For siblings Debbie Hanes and Steve Walz, running the family business after their father retired has been a pleasure and labor of love.
Phil Walz Plumbing, 1340 W. Ogden Ave., Naperville, is celebrating its 46th year in business this year. And the brother-sister duo show no signs of slowing down.
“My dad is 79 now and is retired, but my brother and I have continued on here,” Hanes said.
They’ve also seen Naperville grow from a sleepy farm community with about 8,000 people to one of the largest cites in Illinois. Their business has been part of that change, leaving its thumbprint on thousands of residents’ homes during that growth period.
Formerly at 236 S. Washington St. where a Pot Belly store is today, the business relocated 29 years ago as the configuration of downtown Naperville began to change, and service trucks had problems with parking.
The siblings got an early start in the family business.
“I started working with my dad in the warehouse when I was 14, putting away fittings,” said Hanes, 57. “My daughter Julie, who is 28, works here, too, but she’s taking her tests soon to become a nurse, so it appears this will be the end of the line.”
Hanes said she also spent time working for her mother, who owned Adele’s Bath Boutique in town. She moved into what became full-time employment with her father after one of the two office people working at Walz Plumbing left, leaving her father shorthanded.
“I eventually became the office manager later on, and I’ve stayed all this time,” she said. “I realize that plumbing has been seen more as a ‘man’s business,’ but I liked the people I was working with, and since my brother is here, too, we’ve just enjoyed running the family business.”
In the field
Steve Walz, 51, says he followed in his father’s footsteps by getting his plumber’s license and then working in the field before eventually moving into the office and coordinating the work.
“Early on, I was involved working with deliveries with the warehouse when I was about 12, but as I got older, I got more into the plumbing aspects and work on remodeling jobs,” Walz said. “I was involved in high school with one of those co-ops where I got out of school early and then went to work.”
Walz calls himself “the go-to guy” when things are needed in the field these days. He particularly enjoys the remodeling phase of his work, which today represents about half the company’s business.
“We did some work for a while with new housing, but then we went into doing more remodeling work, which I found very rewarding,” he said. “We do things right and don’t take any short cuts.”
Hanes said the remodeling work became a niche that developed into a significant portion of the family business once building exploded in Naperville and builders were looking more for speed than high-quality craftsmanship. Residential service calls represent the other half of the business, and service is provided six days a week.
“Bathroom remodeling is now a major part of our revenue and has really become our niche,” she said. “It’s also the part of the business that has changed the most over the years. It used to be people just had a basic toilet, tub and faucet, but now everything is a lot more decorative and elaborate.”
Ready to run
Hanes said she has no plans to retire for some time and keeps herself active these days by running after work.
“I just did the half marathon here in Naperville, and while I’ve run off and on for 10 years, this is the first time I’ve decided to run in a race,” she said. “I remember seeing a guy who ran that day with a T-shirt that said, ‘I thought it was a good idea in January to do this.’ That’s kind of what I thought, too. I remember thinking, well — here I am.”
Dad Phil Walz said it is a source of “satisfaction and pride” that his children have continued his legacy.
“When I see how poorly things are done today in so many ways, I’m glad that I learned the right way to do things years ago, and seeing that passed on makes me pleased and proud,” he said.