I came into this trade a real greenhorn.
It happened abruptly — I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to try something new. Little did I know then that the path I’m on now would be so affected by some very special mentors. Heck, I didn’t even know what “hydronics” meant back then, but, now, it’s both a passion and a profession.
At the time, I was 20 years old, working for my father in the family pizza shop. It felt like I was there for an eternity, as I can remember waiting on customers at the age of 11.
We always had the local plumbing contractors coming into the restaurant and they watched me — the kid behind the counter — grow up from afar. I was so short that I had to stand on cases of sauce just to see above the register.
One of the guys who frequented my parents’ restaurant was a fun guy, though I wouldn’t classify him as funny. I was considering asking him for a job because I wanted to work for someone who put as much pride in his work as my parents did in their business. After all, I was serious about taking an important step ahead.
He hired me, but boy what a culture shock it was. I went from operating a family business, working each day with pretty girls, to grunt work at a new construction job site alongside men who were . . . well, let’s say, blunt. Man, did I feel out of place.
But, at heart, I was an entrepreneur in the rough, and I was eager to find the right direction. I knew that if I was to own a business someday, I’d also need a good education and a master license. So, I started a plumbing apprentice program. But, still, for years, I felt out of place. I looked at things a little differently than my peers and didn’t know many people in the trades. But the recurring thought was to simply stay focused and move ahead — in Italian, that’s the meaning of the word “Avanti,” which became my theme, and, ultimately, the name of my enterprise.
Whew, it was a lot of work to earn that plumbing license, so when I finally had it in my hands, I decided it was time to be my own boss.
Over the next few years, there were some tough lessons. Among them, I learned of the need to build and groom relationships with my customer base — each home and business owner, sometimes to over-service them, too. I also decided that being a good plumber wasn’t enough; I recognized the need to dive into air conditioning and hydronics, forcefully.
But, how? Where did I start?
Local supply houses were always promoting their abilities to train technicians for every type and variety of skill — from basic technology and installation or retrofit techniques to much more detailed, difficult work. I made the decision to take advantage of as many training opportunities as possible. It’s pretty amazing to see what sort of professional training is available for little or no cost with incredibly diverse topics that vary from business management to the basics of pump selection for hydronic systems. On occasion, these lessons all occurred in the same training session. After all, as we learn to perform certain things with greater knowledge and efficiency, we improve the bottom line.
Five or six years ago, and well into my push to learn at every opportunity, I met and came to know a guy who’s since become an incredibly important mentor. And, through him, the world of hydronics seemed to unfold like one of those National Geographic videos of a plant growing: the ground breaks, a shoot extends, leaves pop out, and, before you know it, a tree takes root and develops. That’s how it seems in hindsight.
I’d signed up for a hydronics 101 class at Duff Co., a local supply house in my area. The instructor had come in from Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based B.J. Terroni Co. Inc., a manufacturer’s rep firm. His name: Anthony Reikow. I’m still learning from him each day.
I look back at that first encounter, seeing now that his personal teaching style — forceful, fun, and with incredible knowledge and passion — was the bridge I was looking for. He seemed to have it all at his fingertips.
Through my years in the trade, I’d never met a person like him. There was a strong connection, and so I made it a point to introduce myself and to get to know the guy. “Ant” has since become a personal friend — to me and others in my family — and I can attribute much of what I’ve learned professionally to the guy who, just a few years ago, was a chance encounter at a supply house. Needless to say, I signed up for more Reikow courses. I’ve now been to dozens of them.
As I became more knowledgeable, I also became more confident as a professional. That confidence made it possible for me to strengthen all facets of my life; things were really beginning to come together. I’m a strong believer that if you can visualize it, you can materialize it, and that’s what happened. Looking back, I’d be flattered if someone felt like that about me some day. This man has changed my life in more ways than he’ll ever know.
Professionally, as I grew in confidence, I lost my reluctance to take on various larger jobs because I knew that Reikow and B.J. Terroni would help me deliver. I tapped them routinely, especially in the beginning.
I was just a young guy trying to make strides into a solid profession, unsure of where the path was and what I’d find along the way. Through an amazing mentorship, it seemed like a very large weight was lifted off my shoulders. My wish for others is that they can find a person with that level of importance and impact.
They’re out there; those amazingly skilled, knowledgeable, helpful, naturally good people who are eager to offer assistance. Heck, through my success, he succeeds, too. So, it’s a win-win. I wish many more of us would have an Anthony Reikow in their lives; it would improve things for all of us in the trades.
My advice for you is to open yourselves to a mentor. Seek one out and allow it to develop you professionally. A lot of good can come from it.
Publication date: 8/31/2015