Think about it. Most days, we take safe drinking water and efficient sanitation systems for granted. However, when something’s not functioning properly, we rely on plumbers to bail us out.
Whether in our homes – where our lives can be quickly turned upside down by a blocked drain, stopped toilet or unexpected leak – or public buildings that supply water for drinking, food preparation, washing, showering, swimming and other activities, plumbing is an integral part of the way we live our lives.
“Plumbing was important to health yesterday. It is important to health today and will be even more important tomorrow,” Dr Jamie Bartram, coordinator of water, sanitation and health for the World Health Organization, said. “Good plumbing is one of the key building blocks in protecting and promoting health. A system that provides water through a house or through a dwelling or in a public building that is designed, built and managed properly is critical in ensuring the health of individuals that live and work there.”
That’s precisely why you need a license to do plumbing work in most states.
Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency requires four years (6,400 hours) in an approved apprenticeship program or four years work experience in the trade for a plumber’s journeyman license. You can also have four years plumbing work under the direction of a licensed plumbing contractor for a plumber’s contractor license.
“We are licensed like doctors and dentists,” Terry Cheek of TLC Plumbing in Griffith, said. “We are one of the only professional trades that deal with public health.”
Cheek, who has been a licensed contractor since 1997, got his start in the field taking shop classes at Hammond Technical Vocational High School. He completed the required 3-year plumbing program in 2 ½ years.
“After graduation, I went to work at Inland Steel as a plumber in the mill,” Cheek said. “However, it wasn’t too long before I realized that I really preferred working with people and in the community. So, when I had the opportunity, I applied for an apprenticeship at the union hall and went to work for a local plumbing company. I ended up working there for the next ten years.”
With over 30 years of practical plumbing experience, Terry Cheek made the decision to open his own company, and now that company is in its 15th year.
“I just got to the point where I wanted to control the quality and quantity of work,” he said. “There are a lot of good, quality plumbers and contractors out there. There are also some who don’t do what they say and hide it, it’s unreal. I would feel so embarrassed to be associated with that. That’s why I got on my own, so I could control that and always work with good, quality people.”
TLC Plumbing was established by Terry and his wife Cindy in 1998. Over the years, the company’s prompt, honest workmanship and reliable follow through has had many people refer to them as “Tender Loving Care” Plumbing.
“I like to say TLC stands for ‘Terry Loves Cindy,’ and my pastor says it’s ‘The Lord’s Company,’” Cheek added. “But we simply named the company using my initials – Terry Lynn Cheek.”
Together in the business from the very beginning, Terry and Cindy started TLC Plumbing in their Griffith home. Cindy ran the office. Terry outfitted a used one-ton van from Pepsi and eventually hired a helper.
“The business just kind of evolved from him doing the work he’s always done as a plumber, but with more control as far as what’s happening and how things progress,” Cindy, who had been working for a law office as an administrator for more than two decades, said. “We came to the conclusion that we were going to be working for a long time. It’s something that I think he always wanted to do, and I told him I would support him - that’s what a marriage is all about. I was able to use the same office skills – just as they relate to plumbing as opposed to law now.”
It wasn’t long before TLC Plumbing outgrew its home base and rented a space at 235 N. Broad. As the company’s workload and customer base increased, the Cheek’s daughter, Kim Cooper, became a fixture in the office as well.
After four years at the Broad St. location, the opportunity to purchase a larger location at 235 N. Lindberg with a 20,000 square foot building to house all the equipment the company acquired – currently 28 vehicles including a licensed waste hauler, septic truck and a jetter-vactor truck which is necessary to maintain private sewer systems – came up and that’s where TLC Plumbing has been located since 2004.
“Once you have the opportunity to prove your honesty and integrity, it just blossoms and grows,” Terry said. “A good portion of our residential work comes from personal referrals and on the commercial side we’ve had to pass the test a time or two.”
He’s referring to different times when TLC Plumbing would be called out for service to an apartment building or business only to find nothing was wrong.
“Once we are honest with them, they know they can rely on us to be prompt and fair,” he explained. “We’ve been working with some of our biggest clients for a long time – we’ve been at BP Refinery for 12-plus years now. We’ve also been with a number of fast food and grocery store chains throughout northwest Indiana and Illinois for as long or longer – we just completed work as part of the Strack & Van Til remodel in Highland. We also do new construction – we’re working on new homes in Crown Point and Gary as well as an 88-unit assisted living facility in Schererville. We have been in the The Times’ ‘Best of the Region’ for the past two years and also have been awarded the ‘Super Service Award’ by Angie’s List.”
In their continuing efforts to complete a job from start to finish for every customer who calls, without the need to rely on others who may not be as dependable, the TLC family of 24 employees, many of which have been with the company for 10-plus years, now includes two full-time quality carpenters.
“Because we always want to provide the most timely service, I made the decision to get my general contractor’s license a few years ago,” Terry said. “When a job requires a floor that’s been rotted out to be replaced before we can finish our work we were sometimes waiting 2-3 days for other companies to come in and make that repair. Now, we can do all those things ourselves, be accountable for completely fixing a problem and helping people move on with their lives.”
When it comes to pricing, Terry and Cindy maintain that their tried-and-true method of quoting by the job is the most fair for customers, even though flat-rate or up-front pricing is now becoming much more prevalent in the plumbing industry.
“Cindy and I have gone to a number of different plumbing business seminars and literally walked out,” Terry said. “The biggest thing people don’t understand about up-front pricing is that it’s about profit, profit, profit.”
For example, if you call TLC Plumbing to install a standard water tank, the typical price will be $645. Standard flat-rate pricing for the same service starts closer to $900.
“We provide our customers with free estimates based on the actual work needed to complete their job, not what a menu of services with pricing that’s usually over exaggerated dictates,” Terry said.
“We believe that’s another reason why we’re a preferred contractor around the region, especially when it comes to remodeling and updating plumbing. You know you have to walk-the-walk and lead by example. It’s a struggle everyday to uphold your values, but at the end of the day, that’s why we’re in business and why we enjoy what we do.”