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Rhonda Dowdy and Amanda Lawson Part 1 | Family-Centered Home Services Business

Mother-daughter duo of Texas-based S & D Plumbing, CEO Rhonda Dowdy and Director of Business Development Amanda Dowdy Lawson share what it takes to create a family-centered home services business. They highlight the lessons, relationships, and new projects that are taking their company to new heights.

Josh Smith (00:03):

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the sharpest tool where we take the sting out of marketing. On today's episode, I'm speaking with the CEO of S and D plumbing and owner of Kopra plumbing, Rhonda Dowdy. Ronda's been in the plumbing business for 40 years. She's actively involved in both the residential and commercial side of plumbing through two different businesses. And she's a born and raised Texan and joining her is Amanda Dowdy, her daughter. Who's also over at S and D plumbing. She's a director of business development and recently moved to Texas for her important new role, Rhonda and Amanda, welcome to the sharpest tool.

Amanda Lawson (00:38):

Yeah. Thank you. So be here we are excited. Thank you for the opportunity. And I do want to say one thing, just shout out. I just got married. So I'm Amanda Lawson. Now We can think of a Dowdy for now

Josh Smith (00:52):

Important notes. All part of the, uh, wonderful husband has been so great with the technical support on the zoom calls. That's fantastic. So let's start with Rhonda, Rhonda, tell me a bit about the beginning. How did you get started in the trades? Well,

Amanda Lawson (01:06):

Basically directly out of college as a young person and Sam directly out of high school had always worked plumbing. He'd been in plumbing for several years during high school because of restraint education. And he just decided one day that, uh, he could open his own business and that entrepreneurial spirit. And we just did it. I had the accounting background, he had the plumbing background and we just melded it together and began to build a plumbing business back in. Okay.

Josh Smith (01:33):

And Sam's your husband, correct? Same as my husband. Yes. Great. And you started this from the ground up. Did you have, or either of you have prior like plumbing experience working for another company prior to jumping into your own thing, or did you just go straight into doing your own bed?

Amanda Lawson (01:47):

Yes, definitely. Sam had the experience and he had a customer base really that really cause he always weld his customers. So we had a little bit there, but other than that, neither one of us had any business experience. Uh, like I mentioned, I had some college accounting training and uh, basically, uh, we learned over the 40 years, we had a lot of hard knocks learning, but over the last, I would say 15 years, we've adopted a lot of best practices from best practice groups. We're part of, so I wish we didn't own all that then no telling what we'd be doing now, but really, truly we were a mom and pop company for, uh, you know, the first 20, 25 years.

Josh Smith (02:26):

Yeah. What was the plumbing landscape like back then and how do you feel it's evolved? Well,

Amanda Lawson (02:32):

Well, plumbing landscape, basically our focus was repair. I feel like it's a lot the same as far as that goes. I mean, of course how you got your customers was completely different. It was more word of mouth, more reputation. Um, it's completely evolved in much more expensive nowadays, uh, be able to get the word out to the public, but as far as your work ethic and all that, I

Rhonda Dowdy (02:59):

Don't think that there has been a whole lot of change. I mean, excellence has always been part of what we've done and it still is today. What about the like tools and stuff that were definitely tools? Uh, that's a good one. Amanda, I'm not thinking of tools because I'm not in the field, but you know, some of the tools are the same, but there's so much more now. Like there wasn't cordless, you know, everything's cordless now. And then of course there weren't cameras there weren't waterline finders, all those kinds of things, uh, at least that we were aware of at that point. And so, yes, there's a lot more electronic savvy nowadays.

Josh Smith (03:33):

Yeah. Amanda, why don't you tell us a bit about your role at the business?

