Case Studies

Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company: Solutions You Can Depend On for Nearly 100 Years

  • Written by: Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company: Solutions You Can Depend On for Nearly 100 Years
  • Produced by: Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company: Solutions You Can Depend On for Nearly 100 Years
  • Estimated reading time: 6 mins

There are over 100,000 businesses based out of Manhattan alone, according to that borough’s Chamber of Commerce. However, there are less than 500 companies in Greater New York City that have continuously been in business for 100 years. Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company (Fred Smith) is about to join that elite list. The company was founded by Frederick Smith Sr. in 1914 and has outlasted two World Wars, one Great Depression and numerous recessions. Current company president Philip Kraus outlines why the company has survived all these years as follows:

“We occupy a niche in the market in that we provide outstanding plumbing and heating services to luxury residential cooperative and condominium high-rise buildings, private schools and private institutions – primarily in the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Downtown. We excel at emergency repair and service. Our customers know that when they call us in for a project we’re going to send out a highly trained crew with a supervisor to ensure that the project is completed quickly, efficiently and correctly the first time, which saves them money.”

Armed with Experience and the Necessary Equipment to React Quickly

The Kraus family has a long history of providing customers in New York City with high-quality plumbing and heating that’s fast and accurate. Steam heating was introduced to New York City in 1882, though the city didn’t fully start converting to the new heating system until the early 1900s. Fred Smith crews installed many of the city’s steam heating systems and have been maintaining those same systems for the last 95-plus years.

Phil Kraus’s grandfather and father were New York City-licensed plumbers, as is Kraus himself, and his son, Spencer, is training to become a New York City-licensed plumber. Part of a proud tradition, Kraus joined Fred Smith in 1980 as its ninth employee, and after he acquired the company five months later he embarked on a mission to capitalize on Fred Smith’s outstanding name recognition and reputation for excellence.

Kraus has since grown the company into one of NYC’s preeminent plumbing and heating companies, the type of business that can handle challenges from the everyday service calls to the kind of issues that give lesser firms fits. The workforce at Fred Smith is made up of plumbing and heating experts that love to provide their attention to detail to fairly priced solutions.

Fred Smith currently employs 120, and this workforce maintains a roster of loyal clients that includes hundreds of New York’s most discriminating residents, real estate professionals and building managers, many of whom are located in the city’s much sought after pre-war buildings. The company offers its clients a wide variety of white glove services that range from basic repairs to building-wide upgrades and ongoing maintenance. The company’s services include plumbing, water purification, roof tank cleaning, pump repair, fire suppression, drain cleaning, high-pressure steam, HVAC, heating and private repairs (including repairs of those foreign-made fixtures that require an ever-so-delicate touch), as well as alterations.

It’s more than just what Fred Smith offers that sets the company apart, however; it’s also when and how Fred Smith reacts that’s key. Kraus says that another one of the things that sets his company apart from its competition is that when clients call Fred Smith the call isn’t answered by one of the universally despised phone-tree messaging systems, or even a receptionist. When a client calls in a certified plumber – often times Kraus – answers the phone, and this helps assure the company can have a crew of professionals on the job within an hour.

Fred Smith’s team of tightly orchestrated executives, field supervisors, mechanics and helpers handles renovations and maintenance, and answers over 1,200 emergency calls a month, delivering customer satisfaction to each site. At Fred Smith the customer is boss, and is treated with the utmost respect.

When Kraus hires a new employee he teaches them to think when they are entering a client’s home that they should to treat it like they are entering their grandmother’s house. Fred Smith employees are well known for neat and courteous behavior. Employees wear booties when entering a home and use clean drop cloths. “It’s our reputation that drives us,” says Kraus. “We’re known for not just the quality of our work, but also the manner of our work.”

Kraus says that Fred Smith’s employees are very loyal and there is little turnover at the company. “We make an effort to match an employee with their strength so that they are in a position to shine,” he explains. “Many of our guys are cross-trained, though, and that makes us dynamic and fluid and helps give us a high success rate. We also provide our employees with on-going training and pay them well so that they have a good quality of life. We also have a generous benefit package that includes profit-sharing and employer subsidized medical insurance.”

Glowing Review from Zagat-like Guide

Kraus is proud to note that in 2010 Fred Smith’s dedication to comprehensive services and satisfaction received the highest rating from The Franklin Review – a customer-driven, Zagat-like ranking of home renovation and maintenance service providers that are rated by quality and value. And this wasn’t a fluke; it was Fred Smith’s seventh year in a row to receive this recognition.

The Franklin Review’s review of the company, found on the publication’s website, is as follows: “The professionals at Fred Smith – known informally as the ‘rocket scientists’ of plumbing – lend their NASA-level expertise to both small and large jobs at all phases of the plumbing process. The company brings 85 years of experience and one of its nine field supervisors to troubleshoot and assess each job, free of charge, before sending the mechanic. The company reportedly can ‘adjust to anything’ and consistently delivers efficient, top-quality work. Based right in the heart of the city, we’re told Fred Smith keeps service technicians in reserve to ensure a quick response time.

“While references tell us the company has ‘A’ and ‘B’ crews, clients describe all of Fred Smith’s men as consummate professionals – courteous of clients, respectful of space and highly skilled,” continues the review. “Managers of prestigious co-ops and flagship general contractors all recommend Fred Smith without exception. Interestingly, as a result of economies of scale and the company’s meticulous troubleshooting, Fred Smith’s prices are competitive with anyone in the city. And considering the fact that about 60 percent of the company’s repair jobs are done with one man and charged accordingly, the company may be not only the city’s best overall plumbing contractor, but one of its best values as well. Additional services include installation & maintenance of Culligan Water Filtration Systems.”

Innovative systems from Fred Smith allow buildings to be “brown water” free, and the company protects homes with certified lead-safe work practices. Looking towards the future, Kraus is committed to reinforcing these accomplishments. “We’re a good size now. I’m happy with the growth that we’ve had, and for now we’ll wait and see what happens with the economy. [Until that improves] we have enough staff so that we can have a supervisor and a mechanic on a job call within an hour. None of our competitors can make the same claim.”

In the last 100 years America has endured many world-changing events and technological shifts. Throughout that time, Fred Smith has remained an honest, reliable plumbing and heating contractor offering fast service for residents and building owners throughout Manhattan. The company has seen it all, from the first high-pressure steam systems to today’s LEED-certified materials and energy-efficient techniques.

Under Phil Kraus’ leadership, the company has grown exponentially, but the qualities that made it New York’s plumber of choice have remained the same. The technology to heat and cool structures will undoubtedly change as time goes by, but based on its history Fred Smith Plumbing & Heating Company will continue to service and maintain whatever systems arise, accumulating even more success stories and accolades.

Published on: March 10, 2013

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