Stop Freakin’ Call Beacon!
When Seattle customers have a plumbing problem, they know to call Beacon Plumbing, Heating, Electrical, Septic & Mechanical, Inc.
Ask a Seattle resident to complete the phrase, “Stop Freakin’…’” and he or she will likely finish with “…Call Beacon!” That’s because the popular and catchy tagline has been used in television and radio ads promoting the services of Beacon Plumbing, Heating, Electrical, Septic & Mechanical, Inc. (Beacon Plumbing) for decades.
Beacon Plumbing provides 24-hour emergency commercial and residential plumbing services throughout western Washington, following along the Interstate 5 corridor from Arlington down to Olympia. It also performs sewer repairs; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) installation and service; electrical repairs and upgrades; and septic tank services.
Beacon Plumbing’s reputation throughout Seattle and the Puget Sound is mainly due to the hard work, generosity and leadership of its Founder and President, Bill Cahill. Bill started in the plumbing business when he was in his 30s, working for his brother, who learned the trade as a member of the U.S. Navy Seabees construction battalion. That experience, as well as jobs with several other large plumbing firms in the area, equipped Bill to take off on his own in 1995 to form Beacon Plumbing. Twenty-six years later, the company is a Seattle institution.
Taking Care of Customers
“I started out working from my home without much money in the bank,” he recalls. Oldest son, Billy, went with him on jobs. Next-in-line son, Patrick, manned the home office, organizing paperwork and typing bids. He was only 9 years old. Both are still with the company.
Unable to afford the most popular form of advertising of the day, the Yellow Pages, Bill started calling on large property management companies to do tenant improvement and service work. “They would call me when they were stuck on big jobs, and I’d go out and work all day and night and do whatever it took to take care of the customer. You stay in business by doing good work; you do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. He is especially thankful to Morris Piha Real Estate Services for its constant business during his early years.
Pretty soon, he began hiring employees and had five trucks on the road. That’s when he moved his operation from his home in Renton to a facility in Kent, an outlying suburb of Seattle, where he operates the business today. His staff has grown to 100 employees. They include commercial and residential licensed plumbers and electricians, excavation crews for groundwork and sewer repair, and trained HVAC technicians.
“They take care of business,” he says of his team. “They don’t need to be supervised too much because they’ve been with us a long time. They are the success of the business.”
Whatever It Takes
The Beacon Plumbing team prides itself on same-day service. “We’re in the emergency plumbing business. We’re always on call, 24/7. When customers call us, we have to go,” Bill says.
Trucks are stocked with enough inventory to complete any kind of commercial or residential job. “In the event we don’t have a unique part, we’re going to get the part that day and make sure the job is taken care of 100%,” he says.
Over the years, Bill reinvested company profits to purchase his own equipment—a fleet of over 45 service trucks, track hoes, dump trucks, Perma-Liner equipment, sewer jetters and moles—increasing the firm’s capability to complete jobs quickly without having to rent equipment and come back to finish a job days later.
“If we have an in-ground problem or major water main leak, we take our own equipment out in the middle of the night to get the business back online. That’s our secret to success,” Bill says. “When people call us, we react. We don’t postpone it and tell them we’ll catch you in the morning. We gear up and we go to work. Whatever it takes, we’re going to get it done.”
“We also explain to our customers what work is going to be done so there’s never a misunderstanding. We do a punch list at the end of each job to make sure it is the exact way we sold it to the customer,” he adds.
One reason Beacon Plumbing has become a household name is because today, as a business with $40 million in yearly gross revenue, Bill can afford to promote its 24-hour service capabilities via radio and television advertising during some high-profile sporting events, including games of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners. The company also sponsors the city’s local hockey team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, where an ice-clearing machine used during games is blazoned with the company’s logo.
Long before major league sports came to Seattle, Beacon Plumbing sponsored hydroplane racing, which Bill maintains is the greatest sport in the world. Add to that the 20 semi-trucks traveling the Interstate 5 corridor featuring the company’s logo and 1-800-FREAKIN and it’s no wonder people can finish its signature advertising tagline.
“When people call us, we react. We don’t postpone it and tell them we’ll catch you in the morning. We gear up and we go to work. Whatever it takes, we’re going to get it done.” Bill Cahill, Founder and President, Beacon Plumbing, Heating, Electrical, Septic & Mechanical, Inc.