Rhonda Dowdy (03:38):

Okay. So I started about a month ago actually, and I stepped into the business development role for our company and it's been super fun so far. Um, my job is consists of a lot of networking, a lot of building relationships with our vendors and with our employees, as well as keeping the excitement about our vision and where we're headed with both internally and externally, I'm in charge of all the events, making sure that whatever SMB plumbing is doing out in the public that we're branded very well. Yes, I'm just kind of the face for that. And it's been very exciting and fun and I'm learning a lot as I go. One of her first big projects was October 1st. We opened our second location in Buda, Texas, and she handled the entire grand opening celebration and did it very well. And part of her job right now also is social media. And she's doing amazing things on social media for us and D plumbing as well. I'm keeping them young and exciting. Yes, she's innovative,

Josh Smith (04:41):

So necessary for today's landscape. Now you're wearing a lot of hats at this point in time. Do you find that to be challenging, to prioritize in the balance

Rhonda Dowdy (04:52):

A little bit, but I'm giving myself a lot of grace because I know that I'm, I'm in a big learning period. I'm also kind of creating a lot of what my position is and what it means to be director of business development for us, any plumbing. So that's actually really fun. So there are days that I'm like, oh my gosh, this is so overwhelming. I don't know how I'm going to do all this, but I'm really just taking it like one day at a time, one event at a time and trying to put my best foot forward for whatever's happening next for the company. And just making sure that whatever I'm doing today is pushing the company forward.

Josh Smith (05:26):

And Rhonda we're rocking two locations. Now that's quite a long journey to get to that point from that, that old one truck mentality where Sam was probably going out doing a lot of the work. So tell me about that transition from Sam, kind of getting out of the truck to starting to focus on business growth. What were some of the pain points with that? Well,

Rhonda Dowdy (05:50):

Obviously, you know, when you're an owner and you're in a truck you're limited, I mean, it's hard to grow your business if in the

Amanda Lawson (05:57):

Truck. And so I guess Sam came out of the truck probably 25 years ago. We've been at our current location for 25 years. So maybe a little bit more 28 years ago. And, um, you know, it's scary to do, it's a big step, but it's what it took to be able to build. And so in his team, his technicians, as well as being able to go out and meet customers and kind of be the PR of the company in that way. And then, you know, really what happened over time is we realized the need for processes. It's a big step. So we have processes now and that's critical for starting that second location. You want your brand out there, the way you do business. It has a lot to do with what your brand and your reputation is. And so you just don't want to put a technician out there, fly by night to do it his way.

Amanda Lawson (06:46):

What we're doing actually is a managed repair location to provide opportunity for our team. So one of the things that we've experienced over time over the last, especially 25 years is typically we raise these guys up or our best technicians decide, Hey, we're going to go start our own thing. And so we recognize that and we wanted to provide a way to attract excellence into our company and to provide an avenue for that ownership, feel for a technician, if that's the direction he wanted to go without all the ownership hassles, because he doesn't have to worry about where his leads are coming from. He doesn't have to worry about the accounting. He doesn't have to worry about customer service. He just has to go be concerned about his team, providing the excellence that, uh, S and D plumbing is known for. So it was a huge brainstorm and, um, something that we've been promising and talking about for a couple of years. And we've had a phenomenal year this year, even through COVID and all that stuff. And our teams worked really hard and it just an opportunity opened up and we've done it. And we're excited about the future.

Rhonda Dowdy (07:56):

Can I say something on kind of my dad and the dynamic between them? I, of course, was a little girl. My dad was like still plumbing and out there, like in the field to where he is now though, I've just been in the business a month. I've really been in it my entire life. So I've seen it evolve. And one thing that I've seen on my dad is him going from like, out on the field every single day, doing the hard labor, the really, really hard demanding work to stepping into a mentor role and really developing the guys that come in the company, the technicians that come in, he's the dreamer of the company. He's a visionary. He, he really does push us forward like years before we're ready for it, but we need that. And my mom's the one that makes it all happen.

Rhonda Dowdy (08:39):

She's an integrator. And that's why the dynamic works so well. But just to go back on, like my dad's transition from being the plumber to where he is now, and really like stepping into more running the business with my mom, I've seen in him, my dad's a big relationship guy and he's really embraced the mentorship role. And that's really where he's sitting now and it's, it's developed more over the years, but he just takes guys under his wing and he wants to give them opportunity to be the best person they can be, whether that is in S and D plumbing or in another career or another business, or just in life, he wants to set them up for success. And my mom does too, whether they're a technician out on the field or whether they're in our office, like that is something that is a passion of my family is what we pursue.

Josh Smith (09:21):

Right. I love that. Now, after you got out of the truck, Sam got out of the truck, started focusing on a mentorship business development. My understanding is that you found yourself growing pretty fast. Why do you think that happened? And what did you learn through that process?

