work, and on a much larger scale via social media.”
Chan has even created a plumbing group in Vancouver, the BC Plumber’s Association. The group is small for now, and formed to facilitate business discussion among professionals who want to see the industry advance.
Chan believes that too much of the trade is still “old school.” And that old school mentality is why there’s still so much price resistance in the market.
“When people ask us what our hourly rate is, I explain that they have the wrong company,” Chan explains. “That’s not us. We have five stars for a reason. People hear ‘plumbing’ and they think blue collar. That needs to change.”