Plumbing business a family affair

'Every time prices go up we have to bite the bullet.'

In a Warwick neighborhood located near T.F. Green Airport, William J. Riley started a plumbing business, working out of the family basement and garage. Thirty-five years later his company is still thriving, a survivor of the many housing booms and busts over the three-plus decades. According to operations director and employee of 24 years, Elizabeth “Liz” Muzzy, the secret to survival is the ability to adjust with the times and the ever-changing market. More

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Plumbing business a family affair

'Every time prices go up we have to bite the bullet.'

PBN PHOTO/NATALJA KENT
ALL IN THE FAMILY: William J. Riley Plumbing & Heating has survived for 35 years as a family-owned business. Pictured above are President William J. Riley and his daughter, Operations Manager Elizabeth Muzzy.
Posted 4/30/12

macshare: Current Issue:04-30-2012 Issue:Scans:043012Mainst.jpgCOMPANY PROFILE

William J. Riley Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc.

OWNER: William J. Riley

TYPE OF BUSINESS: Plumbing, heating

LOCATION: 15 New England Way, Warwick

EMPLOYEES: 10

YEAR ESTABLISHED: 1977

ANNUAL SALES: WND

In a Warwick neighborhood located near T.F. Green Airport, William J. Riley started a plumbing business, working out of the family basement and garage. Thirty-five years later his company is still thriving, a survivor of the many housing booms and busts over the three-plus decades. According to operations director and employee of 24 years, Elizabeth “Liz” Muzzy, the secret to survival is the ability to adjust with the times and the ever-changing market.

In the early days the timing could not have been any better. Founded in April 1977, William J. Riley Plumbing & Heating Co. Inc. slowly gained a reputation and grew. By the mid-1980s the housing market was in full swing; condominium construction was rampant and the company employed as many as 25 people. By 1987, they moved from the home office to a commercial building in Warwick.

Today the company remains a family-owned business. Muzzy, Riley’s daughter, joined the business as a temporarily employee in 1988 and has never left. Husband Mike is a licensed journeyman plumber and pipefitter and serves as company supervisor, job estimator and technical support.

Muzzy’s brother, Michael Riley, has worked there sporadically, returning in 2002 as a purchasing agent and certified backflow tester.

In many ways, their business is dependent on the weather and on the housing market. For the last few months the work has been relatively slow.

“There weren’t a lot of frozen pipes for us to repair and with less boiler use there were less repairs; people weren’t using that much heat,” Muzzy said. Many calls were for regular maintenance and new boiler installations.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession, however, business has been steady and the company has generally maintained employing 10 workers. “We rode the condo phase for awhile and that dried out,” she said.

With only a small amount of new construction available due to the housing recession, the company has relied on its service business. “We’ve been taking care of plumbing items that homeowners can’t do. That keeps us busy. We don’t do plat developments, we don’t compete in that type of market,” she said.

House remodeling jobs are always a welcome addition, such as converting the former St. Timothy Chapel and school into The Residences at Lake Shore, a 14-unit, luxury condominium project. Such work, however, is much-less frequent than six years ago, when they regularly competed for work in custom-designed houses. In the last three years custom design has slowed to only a few projects each year, but that trend appears to be incrementally changing. “We put in bids on projects last year but it’s only now that people are coming up with the money,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s industrial, residential or commercial, we’ve got some talented people here.”

The company performs a vast array of services throughout the Ocean State and portions of Attleboro and North Attleboro. For the last three years the company has operated out of 15 New England Way in Warwick, and business throughout that time has been steady.

What has never changed is the company’s commitment to service and dedication to customers. “When it comes to getting calls when someone has no heat, we’re there,” she said. “We try not to work around the clock but we do what we can.”

One new development as of late is the growing desire to convert oil services to natural gas due to rising oil prices and cheaper gas. In addition, the economic climate is slowly improving; jobs that were put on hold are now on the drawing table again. “I’m hoping some of the bids we did in the past will hopefully come to fruition. Decision-making isn’t as quick as in the past, people are still a little concerned,” Muzzy said.

One factor that is due to affect business is the price of gasoline and diesel fuel, a swiftly increasing expense for the company’s five trucks. “Every time prices go up we have to bite the bullet. It can get pretty expensive,” she said. “There are a lot of things behind the scenes, a lot of overhead; licenses, insurances and equipment, the service truck is like a mobile warehouse, and we still make house calls,” Muzzy said.

Like many small businesses, costs associated with taxes, worker’s compensation and health care can be daunting. “We want to keep our employees and we want to cover them but it is very expensive,” she said. “We’ve muddled through the highs and lows, made it through some tough times and now I want to move things forward,” she said.

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