Amanda Lawson (09:35):

That's a really good question. I think it's just because, like you said, he had time to develop relationships with customers. He had the opportunity to bring more people in. It's really hard for me to think back that far as to how we built it, but I think we just built it on a reputation of excellence. And also, you know, one of the things that Sam always said, even in those years that we were struggling in the early years is he always said, we're going to find our niche. And he did. And basically our first real niche, and today we still haven't. Our niche is related to, it is leak detection and he began relationships with a couple of insurance adjusters. And that's really how it all started when he stood on a job with an insurance adjuster. And she said, can you find this leak and fix it?

Amanda Lawson (10:22):

And he said, you bet I can. And he did it. You know, he started, he innovated that avenue of our business without equipment, without cameras, without leak detection equipment. And then he was able to train others to do it. And, um, so part of the evolution of our business, where we really took off is, is when we were able to start in that leak detection realm. And when we built those relationships with insurance, adjusters and insurance has always been at one point, it was probably 80% of our business. Then over time, we realized that the landscape was changing and it really all started with the mold scare back in. I don't even know when that was the nineties. Maybe it became harder and harder to get plumbing problems covered with insurance. And so we decided, Hey, listen, we really need to focus on building our service.

Amanda Lawson (11:08):

And so a lot of things happen when we started doing that. We wanted to build our service department. One of the things that we did a huge step for us was going paperless and, uh, menu pricing. And it's kind of something that we'd been aware of for years that, you know, I can say now I know timing, everything has its place, but that was a huge step for us. And it was, it created so much opportunity for outstanding technicians because we started commission pay at the same time. So really we're all about Amanda mentioned relationships, but also providing opportunity and not only for this generation, but for the generation to come, that's been the dream since the beginning.

Rhonda Dowdy (11:47):

Yeah. And I, I kind of want to piggyback on just like their success and seeing it evolve throughout my lifetime until now is there's two things that come to mind first is my parents show up every single day and they show up with their best, no matter what's happening in life. And we have, you know, just like anybody else out there, we have been through a lot, you know, and we've had different stuff happen in our lives. They continue to show up in sacrifice for our family. And that turned really, I think, is why, partly why they're so successful. And then the other part is they're so willing to evolve with the times, which I think is super cool and they're not afraid to change and kind of keep up with whatever's happening in our society. And I think a great example of where we are today versus where they assuming they had to learn how to go from paperless, to being on a computer to now, like we're dealing with social media and podcasting and just like really trying to make sure that we have the cutting edge in our industry and we stay at the top.

Rhonda Dowdy (12:44):

So I think that they both do a very good job and they don't shy away from

Amanda Lawson (12:47):

Change. And it hasn't always been that way. I mentioned, you know, we knew about some of these things long before we went into it, but because not only that over 40 years, there've been several economic downturns as well. And there is times that we've had to regroup. We've had to scale back. We've had to invest all of our retirement money. I mean, those kinds of things is sacrificial to keep it going. But I can't say that we're perfect and that we made the decisions in just the right time and that, like I said earlier, I wish we'd have made some of these decisions sooner, but I believe for one thing, you know, I mentioned generational business. So we have two sons. They both came into the business. Uh, one son is still running Kopra and a part owner of Kopra. The other son helped us get to where we are today by helping us innovate and bring in new things.

Amanda Lawson (13:39):

And I can remember vividly a lunch date with him and my husband with them trying to talk me into some of this stuff, because I think it was me as the integrator that sometimes dug my heels in and said, this is the way we're doing it. And I really had to change my mindset and I had to listen and change is hard and implementation. Sometimes it's very difficult, especially going from paper to paperless. But my gosh, what is freed as far as time and great relationships, I know we've been through several different programs to help us do this. And, uh, and ServiceTitan has been amazing and is one of those huge steps in our evolvement and becoming great and being able to free up our time to spend our time on other things in the business that are important.

