Perseverance & patience: From the Bay Area to Nevada County, the journey of Andrew Twidwell and his business | TheUnion.com

Perseverance & patience: From the Bay Area to Nevada County, the journey of Andrew Twidwell and his business

Lorraine Jewett
Special to The Union

ABT Plumbing, Electric, Heating & Air is the brainchild of Andrew Twidwell, whose grit and determination launched the business, rescued it from the Great Recession, and grew it into one of Nevada County's most successful and well-known businesses.

Twidwell's story is one of perseverance and patience. He was born and raised in San Francisco. His father was a general contractor, and Twidwell fondly remembers the hours he spent in his father's garage/shop.

"When I was just five years old, I was my dad's 'gofer,'" said Twidwell. "I'd go for tools, go for this, go for that. I learned a lot, and it gave me a good foundation about how things work."

Learning the ropes

Twidwell became a jack of all trades: electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing, and more. His father trained and challenged him.

"When I was 13, he left me with a bucket of mud, tape and a trowel at a job site," said Twidwell. "It took me a couple of days, but he was happy.

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"One time he said, 'I need you to run this job.' I had no idea how to run a crew of five guys. I'm sure I did a terrible job, but we got the project done."

At that time, Twidwell's father was paying him, but not a lot and not consistently. The ambitious teenager hit the pavement.

"I got a job at 18 working for a plumber and it was great because he paid me every week instead of whenever there was money left over, which is when I'd get paid by my dad," he said.

Twidwell worked in plumbing and construction for more than a decade. The staff at one of the companies was quite eclectic.

"My boss was from Chicago, an old hippy artist," said Twidwell. "The service manager was a Buddhist and actor who became a plumber. Another guy was a Zen Buddhist with his own cult. Even though I was a punk rocker with four earrings, I was the conservative one."

One day, the owner announced he was closing the company because profits were languishing.

"Well, two of us had been reading business books and we asked him to give us a chance to fix things," said Twidwell. "We turned the business around and doubled its size. We should have tried to buy it before we fixed it, because after that the owner wanted a lot of money for the company."

Nevada County bound

By then, Twidwell had a wife and two children. He decided to move his family away from the Bay Area and its skyrocketing housing costs. But his move to Nevada County in 2000 came with its own sticker shock: he took a 50 percent pay cut.

"I wasn't making enough money to pay for health insurance or the mortgage, and bills were adding up," said Twidwell, whose wife, Betty, was a stay-at-home mom raising two toddlers.

Commuting back to the Bay Area to work three, 10-hour shifts during the week boosted his finances but buffeted his family. That's when Twidwell realized if he could save a struggling company in the Bay Area, he could certainly start a successful company in Nevada County.

"I opened the business using my credit cards," he said. "I bought a truck, and placed ads in the yellow pages looking for work."

ABT Plumbing and Drain Service became his innovation and namesake: ABT stands for Andrew Bennett Twidwell.

"I learned from working in San Francisco to do the simple things, such as calling people back and not arguing with customers," Twidwell said. "Within a year I had one employee, within two years I had two employees, and by year three I had three employees and three trucks."

By 2007, ABT boasted 10 employees and five trucks. Then the Great Recession hit.

"I was working with a Small Business Development Center coach who warned me that it was going to get worse," said Twidwell, who realized he'd made mistakes by over-staffing and over-leveraging. "I listened to him. I started selling trucks and equipment. We moved into a smaller shop and constricted to the bare minimum. I went back out in the field."

Taking those draconian measures helped ABT survive the recession. Next, Twidwell slowly ramped up business by adding different trades, such as electrical wiring.

"We wanted to stay in our customers' homes longer and be that one-stop shop," Twidwell said. "Then I got my HVAC license. We really hit stride in 2016 when we bought Elite Heat and Air and moved into their offices. Now we're on 'HVAC Row' with A&A and All Phase as neighbors on South Auburn Street."

An honest, hard-working business

Today, ABT has 14 employees, including five HVAC technicians, four plumbers, one electrician, an apprentice, and a dispatcher/office manager.

Twidwell is the owner and chief executive officer, and his wife of 22 years deftly handles the bookkeeping. Four part-time telemarketers work the phones and help drum up business.

"I'm not 'Chuck in a Truck,'" said Twidwell. "If a customer pays in cash, we claim it. We have a $2 million liability policy. Our employees are on the payroll and we pay into Workers' Compensation Insurance; they're not sub-contractors who receive 1099s. We offer a health insurance stipend, vacation pay, sick leave, and flexible work hours."

Twidwell is also generous with his time and talents within the community. He's a long-time member of Nevada City's 49er Rotary Breakfast Club, and served as president three years ago. He donates his company's services to a handful of nonprofits.

Twidwell, 50, said he'll retire "one of these days."

"I don't know if I'll ever sell the company — unless someone offers me $3 million," he said. "Until then, I'll try to build it into a company that I can spend less and less time in. It's my baby and my creative outlet. I liked building something out of nothing."

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

BUSINESS BASICS

WHAT: ABT Plumbing, Electric, Heating & Air

WHO: Andrew Twidwell

WHERE: 699 South Auburn Street, Grass Valley

INFO: Visit EasyAsABT.com or call 530-272-9120 for more information

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