Plumbing company creates pipeline back to community

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published March 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 15, 2013 at 11:08 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Rick Bonte, from the left, Elwen Guthrie and Ronnie Carroll, owners of City Plumbing, Heating & Electric Inc. in Hot Springs, donate $1,150 of the company’s money to charity every month.

— “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” Sir Winston Churchill said.

Some people have taken the statement to heart as a personal motto, but the three owners of City Plumbing, Heating & Electric Inc. in Hot Springs have adopted Churchill’s proverb as a corporate strategy.

Each month, the company donates $1,150 to a charity or nonprofit organization in Garland County. The recipient of the gift is selected by the company’s employees.

“We are a service company, and this is just another way for us to help people and to help the people who are helping others in the community,” said Elwen Guthrie, one of the company’s owners.

Another City Plumbing owner, Rick Bonte, called the company’s giving a win, win, win program.

“First, we get to give back to the community and help these organizations to do so much for people,” he said.

Bonte said the employees appreciate the chance to take part in the program.

“We had a trainer that gave everyone an assignment once. He wanted the employees to tell why they enjoyed working here,” Bonte said. “We were surprised and very proud to learn that having a voice in the giving was something that made them proud as well. They feel they are doing something right.”

In addition, Bonte admitted that City Plumbing’s efforts to help charities and aid organizations have earned it the goodwill of the community, and in turn, have helped bring in business.

The idea of creating a giving program came from a magazine article the owners read in September 2009, but it was owner Ronnie Carroll who decided the company should take action.

“I read this article in Compass, the magazine for Success Group International,” Carroll said. “The times were bad, and some of the nonprofits were shutting down because the recession was cutting down on their funds. That was the reason we started, to give back to the community that has helped us a bunch.”

Where the money was going was a decision left up to the entire company.

“Leaving it up to the employees seemed like the thing to do,” Bonte said.

One or twice a month, a representative from a nonprofit service organization will come to a company meeting.

“The employees listen as the organization makes a pitch — it’s a team thing,” Carroll said. “It gets folks involved.”

Guthrie said the program is more effective with the employees involved. She said it is much more than just giving the money.

“We took it to the employees because we wanted them to see the important things going on in the community and learn about the nonprofits, to learn what they do for people,” Guthrie said. “We wanted them to buy into it.”

She said the information also goes back into the community.

“When our people are doing work in someone’s home, Guthrie said, “they often talk about the giving we have done, and that’s really good for us.”

When City Plumbing started its giving program, the amount changed every month.

“We charge a service fee of $49 for every job we do, and we were giving $10 of that fee for the gift fund,” Bonte said. “In July 2010, we bought a heating and air-conditioning company, and it became harder to keep up with the service fees. We came up with the average we had been giving, which was $1,150, and now we give that amount each month.

The company’s first gift was in November 2009 to the Charitable Christian Medical Clinic, which provides health care help to those in Hot Springs who have no health insurance and cannot afford to see a doctor or to purchase medication.

“Beyond that first gift,” Carroll said, “we help them anyway we can. We will do work there just for the cost of the equipment needed.”

Next came a gift to the Jackson House food pantry in Hot Springs. By now, the company has given 42 monthly gifts totaling almost $50,000. The February gift went to Low Key Arts, the organization that sponsors the Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival.

The March gift is to the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation for scholarships that will give Garland County students and teachers an opportunity to take part in the Sister City International educational exchange with Hanamaki, Hot Springs’ Sister City in Japan.

The next one has not yet been decided, Bonte said.

Carroll said there are several nonprofit groups that the company wants to support in the future. He hopes representatives from the organizations will make presentations to the employees.

While the three current owners did not create City Plumbing, they have been with the company a long time.

Carroll joined the company in 1991.

“My in-laws owned the company, and they started it in 1990, just a few months before I came to work for them,” he said.

A native of Tioga, La., Carroll first came to Hot Springs as a member of the Job Corps in 1979.

“They brought me here, and I have been here ever since,” he said. “What first kept me here were the mountains and the tall trees. We didn’t have that at home.”

Bonte moved to Hot Springs from Iowa after a visit.

“I had my own business in Iowa, and one of my wholesale suppliers had a deal where you could get a free trip,” he said. “It was winter and cold, and things were slow, so my wife and I came here because I heard you could canoe in the winter in Arkansas.

“The daffodils were blooming, and we just loved the place, so I sold the business, and we moved here.”

Bonte joined City Plumbing in 1999.

Guthrie grew up near Russellville and moved to Hot Springs with her husband in 1995.

“We were starting a church, but in 1997, my husband died with a heart attack when he was very young,” she said. “I had started work here in the office before he died, and I stayed.”

She said she had a bookkeeping background and was the office manager.

“I came to work here because Dixie Gossett, one of the owners, was one of my teachers at Plainview High School.

When Carroll’s father-in-law retired, Carroll, Bonte and Guthrie purchased his share of the company.

“When he retired and the chance to buy into the company came up, we figured we needed all three of us to make it work,” Guthrie said.

They became half owners of the company in 2005 and purchased the remaining half when Guthrie’s former teacher retired in 2007.

The owners and their company have won statewide recognition for their charitable work, and just a week ago, Carroll traveled to Las Vegas, where he was presented an award for community involvement from the organization that published the magazine that gave the owners the idea of giving in the first place.

Guthrie said she hopes the company can give to every aid organization in the community.

“Then we’ll just start over, I guess,” she said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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