Seeking to grow, Charlie’s Plumbing taps into the beer market


Many companies are trying to tap into new ideas to grow their business. Charlie’s Plumbing’s latest venture involves literal taps, the kind that produces beer.

The Houston-based company, which previously focused on installing and maintaining commercial and industrial plumbing, recently launched Draft Horse, a new division that installs and services faucet systems for bars and restaurants.

“We started Draft Horse because, fundamentally, it’s like the plumbing of beer. It’s the delivery of fluids, ”said President and CEO Merrill Crawford. “We thought it was a lot like what we’re already doing. “

Founded by Charlie Crawford, Merrill Crawford’s late husband, in 1979, Charlie’s Plumbing focuses almost exclusively on commercial and industrial projects, with around 5% of its work in residential plumbing.

“We have a strong focus on school districts, government entities and a lot of commercial properties, restaurant chains – anything that is considered commercial. The majority of our business is repeat business, ”she said.

In addition to installing and maintaining plumbing systems, the company offers 24/7 emergency service.

“If you call us at 1 am and need two crews and backhoes to fix a broken pipe underground, we’ll be there in an hour. We work most nights and weekends, ”Crawford said.

When it came time for Charlie’s expansion, Crawford said, the company wanted to avoid entering heating and cooling or sprinkler systems, the routes most commercial plumbers take. “It didn’t work for us,” she said. “We like to do healthier things. “

Hire an expert

With bars and restaurants already making up a large portion of Charlie’s clientele, Crawford saw a demand for installation and maintenance of beer tap systems.

The company hired Aaron Hill, an expert in traction systems, and formed Draft Horse, a separate division that operates throughout Southeast Texas, including Beaumont, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and into the city. from Lubbock, Texas.

In addition to installing, maintaining and repairing draft beer systems, the new division serves those who distribute wine, cocktails and other beverages. The company also offers a regularly scheduled draft line cleaning service, which Crawford says is key to ensuring beer from the tap tastes exactly the brewer’s taste.

“There’s a lot of stuff about the draft that most people don’t understand,” Crawford said. “Most people don’t realize that the lines in the draft beer system need to be cleaned and cleaned very well. »Poorly cleaned lines can produce frothy beer or breed bacteria.

Draft Horse struggled to gain a foothold out of the gate, opening in March 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States and forced most restaurants and bars to close.

“Every bar in the world has closed which has made a huge difference,” Crawford said. “It’s like, OK, now what do we do?” “

First, the team helped inactive bars shut down their systems and, when lockouts relaxed, restart them.

The draft horse division also adapted quickly. “We asked our guys from the draft system to learn plumbing,” she said. The move paid off when office building owners began replacing water fountains with contactless water bottle filling stations.

Today, 18 months after opening at the start of a devastating pandemic, Draft Horse business has picked up and Crawford believes the good times will continue to roll for the faucet business.

Chance to be creative

Bars and restaurants that have survived the pandemic are spending money to upgrade their systems to protect the health of their customers. They’re also trying out new ideas, like dedicated taps for pre-mixed cocktails and self-service beer taps.

After Texas changed laws to make it easier for bar patrons to serve their own drinks, some Draft Horse customers asked the company to install an all-you-can-eat beer system, where patrons swipe their cards from credit and help themselves to the drink of their choice. Crawford said.

“One of the things that’s interesting for us in the draft business is that there’s an opportunity to be a lot more creative than you can be on the plumbing side,” Crawford said. “There are a lot of cool things we can do with metals, taps and towers and different designs that are beautiful. So far, we haven’t had to say to anyone, “No, we can’t do this. “

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