COLUMBUS — Steve and Janet Sueper helped shape a new model for Columbus plumbing and drain services when they decided to start their own business nearly four decades ago along 13th Street in a bustling downtown district.
“When we got into business we wanted a showroom, a place to display products and sell to customers off the floor,” said Janet Sueper, who along with her husband, sister Mary and brother-in-law Dale Hegemann opened Steve & Dale’s Plumbing at 2401 13th St. in 1979.
The Suepers became sole owners of the business, now known as Preferred Plumbing and located at 3111 25th St., in 2001.
“It was a new concept that was unique for Columbus at the time. People have their own minds about what they like (in plumbing fixtures and other products). It really set us apart at the beginning and started us off,” Sueper said.
Today, an array of plumbing fixtures and faucets for professional plumbers and do-it-yourselfers line several walls of the showroom space. Other spots in the display area give retail customers a peek at the company’s shower and bath kits and wall tiling and a selection of bathroom vanities.
Product retail sales and reliable service have been the couple’s recipe for expanding the business’ ranks of commercial and residential customers. The business also benefited early on from being the only local dealer for Top Line Plumbing retail products.
“We were the new kid on the block,” Sueper said.
“Steve always had it in the back of his mind that he wanted to start his own business. We were confident and determined ... young and aggressive. We survived and kept going on reliable service,” added the 69-year-old office manager.
If a customer needs assistance after business hours, Steve, a now 70-year-old master plumber, is still there to snake a drain or clear a water or sewer line, Sueper said with a smile while shaking her head at memories of her husband’s history of making service calls.
When a sewer or water line is backed up because of tree roots, the business is equipped with a camera that can pinpoint the problem area, making it easier to get at the bottleneck with a backhoe.
There are still lines out there made of clay tiles or cast iron that can be collapsed or infiltrated by roots, Sueper said. Newer sewer and water lines are made of plastic.
“It can save money in the long run to replace a line with plastic at $2,000 or $3,000 than to pay $250 or $300 every time the line backs up,” Sueper said.
Steve & Dale’s changed its name to Preferred Plumbing in 2001 after Hegemann left because he wanted to focus more on plumbing projects for newly built homes.
Preferred Plumbing, which performs the plumbing work on about a dozen new homes annually, has gotten around over the years.
The business started at the former Columbus Screen Printing building and later moved to a couple of other downtown locations along 13th Street.
“We really liked it downtown, retail sales were really good,” Sueper said.
In 1992, Preferred Plumbing shifted out of downtown and moved to 2480 24th Ave. on the west side of town. The business stayed at the location for nine years, but the building was too roomy for its needs.
“It was just too big for us,” Sueper said.
The business has been located at 3111 25th St. for the last six years, wedged between the Pillen Family Farms offices and Hy-Vee grocery store.
During the past 38 years, the Suepers have built a roster of repeat commercial accounts ranging from Hy-Vee, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Amigos to Sleep Inn Suites and the recently opened Super Buffet Chinese Restaurant and Sushi.
Preferred Plumbing also boasts a sizable list of residential customers who call whenever a plumbing issue arises at home.
“They keep calling us back,” Sueper said. “Our first customer still calls.”
Preferred Plumbing, which employs five plumbers including Steve, also offers other products and services. The business has five trucks, which Sueper jokingly calls moving billboards for Preferred, one for each plumber.
Products and services offered include the sale and installation of Swan and Sterling baths and shower kits, tile wall kits, wall panels, and Moen kitchen and bath accessories. The business also sells and services fireplaces — both gas and electric — water softeners, pure water distillers and water heaters.
The couple is looking to keep busy for the next couple of years before gradually slowing down to spend less time on the job and more time being with their two grown children, Andy and Annette, and grandchildren.
“We’ve got no timetable set,” Sueper said.
She said the couple would like to mark 40 years in business.
They wouldn’t mind if their son, Andy, the father of five children including four boys, is interested in taking the reins of the business down the road.
“Steve started taking Andy out with him on calls when he was young,” Sueper said.
Her now 41-year-old son earned a heating and air conditioning degree at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.
It would be nice if another generation of the family took it over in a few years, but Sueper said the couple would be flexible in working with any potential buyer in the future.