By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
When Oliver J. Laughlin started O.J. Laughlin Plumbing Co. in 1951, he was no stranger to the plumbing business. He had worked for his uncle’s company since finishing grade school and again after his Army service in World War II. When his uncle died, he started O.J. Laughlin plumbing in south St. Louis.
Today, O.J. Laughlin, a 2015 TORCH Award winner, is in Valley Park, Mo. It employs 32 people, including five family members, and it offers residential and commercial plumbing, remodeling and custom work. The company’s 30 vehicles are emblazoned with the company name, and new employees must read a thick policy and procedure manual and sign a promise to abide by it, including a code of ethics.
Dan Laughlin, the third generation of his family to own the business, credits the growth to the company’s commitment to treating customers like family and offering plumbing without any shortcuts. About 90 percent of the company’s work comes from repeat customers or referrals.
“We credit our success to two simple principles that were always stressed by our founder, Oliver Laughlin,” Laughlin said. “Treat people like you want to be treated and do the work for someone else the same way you would do it for yourself.”
O.J. Laughlin’s loyal customer base meant that the company was able to keep its employees on board through the recession.
“Most all of our employees are lifers,” Laughlin said. Several employees have 10, 15, 20 or more years with the firm. “We’ve kept them pretty busy and we do it right.”
O.J. Laughlin helps plumbers and technicians maintain their licenses by offering continuing education in-house. Every quarter, safety is the main topic at company-wide meetings, but company policies, trends and other issues also are on the table.
O.J. Laughlin has been BBB Accredited since 2010, and Laughlin said he appreciates the feedback he gets from customers, positive and negative. He believes a timely response to a complaint or negative review can build trust in the company.
Many of O.J. Laughlin’s employees are involved in community and charity projects, and the company regularly participates in fundraisers for charities that include Sports for Kids, Kids with Cancer and the Friends of Dominican Sisters Sparkill – STL, a teaching order of Roman Catholic nuns. Several employees are graduates of schools where the sisters taught, so the company holds two events yearly to raise money to support aging members of the order.
The company has won four awards from the American Subcontractors Association’s Midwest Council for best mechanical-electrical-plumbing contractor of the year. General contractors vote on the subcontractor awards.
Laughlin said he has high hopes that family business will soon include a fourth generation: His son, who will be a senior in college this fall, has expressed interest in joining the company after he graduates.
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.