Everything’s Better with Vetter

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Vetter Plumbing, that is. If you’re ever in the Pacific Northwest, look up Doug Vetter, owner of Vetter Plumbing, Longview, Wash., and successful plumbing and heating contractor who has worked with the tools almost nonstop since graduating from high school in 1990. We recently rain into Doug at the pipe-cutting ceremony for Uponor’s Experience Center, and his passion for the trades is palpable.

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Doug Vetter, right, has an infectious attitude, and enjoys living life like no one else.

In fact, you might say that young people searching for their true passion won’t likely encounter a more inspiring ambassador than Doug to a life in plumbing and heating.

There are, of course, a great many proud, highly accomplished professionals in this industry. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a tradesperson with a more robust and, at times, fearless outlook on life than Doug. He readily insists that much of this bring-it-on attitude derives from the sheer thrill of working as a service technician. “I just love my job,” he says over and over again.

For a small sampling of the sunny-side-up attitude Vetter brings to work each day, consider his morning routine of delivering doughnuts to the counter and warehouse staff at his favorite local supply house. Whoever heard of a plumber bringing free food to a wholesaler? “They have done lots of special stuff for me,” he cheerily reasons, “and, besides, it doesn’t cost that much.”

“My customers are always asking me, ‘Why are you in such a good mood today?’” he continues. “Well, when you contact me, we both know it’s not a social call. You have problems and fixing them may not be a ‘fun’ time for either of us. Why dump more stress on your situation by carrying a chip on my shoulder because I need to, let’s say, squeeze into your crawl space? Believe me, I hate crawl spaces. But being a plumber was my choice, and squeezing into crawl spaces is my job. That’s why you pay me.”

Doug willingly, happily, eagerly does his job 10 hours a day, seven days a week. But these are mere average—the actual totals could be much more in any given week. He would not have it any other way in a business that seldom lets him even slow down, let alone rest.

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“I’ve never had a down time, even during the recent recession,” he says. “I just can’t say ‘no’ to people. That’s one of my downfalls and an issue with my significant other. But I love working.”

Back to the Uponor visit, Doug tells us that he is particularly proud of his tattoos, even the jaw-droppingly large U-P-O-N-O-R logo. Its six block letters span the full width of his back, left shoulder to right. Just as amazing: Every last ink mark strictly adhered to corporate style guidelines, right down to the correct shade of blue.

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“I had a large blue Uponor sticker of the sort I put on my two trucks. I told my tattoo guy to put this exact thing on my back. He said, ‘Really?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely!’” Three grueling sessions over eight hours later, the tattoo was exquisitely in place and ready for show time whenever Doug decides to remove his shirt.

Why would he do something so “out there”? Why not? he shrugs. How better to express his unwavering loyalty to a brand he has supported nearly his entire career? “Uponor is the only brand I will put on my skin,” insists Doug, offering what is for him the ultimate compliment.

He fondly remembers his very first encounter with PEX more than 20 years ago, working for a Seattle plumbing wholesaler in the mid-1990s. Mark Walther — then a sales agent for the Portland-, Ore.-based Hollabaugh Brothers & Associates (still Uponor’s rep in the Pacific Northwest); and later a mentor for Doug when both worked at Merit Mechanical in Seattle—demonstrated the thermal memory of PEX with the familiar heat-gun demonstration that thousands have witnessed at countless trade shows over the decades.

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Vetter’s work truck is radiantly heated.

“Mark said to me, ‘Watch this, Doug!’ After kinking the pipe in his hand, he used a simple heat gun to make that kink vanish in minutes. I will never forget that moment—it was the coolest thing, just incredible. Every chance I get, I love showing people the same demo with the heat gun.”

Doug readily embraces the problem-solving aspect of service work: “I love going into someone’s house, learning what’s wrong, explaining the situation in ways the customer can understand and appreciate, and then fixing the problem—and fixing it in the right way.

“I can’t just throw something together for a customer. I do my plumbing a certain way—the way I was taught all those years ago at Merit Mechanical, where I earned my journeyman’s license.”

As noted earlier, those young people you’re trying to steer toward a trade career won’t likely snag a first job with Doug, who has happily—defiantly even—worked solo for the vast majority of his professional life since starting his own business. Although, his wife, Liz, is going through her apprenticeship to join him as a licensed plumber in the business.

Vetter has a certain way of running his business. “I want my cords wrapped in a one-foot circle and put away in a particular spot. My truck, a big-box van, is spotless and organized a certain way, and I want to keep it that way. That one employee I had just couldn’t do it.”

Vetter Plumbing, Pacific Northwest, plumbing, Uponor, heating, heating and cooling, hydronics, Doug Vetter, HVAC

Same thing for working with the tools, if not more so: “I’m not a hard ass, but my No. 1 job is to protect the health of my customers. If I fail to create a sewer-line joint properly, the customer will have a disaster. If I expand a pipe incorrectly, I’m flooding someone’s house. I do it right because my reputation depends on it, and my reputation is all I have.”

Another, equally critical facet of “Doug’s Way” is treating every customer the same—fairly and nicely. “Nobody, it seems at times, does customer service any more. For example: promptly calling someone back who has called you. I feel badly if a day goes by before my returning a call. Many don’t do it at all and think nothing of it.

“I was taught to treat people with the utmost respect, regardless of what they look like, where they’re from, or how much money’s in their pockets. I want to fix their plumbing, of course, but I also want to give them the best service they can get anywhere.”

Currently in his 50s now, Doug plans to work “until I just can’t do it any more”—before retiring to Puerto Rico, where he says the people are warm, the weather’s warmer, and the water’s warmest of all. Until then, he will stick to his 70-hour work week as a highly motivated service plumber who gladly shoulders more work than any one man should handle, despite doing no advertising or promotion other than word-of-mouth.

“I thrive on service work. I love the instant gratification of solving problems. I get up in the morning, hit the road to meet new people, and figure out how to help. Every job is different, and the days just fly by.”