Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Surf's Up

  • Entrepreneurs
  • Share

Tab Hunter is no surfer dude.

But Hunter, a plumber in an entrepreneur's clothing, plans to ride the surfer's lifestyle to radical success in the business of fixing people's sinks and toilets. Hunter's concept: The Surfin' Plumbers.

The Manatee County-based company is standard plumbing on the inside. It does everything from re-piping to drain cleaning.

But on the outside, the company is all about the surf. Ocean vistas adorn the side of the trucks and surfboards sit on top. Employees wear Hawaiian shirts and khakis. The script for answering the phones is surfer-themed, and employees are supposed to learn surfer lingo.

For example, there's Kona Kathy, who says mahalo, Hawaiian for thank you, to start all calls. A few plumbers are partial to aloha, which technically translates to affection and love.

“We are always going to be neat, clean and professional,” says Hunter, otherwise known as the firm's Kahuna. “But we are also going to be fun.”

The Surfin' Plumbers isn't a startup. It's a rebranding of Pritchard Plumbing, a 30-year-old company with 23 employees and 19 trucks.

Hunter bought the company from Bradenton businessman Alan Martin in September. Hunter declined to disclose the price he paid for the business, which services Sarasota and Manatee counties. Company founder Tim Pritchard remains with the business as the general manager — the Big Kahuna.

Hunter, 42, has been in plumbing since 1986, when he worked for a company in his native Nashville. In 1992, he opened Tab Hunter Plumbing, which he grew into a 35-employee, $5 million (annual revenues) business through 2004.

Sarasota-based Clockwork Home Services, a company of home-repair franchises, bought Hunter's business in 2006. Hunter and his family moved to Sarasota after the acquisition, where he was hired onto Clockwork's executive management team.

Hunter left Clockwork in 2009. He spent time with his wife and three daughters. He had long lunches. But he grew bored of the retiree's lifestyle.

“Ever since I sold my business back in Nashville and worked in the corporate world, I've had a vision to create a unique plumbing company,” says Hunter. “We wanted to give our customers a unique experience like nothing they'd ever seen before, so they can say, 'I actually enjoyed my plumbing visit.'”

Hunter says he has already spent at least $150,000 to turn Pritchard into The Surfin' Plumbers, which includes repainting the trucks, redoing the building and training. That's significantly more than he spent on marketing when he ran the plumbing business in Nashville.

The surfing theme extends beyond house calls, too. Hunter set up a Club Kahuna, which the company will use for marketing and branding at community events and home shows. The club is open to the public; members can attend The Surfin' Plumbers surfer-style parties. The company also sells The Surfin' Plumbers merchandise, from hats and shirts to Frisbees.

Another far-out move by Hunter with The Surfin' Plumbers is he has no plans to advertise in the Yellow Pages — at one time the only way for plumbers to reach customers. He plans to use social media and Internet search engines to generate business.

Hunter himself isn't a surfer. In fact, the first time he rode the waves was last summer on vacation in California, after he came up with the idea for the business. He took lessons mostly so he could have pictures of the experience.

“[Surfin' Plumbers] is a name that sticks in people's minds,” Hunter says. “We won't be the largest and most dominant plumbing company, but we want to be the most recognized.”


Related Articles

  • July 18, 2014
Bust Through
  • February 4, 2011
In Good Time
  • May 31, 2013
Ride the wave