Even after 27 years of being a plumber, David Heffner says, “I don’t get up in the morning dreading the fact that I am going to work. I may be tired, but I love plumbing. I like fixing things and helping people and at the end of the day, I have a real sense of accomplishment.”
Like so many other small business owners, Heffner appreciates that there is never a day that is the same as the one before it. There is always something going on and new challenges to face. He says that is what running a business is all about – and he echoes the sentiments of many of his peers when he said, “If I was independently wealthy and never had to work, I would still do this.”
Heffner wasn’t one who ever planned to own a business. In fact, it was his discontent with practices in the plumbing industry – and other trades for that matter – that pushed him into starting Heffner Plumbing. He said he didn’t like the way customers were treated. He was frustrated that he was asked to install inferior products and never divulge the true hourly rate.
He recalled a customer who needed some extensive work. He prepared a quote based on flat rates for jobs. Several times the customer asked for a breakdown of the materials, supplies, and labor. The practice was to avoid answering that question, saying the pricing was based on a national average. “I felt like I was lying to the customer,” Heffner said. “I decided I could do this better.”
So in January, 2001, he started Heffner Plumbing. “One thing I did differently after starting the business was telling the customer what the breakdown was when they asked. Right or wrong, I was willing to be honest and not hide what I was charging for materials and labor.”
For the last 15 years Heffner Plumbing has built a business specializing in residential plumbing services. He serves the entire Indianapolis area, but primarily works in Hendricks County replacing sump pumps, garbage disposals, and water heaters.
In fact, Heffner has become a tankless water heater specialist. Unlike the traditional water heater that runs 24/7, 365 days a year, this product provides hot water on demand, which makes it more energy and cost-efficient. He believes that eventually new homes will be required to have the energy-saving appliance installed, making it the norm.
Heffner Plumbing leaves new construction and remodeling work to other plumbing concerns, but answers the call for leaks and other plumbing problems homeowners face.
Running a business doesn’t just come naturally
When Heffner started his business he said he was flying by the seat of his pants, learning on the fly, which is not an unusual situation for new business owners. In the beginning, he worked seven days a week and long hours each day. As a new owner, he says you are trying to figure out where to get that next job, get paid, purchase tools and supplies, set up credit at the bank, and everything else. “It’s never-ending, but eventually it gets easier,” he said, “because you grow as you learn everything: marketing, bookkeeping, time management, and everything else.”
Although the business skills did not just come naturally, Heffner said one thing he did understand early on was that if you start a business and think you know everything, that is going to be a problem. You have to be willing to learn and be humble doing it.
Like others, Heffner says he learned the hard way because he didn’t have anyone to help, advise or guide him. “I made a lot of mistakes,” he admits. But he also says he learned a great deal.
Small business owners learn continually
One mistake Heffner learned from was hiring friends. “Friendship clouds your judgments when you have to make hard decisions and it is a problem to put the friendship before the business.”
His foray into having employees was an expensive lesson for him. There were monetary costs including paying a good salary, the cost of uniforms, a truck, tools and equipment. There were also emotional costs worrying about having 40 hours of work a week and worrying about paying the bills and making payroll. The strain of not being able to control the quality of work was a very big problem, too. All this culminated in letting the employee go and losing a friendship that was important to him.
Without employees he says it limits the volume of work he can do. He knows business owners are in business to make money, but he also says there is more to it than that. Working alone, he’s happy because he has fewer worries and he can provide top quality and honest work for people. His priority is to build long-term relationships with his clients and he said, “You can’t do that if they don’t trust you.”
That belief has served Heffner well through the years. Much of his work is through word-of-mouth referrals, through several online sources. In fact, he counts himself privileged to have second generation customers. He delights in seeing kids grow up and then all of a sudden getting a call from them with a problem in a home of their own.
Another lesson Heffner learned was that he cannot do it all by himself. “Some things are better to have someone else do it than to have me do it,” Heffner said. He routinely delegates and outsources many administrative tasks now. Taking on these arrangements is difficult for new business people because there is the responsibility for the bill that comes for the service.
Fear of failure is a challenge daily for most small business owners and Heffner has learned that that just goes with the territory. “Being a business owner, it is part of the process,” Heffner said. “If you are not willing to take risks, you should not start your own business because it won’t work out.”
In business, he says, nothing is guaranteed. “You take the chance. You take the risk. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.” When it doesn’t work out, Heffner says you just assess whatever it was you did, make a course correction, and hopefully don’t ever do that again.
There are times that every business owner feels they are having more failures than successes according to Heffner. But he adds that that is all part of it. You just have to gather all the information you can, make the decision and go for it.
Heffner strongly believes that every business owner must learn to take time to work ON the business, not just IN the business. “Otherwise,” Heffner said, “you are just chasing your tail.” In the beginning he says it is hard because you want to be out there changing a water heater or installing a toilet and making money. But in the long term, he says you have to look at the time you are spending at a networking event, or at a chamber meeting or BNI meeting or a Sparks event, as an investment in your business.
Another aspect of networking and regular business owner gatherings, according to Heffner, is that you never know who you will meet or what you might learn. It can be a challenge to find a mentor, but you can find other business owners who will provide a different perspective on business matters and issues.
He has sought out business coaches as well and sees great value in having a coach. He says, “Every athlete and team has a coach to guide them, and business owners should, too.”
Building a business is definitely not for weak-willed. Successful business owners have very firm core values from which they operate.
“I don’t like to compromise,” Heffner said. “That may sound idealistic, but I want to do it right with quality products. I want to be honest and provide what I think is the best for my customers. That way I can sleep at night. It works for me.”
David Heffner | Owner
Emergency Phone: 317-643-2534