Allen Plumbing rebuilds, now helping others rebuild post-Katrina

by Lynn Lofton

Published: December 17,2007

Like many of its clients, friends and neighbors on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Allen Plumbing was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Also like others in the area, the plumbing business quickly picked itself up and got busy rebuilding. Additionally, this 56-year-old family business found the time and the heart to help those around them rebuild, too.

Allen Plumbing was founded in 1951 by Gordon Allen Sr., and occupied a building on Hewes Avenue in Gulfport for 30 years. The founder retired five years ago, handing over the reins to his son, Steve Allen.

Emergency mode

Katrina dumped eight feet of water in the business’ 34th Street building, destroying the equipment and a fleet of trucks that were parked inside for safe keeping. Allen’s home was heavily damaged, too, as were those of three-fourths of his 19 employees. Not one to stand around and wring his hands, he went into emergency mode within two days. He is pleased that all employees came back and no one missed a paycheck.

“I called Murphy Electric, owned by Ray and Tommy Ladner, and they lent us three trucks. We put magnetic signs over their signs and did clean up work the first two weeks,” Allen said. “Soon after that we were equipped to work in a hodge podge way.”

Its commercial plumbing continued after the storm and has grown. It is currently working on the 58th hotel it has plumbed, and Allen said the number of apartment and condo units are in the thousands, approximately 80% of it new construction since the storm. The average project lasts about six months.

For many years Allen Plumbing primarily did residential plumbing and had four employees. The company made the switch from residential plumbing to commercial a few years ago when Steve Allen saw the tremendous opportunities with the area’s growth.

“We bid on most of the jobs and some are negotiated,” he said. “There’s a lot of work here and we do some residential, too.”

Looking to the future, he wants the company to remain the size it is because it’s a good, manageable size. With the exception of some turnover with plumbers’ helpers, the employee base is stable. He sees the type and amount of work as pretty much staying the same, too. Although it was difficult to get supplies for a while after Katrina, the company now has four steady suppliers to keep the work going. It has new equipment, too — not by choice — as Allen puts it, “Katrina purged a lot of things.”

“We got up to 30 employees right after Katrina, but we figure it’s better to stay with the reliable ones. Being larger didn’t work for us,” he said. “Most of our employees have been with us a long time.”

Allen chose to re-locate the business’ headquarters out of harm’s way should any future storms come to the area. He bought and remodeled a building on 22nd Avenue earlier this year that’s now home to Allen Plumbing. He and his wife, Kathy, are also rebuilding their Gulfport home.

‘We’ve been blessed’

In the midst of personal loss, keeping the business going and re-locating it, Allen has helped many residents get back into their homes by donating the services of Allen Plumbing.

“We’ve been blessed and so many people have helped us. We want to help others,” he said. “I haven’t kept track of how many. It’s just the right thing to do. God blessed us and provided us with a workforce.”

He began working for his dad at age 13, doing it all, something that continued until a few years ago. “I’ve got a long time to go, but after that Allen Plumbing will go on even if there’s not an Allen here,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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