Plumbing

Plunjr brings plumbing fixes to video chat throughout coronavirus

Half Moon Bay’s Plunjr provides an innovative way to solve installation problems amid the coronavirus pandemic and could potentially change the industry’s business model.

The recently launched mobile app uses live video calling to help customers troubleshoot their own installation problems instead of sending a plumber home. The app gives people instant access to union technicians and minimizes the chance of coronavirus exposure at a lower cost.

“This will make good things in the communities and forever change the way people do plumbing,” said co-founder Aaron Gianni.

Plunjr’s prices are low compared to traditional plumbers, who cost an average of $ 500 for a personal visit to the Bay Area, said Andrew Turner, co-founder of Plunjr.

Plunjr’s video calls cost an average of $ 45 based on $ 3 per minute for 15 minute calls. Until the orders from Shelter-in-Place are canceled, the app lowers its price to one cent per minute. However, customers will also have to pay for parts that can be shipped or picked up at any of the 1,500 Ferguson Plumbing Supply Stores in the country.

After 18 months of coding and building the app, Plunjr started a beta test in December. The company has more than 200 customers and the founders believe that usage will increase as people try more home improvement projects during the pandemic.

The company is not profitable, but Gianni hopes to be profitable by next year and would have to make an average of 100 calls a day to meet the goal. He wants to make an average of 500 calls per day by 2022 and 1,000 calls per day by 2023.

Plunjr hopes to build a network of partners across the country and is in talks with Ben Franklin Plumbing in Novato.

“I know that sounds like a lot, but Larratt Bros. makes 50 calls a week with two plumbers,” said Gianni. “If we can use it to build a network of plumbing companies and put a tool in their bucket, we can expand nationwide.”

Gianni, 38, has been a plumber since 2001 and bought Larratt Bros. Plumbing from Bayview in 2014. Gianni and Turner have not drawn on borrowed funds in the past three years and have invested approximately $ 500,000 of their own money.

“That’s a lot of money for two guys scratching around,” said Gianni. “I haven’t sat around 500 grand. I’ve given up a second home and other investments. Those 500 giants could probably have made me a lot better on the stock market. “

Gianni’s parents owned and operated a restaurant supply store and a rubble removal company when he was a child.

Gianni drives to work every day at 4 a.m. with the radio muted and a cup of coffee in hand. The idea for Plunjr came to him during one of those silent journeys when he was working as a plumber in 2017.

He called Turner, who had a background in technology sales including approximately 11 years for AT&T and for the cloud-based video conferencing service BlueJeans Network. The two met at Half Moon Bay Brewing Company and in front of the fireplace Gianni presented the idea on a cocktail napkin.

“There really is something here,” Turner thought to himself.

Despite a mortgage and three young daughters, Turner decided to work for Gianni.

About a year and a half ago, Gianni received a call around 4 p.m. on a Friday. One woman had a problem with her tap and needed immediate help at her Palo Alto home before a party was scheduled for the next day.

Gianni knew he couldn’t get to Palo Alto from San Francisco to diagnose the problem, buy the parts, and complete the repair before business hours. He asked the woman to make a FaceTime call. He talked her through the repair.

“After I finished that call, I said, ‘I have to take care of this,'” he said.

A customer downloads the app, creates a profile, and can either speak to a technician right away or schedule a video call. The plumber tells the client where to point the camera phone so the problem can be diagnosed and coaching can begin.

Only by holding a pencil as a reference can Gianni tell the difference between the supply lines of a quarter, three eighths and five eighths.

The technician guides the customer through the repair or explains the parts required. A follow-up video call can then be scheduled to complete the project.

If the customer still can’t fix the problem, Plunjr sends a plumber. But most calls don’t get that far, according to the company.

Kathy Winslow, a retired hospital administrator from Boston, moved to the Bay Area about 10 years ago. In January her dishwasher was bubbling water so she used the app.

Gianni approached Winslow’s husband by pulling the dishwasher away from the wall and reconnecting a hose while she operated the camera phone. The problem was solved within 30 minutes.

“That’s one of the beauties,” said Winslow. “You call, you get an answer and you will be helped immediately.”

Rusty Simmons is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: rsimmons@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron

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