Welcome to another edition of our Hub Spotlight series where do a deep dive into the men and women who make the trades great. This spotlighted tradesperson tells us that he really enjoys trashy reality TV. “Nothing like kicking your feet up and watching someone making horrible life decisions on 90-Day Fiancé on a Sunday evening.” Joking aside, for Keith McGillivary (@mps_207)—full-time business owner of McGillivary’s Plumbing Services (MPS), Gardiner, Maine, for the past two years—his story into the plumbing trades is an interesting one.
McGilivary’s path started in a small town when a small plumbing business was looking for a helper, and he was looking for a job. “Little did I know it would be the start of where I am now,” says McGillivary. Before college, McGillivary started working for a small plumbing business that primarily focused on service work. The owner, Russell, was/is a great mentor and really took the time to help him understand not only what they were doing, but why they were doing it.
After deciding to pursue plumbing, McGillivary attended Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) for its plumbing and heating program. Through college, he continued to work alongside his mentor, and after graduation, continued to work for him full time for three years. McGillivary then took a job at Bath Iron Works (BIW) as a pipefitter building destroyers, ships for the United States Navy. “The piping systems were complex, and although it was “plumbing on a ship,” it was completely different. I found it fun to learn the ins and outs of that particular plumbing,” says McGillivary.
Eventually, McGillivary joined the Pipefitter Test Crew and tested the piping systems after they were built. He worked there for six years, but the whole time he continued to work nights and weekends doing plumbing work on the side. “This allowed me to gain hours and knowledge for my Master’s test. After passing my Masters, I decided to make the plunge into self-employment because I wanted the schedule flexibility for my family,” says McGillivary.
In fact, McGillivary’s biggest motivation for self-employment was time, rather than money. “I have learned to set firm boundaries for myself when scheduling and taking on jobs. I have been able to take more time off for my family than ever. Being a service plumber, in this day in age, you could work 24/7 if you wanted. I try to work ‘normal’ hours, and if I can take a day off for family stuff, I always do,” says McGillivary.
Shout Out to Mentorship
According to McGillivary, Russell taught him everything he knows about plumbing and owning a business. “He taught me all the hands-on work, how to write estimates & bid on jobs, customer relations, and how to balance a small business/family life,” says McGillivary.
And McGillivary wants to pay it forward. “I definitely consider myself a role model for others looking to join the trade. I feel I am a good example that hard work and dedication pays off,” says McGillivary. “My mentor was so important to my journey that I try to give back what I can by being transparent about my plumbing knowledge.”
Uplifting the Trades
Recently, there has been a big push for kids to attend trade school so there has been a shift in younger people showing interest, says McGillivary. “Trade school was beneficial for me to learn the code side of things, in an environment different from the hands-on work. I think we could get more interest in the trades if the schools showcased all the different avenues someone could go once they completed their schooling, and the financial opportunities that come with them. Everyone expects a doctor to make six figures, but not everyone knows you can make that in the trades without massive student loan debt,” says McGillivary.
“Everyone expects a doctor to make six figures, but not everyone knows you can make that in the trades without massive student loan debt.”
Social media can also be used to attract more people to the trades. “I see it all too often when guys in the trade are way too harsh on people for asking questions on Facebook plumbing pages. There are so many people asking questions for the purpose of learning and gaining knowledge. We were all there at some point, so be kind enough to answer the questions in a helpful manner. Social media can also be used to form “new-to-the-trades” communities and to provide seminars,” says McGillivary.
Social media also has played a huge role in the growth of McGillivary’s business. Starting as a small, part-time business with the help of word-of-mouth recommendations on small town Facebook pages, which made McGillivary realize that social media could be used to showcase the work he is doing on a day-to-day basis. “I use my Instagram to show what I am about as a business and the work I put out. I have found that if a customer can see why you are more expensive than the other guy, then they are more likely to go with you. I use it as an open-door insight to my business both in reels and daily stories,” says McGillivary.
McGillivary uses social media to learn little tricks of the trade that he just wouldn’t have been exposed to, being from such a small town. For McGillivary, it is extremely beneficial to be able to have conversations with such great tradesmen. He also talks to apprentices daily or weekly about projects, and gives them advice. “I wish when I was learning, I had this platform to learn and meet others. As visual learners, much like a lot of trades guys I know, it’s changed the way we can learn,” says McGillivary.
Summers in Maine are short, so McGillivary tries to spend every nice weekend camping in his camper. In the winter months you can find him on his snowmobile at camp. “I would love to ride my snowmobile from camp in northern Maine to the Gaspe Peninsula to complete the “Great Gaspe Snowmobile Tour,” a six-day, 1,500-mile ride around some of the best trails,” says McGillivary.
And the last day McGillivary said it was a great day? “You know it’s funny, as I look back on just yesterday—camping with my family, beautiful weather, everyone smiling, does it get much better than that? So, the answer to that question would be yesterday!”
Go-To Tools on the Job
According to McGillivary, his go-tools are a couple pairs of Knipex Cobra pump pliers, a 6-in-1 screwdriver, and an adjustable wrench. Any good service plumber can fix most things with those!
Also, I find myself feeling naked if I don’t have my Leatherman Wave on me. Another great tool that has many uses.
Lastly, if there was one tool that changed the service plumbing game, it’s the M12 Milwaukee press tool. If you’re running a service company and don’t have one, you’re late to the party.