Recently Marty was interviewed by the London Free Press.
For original interview click here for London Free Press
Meet Marty Salliss, owner of Salliss Plumbing and Heating
And You Are?: Owner leaves his desk daily to get his hands on tools
By Norman DeBono, The London Free Press
Sunday, September 20, 2015 4:23:10 EDT PM
It was drive, determination and being a “royal pain in the ass” that got Marty Salliss started in business.
Those same qualities are helping Salliss Plumbing and Heating, the company that bears his name, grow today.
As a young man, Salliss didn’t know what he wanted to do. He drove a lift truck at a brick yard and then went to work at Accuride, the steel wheel manufacturer in east London.
Pretty good jobs for a young man, but Salliss knew they were not for him.
“I was at Accuride for a year and I just knew I had to do something else. I could not do it anymore. I wanted to get into a trade,” he said.
Salliss heard through friends that JMR Electric plumbing contractors in Exeter was a good place to apprentice.
“I knew they were growing. I had friends who had jobs there. I called them and they said they weren’t hiring. I said, ‘I will call you next Monday.’”
He called Monday, asking if there was room for an apprentice. And then he kept calling. On the fourth consecutive Monday, the owner was blunt.
He said, “‘You’re a royal pain in my ass,’” Salliss said with a laugh.
“‘Can you be here in 45 minutes?’ I said, ‘I got to go, I have to be in Exeter in 45 minutes.’ When I got there, he said ‘I can’t not hire you. I have to find you a spot.’”
He did, and a small business success story was born.
Just to put an exclamation point on that story, a conversation in Salliss’ office on Wonderland Road is interrupted by a young man dropping off a resume, asking for an opportunity as an apprentice.
“I’ll talk to him, I’ll talk to any kid. I was a kid, I was that boy. A lot of people slammed the door in my face, but you want to invest in the future. I love teaching those who want to learn.”
When Salliss was looking for an apprenticeship as a young man, it was the mid-1990s, Ontario was in the midst of a downturn and it was a tough call to leave Accuride.
“I was making a lot of money, they paid performance bonuses. I did well there but it wasn’t a challenge for me.”
Salliss was 23 and a newlywed when he started at JMR and then enrolled in a plumbing apprenticeship program at Fanshawe College. A few years after graduating, he returned to Fanshawe as a full-time teacher.
While teaching Salliss began sowing seeds for his business, doing work on his own, building his enterprise slowly.
“I taught for five years and it was one of the best experiences I have had,” he said.
“It got to the point a decision had to be made. Do I teach or get into business? I could not do both.”
Salliss started his own business in 2001 and by 2005 he made the call to leave Fanshawe and start out on his own.
“I love it, I love my clients, it is my life, it is my social life, too. I have a passion for this,” Salliss said.
“There is constantly stuff going on. If you sit back and don’t revive yourself, you will be overtaken. You have to constantly stay on top. Our industry is changing constantly.”
A look around Salliss’s office says a lot about his business, and its growth.
There’s the baseball and hockey jerseys on the wall, testament to his love of sports and those he has worked with in the community, such as Dale Hunter, owner of the London Knights.
There are the family photographs and chew toys left by the black Labrador puppy that rules the office.
Then there’s the mess.
Salliss shares an office with his business partner. Piles of notes are everywhere, about jobs on the go and plans to expand into a new building on South Street he is in the process of buying.
The new building will have double the space.
“It will allow us growth. It will allow us to bring equipment inside, like excavators for our drainage business which we think will double in about two years. We are not to our potential yet.”
Salliss is waiting for final approval on the purchase and hopes to be in the new location by the first week of December.
As busy as business is, Salliss said he leaves his desk every day to get his hands on tools and keep plumbing.
“I love it. I got into plumbing to plumb,” he said.
Salliss forecasts the commercial and industrial side of his business will grow to be about 75 per cent of sales. His clients include Digital Extremes, Citi Plaza, the towers at 310 Wellington St. and several restaurants and chains.
“We will also go to your house and do renovations or be there at 2 a.m. when the sewer backs up,” Salliss said.
He has 16 staff but expects the number to increase when his drainage division and excavation business takes off, as he forecasts.
“We anticipate growth will be 20 to 30 per cent over the next few years.”
Salliss also has a heating division that makes up about 25 per cent of his business, but he anticipates “its growth will be exponential.
“The commercial and industrial part of our business, I want to see at 75 per cent of our business at the minimum,” he said.
His background with JMR was in doing largely commercial work, giving him the foundation to grow the business in that sector.
“You have to have a history to it, a background. We have worked with prominent general contractors for 10 years plus.”
Salliss’ business also got a little help recently from Mother Nature. The June 23 storm that hammered London with a month’s worth of rain in two hours, and left hundreds of city basements flooded, has resulted in a spike in business.
“It’s nuts, the weather has really helped us,” Salliss said.
They are booked until the first week of December installing backwater valves that prevent water from flowing up the drain and into basements.
Salliss also has contracts with eight different restoration businesses.
“With all these messes, we are booked. It’s huge business for us.”
He used to refer drainage work to a third party until he realized he was letting about $200,000 a year in sales slip through his fingers, so he decided to expand his drainage division.
Much of that work is aided by the city offering to pick up about 75 per cent of the cost of installing sump pumps and backwater valves to prevent sewage flow into the home during a storm when city drainage systems are overwhelmed.
“One reason I got into plumbing, robots will never clean your (waster),” Salliss said. “I grew up in the era computers were taking jobs. I wanted to be in something people will always need.”
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Family: married to Cindy, daughter, 16, son 14
Education: plumbing apprentice diploma, Fanshawe College
Previous jobs: lift truck driver in a brick yard, Accuride worker, plumbing instructor at Fanshawe College
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Tap/bottled water: tap
Early riser/night owl: both
Grand Bend/Port Stanley: Grand Bend
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“I love it. I got into plumbing to plumb.”