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Big news for a small business

A2Z Heating and Plumbing in North Liberty merges with the best in the area, and adds a new service while keeping the help wanted sign up
The crew of A2Z Heating and Plumbing in North Liberty stands ready to “Meet all of your needs from A2Z” ranging from air conditioning to duct cleaning, to furnace repair and installation, to kitchen faucets, bathroom and kitchen remodeling, water softeners, water heaters and now lawn irrigation systems.

NORTH LIBERTY– The company motto for A2Z Heating and Plumbing, Inc. states, “Meeting all of your needs from A2Z,” and indeed, the staff of the North Liberty based business brainstormed and found services they provide for 25 out of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Only “X” was left out, as “Nothing begins with X.”
Since starting out in 2003, A2Z’s business has steadily grown and now they can add more items to their list under “L” and “T.”
“L” is for “Lift stations,” and now also for “Lawn irrigation systems.”
“We are opening up a lawn irrigation division,” said co-owner and service manager Scott Jones. Jones has been certified to test backflow devices, which are required in an irrigation system to prevent water from the sprinkler system entering back into the drinking water. People routinely call A2Z to test their device and during the visit, they invariably ask about having repairs to sprinkler heads or other parts of the system.
“Nope, that’s not what we do,” he would have to say, until now.
“There’s a ton of businesses (in the area) who do irrigation systems, but they’re over-booked,” he said. A case in point is that of his mother (and co-owner) Darline Horton, who was unable to hire a company to install a system for her newly sodded yard. She contacted five companies but only two returned her call, and only one actually sent somebody out to bid the job. “She accepted the bid, and then they told her it would be a year before they could come out and put the system in.”
Not wanting to jeopardize an expensive lawn was, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Jones said.
“This frustrates me,” Darline said, “As a business owner, you send me a message that you want me to do some work for you, I’m all over that! We’re going to get you covered. We’re going to call you, because we want that business.” Prompting and gentle prodding from her husband Marshall led her to discuss the idea of going into the irrigation systems business with Scott.
An irrigation system is more than just burying some pipes in a yard with some sprinkler heads. A2Z contacted a local supplier to provide the necessary equipment. Next was finding a training program for Jones to attend. “We found a week-long national certification class in Durham, S.C., and I flew out and took the class,” he said. On the final day was a six-hour, 200-question exam with only a 10 percent pass rate. “I was the only person in the (eight-person) class that passed,” he said. Now, A2Z is fully ready to install and service lawn irrigation systems. Jones said, “We’re super excited about the growth and starting that somewhat new venture.”
“T” is for “Thermostats,” and also for a recent merger with longtime Iowa City area plumber Travis Vittetoe.
“He is a workaholic,” Jones said. “He is so customer-oriented, and we tried to hire him four years ago. We wanted to merge back then, but it just wasn’t the right time for him.” Earlier this year, Vittetoe contacted Jones and put the merger into motion. “I’ve known Travis for… eons, since way back in high school, and we had a great conversation.” Jones said they discussed how A2Z could help him and his customers while also bolstering A2Z’s ranks with another outstanding plumber.
“Travis coming in is a game-changer for us. It put a shock into the industry in the area when people found out he was coming here. You’re talking about a guy who’s got 25 years of his own business. There’s nobody better, and it couldn’t happen at a better time for us. We’re super excited about Travis and all of the benefits for us and for him that come with the addition of a guy like him,” said Jones.
Darline said, “We want the community, his customers and our customers to know that we are now one. Travis is here; we’re taking care of all of his customers. I feel that we will be a benefit to his customers (by providing more than just plumbing services, but also heating and air conditioning, duct work cleaning, and other services as well). Travis is a plumber, and he does it very well. I feel we will be an asset to his customers and we are excited to be able to help his customers.”
Under “S” you could put “Seeking qualified plumbers” as A2Z continues to need more staff to meet ever-growing demand. It’s been challenging, Jones said. “The trades are suffering right now, big time. Not from a lack of work, but in employees. They’re just not out there.” There is a nearly universal need for more skilled HVAC and plumbing professionals, Jones said, with local companies trying to fill open positions for years. “We’ve had an ad out for a plumber for two years. Lots of guys come in that want the job, but none of them were qualified. A2Z is seeking licensed and qualified technicians who have gone through trade school or a training program (such as through Kirkwood Community College).
“There’s a huge, huge need (for qualified people) in the trades,” Jones added, noting the scarcity of labor has resulted in companies working harder to keep good employees.
“We charge $99/hour for a routine service call, and I have people ask all the time, ‘Well, it’s just a plumber.’ Find one. Good luck. I have to pay my guys so that they don’t leave. If I’m not paying them $38/hour, then somebody else is going to. And if they’re going to, now I’m short a plumber.” To entice employees to stay, A2Z offers a lengthy list of incentives. “There’s a lot that we do because I can’t be in business without my guys, this business can’t grow without my guys. Yeah, I’m gonna charge $99/hour for a plumber, because they’re worth every penny. The group that we have, I’d put them up against anybody. They’re family.” And, to several of the guys, Darline is like a second mom, and they even call her “Mom.”
“As long as they’re nice to me, and they like me, I’m OK with that,” she said.
“It’s a fun group,” said Jones, “because they all get along.”
The company will also be looking for summer help to assist with irrigation projects.
A2Z moved to North Liberty in 2018 and serves the Corridor from Washington to Cedar Rapids from its shop at 165 Ranshaw Way (Hwy. 965). Phone 319-351-2743 or visit A2Z online at www.A2ZHeatingandPlumbing.com. Email Info@A2ZHeatingandPlumbing.com.