Three years ago, Fitchburg city staff and the state DOT invited Dale Benjamin, president of Benjamin Plumbing, Inc., to a meeting. He’d seen a preliminary plan for the Verona Road highway construction two years before that, and while it affected the office building he owned next door, there was to be no impact on the Benjamin Plumbing building. At the meeting, he anticipated a routine update. Instead he learned Benjamin Plumbing’s 50,000-square-foot facility needed to come down.
Exhibiting the family’s trademark resilience, Benjamin Plumbing opened in a brand-new building at 2870 Commerce Park Drive in Fitchburg in December 2016. Although the move was unexpected, Dale and his staff took the opportunity to create a new space better suited to the needs of today’s customers. In addition, the facility features well-equipped workspaces for the staff and an extensive service fleet.
Dale began hanging around Benjamin Plumbing in the summer of 1972, when he made himself useful by working around the warehouse. His father, master plumber Ralph M. Benjamin, founded the business in 1962 with one truck and a kitchen table office. He was a hardworking role model for Dale and his seven siblings. At one point there were nine family members involved in the operation. Everyone started at a young age and most put in long hours. Ralph changed his role in the company as he hit retirement age, but came in to help around the warehouse until he passed away in 2013.
Progressing through many jobs at the family business, Dale dug ditches for the crews, and worked in the pre-fab shop. Being a car enthusiast, he put in time working in the garage, where he washed trucks and helped with light mechanical services and bodywork for the fleet. Eventually Dale ran the warehouse, receiving and stocking inventory. He followed that with a several-year stint as plumbing estimator for new construction, which meant he ordered parts and wrote up installation instructions.
“You’re given an opportunity in life to do things,” Dale says. “Some things you like, some you don’t. Over time I found I was more intrigued by management.” At some point, and it’s typical of Dale that he downplays the actual date, he took over the presidency of the company from his older brother. It remains a family-run business, and Dale still has two sisters and a brother involved in the operation.
The Verona Road construction and forced move was not Dale’s first test as president of the company. He views the 2008 recession as his biggest challenge, which hit his business in mid-2006 when commercial construction projects started pulling back. The impact on Benjamin Plumbing was significant and lasted almost eight years. “How do you prepare for something like that? We had to lay off people who’d been here for decades,” Dale says, shaking his head. “Some retired, some found different jobs. Now we’re rebuilding our fleet and can’t find enough qualified plumbers.”
The lack of job openings in the building trades during the recession caused young applicants to choose other professions, and since plumbing requires a five-year apprenticeship, Benjamin Plumbing is working to encourage and train young prospects. This is important to Dale because it’s the best way for him to serve the needs of his loyal customers.
Families in the Dane County area have relied on Benjamin Plumbing’s services for over 50 years, and their large fleet of service trucks ensures plumbing repairs and installations are performed promptly. In addition, Dale counts remodeling contractors among his firm’s loyal clients. Remodeling work offers significant challenges to plumbers, and Benjamin Plumbing is known for clean, quality solutions. Dale has served as president of the NARI Madison chapter, and held roles in NARI National as well. The firm also has strong relationships with commercial contractors and is involved with commercial projects throughout the area.
Benjamin Plumbing continues to sell a full range of products and provide professional advice installation expertise. The internet offers a dizzying selection of plumbing products, making choices difficult. Some consumers make purchase decisions without the advice of plumbing professionals, and Dale’s crews often deal with the poor results. He points out that it’s very difficult for the average consumer to recognize
substandard manufacturing materials or poorly made internal mechanisms.
Informed consumers choose better-quality fixtures that use water carefully and meet the requirements of universal design. Also trending well are on-demand water heaters, radiant floor heat, and snow-melt systems. Large soaking tubs and whirlpools are falling out of favor as quality walk-in showers become popular. Besides being more functional, these showers have zero threshold entrances and the generous space needed to accommodate special needs.
Dale installed universal design features in his own home 16 years ago and thinks they should be standard practice. He recommends minimal-cost updates, such as wider doors, no thresholds, and walk-in showers. “Too often people wait until the need for accessible fixtures becomes an emergency and are forced to make choices under stress.”
Until fairly recently, Dale worked six days a week. Now he’s inspired to establish a better balance. He still likes to come in on the weekends when it’s quiet and work in the shop, like his father once did, but he tempers that with hobbies and visits with his young grandchildren. “As you age, you reflect. My time has more value than it did earlier in my career.”
Although he has no immediate plans to retire, Dale does look ahead to changes in the business and is actively grooming future leaders. He sees the importance of the profession and recognizes the role plumbing plays in protecting the quality of the water we use daily. “Water is a limited resource,” he points out. “We have a responsibility to use it wisely.”
Yvette Jones is president of designCraft Advertising in Madison, and serves on the board of NARI Madison.
NARI members mentioned in this article:
BENJAMIN PLUMBING, INC.
2870 Commerce Park Drive
Fitchburg, WI 53719