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At Your Service
“At Your Service” is a magazine from Nexstar Network® to its members.
December 2015 – issue 47
“I call this Disneyland and I’m Mickey Mouse.
You can’t have Disneyland without Mickey.”
– Eric Dutton
At Your Service Magazine | December 2015 | 1-800-618-9972
Taking Change Seriously Can
Seriously Change a Business
By Robin Turnblom,
Nexstar Network Communications Specialist/
Staff Writer
It starts with family
Or at least that’s how
owner Eric Dutton puts it.
Dutton’s business began in the family, when
his parents divorced and his mother remarried a plumber. Dutton grew up in Weedsport,
NY, where his family has deep roots. When his
mother remarried, she moved out to California,
and after visiting over a few summers Dutton
moved there at 12 years old.
Any resemblance between Disneyland and Dutton Plumbing is not just the California locale—it’s
the way the company embraces innovation and a
culture of fun.
“I was a big kid—ambitious,” Dutton said.
“So I was drafted into digging holes for my stepdad. I was his helper and laborer on weekends
and holidays; I learned plumbing that way.”
Dutton Plumbing is located in the predictably
sunny Simi Valley, California, but Simi Valley’s
mountainous views and distance from Los
Angeles hubbub give it a different, relaxed feel,
even though it’s not near a beach. In Simi Valley,
you can take a deep breath. Plumbers can take
a break to play ping pong in the lazy haze of
afternoon sun.
Dutton got his plumbing license in his late 20s
when he found out he was going to be a father.
In 1987, he started contracting in construction
by himself out of a pickup truck. He continued
to build small tracks of custom homes until he
had two, three, four and more people working
with him. He said had he ran the gamut of the
business—“remodeling and everything”—
when he met Frank Blau Jr., founder of Nexstar
Network, in the late 1990s. He went to a few of
Blau’s seminars and was inspired.
Dutton Plumbing is
Even with this pleasant atmosphere, Dutton
Plumbing is anything but sluggish. The $7-million company is constantly changing and striving
forward to be the best it can be—almost at too
fast a rate at times, according to Dutton and
General Manager Eric Falconer. Given a place of
honor on the wall next to the Dutton Plumbing
Vision and Mission statements is this quote from
Walt Disney:
“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that
when people see you do it they will want to come
back and see you do it again and they will want
to bring others and show them how well you do
what you do.”
Dutton, at the suggestion of Nexstar Business Coach Jodi Peter, has started to integrate
systems from the book, “Traction: Get a Grip
on Your Business,” by Gino Wickman. The book
introduced him to the idea of visionaries and
integrators: where a visionary dreams up ideas,
the integrator puts these dreams into action. In
his business, Dutton is the visionary and Falconer
is the integrator. They complement each other’s
working style and lead their team to provide the
best customer experience possible.
“I’m the type of person who, if you show me
something and it makes sense, I buy in; I drink
the Kool-Aid,” he said.
After being introduced to this other way of
doing business, Dutton discovered he was more
driven than at any other point in his career, got
his hands on every tool he could, and in 1998
moved his company into service only.
Dutton has filled many roles in his business:
technician, bookkeeper, CSR, dispatcher, payroll
clerk; he said one of the biggest challenges in
his business is holding himself back from getting
“For a long time I was the ‘guy,’” he said. “It’s
hard not to meddle; it’s hard not to micromanage. One of the downsides of this industry is
many people started in the business and do
everything. You think you know everything and
that no one can do it as good as you.”
Dutton Plumbing is finally to the point where
Dutton has good people who can manage the
business. He said his current goal is to operate
completely hands off and develop his leadership
skills. He remains passionate about the industry,
but has gone with the flow as far as his changing
role in the business.
“I call this Disneyland and I’m Mickey Mouse,”
he said. “You can’t have Disneyland without
It takes change to find where you fit
best in your business
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is attributed
with saying, “The only constant is change.” This
theory is put into practice at Dutton Plumbing, where there are frequent changes in roles,
management, systems, and more. Dutton and Falconer embrace change wholeheartedly once they
commit, sometimes to the company’s detriment,
they both said. In the end, though, the changes
have been for the better.
“I like change, I like anything different,”
Dutton said. “I like the stimulation of something
new. If I commit to something, I’m going to do it.
I’m the motor driving the bus—there has to be
someone navigating, but I’m pushing it, saying,
‘let’s go.’”
Around 2008, when Dutton Plumbing began
doing sewer replacement, the company went
from a $2-million to a $5-million company in
about a year and a half. The size of the service
area doubled.
“There was money everywhere and lots of
organization that had to be done,” Falconer said.
And at a revenue of $5 million, the company
was stagnant. Dutton said he had great plumbers
working for him who were commissioned and
essentially self-managed, who were inspired to
be good and who had a lot of pride. But Dutton
felt he wasn’t really spending enough time in his
own business and at the same time, wouldn’t
be able to leave it in a good state if he were to
retire. He was frustrated.