Josh Smith (14:30):

Yeah. Yeah. I'll, I want to fast forward a little bit and dive into that a little bit further and we can start with you, Amanda. Like, it sounds, it sounds like you've been a family centric business, obviously for a long time. And the younger generations, like you mentioned, Rhonda have stepped in into leadership roles and really helped kind of move that mission forward. Tell me a bit about some of those transitions with SNB and copper specifically. I know you mentioned one Rhonda with respect to moving from paper to paperless, what were some of the other transitional points? Um, even things that helps you end up focusing on residential and commercial, the way that you did that were key and critical to the success that you've seen with the company.

Amanda Lawson (15:14):

Okay. That's an awesome question. Basically. You know, when we first went into business, it was just like, kind of like, I think is typical, you know, anything goes, whatever comes in, that's what we want. That's what we want. But basically through time you have experienced and experienced teaches you. And for my husband and myself, we just really always felt like his strengths were in repair. And then we didn't like new houses. Definitely. We didn't like new houses because we just couldn't make that work. And I know what works for some companies. It doesn't work for us. And then we had some trouble with some commercial jobs and getting collected. And that led to one of our regroups because with one of the downturns in the economy, I believe it was in the eighties. We weren't getting paid and we didn't have the knowledge or the tools or whatever to pursue that.

Amanda Lawson (16:04):

And so we chose to regroup start over. And so our mindset has always been residential. It's always been investigative, especially once we got hooked up with the insurance companies and that sort of thing. But then when the kids came in, okay, the boys came in, we set my oldest son up in one of the small towns. So we've had a second business before, as far as S and D plumbing goes. And, uh, but, uh, we set him up in a small town. He got some opportunities to do some commercial work and he fell in love with the commercial side of things. So over time we realized, you know, the risk was very different in residential as it, than it was in commercial. And also honestly, boys wanted to have their own thing. One wanted to pursue the business that was established. The other one is to pursue commercial work.

Amanda Lawson (16:51):

So that's how we split the companies off and, uh, uh, uh, Kopra, I am not actively involved on a daily basis. I am an owner. I can say that I wasn't able to provide a lot of mentorship there because we just didn't go that route. I mean, he's doing industrial commercial schools, hospitals, all that kind of stuff that just, we just didn't have the experience. And so a lot of hard knocks has occurred for Kopra as well, but they are copper as well on its way to, to success as well. So I'm super proud of what we've done in both arenas. And I'm super proud of Dan and, you know, the way he came in and helped us out in the residential for the number of years that he did. And then as a parent, you want the best for your child, right? You want what they want for them.

Amanda Lawson (17:36):

And through the involvement with S and D plumbing and coaching, we'd have coaches come in to train. He saw that avenue and that became a passion for him. And now he's doing very well in that. So whether we provided opportunity for him, for his lifetime in S and D plumbing proper, no, he chose another path, but I believe S and D plumbing was a huge stepping stone. Not only for him to get him to where he is, but also for us to get S and D plumbing to whereas city plumbing is so it's a win-win.

Josh Smith (18:12):

Yeah. Amanda, anything to add to that transition points over the years that you've witnessed being for so long?

Rhonda Dowdy (18:19):

Okay. Well, I definitely, I just have to like speak to my piece. So I know my mom talks a lot about both my brothers being in it. Cause they were the ones that were like, yes, this is what I want to do. This is my passion for me. It was very different. And I did, like, I grew up in the business, but I was very much like out of the business as well. And I was the one kid out of all of us. I was like, absolutely not. I did not want to be in the business. So I pursued other passions and, you know, went off to school, spent some time overseas doing and living out my passion. And then I guess seeing how it's evolved over the years to answer your question and kind of why I chose to step into the business was I've seen it go from like, um, my mom working from home and my dad going out and doing jobs.

Rhonda Dowdy (19:05):

I've seen it develop into like them having their own business. I mean, that's literally where I went. If I was sick, we didn't stay home. I went to the business during summer. I would, when they were paper, I would be folding invoices and putting them in envelopes and going to the mailbox and getting the mail. So, and then seeing it to where it's evolved now and where we're headed is so exciting. And to also see what my brother is doing on the copper side, him and his wife, Liz, that they are just like leaps and bounds and they're headed into an amazing direction. So I'm kind of coming into the time where the company is poised for growth. And there is actually space for me to come in and, and step into this role. And really the pandemic is actually what shifted my mindset into coming into the family business and realizing how essential it is.

