Service Contractor Kelly Schols: A Story Of Self-Examination And Success

Kelly ScholsBy Kelly Schols - President, CPI Plumbing and Heating, Mount Vernon, WA

Growing up in a little town in the northwest corner of Washington state on a dairy farm was not my idea of what I wanted for my future. So at the age of 16 when I got a chance to go to work for a plumbing company I thought I was in the big time. I had no idea where this would take me but anything was better than working on a dairy farm.

I worked all through high school doing everything from sweeping floors and dumping trash cans in the office and warehouse to running service calls. When I graduated high school (barely) I went to work full time in the office doing purchasing and estimating.

At the age of 21 I decided it was time to broaden my horizons and see what the world had to offer, so I moved to southern California. After 3 years of partying and going nowhere fast one my old bosses offered me a job and opportunity to buy into his plumbing company. At 24 I decided it was time to grow up and become responsible. In January of 1990 I moved back to Washington and bought into his company as a minority partner and went to work learning everything I could about the plumbing business.

In April of 2002 he decided to retire and sell me the company. When I bought him out in 2002 we were mainly a new construction company and the economy was in a downturn due to September 11 2001.

Not knowing what I was going to do or how I was going to do it, I turned to my brother who was very successful in the automotive business. He told me that if I wanted to succeed in life and business the first thing I needed to do was go to work on myself. I bought some motivational/self-help tapes from Brian Tracy and was out to improve myself and my business.

Over the next few years things did improve and I was living the American dream, I had a beautiful family, wife and 2 daughters, owned my own business, built our dream home and had a vacation home.

At that time my company was 85% new construction and 15% service doing around 6 million dollars a year with double digit profits. In 2007 while talking with one of my partners and now general manager we figured the economy and new construction could not sustain itself the way it was so we re-branded ourselves from Commercial Plumbing Inc. to CPI Plumbing and Heating and shifted our main focus from new construction to service.

During this process of changing our company’s focus we dropped out of the union in 2008. All was good, the service department was growing and we were making good money.

Then at the end of 2009 the failing economy finally hit the Pacific Northwest and we went from doing around 6 million a year and making good money to making 3 million a year and just paying the bills.

Adding to the burden, in 2010 I got a notice in the mail that we owed the union pension over half a million dollars for dropping out of the union pension plan. I hired an attorney only to find out there was nothing we could do but pay the liability or rejoin the union. Even rejoining did not guarantee that we would not have to pay.

Again, not knowing how we would survive or what I was going to do, I did the only thing I knew and that was to reengage myself into self-improvement to better myself as a person and leader and to make my company stronger.

We joined Service Roundtable and while at a meeting in Las Vegas I meet one of my future mentors Kenny Chapman.

Through a lot of planning, strategy, hard work and determination we paid the union off in June of 2012. All was good again, the company and service department were growing and making money and life at home could not have been better.

Then on September 9th 2012 while boating in the beautiful San Juan Islands with my wife and close friends my wife passed away expectantly from an unknown heart condition. Here I was again at a crossroads in my life. Not knowing what to do, I once again did the only thing I knew and buried myself deep into any self-improvement I could find and turned to one of my mentors and now good friend Kenny Chapman. I bought all the self-improvement material he had and went to work to get through this crossroad in my life.

In 2012 CPI Plumbing and Heating received the Plumber of the Year award at the Service Roundtable International Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. As of today CPIs service department is seeing 25-30% growth in revenue while maintaining 15% plus in net profit.

I know this journey is not over. I know there will be hurdles to cross and there will victories to celebrate. I also know that I would not be where I am today without the help of others. I have learned that no matter what our challenges, growth begins within.

I am proud to now be a regular contributor to the Blue Collar Success Group weekly newsletter. In future articles I will share with you what is working in our business, the challenges we face, how we overcome and what it takes to find the successes along the way. Giving back and helping others is now a part of my personal journey. Thank you for taking the ride with me.

  • Mike Nicolai

    Thanks for sharing Kelly! Looking forward to reading more!

  • Powerful story Kelly. Enjoyed reading it. Looking forward to hearing from you again!.

  • You have a great bit of value and benefit to give others. It is an honor to share the journey with you.

  • Hi Kelly, Your story made me choke up. You have had some huge adversity to overcome and this gives me inspiration. I am in need of a kidney transplant and my wife (also my business partner) is going to be my donor. We are going through all the testing phases now and hope to get this done in the very near future. Our problem seems small to what you had to endure and like you, I am so very thankful for Service Nation and all the people that I have met as a result. Kenny as well. I am trying to build our plumbing department so look forward to anything that can help us. We have 2 plumbers on staff and looking to grow it. We have 7 Hvac techs and are fairly well positioned in the heating/cooling market so I think we can capitalize that market and help our plumbing division. I would love to be able to connect with you as we are not that far apart. We are in Kelowna, BC and I have driven through there many times on our way to Seattle to watch the Hawks!!. I can be reached at 250-258-8889 (cell) or my business # 250-862-5199. Are you going to Vegas in April? as I will be there.


    Joe Gerolami
    Border Plumbing,Heating & Air.

  • I hear you Kelly! I started my HVAC/R/P business in 1982. Mountain tops & valleys! I’ve had some huge challenges, from economy to the every present personnel issues. We have some new competition. They are a union shop, and have lured four of my techs away and taken many large commercial accounts from us. This is not fun! But I’m not a quitter, and believe that the Man Upstairs keeps score and evens it all out eventually. But it is not easy. You’re correct about it all begins with me. My attitude changed from fear and anger, to determination. I am thankful for what we do have, and am determined to rise above this situation. To take great care of our remaining commercial customers, and to gain new ones. To refocus on exceptional customer service, training, and to praise our great techs that stuck with us. This too shall pass. It’s our time! Thanks for the encouragement.

  • kelly schols

    It was great meeting you in Vegas. As I said in Vegas you are more than welcome to stop by any time you are passing through.
    If I can do anything for you in the mean time please don’t hesitate to call anytime. Hope all your testing has gone well and you can move forward with your kidney transplant. will be thinking about you and your wife as you go through that journey.

    Be Great

  • kelly schols

    Keep up the awesome attitude and determination and remember you are not in this alone. Look to others who have been there and done it and surround yourself with the right people and you are right this shall pass. And when it does pass you will be stronger as a person, leader and company.

    Be Great

  • Keep on writing, great job!

  • awesome story and journey thru life, plus what an inspiration for others.
    I’m looking forward to seeing you and brad at live look.