“In 2012 I started to stick my head up out
of the dirt,” Dutton said. “I was thinking what
do I want to do? What’s my end game here? If I
“They went from no focus, with no direct leadership with their frontline
technicians, to completely dialed in to every detail of their business. Once
I get their buy in on something, it’s done. They’re off and running.”
– Jodi Peter, Nexstar Business Coach
At Your Service Magazine | December 2015 | 1-800-618-9972
Nexstar Cover Feature
decide I want to retire, what am I going to do?
What is it really worth: a $5-million company
without a good infrastructure, without me
Jodi Peter began working with Dutton Plumbing,
she said she actually had to do a little convincing to get Dutton and Falconer on board with
the idea of a service manager.
There was a sense between Dutton and
Falconer that the business was doing pretty well,
but they wanted systemization. The big-ticket
question was where to get such a system.
“They went from no focus, with no direct
leadership with their frontline technicians, to
completely dialed in to every detail of their
business,” Peter said. “Once I get their buy-in on
something, it’s done. They’re off and running.”
“Again, I’m a show-me-something person,”
Dutton said. “If I see that it works—that it is
possible—I will do it. It’s like Dumbo’s magic
feather: I will fly, just give it to me!”
Dutton plumber Sean Goldate had come up
in the trade at Weltman Home Services in New
Jersey. After relocating to California and finding
work at Dutton, he planted the seed of the idea
to join Nexstar. Dutton joined in 2013.
“If you want to be the best of the best, you
join Nexstar,” Falconer said. “It was a no-brainer
once we looked into it; the upfront cost and
monthly charge can be pretty significant, but
what you get out of it is so worth it. We use and
abuse the coaches.”
Falconer was not exaggerating; Dutton
Plumbing has certainly made the most of
membership. This year, Nexstar Connections
Coach Pam Heruth and Director of Coaching
Scott Pearson developed the Nexstar Engagement Index. This index measures how engaged
Nexstar members are based on how many of the
Nexstar tools the members are using.
Dutton Plumbing is the highest-engaged
Nexstar member. The connections made through
Nexstar and the clarity of roles brought through
business coaching are among some of the more
valuable gains Dutton Plumbing has made from
being a part of the organization. Falconer still
talks every other week with his accountability
partner, Elaine Damschen of Mainstream Electric, who he was matched with at Boot Camp
three years ago.
The changes in management for the company
have been huge. When Nexstar business coach
One of the technicians at the time, Kevin
Kalin, set his sights on the service manager
position and never looked back. He won a
scholarship through Troops to Trades to attend
Service Management School, and even had
Nexstar’s Training Manager Julian Scadden put
in a good word for him during his interview. He
landed the job. He’s worked for the company for
13 years, and noticed a significant change post
joining Nexstar.
“We’re a different company altogether,” he
said. “It brought a different level to our game.
It’s taken us a lot farther a lot quicker than any
other way we’ve done business in the past.”
Peter said Falconer and Dutton both do a
great job of challenging themselves and asking
themselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” It’s
easy to get wrapped up in the day to day, but
they try to always think in bigger terms.
Dutton said Falconer is the one who can pull
one of his ideas down to the ground and make it
work. With Falconer as the integrator and with a
solid system in place, Dutton is freer to work on
lofty ideas without being bogged down by the
little things.
“I don’t look at my steps; I look down the
road,” Dutton said. “I look at this little dot of
light on the horizon. In 1998 I had that epiphany—you know that religious, ‘ta-da’ thing—I
got this little beam of yellow light that identifies
where I’m going. It’s still the same spot; I keep
going to it. I’ll never hit it—maybe I will one day
and say ‘how cool is this’—but I’m drawn to it
like a moth.”
A little added flavor keeps training
implementation fresh
Although the staff at Dutton Plumbing are
great at maximizing the use of the Nexstar
coaches, the advice the coaches give them
would be useless without implementation.
Falconer has been the point person for training
the staff since the group joined Nexstar. He has
attended nearly all of the Nexstar classes and
has been known to make things interesting at
the weekly service system training. At one of
the early trainings, he donned a suit of armor
to help Dutton technicians feel less awkward in
front of the group.
“I was trying to keep it fun, keep it exciting,”
Falconer said. “We were going to do the roleplaying—the skill practice of Service System—
and I wanted to make it more ridiculous. I’m
going to ask you guys to get out of your comfort
zone because I got out of my comfort zone.”
He has since worn some other costumes and
tied the outfits to the training material for the
week, such as a doctor’s outfit to represent the
fact that in a business, you have to keep your
eye on the KPIs: the pulse.
The Dutton team has another strength in
the combined trainings they do with Pacific
Aire, a Nexstar member company based out of
Camarillo, CA. Falconer approached Pacific Aire
after Dutton joined Nexstar in the hopes of doing some cross training. Pacific Aire owner Mark
Schneider said he believes a big part of what
makes the cross training successful is having a
new voice to speak to his technicians. Onsite at
Pacific Aire, that voice is Kaleigh Smith, “Mission
Controller,” also known as service, dispatch and
call center manager.