Rhonda Dowdy (19:49):

And I just, I love being on a team and it's even better when that team is your family. And so it's been extremely positive for me to see all the hard work that they've put in and really like those seeds starting to grow now. And I get to step in and learn on fast forward and be a part of this amazing team and just help it grow even more. So I've, I've seen it from like kind of the beginning, you know, to where we are now. And it's, it's just leaps and bounds. And it's really fun to be a part of,

Amanda Lawson (20:17):

It's really fun to hear her perspective. And she told me the other day that I even had her made making collection calls. I don't remember that, but, uh, like maybe

Rhonda Dowdy (20:25):

I did because

Amanda Lawson (20:26):

Yes, money can you pay?

Rhonda Dowdy (20:29):

And I hated it. And that was like my job or whatever, during that summer. And I'm like, I'm never going to do this. This is awful

Josh Smith (20:36):

And crash course into business.

Amanda Lawson (20:40):

And really I think, and I, I, if I'm putting words in her mouth, she can tell me, but I really think she saw, she's never afraid of work and in a hard work ethic, but when you're building something, sometimes the sacrifice is great. And the amount of time, like there were times where I was working seven days a week, or just all that effort that went in and that I was always behind a desk. And one of the things she said is I just can't do that world. I can't be behind the desk. And in my mindset also was like, she is my best friend. She is my very best friend. And I really don't want to bring her into this business because I don't want to jeopardize that. But the cool thing is we both had mindset shifts because you know what I realized she didn't have to come into my job and my job is not the job for her.

Amanda Lawson (21:25):

And there are plenty of people out there that can do my job, but she has talents and gifts that we need that businesses need. And sometimes as plumbing companies, we don't realize it. We skip that part, but I think it's really important. And it's part of the relationship building. You know, we build relationships within and without, and she's filling a key role right now and, and her dad and I could not be more excited. Uh, we are super, super excited because, you know, like I said, we've always believed this is a generational business as well, but now we realize too, we want it to be generational for our team as well. If their kids want to come into the trades, we have a vision for a school, a training center, a training in the trades and leadership, and maybe even business ownership. So we still have dreams and we still have things to accomplish. And we need people like Amanda and Brad and their talents outside of plumbing, but the talents that they bring in marketing and in, um, technology and, and all that good stuff. So, you know, to help us to get to that next level.

Rhonda Dowdy (22:26):

Yeah, totally. And I do want to say one last thing. This piece is for the audience. Pratt is my husband and yes, he works in the business. He actually started before me and was like, kind of like a big motivator for me to be like, okay, I want to do this. It looks really fun. And he was, he was loving it, but also to the educational side, that's something that really aligns with one of my passions and where even though like my true passions into what I was doing prior in sport and stuff, isn't the trades, but I see it aligning with that educational piece and really like pouring into the next generation and creating opportunities for the next generation, because ultimately, like there's so much opportunity in the trades that I don't think people are really educated on. And I think it is a mindset that needs to be shifted into like what a great career you can have, whether it's out on the field or in the office or in management. Like there's so much opportunity because ultimately college isn't for everybody, you know, and I, I had the experience of going to college, but my brothers didn't go to college and they're both very successful in what they're doing in the trades. Um, and so it just, it creates another avenue and I think it's awesome. And it needs to be shared more. Yep. Yeah.

Josh Smith (23:35):

Yeah. It's definitely a conversation that needs to be had. And one that I think we're seeing a little bit of a shift at least start to happen, which is it's great that you guys are going to be jumping on that train because I agree from what I've seen in the trades, it, there's just a lack of understanding. Like there's these age old stereotypes that somehow still exists, that a lot of businesses are doing great things to dispel. And, uh, I have no doubt that S and D is going to be a part of that. So Rhonda and Amanda, honestly, it's been an honor talking to you. I really appreciate your wisdom and the experience that you were able to bring to the conversation today. So thank you. Thanks for having us. And for everybody listening, wherever you might be listening at, definitely hit the like button. If you like, what you hear and hit the subscribe button. So you can continue to get more of the awesome content being pumped out by the sharpest tool. And until next time, we'll talk to you then. Thanks.

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