Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air has impressed customers throughout San Diego County with outstanding plumbing, heating, and AC services. Since 1978, the woman-owned, family-operated business has made it a point to go above and beyond to provide homeowners throughout the San Diego area with exceptional home services.
To ring in the 40th year of serving San Diego County, Anderson PHA organized a drawing of 40 Random Acts of Plumbing, Heating and Air. Giveaways included heating and cooling systems, water filtration systems, drain clearing services, water heaters and more.
On March 16, Anderson PHA delivered a heart-driven commemoration and announced the 40 winners on Facebook Live. Mary Jean stood alongside her administrative assistant, Julie — both donning sparkling evening gowns — and thanked the company’s many loyal customers.
“40 years ago, my son was born, and just a couple weeks later, we were in business,” Mary Jean told Facebook Live viewers. “Our first vehicle was a pick-up truck for personal use. It had a pipe rack on it and an infant car seat in the back. When we think about the hard work and what it took to get us here today, it is over-the-top emotional and overwhelming. I want to thank all you from the bottom of my heart for being our champions, for supporting us, for calling us and calling us again, and allowing us to wow you every day in every way.”
Sarah Cimarusti: Congratulations on what sounds like 40 amazing years! What are some especially pivotal moments in Anderson PHA’s historical timeline that have led to its current success?
Anderson PHA: Mary Jean and her first husband, Walter, started the company. Early on, Mary Jean assumed responsibilities for the overall management of the company, while Walter preferred to focus on plumbing repairs and installations. After their divorce, they continued as business partners for several years. Then, Walter approached Mary Jean and suggested she buy him out so he could retire. She had already started school and was planning to change careers and go into real estate. The idea of buying Walter out and assuming sole responsibility for the company was a very scary proposition. Once she decided to move forward and take over the company, the next pivotal moment was sitting down with the staff and settling on a vision and mission for the company. Writing the mission statement (which still stands today) was fundamental to setting the company on a new course for success.
At that point in time, the company consisted of four different brand names: Walter Anderson Plumbing, One Hour Heating & Air, Benjamin Franklin Punctual Plumber and Air Best. Consolidating all of the brand names under Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air was critically important in providing a cohesive message to customers and prospects alike.
And then came the decision on whether or not to put Mary Jean’s face on the trucks. The fact that this is a woman-owned business is a clear differentiator. Putting her face on the trucks, and using bright pink in the logo and truck designs, turned out to be the best decision ever.
The next pivotal moment was joining Nexstar, a professional association dedicated to helping home services companies run successful businesses. Mary Jean took advantage of every educational opportunity and developed Nexstar recommended tried and true best practices that ensured operational success.
And as success followed, and the company continued to grow, the next pivotal step was building out the company infrastructure and management team to delegate responsibilities. Turning over control to others was facilitated by working closely with her business coach at Nexstar and learning from other Nexstar members/business owners at similar sized companies from around the country.
SC: Tell us about your 40 Random Acts of Plumbing, Heating and Air campaign. What were some of the giveaways? What went into the selection process?
Anderson PHA: What better way to celebrate our 40th Anniversary than to say thank you to the San Diego community that has supported us for all these years? We decided to give away 40 Random Acts of Plumbing, Heating & Air. The giveaways included heating and air systems, water heaters, garbage disposal, our annual VIP memberships, and services like drain clearing and tune ups. The giveaways were selected to showcase our products and services.
We also launched an integrated marketing campaign including television commercials, radio endorsement and spots, direct mail, email, social media, PR and flyers/handouts.
SC: Why is community important to you? What are some other projects you’ve worked on and other ways you’ve given back?
Anderson PHA: One of Mary Jean’s favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not just to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
She has always given back. Before starting Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air, Mary Jean was a nurse. She attributes her nursing background to her success with the company.
When someone calls us, they are in some kind of crisis. Could be a backed-up drain, or a leaky faucet or an AC unit that isn’t working right. Being able to help them and relieve that stress is a great feeling. It is our company culture. So, reaching beyond our client base and into our community to help in small ways is a natural extension of what we do best,” said Mary Jean.
