Blue-collar life: Grass Valley plumber takes pride in working with his hands to help people
June 4, 2017
He's a plumber who dresses like a businessman. For Ben Elliott, owner of Elliott's Blue Collar Plumbing, it's all about the honor and pride of being a blue collar worker.
"I believe appearance matters. You'll always see me wearing a tucked-in, buttoned-up shirt and clean shoes. A clean appearance shows I'm a man of integrity. First impressions are invaluable," he said. "That speaks to people when I show up in a clean truck, looking presentable. It assuages people's concerns about allowing a stranger into their home."
The 35 year old has strong convictions about work and ethics. It's why he named his company Elliott's Blue Collar Plumbing when he opened the business in 2013.
"I identify with blue collar workers and what blue collar stands for. It's working with your hands to help people and produce a quality product for a living wage," he said. "I think working with your hands goes in pair with integrity and grounding. It is humbling to have to fight every day to get up and work hard, to get after it, make something happen, turn a lick.
“I feel America is letting ourselves down by not incorporating more trade schools and training youth in skilled blue-collar professions instead of dot.com-style work.” Ben Elliott
"I like working with my hands because I feel like I'm getting something done. It's an honest profession and I can see results," he continued. "I can help people and fix their problems … their plumbing problems anyway."
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Longer view than a 'quick buck'
Some customers say Elliott has been known not to charge for a plumbing job because it was too simple. He'll also tell a homeowner when whatever he or she called about doesn't need to be fixed. Sometimes Elliott extends his generosity just because others need it.
"I don't think you have to get paid for everything you do. Developing a relationship with a customer is more important than a quick buck when it comes to career longevity," he said. "I want to be known in Nevada County as a fair, honest person in addition to a good plumber. There are a lot of people that need help with their household plumbing. It's nice to own my business and allow people to make payments every once in a while if someone needs it, or reduce my cost if people are under a financial burden."
It's not hard to find loyal customers of Elliott's Blue Collar Plumbing.
"There was one time we called Ben about a clog, but by the time he arrived we'd been able to clear it so he didn't charge us at all," recalled Vesta Kosin of Grass Valley. "There have been other times that he didn't charge us because it was a quick job. When he does charge us, it's always reasonable. He does quality work and he's always on time."
Bob Rhodes has hired Elliott to perform plumbing jobs at his Grass Valley home and two rental houses.
"I am very impressed with Ben's work ethic and the quality and care he takes with a job. He's very conscientious about his work," Rhodes said. "He explains the options and what he's doing. His prices are very fair as well."
All but one of Elliott's different careers have involved blue-collar labor, including wildland firefighting and construction.
Learning on the job
It was while he was working construction that he saw Britt Penrose, owner of Penrose Plumbing in Grass Valley, performing miracles with pipes.
"He was putting the pipes together and fitting a waste system," recalled Elliott, who was 22 at the time. "It was pretty cool seeing things get put together. I didn't know anything about plumbing, but I enjoyed watching him assemble and sweat copper. Plumb and level appealed to my type A personality. Everything has to be tidy with me, and plumb and level."
Elliott immediately asked if he could work with Penrose, who agreed. Elliott worked as an apprentice for six years.
"Ben was pretty young at the time," Penrose said. "He's a good friend. He calls me his 'brother.' He's a good family man and a great person. He made me a sign about how I taught him to be a good businessman and thanked me for teaching him how to be an outstanding plumber. He's done real well for himself."
The one and only position Elliott said he has held that didn't involve manual labor was selling cars during his high school days.
"That took me down a path of questionable ethics," Elliott said. "I didn't like that so I went back to blue-collar trades."
Elliott is passionate and serious about the blue collar lifestyle.
Back to blue collar
"Nevada County has been a blue collar community. In the past, it was mining and logging, then building," Elliott said. "I feel America is letting ourselves down by not incorporating more trade schools and training youth in skilled blue-collar professions instead of dot.com-style work."
Born and raised in Nevada County, Elliott said he appreciates the area's rural lifestyle. His wife, Jayme, is a hair stylist, and the couple is raising their two daughters here. Although he works long and hard, Elliott is committed to attending parental events at the girls' school. He makes being a good father a priority, even though he works about 20 hours longer each week than the normal 40-hour work week.
"Forty hours was my first part-time job," he laughed.
Elliott said he doesn't want to work for any of the big plumbing chains, no matter how much money he might make.
"Some plumbers work for companies that don't care as much about the job as they do the check at the end of the day," said Elliott. "It's a job to them. To me, it's my life."
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
Elliott’s Blue Collar Plumbing
Ben Elliott, Owner
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