Jim Godbout Plumbing Heating Cooling Viessmann Partner

(207) 283-1200

   

Pipe Dreams

MAINE HOME & DESIGN, Oct. 2011
BY VICTORIA SCANLAN STEFANAKOS

From the most efficient heating systems to the latest cool water slides, when it comes to his plumbing business, Jim Godbout handles everything and the kitchen sink

Jim Godbout is the brawn and braIns behInd a mechanIcal powerhouse of his own making.

His hearty plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) business manages more than soldering pipes and cleaning boilers. His team offers the full gamut of services: from distributing and installing cutting-edge green heating systems to helping design watery rides at the Saco water park Funtown Splashtown USA.

Like the systems themselves, his thirty-year-old business works because it’s a well-oiled system, fueled by his honesty and integrity—and his sometimes surprising focus on the long haul. His success allows him to give back to his community, which lets his clients know he’s rooted where he lives.

“I’ve always been good with my hands,” says God- bout (pronounced God-boo), with a boyish grin, over the two cups of coffee he ordered at once. “But it wasn’t until I started doing carpentry with my step-grandfather that I saw a need for very good mechanical contractors—folks with more education and sophistication than the stereotypical plumber with the low-hanging pants.”

When he launched Jim Godbout Plumbing and Heating at the age of 18 in his hometown of Saco, he had a plan. His strategy: explore the energy-efficient systems used in Europe, where he knew that expensive heating and energy costs demanded far more efficient systems than those available in America. He figured Maine’s long heating season meant that customers who planned to stay put would recoup their investments in geothermal, solar thermal, and super efficient HVAC systems in time.

It took him time, too. Building a cutting-edge business takes demanding licensing and education from the people who distribute new products. Godbout’s friend Richard Trethewey, of This Old House fame, first introduced him to the German heating supplier Viessman some 28 years ago. Before long, Godbout learned how to conserve oil and design energy-efficient systems at a time when few of his peers were giving conservation or efficiency a second thought. Today, his firm is the largest distributor of Viessmann products in America and Canada.

But knowing the machinery is only part of the puzzle.

Listening well is the other. (Thankfully, the college course work he did before launching his business was in psychology.) “I’ve always believed that relationships are the most important part of doing business. So I explain the entire system to every customer so they understand that the plumbing and heating system are the heart of the home,” he says. Godbout often performs a brief energy analysis and recommends that homeowners insulate and tighten up their homes before they call on him to install a really efficient heating system.

That honesty shocks some, but it endears him to most. He has never advertised or even listed his firm in the Yellow Pages. His website and professional referrals cultivated over years are his only sources of work. Even so, Godbout has sold between $3 million and $4 million in parts and service over the past three years. And he plans to keep it that way.
“Our current mantra is ‘no growth,’” Godbout says without irony. “We’re quite happy with the level we’re at. I enjoy working in the field as chief cook and bottle washer. I won’t allow my guys to do a job I wouldn’t do myself. And working alongside them teaches me how much labor it requires to do the work.”

Knowing the job so intimately also worries him. With an aging pool of workers and a shortage of highly skilled labor, finding qualified, capable people to solve the kinds of problems his team encounters every day is harder and harder. That’s partly why he offers his 14 employees health insurance, a retirement fund, and other benefits. It’s also the right thing to do, he says.

Spending somewhat less time in the field these days has allowed Godbout to pitch in and strengthen his hometown. An active Chamber volunteer, Rotarian, and board member of the Northern York County YMCA, Godbout has shared building expertise and plenty of his time. He donated all of the labor and materials to install irrigation at the Saco Community Gardens and a new refrigeration unit for the Saco Food Pantry, among his contributions to other projects.

Becky Harkema, the executive director of the YMCA, says God- bout gives in hefty but quiet ways. “He doesn’t want to take credit, but he’ll just do what needs to get done,” she says. Godbout has served on the board for three years and chairs the facility committee. “He put in a whole new heating unit in our group exercise building—and paid for it all—a year ago without saying anything to anyone. You don’t find many people who do that.”

In fact, his life is a quiet one in the bungalow he just renovated and shares with his wife and two old yellow labs on Kinney Shores in Saco. His small vegetable garden and his walks and yoga on the beach fill any free gaps in his tight schedule. But Godbout wouldn’t change a thing.

“I love the people and I love the work,” he says. “I love that I get to do it all here, and put my heart into it all.” MH+D

 




Jim Godbout Plumbing & Heating
48 Elm Street
P.O. Box 365
Biddeford, Maine 04005
Phone: 207-283-1200
Email: jim@jimgodbout.com

Office Hours: Mon-Fri 7am to 3:30pm

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Proud Members Of:
Biddeford Saco Rotary Club
Biddeford Saco Chamber of Commerce
Better Business Bureau
Hydronic Heating Association
Maine Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors
Maine PHCC
National Federation of Independent Businesses
Nature Conservancy
Northern York County YMCA (board member)

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