courtesy of P&M magazine – Fall 1995
Vashon Island, WA, – a small island in the Puget Sound boasting a population of 10,000 – is home to one of the most connected plumbers in the business. While access to the island is limited by ferry, contractor Hill Daughtry meets daily with people across this country and from several others including New Zealand, Britain and Japan. These conversations take place at one of the hottest spots on the island, Daughtry’s Internet home page. Hill’s Plumbing Home Page, also known as theplumber.com, has been accessed by thousands of contractors, technicians and consumers looking for plumbing information.
“I get about 30 e-mails a day, from all over the world,” says Daughtry. Some of the questions are as basic as how to rough-in a low boy toilet to “I’m building a brand-new high-end house and I need radiant heat, how do I size it?” To answer some of the more standard questions such as “my toilet moans in the middle of the night,” Daughtry has written a plumbing FAQ list that Internet users can access for information on water heaters, water distribution, garbage disposers, smells, noises, gas and water quality, among others.
If a puzzling question arises, Daughtry posts it in a discussion group linked to his home page where anyone can respond. “If I see a plumber in New York post an answer to somebody’s question, I’ll e-mail him and discuss his answer with him,” says Daughtry.
Daughtry’s home page also provides Internet users with links to other sites around the world. Currently, Hills Plumbing Page can connect a user to various home repair and construction sites along with other general interest sites like the Smithsonian Institute and NASA. A lot of the page is what Daughtry calls “plumbing fun stuff “, items that appeal to a broad range of interests. He also publishes news and selected bits of PM’s History of Plumbing. Regular updates and links on industry topics, such as the potybutylene class action suit, also appear.
Business on the Net:
“I’ve always done my business with a computer and have been interested in computers,” says Daughtry. “I upgraded my computer at the same time when I discovered the Internet. “Good thing. What started out as a hobby for Daughtry has become a daily commitment of two hours – six hours on the weekend – answering e-mail and updating his page. “It’s a hobby that has taken on a life of its own,” says Daughtry.
When discussing the benefits his hobby offers his business. Daughtry says he receives ample attention from his Internet page. Recently a local paper did a feature on Daughtry which prompted several e-mails. “I’ve received inquires from people with jobs and I turn them down saying I only work on Vashon Island. “But I live on Vashon Island,” they say, so I have certainly got enough work to more than pay for everything I’ve done”.
For anyone looking to expand their business, Daughtry strongly suggests using the Internet. “If I were doing this in Seattle, 45 minutes away on the ferry, it would be tremendous,” Daughtry says. The Internet is an incredible way to grow a business. Everybody has e-mail, it’s such a quick and easy way to communicate. One message can be sent out 10,000 people without any effort.”
On the Internet, Daughtry has received jobs, discussed projects, sent pictures of possible fixtures and prices, and ordered products. The products are delivered UPS, he installs them and receives payment in the mail. The majority of the work is done on the computer.
Daughtry is currently seeking ways to receive compensation for his site through corporate sponsorship and as an Internet content provider on the Microsoft Network. “Basically,” says Daughtry, “I’m exploring ways to get paid.” Instead of crawling under houses or dispatching for a large contractor, Daughtry plans to spend his days surfing the net. I’m going to be 50 my next birthday and I thought I’d end my working life in a very different way. The Internet has provided a much better alternative.”