Start With Us, Finish With Us
Bill says he is thankful for his work experience at other plumbing companies because it has helped him to run the company the way he does—with a focus on people. “The best employee is the one you currently have working for you. You always want to hold on to your people,” he adds. “We pay them well because we want to give them a reason to stay with us. People go to work because they have to take care of their families. We don’t want them going someplace else to look for an opportunity we can give to them. We want them to start with us and finish with us.”
It’s not surprising that Beacon Plumbing has many longtime employees, including sons Billy and Patrick, who have been with him since day one. Jeff Whitaker also has been with the company from the start. “We could never have grown without Jeff’s mechanical skills, setting up and repairing trucks, while all of us were in the field from early morning until late at night,” Bill says. “We started the hard way with old equipment and purchasing parts daily. Jeff’s been instrumental in our success,” he adds.
Other long-term employees include Jeff McCoy, 25 years; John Wheatley, 20 years; and Brom Menees, 15 years.
The secret to keeping people, he says, is respect. “Respect them. Treat them like you want to be treated. Pay them what they deserve—better than a fair rate. Share the profits of the company,” he adds. Bill pays his employees a third of the ticket. “We give them 30% of whatever job they do. If they sell a $100,000 job, they make $30,000. But they are accountable for that job. If they make a mistake, they go back and take care of the customer.”
Service Manager and Dispatcher Quiana Woods, a 13-year employee, says working at Beacon Plumbing is like living in a house with a lot of siblings. Sometimes you may have disagreements, but in the end, everyone gets along like family. And, Bill is the glue that holds it all together. “He’s passionate,” she says. “He works hard and he takes care of everyone here. He oversees most things, from helping with dispatching and handling accounting to answering plumbing questions if someone in the field has trouble on a job.”
“If Bill says he’s going to do something, he does it,” Quiana continues. “People who work here don’t worry about their jobs. He encourages people to become homeowners and 80% of employees are.”
At age 67, Bill no longer works in the field, but he still gets to the office before 7 a.m. and stays until 9 or 10 at night, seven days a week. “I take off Sunday afternoon to go to church with my wife,” he notes.
Bill is looking forward to the day (post-pandemic) when the company’s employees can once again meet all together for holiday parties with their families. “Seeing your employees and their kids and families—that’s what life is all about,” he says. “We have all kinds of people here, and they help each other out. If someone is having trouble on a job late at night, another will go to help the co-worker fix it. We’re a mixing bowl of people here like no other company, and everybody gets along. We’re like one big, happy family.”
Beacon Plumbing also has a high profile for its community involvement, which goes well beyond sponsoring major sports teams. The company supports the Seattle Mermaids, a women’s softball team that won the National Deaf Softball Tournament championship in 2017. “We buy uniforms and pay for their hotel rooms when they have games out of town,” Bill says.
Beacon Plumbing also is a major donor to Northwest Harvest, Washington’s leading hunger-relief agency with a statewide network of 375 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools. Last year the network fed 200,000 people, Bill says. The company also gives to a variety of charitable organizations, from the Ronald McDonald House Charities, to hospital foundations, to humanitarian mission teams.
An office wall is full of certificates of appreciation for the company’s support of local youth baseball and football teams and boxing organizations. “If the Girl Scouts come by selling cookies, Bill will buy a couple hundred dollars’ worth,” Quiana says. “Any kids that come by, he sponsors their team.” Beacon Plumbing continues to expand its services. In the next five to 10 years, Bill hopes to grow his cured-in-place trenchless piping capabilities as well as move into solar and other energy-saving services, which he sees as the future. He also plans to establish four or five satellite offices across the country. Son Patrick is presently opening a Beacon Plumbing location in Boise, Idaho.
As for Bill, don’t look for him to slow down any time soon. “I can’t see retiring. I believe you have to work for what you get in life,” he says. “The harder we work, the luckier we get.”
He says the most enjoyable thing about his business is watching people develop and seeing their success. “Our people take classes, but also get on-the-job training. They work on decent-sized jobs with a journeyman and learn the scope of the plumbing business. I think we’ve done our part in helping the industry develop credible people. We want to make sure our people are qualified to come into your home and do the right job for you,” he says.