Anderson has been a supporter of the San Diego Chapter of Susan G. Komen for many years. Mary Jean is named after her Grandmother Mary and her Aunt Jean — both of whom had breast cancer. So, the opportunity to contribute to free mammograms, research and patient care has been a priority. The company is a major sponsor underwriting television commercials to promote the annual Race for the Cure. They sponsor a team at the Race and raise funds throughout the year including “Find A Cure Fridays” where clients are encouraged to book their appointment on a Friday, and Anderson will make a donation to Komen.
Another beneficiary of Mary Jean’s support is the San Diego Police Foundation. She has funded the training of new K-9 dogs and the purchase of portable defibrillators in the police cars. Within a few weeks of outfitting the vehicles with the defibrillators, a policewoman went into cardiac arrest and thanks to the defibrillator she survived.
And, having grown up as a Girl Scout, Mary Jean also enjoys working with the San Diego Girl Scouts as a speaker for their leadership training program and a sponsor of their “Cool Women” annual event.
SC: Recruitment is an important and never-ending discussion in this industry. What do you look for in hiring? What are some of your best practices? How do you help build people up around you, and what tools do you offer them to help themselves?
Anderson PHA: In 2017, we launched the Anderson Career Builder Institute (ACBI) to address the issue of attracting people to careers as heating and air conditioning technicians. The first class of techs were in trucks and running service after less than a year in class. Of particular pride to Mary Jean is that the class consisted of two women and 14 men.
The way ACBI works is that qualified candidate that are accepted to the program receive a salary while they are being trained. They spend half their week in the classroom, and the other half out in the field with experienced mentors.
The program has been so successful that in addition to ongoing plumbing and HVAC classes, they started a maintenance class curriculum on February 19 with six students. Moving forward the goal is to graduate 12 HVAC and plumbing techs every 18 months, which should fill Anderson’s needs as they grow.
We are actively involved with Nexstar’s Troops to Trades program offering career opportunities to military veterans. Our industry is particularly well suited to military veterans because it requires discipline, and there’s a right way and a wrong way to solve every problem. They take great pride in knowing the right way of doing things, and they also appreciate the camaraderie and team spirit here at Anderson.
SC: Your business stands out, especially from an ethics standpoint. As a high-achieving business in the San Diego area, what is it about your culture and alignment that makes you stand out?
Anderson PHA: Mary Jean’s mother always told her, “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you about you.” Early on Anderson became an active participant in the Better Business Bureau having served on its board of directors for many years. The company is proud of its A+ rating and includes the BBB logo in marketing materials to give customers confidence in their commitment to ethics.
Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air has won the BBB Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics four times and has been a Finalist 10 times. In addition, Anderson was honored to receive the International Torch Award for Excellence — one of only three companies in all of North America.
SC: What are some of your business’ current challenges, and how are you approaching them?
Anderson PHA: The biggest challenge is that the home service company industry/trades are truly in crisis mode when it comes to finding qualified techs. Anderson’s school is the approach to solving this problem.
Another challenge is the expense of doing business in California, including Title 24, and the expenses surrounding those requirements.
And, surprisingly, another challenge is competitors who do not follow the laws of California that are there to provide protection for consumers. Mary Jean estimates 50 percent of her competitors do not pull permits for their plumbing and HVAC installs which is code. These companies then charge less because they do not have the expenses associated with following state law. Unfortunately, the consumer does not realize that their install is not compliant and that they are in a vulnerable position.
SC: What advice do you have for contractors who are just starting out? How about those who are struggling in the digital age?
Anderson PHA: Get professional help immediately to develop needed systems and procedures. Find a group such as Nexstar to lead you to success. Learn from people who have already been there. Do not have an ego and think you know it all. You don’t. I still don’t. Over the years I have seen that type of business owner fail over and over again.
The digital age is here, and it is an absolute must. Get involved again with a group like Nexstar, who have successfully mastered everything available to you and can direct you to what you need when you need it, and train you on it.
SC: Is there any other exciting news you’d like to share? What opportunities are in the woodworks?
Anderson PHA: In conjunction with our 40th Anniversary, we’re in the midst of doing a total brand refresh on all of our graphics and communications materials. We’re working with a very talented art director/graphic designer who worked for HP for many years. His perspective from working with one of the most recognizable brands in the world is taking the Anderson brand to that next level of a mature brand. The new look is so clean and crisp; it really speaks volumes about who we are as a company.