Celebration Marks Master Plumber’s 70 Years of Service
Dec 9, 2005 7:40 a.m.

By Cynthia Vinarsky

STRUTHERS, Ohio -- When a do-it-yourselfer calls Crogan Plumbing & Heating Supplies Inc. with a question, there’s usually an expert on hand to take the call. 

At 81, master plumber Joseph Crogan Sr. loves to solve plumbing problems, and he still works four days a week at the business his father founded in 1907.

“When we get somebody on the phone with a question, we just put Dad on the line,” says Christine Crogan, who shares ownership of the Struthers plumbing supply shop with her husband, Joseph Crogan Jr. “You can’t get advice like that at one of those big chain stores.”

The longtime family enterprise celebrated Crogan Sr.’s birthday and his lifetime of service to the company with an open house Thursday.

Crogan Sr. says he’s been working at the plumbing business since he was in sixth grade, and he enjoys it too much to stop now. “I work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then I take off a couple days to see how the old people live,” he jokes.

What he likes best about plumbing is that the trade has allowed him to meet so many people. 

“I could go into people’s homes where they’re relaxed, people on all levels of society, and see how they really live,” he explains. “I’ve always gotten a kick out of how somebody could have a whole bunch of degrees and not know a thing about plumbing.”

Crogan recalls that his father, Thomas Crogan Sr., started the plumbing business on the back porch of the family’s home on Youngstown’s South Side. The company founder used to ride the streetcar to do his house calls, toting his plumbing tools in a large carpetbag.

The octogenarian worked in the business until his junior year at Ursuline High School when he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He served three years during World War II, then returned home and began his plumber apprenticeship training. “Plumbing is all I ever wanted to do,” he says, grinning. 

He’s seen plumbing materials change dramatically over the years, from lead, to cast iron, to copper to plastic. He remembers when plumbers used a torch to melt lead, using the molten liquid to seal pipes -- now, plumbers just use a special kind of glue. 

The family’s business moved several times in its 98 years, including a 50-year stint on Oak Hill next to St. Patrick’s Church in Youngstown. In 1989 it moved to its present location at 5821 Poland-Struthers Road. 

Over time, the business has evolved to focus on retail and wholesale merchandising of plumbing supplies. Selling parts wholesale to nursing homes, hotels, apartment complexes and hospitals makes up about half the company’s sales, Crogan says.

An online division Crogan Jr. and his wife started after they bought the business in the mid-1990s brings in about 5% of the company’s sales, including an international clientele. Government officials in Seoul, Korea, for example, have become regular customers, buying parts for plumbing fixtures in the municipal buildings there.

“Some of our Internet customers live in out-of-the-way places where they can’t easily go to a store to get parts,” Crogan Jr. says. “They can e-mail me a photo of the part they need and we can usually find it.”

Crogan Jr. says the business owners have learned to compete with the big box hardware chain stores by concentrating on inventory larger stores aren’t likely to have. The chains stock huge selections of faucets, for example, and their sales volume helps them keep prices down.

“They dominate in that area, we call it a category killer. They crush everyone else,” he says. 

Instead of trying to match the big box selection and price levels in those categories, the Crogans offer a basic selection of plumbing supplies and an extensive inventory of repair parts. The store stocks 25,000 parts. 

Having Crogan Sr. available to provide customer advice is another advantage.

“We’re doing well,” Crogan Jr. says, “because we know our business better than the big guys know their business.”

Visit Crogan Plumbing Supply at www.crogan.com