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The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC)—National Association has served as an organization that connects PHC contractors not only to each other, but also to other resources that will allow them to excel in their business endeavors. And so, it’s not a stretch to align this year’s CONNECT 2017, themed “Collaborating for Success,” with the installation of the incoming president, Laurie Crigler.
Crigler had an interesting journey into the industry. She opened the doors to her first plumbing business, with her husband, in 1983. “The first thing we decided was that we needed to be involved with an association to learn about how to run our business,” she recalls. Although her husband had been involved in the industry since 1959, Crigler was a school teacher. “My husband was a phenomenal plumber, but at the time, neither of us knew anything about running a business.”
That year, PHCC was holding a national meeting in Crystal City, Virginia, about two hours from where they lived. Crigler recalls being immediately welcomed and introduced to the Virginia chapter leaders who, “took us under their wing.”
She continued teaching for a few more years but found that running a business was taking up more and more of her time. She ultimately made the call to focus on the business she and her husband started and says it was the best decision she had ever made. “From that point on, I chose to get involved at the local level by helping design a curriculum, approved by the Department of Labor, for an apprenticeship school we formed. After all, what better way to mesh my educational background with my husband’s plumbing knowledge and provide valuable training for our employees?” The school has since closed, but Crigler is still in teaching mode.
The rest of her journey with PHCC happened naturally. Crigler picked committees where she knew she could help without being a technical person, such as government relations, membership development and by-laws. “My love for the business, industry and PHCC grew from there,” she says.
We had the opportunity to talk to Crigler and get an idea of what her plans are for the next year as she takes on her new role. Here’s what we learned:
Sharon J. Rehana: What do you consider the biggest challenge for the industry at this time, and what are your thoughts on addressing it?
Laurie Crigler: Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge our industry faces is the lack of trained people to replace those of us getting a tad gray on top. Workforce development for our industry is HUGE. We will need approximately 138,000 technicians very shortly to help address the projects and infrastructure of this country.
To address this concern, PHCC has developed materials and resources to send out to the local and state chapters to help them at the grassroots level. In conjunction with this is the challenge of convincing this country that apprenticeship is an additional avenue of education and that four years of apprenticeship is the equivalent of four years of college with one exception —there is generally little or no debt for students achieving their apprenticeship (journeyman’s license), and the apprentice already has a lucrative, well-paying job in the industry. These fields (plumbing and HVAC) have become technologically advanced, are very diverse in opportunities, and always in demand. What parent wouldn’t want their child to have this kind of opportunity?
SJR: As you prepare to move into the role of president, what are the new initiatives or goals set in place for 2018 and beyond?
LC: I have been preparing for this role for a long time (even though it was just two years ago when I made the decision to run for VP). I have been accumulating knowledge on all fronts in order to be as well-versed as possible.
The board of directors developed a five-year PHCC strategic plan to address opportunities in our industry. If we follow that plan, with goals and objectives, we will get to our goal of doubling our membership by 2020 and provide those members with tools and ideas to make them successful, professional contractors.
Another goal, which we are striving to achieve, is to help legislators on all levels understand the ramifications of the laws and regulations that they are passing and/or enacting. By being involved in this arena, we hope to have an effect on those laws and regulations and make sure that they are thoroughly thought-out beneficial laws and regulations that encourage business growth and development, and help our country at the same time.
SJR: What do you hope will be the main takeaways from this year’s CONNECT?
LC: CONNECT is a multifaceted event; it is way more than a trade show. It is a place where members of our industry can not only learn about what is new in terms of tools and products, but it also provides a platform for learning about how to run a successful business and how to pass that business on to the next generation. It also showcases the “cream-of-the-crop” apprentices in plumbing and HVAC through the PHCC Educational Foundation Apprenticeship Competitions. And, it is a place where we can discuss our industry issues and potential solutions to those issues.
The main takeaway I would like is for every person who attends is to realize there is no better place to help their business grow and connect with other industry professionals from across the country. PHCC is where it is happening!
SJR: What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received in life that has allowed you to be successful and pay it forward with your involvement in the industry?
LC: I’m not sure I have ever received one piece of advice, but, my mom certainly was a role model. She left the security of her family of five sisters from Pennsylvania to move to Washington D.C. during WWII and got a job in the Navy Department as a secretary. That was pretty bold for that time period. After she left Pennsylvania for D.C. (and after she met and married my dad), she became the secretary to the Dean of Bentley College in Massachusetts. I watched her basically run that college with her efficiency and productivity. I guess having her as a role model made me believe that I could do anything, or be anything that I wanted, if I was willing to work hard to achieve what I wanted.
SJR: What advice would you give the new generation of plumbing, heating and cooling contractors as they start their careers?
LC: It is not easy (and probably much harder than when my husband and I experienced) to get a business up and running and to keep it going — but it is worthwhile! It has taken hard work and persistence, and it did not happen overnight. Best piece of advice? Join an association so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Get involved with that association so you can help your business grow methodically in order to provide a good living for you and your family and be there for the next generation.
SJR: As technology continues to advance and make its way into every industry, what role do you see it playing in the plumbing, heating and cooling industry? And, how should contractors adjust?
LC: Every trade has become more technological, and you have to become part of it or you will be left behind. That hopefully will be easier for the younger contractors than it has been for those in my generation. There are not only new avenues by which we communicate using technology but more and more cutting-edge business opportunities that can be added on as part of the more traditional plumbing and HVAC businesses. These opportunities will increase our value to our customers and create diversity within our businesses.
SJR: What are you looking forward to most as president?
LC: Having been a board of directors’ member, PHCC—National secretary and now part of the decision-making process for the past two years as vice president and president-elect, I have been “in the know” for quite a while and have been pleased to see the progress our association has made in many areas. As president, meeting more of our members across the country on their turf and hearing about their concerns and hopefully helping to address their industry issues is something I am really looking forward to. I love the people in this association and in our industry, and I am excited about our direction. I can’t wait to meet them and tell them all about what we can do together.
SJE: What have you done in the last year to prepare for this new role?
LC: It really has been a work in progress for at least two years. I began traveling to locals and states (as needed), speaking at functions and participating in higher level coalitions made up of PHCC and other associations concerned with similar issues. I also have put some pieces in place in our own business so that when I travel even more, it won’t adversely affect our business.
SJR: Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share?
LC: There are many great associations out there for folks to join, but I would have to say that PHCC is one of the most comprehensive associations. We have a diverse group of members and different types of plumbing/HVAC companies, and we are working to have materials and benefits in place for each of these respective types of contractor companies so that their businesses can be successful and professional. We want them to grow and develop in a positive way, which will be great for their companies, families, employees and ultimately for this country.