Lou Tropeano is the owner of All Clear Plumbing, a plumbing, heating, and air conditioning business in Hainesport, NJ. Lou spoke with us about his business, what it means to see his employees succeed, and how OnDeck financing has helped him achieve his goals.
Tell us how you started your business and what services you provide.
My business started in 2001. I’ve been a plumber since I was 17, and I’m 57 now. In 2001, I met a guy that had a franchise in New Jersey, which was called All Clear Plumbing and Heating. This gentleman explained how it worked and I kind of liked what they did. They do various kinds of plumbing and heating, mostly residential. The template for the business was already established, so I just rolled on in, took over the section, Burlington and Camden Counties in New Jersey, and I really liked it. So, I moved from North Jersey and I opened in January 2001.
We do basically every kind of plumbing, heating, and air conditioning jobs. We also do trenchless sewer line replacements, snake drains, install faucets, toilets. Basically, the soup to nuts in the plumbing industry.
What do you love about owning a business, especially in your industry?
Well, in my industry, small businesses are the best businesses. Nowadays you have these companies that are massive in scope. The problem is they come across as being concerned with the everyday consumer, but they’re really not. Smaller businesses, if you could find yourself a good plumbing and heating guy, trust them, they’ll take care of you. The price can’t be beat – small businesses are the way to go in this field, but again, you have these large corporations moving in like any business, and they’re kind of putting a damper on things as far as the homeowners are concerned. In my opinion, I think homeowners would do much better with the small business in plumbing.
We’re a smaller company, we try to take care of all your needs. We’re there to listen to you. We’re there to explain things. When larger companies come in, they get their money, they leave. That’s basically what it is and hopefully it goes back to that kind of scenario, because with technology, bigger businesses are taking over in a lot of fields, which is not a good thing for consumers. That’s how I feel anyway.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner?
The biggest challenge for small businesses today is marketing. When I opened, most of the advertising was through the yellow pages, which was very simple. You put in a big ad, everybody went to you. Today with the technology and the internet, it’s very hard to get a niche for yourself in advertising. It’s very confusing. It’s very expensive. It’s a hard thing to navigate, advertising today, it’s not simple like it was. So, that plays into it. I think that’s the biggest challenge for small businesses today.
Cash flow is also a problem, especially during recessions. Cash flow was a big issue because my annual gross revenue went down almost 30-40% between 2009 and 2010. I did come into a little cash flow problem at one point. Banks were not helping people out unless you were a huge corporation with unlimited collateral, which made no sense to me, but that’s the way they operate.
What is the most exciting thing about your business?
The most exciting thing about my business is that I help my employees, believe it or not. I’ve had guys with me 18 years. They got their first homes, they had children, they were able to send them to the schools they wanted to because of me.
I like to help people out. It actually makes me feel good. As I’m getting older now, it’s more important than the money. When I was in my 30s and 40s it was about making money. Now I’m in my 50s, I’m going to be in my 60’s soon. So as my business expands and I do better, my employees do better. Everybody has a good life and I take credit for that. I’ll tell you, it’s a pretty good feeling.
I recently hired a new gentleman. He loves it here. His wife loves his attitude. He’s been happier, because we’re like a family. We all get along and we like to laugh. Life is enough of a grind, so that’s my biggest thing with business today.
What was it like looking for financing as a small business owner?
As far as obtaining financing, the hardest part, like I said, is traditional institutions are very hard to work with. They wanted a list of references, collateral. I basically looked into everything from banks to private lenders. Now, the thing I found with a lot of private lenders is the interest rates were way too high and the payback terms I didn’t like.
So why did you choose OnDeck initially, and why have you come back?
The first eight, nine years of business were fabulous and then the recession came in 2008, and we had a little bit of an issue like everybody else, which is what brought me to OnDeck. It was the first time I ran into them.
All OnDeck wanted was the bottom line. I mean, I showed them my bank statements, what I grossed, what I can afford to pay back, and within 24 hours they gave me an answer. Solved my problem, so I’m indebted to them. They helped me out quite a bit.
The bank wanted a list of credentials a mile long. It took too long. So, when the recession came, I was a smaller outfit and I wanted to expand into different things, so that’s where the capital came in handy.
The first time I went back to them I wanted to get into trenchless technology, which is you dig a hole at the house, you dig a hole at the curb and you pull this line under the ground, which eliminates all the excavating. The problem is the equipment was very expensive and at the time I was still rebuilding from the recession, so I decided to do it. I called them, did the application process, 24 hours later my money was there, and I got into trenchless.
The same thing with air conditioning. Every time I need something new and I try to expand to keep up with everybody else, I turn to them. It’s not even a question anymore. I pay it back in four or five months, nine months, the latest. OnDeck has been perfect for what I need at a given time.
What has been the most memorable part about your experience with OnDeck?
The customer service. I have a representative I’ve been using for years. She’s phenomenal, Rachel, and every time I reach out to her, she gets back to me in like 15 minutes and that’s basically it. I don’t have to worry about, do I have to wait a week? If I need an influx of cash, do I have to wait a month? I know the same day. So the speed is phenomenal and it’s basically a pretty simple process. I mean, it is what you make. If you don’t make that amount, you can’t borrow that amount. It’s pretty cut and dry and the response turn time is phenomenal. I love it.
What has been the most measurable results for you on your ROI?
The most memorable result is becoming profitable again, which was thanks to the initial loan. It’s kind of good when you don’t have too much on your shoulders. We always worried about “If I need this money, where can I get it?” Then once I did that and things started to balance out, coming back, it’s a good feeling. It overtakes any other feeling.
How has flexible financing been to achieve your goals?
The financing flexibility is off the charts. It’s there if I need it. It’s there. I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t have to worry about showing them 75 years of tax returns like I do with the bank and signing this and signing that. It’s about the bottom line. You show what you make, you borrow, so it’s there. So, it’s always available and the terms are very reasonable.