Marc Totton has worked as a plumber and pipefitter since the mid 1990s, but after years of working for others, he decided it was time to work for himself.
Totton purchased Master Service Plumbing in 2007 with his wife, Gabrielle, and now manages three employees. He had worked for former Master Service owner Charlie Schopper, and after earning his contractor's license he returned to the business at 325 Sunshine Lane to ask Schopper for a reference.
Instead, Schopper, then 63, offered the business for sale so that he could retire after 20 years.
"We looked at the numbers, and it seemed like a good way to go, buying an established company," Totton says. "And Charlie, everything he touched turned to gold. He was probably one of the smartest businessmen, period."
The Tottons bought the business using personal finances. Life changed quickly as they became company owners.
"Your liability just runs through your head every minute of every day," Totton says. "You wonder: 'What are my guys doing out in the field?' and, 'Oh my God, are they doing everything right?' You sleep less, and you have less time with your family. My hair is turning gray. Every morning I look at it, and it's like, wow."
Gabrielle Totton says running a small business has ignited a sharper level of intensity in her husband.
"He is much more serious about a lot of thing that he was really laissez-faire about," she says. "He has always been interested in politics, and now, at least to me, he is very vocal about his views on politics and how it affects people like us, small business owners."
Almost at the same time he became a businessman, Totton also became a father for the first time to a girl, Roxanne. Juggling the responsibilities of building a business and nurturing his family have been challenging.
"I have to make time to run this business, do plans, and still make time to be a good husband and father," he says.
Totton started his career as a plumber at Precision Plumbing and Heating before running custom-home work for Timberidge Plumbing and Heating. He then joined the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 350 with L&L Plumbing and Heating, and in 2001 and 2002, he starting eyeing the day he would be his own boss.
"I could just see there was a better way," he says. "I wanted to do things my way, and I couldn't. I am proud and headstrong, and it's tough to have a boss. You have to bite your tongue. I was always a good listener, but it was killing me inside."
But being a boss proved a challenge unto itself. It wasn't just a hurdle, as Totton puts it: "There was no learning curve it was a straight up wall.
"Every employee is different," he adds. "You kind of have to let them think they are in charge, and then nudge them in the direction you want them to go. It is like managing a baseball team; you have to make everybody work together, and you have to swallow a lot more pride than they do."
Totton says the slowdown in residential construction has meant an influx of plumbers shoehorning into the
commercial market and has slowed business in that niche, but Master Service has found a home working with radiant heat systems. Still, it hasn't been easy growing a business in a recession.
"We are battling against everybody every day," Totton says. "We are staying busy, but the market is so tough. There are so many people that are hungry they are just giving it away. It's tough to beat if someone is bidding a job at cost or lower. You just have to wait for the next one."
Totton spends his personal time enjoying the company of wife, his daughter and their two Australian shepherds. He can't see himself ever stepping away from work.
"I don't see myself retiring," he says. "Hopefully I will be here, watching somebody else running it."