The DHE Plumbing and Mechanical owners include, from left, Eric, Dale, Josh and Nate Heyboer. The company is tracking for $32 million in sales this year. Courtesy DHE
Some of the more iconic buildings in downtown Grand Rapids owe their guts to Hudsonville-based DHE Plumbing and Mechanical.
And the small, family-owned outfit located at 5001 40th Ave. is celebrating 13 years of successful business in West Michigan by moving into a bigger space.
Co-owner and project manager Dale Heyboer had been a plumber for about 10 years prior to starting DHE Plumbing with his sons Eric Heyboer, co-owner and head estimator, who started plumbing through an apprenticeship program out of high school, and Nate Heyboer, co-owner and operations manager, who brought along business knowledge having graduated with a business degree from Northwood University.
In 2005, Dale and Eric Heyboer formed DHE LLC to be a commercial contractor. Nate Heyboer started working for the fledgling company part time while maintaining a second job as an adjuster.
Nate and Eric Heyboer were 24 and 23 years old, respectively, at the time, and working out of a bedroom in Eric Heyboer’s house.
“Then we moved to an old, run-down grain mill in Jamestown,” Nate Heyboer said. “We were there for three years, and we’ve been here (in Hudsonville) for seven or eight.”
For the first year of business, and prior to Nate Heyboer coming on board full time, DHE was a small, six-person company with just over $145,000 in sales, but the owners knew they wanted to stand out from the competition.
“When we started DHE, we didn’t want to get away from all the other things that companies were doing out in the field, but a lot of people, when they decide to go out on their own, (they say), ‘You know what? I can do what my boss does. I’m just going to go out and do that,’” Nate Heyboer said. “We didn’t do that.”
The DHE team instead took notes on what other contractors were doing well, what they were doing poorly and only took what was valuable to them.
An example Nate Heyboer gave was the use of company vehicles. Between service techs and some office personnel, the company only maintains a tight fleet of about 25 vehicles.
“We don’t have job sites with 15 company vans sitting out there. That’s just overhead. I never believed in that,” Nate Heyboer said.
He also said DHE does not have an HR department, claiming, “Once your employees become numbers, they leave.” The company instead operates with a generous open-door policy.
“Any issues, they can come and talk to me. I’ll make sure it gets taken care of,” Nate Heyboer said. “I’ve hired and fired every employee that we’ve had here, and I think that’s something that — if we do get any bigger — I don’t want that to change.”
Both Eric and Nate Heyboer touted DHE’s strong employee relations, coupled with company functions including West Michigan Whitecaps games, golf outings and Christmas parties.
“We realize that there’s a life outside of work, and that keeps guys around,” Nate Heyboer said.
But DHE doesn’t hire just anybody who walks in, either. The company has a high expectation for performance supplemented by the resources it offers for its employees.
Nate Heyboer said DHE has a federal apprenticeship program the company has been able to maintain even during the 2008 economic downturn. All DHE employees go through a paid, three-year apprenticeship school.
He noted DHE also has grown because of its good customer relationships and said about 75 to 80 percent of DHE’s work is for repeat clients.
“We don’t whine to our customers,” Nate Heyboer said. “We don’t come to people at the very end and nickel and dime them when the project’s over … and what we say, we make sure we follow up on … That’s allowed us to be a part of a lot of nice projects in Grand Rapids over the past, and we have a lot of nice ones right now.”
Some of those projects include New Holland Brewing’s The Knickerbocker at 417 Bridge St. NW, Kent County Recycling Center at 977 Wealthy St. SW, 50 Louis St. NW, 40 Pearl St. NW and the newly constructed Bridge Street Market at 405 Seward Ave. NW.
Recently, DHE finished up work for Ferris Coffee’s new headquarters at 839 Seward Ave. NW and is currently working on 601 Bond Apartments, the Canopy Hotel at Studio Park, and the Warner Tower and Hyatt Place Hotel at 140/150 Ottawa Ave. NW.
DHE also has workers on-site at the Lake Michigan Filtration Plant, 17350 Lake Michigan Drive, for a more than $6-million plate replacement project.
Eric Heyboer added DHE isn’t just a Grand Rapids staple.
“Down in Kalamazoo, we have a 15-story tower and a new middle school for Portage Public Schools, and we do a lot of work in Muskegon, too,” he said.
The company now has 142 full-time employees and is on track to close 2018 with $32 million in sales. DHE already has $19 million in the books for 2019.
But DHE can’t maintain productivity packed in the small building it’s in now, Nate Heyboer said, and the firm is about to move out of the 6,000-square-foot office, to a new $3.5-million, 32,000-square-foot space on the corner of M-6 and Eighth Avenue.
All three founders still have joint ownership in the company. About a year and a half ago, the third brother, Josh Heyboer, also was brought on board as an owner of the company.
“It’s definitely a family business, which is good, as long as people don’t micromanage each other, which we’ve been very good at,” Nate Heyboer said. “Everybody kind of has their own tasks, their own things, which in our family, that works out great.”