“Eric Dutton and I both know at a certain
point your own employees stop listening to you,
but when someone else says the exact same
words, it sounds brilliant,” Schneider said. “So
there’s a huge strength to having Eric Falconer
speak in front of my team and Kaleigh speak in
front of their team. It’s also a fun little competicontinues on next page
“As good and as smart as they are, they can always learn. Their ego doesn’t
get in the way. They’re not overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to
change things or adopt new ideas.”
– Ed Cerier, Nexstar Marketing Strategist
At Your Service Magazine | December 2015 | 1-800-618-9972
continued from previous page
tion, we do different things [in the industry], but
a lot of the structure is the same.”
Every two to four weeks, the Dutton technicians go to Camarillo or the Pacific Aire technicians come to Simi Valley. Service technician
Frederick Deal has been working at Pacific Aire
for about one and a half years. Although he was
initially skeptical about Nexstar’s Service System,
he has since grown to be confident its success.
“Having the opportunity like this to cross
train and see it working for other people–now
it’s way more natural,” Deal said. “It’s changing
the industry. People expect to get ripped off but
doing it this way [with Service System] it’s like
they’re here to help.”
Don’t be afraid to offend someone
with your marketing
Dutton Plumbing is “the plumber you’d send
to your mom’s house.”
Nevertheless, just because you would send
a Dutton plumber to your mom’s house doesn’t
mean the Dutton marketing is vanilla. Dutton
Plumbing runs a series of radio ads featuring
an older woman with a New York accent calling
her son, “Eric Dutton” (actually Dutton’s radio
ad producer, Steve Garland), and pestering him
at work.
“The characters are fairly legitimate,” Dutton
said. “My mom is zany as hell.”
The ads are funny and often feature innuendo,
as in the ads promoting Dutton Plumbing’s
“Summer of ’69” drain-clearing special.
“The radio station gets a lot of calls,” Dutton
said. “But we’re OK with that. We’re making an
Falconer also recently got a complaint over
Facebook about a different ad that prompted
wives to call Dutton to fix the problem their husbands tried to repair. The listener was offended.
“When I got that I was really proud of that,”
Falconer said. “We’re going to stick in that guy’s
brain, and when he does screw something up,
who do you think he’s going to end up calling?”
The Dutton Plumbing marketing aesthetic
does contain some cute; however, and that cute
comes in the form of puppies.
The puppy idea began when Falconer
requested that Dutton wrap his personal truck,
which Dutton has since purchased for the business. When the wrap designer came in, the three
of them went through all kinds of wild designs
before landing on puppies. Dutton paid Falconer
an advertising fee and Falconer drove the truck
around in his day-to-day life for a time.
“Eric [Falconer] is not afraid to be vulnerable;
he’s got that goofy kid smile,” Dutton said. “He’s
the puppy guy. He’s a perfect spokesperson.”
After the puppy truck, puppies just caught on.
Various team members at Dutton Plumbing will
take around boxes of plush puppy toys wearing
Dutton T-shirts featuring a sign that reads, “Free
puppies to a good home.”
Even though their marketing has been successful so far, as with everything in the business,
Falconer and Dutton don’t simply stop once
something is working. Nexstar Marketing Coach
Ed Cerier said they are an open book and know
they don’t have all the answers. Dutton told
Cerier he liked so much of the new marketing
collection, he wanted to postpone one of their
meetings to spend more time with the new
“As good and as smart as they are, they can
always learn,” Cerier said. “Their ego doesn’t
get in the way. They’re not overwhelmed by the
amount of work it takes to change things or
adopt new ideas.”
Looking forward: To February and
“I hope that they can really dig in and find all
these skeletons for us so I’ll be like, I didn’t even
know there was a closet there!” Falconer said.
Although Dutton was initially hesitant on the
idea of a peer group, he said he’s good with a
challenge and also invites critique.
“I look forward to people saying dude you’re
crazy—your head’s in your butt on that,” Dutton
Until then, as they prepare, Dutton’s staff
might find him in his warrior pose, standing on
his chair with a foot up on his desk and ready to
face a challenge head on.
“I’ve been caught a couple of times,” he said.
“When I need to be thinking outside the box,
when I need a more fearless approach to things
[I do this]. This is an extension of my family—I’m
the one who defends them from the big threats.”
Dutton Plumbing Profile
Owner: Eric Dutton
Market location: Greater Los Angeles
Trade area: 20-mile radius
Company founded: 1987
Joined Nexstar: 2013
Current revenue: $7 million
Business mix: 100% residential plumbing
and drains
Number of employees: 48
Number of trucks: 25
Falconer and Dutton visited the Mainstream
Electric peer group in July 2015, and Falconer
was inspired to host his own, which will be Feb.
17-19, 2016. He said he hopes to show visitors
some things the business does really well, but
also hopes they can point out blind spots.
“I noticed a significant change post joining Nexstar. We’re a different company
altogether. It brought a different level to our game. It’s taken us a lot farther a
lot quicker than any other way we’ve done business in the past.”
– Kevin Kalin, Dutton’s Service Manager
At Your Service Magazine | December 2015 | 1-800-618-9972

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