It’s been quite the start to 2022 for Ryan Bickerton, owner/operator of Bickerton Plumbing and Heating LLC, Boston. Recently recovered from COVID, his phone hasn’t stopped ringing. He’s been busy, and that’s a good thing.
Mostly specializing in high-end renovations, old houses in the historic areas of Boston and high-efficiency boilers, Bickerton has run his own company since 2014. At the age of 18, Bickerton started into plumbing, working for a larger residential company doing large multi-unit buildings where he worked for 2 1/2 years before moving to a smaller company doing mainly commercial work.
The itch started for Bickerton when he started in construction over the summers during high school, working for a roofing company and a general contractor, basically doing whatever was needed on a job site. “I tried helping whoever needed to be helped on the site—plumbers, electricians, carpenters—cleaning up, making coffee runs, etc. I remember those summers working for the GC and I enjoyed helping the plumbers more than anything else. I realized I was falling in love with the industry, and the rest is history,” says Bickerton.
Nevertheless, Bickerton was encouraged to make an attempt at college even though he didn’t really want to; he gave it a shot anyway. He lasted less than a year and decided that was it. “For me, it was a waste of time and money,” says Bickerton. “My parents were okay with me leaving after giving it a valiant effort, but my father said ‘pick a trade because you’re not going to be sitting around here all day.’”
Bickerton recalls speaking to his father, and a few other people he knew who worked in the trades, and was pushed in the direction of electrical or plumbing mainly because, “you’ll never be looking for work.”
After obtaining his Journeyman Plumbing and Gas Fitting License in 2008, Bickerton completely shifted gears and joined the United States Marine Corps where he was deployed to Afghanistan. It was a difficult decision but joining the military was something Ryan had always wanted to do. In 2008, it was the right time. After six years of service with the Marines, Bickerton returned to plumbing and got his Master Plumbing and Gas Fitting License. “I started doing more and more side work until I landed a few bigger jobs that motivated me to leap into owning my own company. I haven’t look back since,” says Bickerton.
Part of that drive came from his biggest role model, his father, who worked most of his life in a power plant in South Boston as a general mechanic—he could pretty much fix anything and everything that needed fixing. “My father is the hardest working person I know. I remember as a young kid not seeing him for days at a time because he was getting home late and leaving early before we were awake. I knew he was out working hard taking overtime to provide for us. He could and would fix most things around the house. I remember one year our water heater went out on Thanksgiving and he took care of it by himself. I thought that was pretty cool, and still do,” says Bickerton.
As for Ryan, he never considered himself a role model, but he tries to conduct himself that way. Any chance he gets, he’ll speak highly of the trades. “If any young kids ask me about the trades, I do my best to steer them in the right direction and let them know it’s a very viable option. It’s a rewarding career choice, and college and white-collar work doesn’t have to be for everyone,” says Bickerton.
Bickerton’s trade role model was his first foreman, Mike Sheehan, a plumber for 30+ years, his body broken from years of moving massive boilers and extra heavy cast-iron pipe. “But he still loved the trade. He taught me a lot of my early skills, and he would say that this trade has all the potential to do anything you want with it, which has really stuck with me to this day,” says Bickerton.
While respecting these two men’s work ethic, Bickerton knows that balancing work and family life is important. It’s probably his most difficult task, says Bickerton. “I’m usually out the door by 5 am and home around 5 pm, and the kids go to bed between 7:30-8 pm and then most nights I have to do estimates or invoices when they’re in bed so I don’t have as much ‘leisure time’ as I’d like. I try to make every second I’m home count.”
And the weekends are for family. Bickerton used to work every Saturday and even some Sundays. Lately, however, Ryan doesn’t work Sunday unless it’s a catastrophic emergency, and on Saturdays he tries to be done by 12 or sometimes not at all. “Like I said before, I love plumbing and working but I don’t think I’ll ever regret not working more and spending less time with my family so I try to best divide my time in the fairest manner possible.”
It’s clear that family time is most important. “In my spare time, more than anything, I enjoy hanging out with my wife and our children. My wife Micayla and I have been married for six years and our three kids are growing up fast. If I’m not working, I’m with them. They are starting to get into different activities, hockey, baseball, football, swimming, horseback riding, and I just enjoy every second of that. Even if it’s just hanging out and watching a movie, it’s never wasted time for me,” says Bickerton.
Perhaps family means a bit more to Bickerton because his daughter, Mallory, was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Rubenstein Taybi Syndrome (RTS). In 2017, Ryan and Micayla, along with some close friends, started a non-profit organization called Mals Pals Foundation. “We have been very fortunate with Mallory. We live in the epicenter for healthcare; she has had an inclusive educational opportunity here in Boston and it helps that we are able to pay for anything and everything she has needed in order to thrive,” says Bickerton.
Mal’s Pals Foundation aims to ease the burden of other families who maybe are not as fortunate. The Bickertons raise awareness for rare diseases like RTS, and they help educate newly diagnosed families. “We are trying to make difference in other people’s lives even if it’s just a small one. You can check us out at malspalsfoundation.org.”
Mallory is now seven-years-old and doing well. “Initially, there were concerns, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Bickerton.
Bickerton looks forward to going to work every day. “But the most rewarding to me is being able to sit back at the end of the day or at the end of a job and look at what I’ve done,” says Bickerton. “I like having something tangible, that I can look at and touch and say I did that, or I fixed that or I created that. Whether it’s fixing a leaking faucet, creating a bathroom where there wasn’t one before, plumbing a 5-unit building completely from scratch or providing someone with heat and hot water for the next 20-30 years. That’s pretty cool.”
In the end, Ryan really loves plumbing, even if he’s stressed out and jobs are behind, or he’s behind on paperwork, or he’s made a mistake and or redo something. “I still consider myself lucky to be doing what I love every day. And on those harder work days, I still get to come home to three beautiful children and a wife who loves me. Every time I walk in the door and they scream ‘DAD!’ all that stress lifts off instantly, and it’s all worth it.”