Nothing dies like a water heater. They give no warning. One minute they’re cooking water, the next instant their guts and bodily fluids are all over the basement floor. Water heaters also have the perverse habit of waiting for their warranty to expire before they do.
So, on a recent Monday morning, my wife awoke to a mess in the basement and the prospect of taking an ice-cold shower. Fortunately, the water didn’t damage much – only a box of precious memorabilia. After sweeping up the muck, she called the retail giant who had sold us our last water heater.
The service person was a bit slow on the uptake and the conversation was tortuous, but my wife finally placed the order. When she broke the news to me, I very maturely pulled the covers over my head.
Eventually I got up to survey the damage and microwave some water to wash up. We decided to cancel the retail giant and try a local contractor. I called Tim Stefl, who happened to be at Harlem and Madison and he came right over.
Tim had worked for a Forest Park plumber for a quarter century before launching his own plumbing and heating company three years ago. He and his wife, Ruth, had also owned the four-flat at Circle and Harvard for 20 years. Tim described the four-flat as a “hovel” when they first bought it and claimed he spent more time “under it than in it.” They sold it in 2008 to move to Berwyn and take care of a great-aunt.
Tim and Ruth didn’t want to leave the town where they had so much history. Their son, Matthew, had attended our schools, while Ruth worked in the lunchrooms. They had made many friends in Forest Park and would miss hosting parties on their deck.
Tim kept his hand in town, though, by having Roberta Signs decorate his trucks and storing his equipment at Desplaines and Brown. Forest Park, after all, is where Tim got his start in plumbing.
Following graduation from OPRF, Tim went to work as a painter at Altenheim. An employee accidentally created leaks in the steam pipes, and Tim helped plug them. Plumbing had already been in Tim’s blood from the time he picked up a wrench as a toddler and was taught how to use it by his father and grandfather.
Back in our basement, Tim and his assistant, Owen, wasted no time in installing the new heater. They were clean and efficient and cost $200 less than the commercial colossus.
Tim admitted that starting a company at the time the economy collapsed has been rough. However, he declared, “I would rather stay home and not make money than rip somebody off.”
Those are words that all companies should take to heart, including retail giants.