“I wanted to be in business,” says Anne Thornton, describing why she left Arkansas for New York City. “I always felt like I would be a good business person, but the world told me I needed to be a secretary, or a teacher, or a nurse.”
She didn’t listen to what the world told her (though she did try nursing long enough to know it wasn’t for her). So today, she is president and founder of MSI Plumbing and Remodeling, a firm that is more than 25 years old and employs 24 people. But it’s not like she decided she wanted to be a plumber, either. Like so many businesses, hers is a product of circumstances.
As she explained to 20 people at NJBIA’s Women Business Leaders Network meeting this morning, MSI came into being after her husband began a condo association management business in the 1980s. A big part of the requests he received from association members were about fixing things. For Thornton, that was a clear business opportunity.
She makes no bones about it, though: MSI is NOT her husband’s business.
As her business grew, she began doing more and more remodeling work, which was good because it was lucrative. But in the plumbing business, when the phone rings, it’s usually because a disaster is underway. These became more of an annoyance than a welcome business opportunity. So she added a new aspect to her business—author.
Thornton penned Anne Thornton’s Insider’s Guide to Home Improvement and had it published in 2017 (a new one is coming out in a couple of months). She also developed a presentation based on it. It’s about empowerment, helping homeowners understand how things in their house work and how to deal with contractors. But a big part of it is maintenance—what you can and should do so you don’t have any emergencies.
“Everything I am talking about today is about maintenance,” she told the group. “It’s recognition that while you are living your life, the systems in your house are living their lives. And they need maintenance just like you need maintenance.”
However, the message goes beyond that. Plumbing and remodeling, or contracting in general, are still male-dominated businesses. But women no longer need to feel like they don’t know how things work. They can educate themselves so they can talk to contractors about work on their properties and protect themselves from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous operators.
“It’s my passion to teach people, especially young women,” she says. “We own property now. We should be able to take care of our own properties,” she said.
Most of the presentation, however, was about everyday things that go on in your house, and tips on how to keep them from becoming disasters. Among them:
- Replace your washing machine hoses with the best you can find. They only last a few years. One star client had a $260,000 refurbishment to his condo because a washing machine hose burst.
- Clean your own drains. Buying a drain weasel at a department store for $3 and cleaning out your drain regularly (as soon as the drainage starts to slow) will save you a $300 drain cleaning job.
- Learn how to turn off the water in your house, and teach people around you how to turn off the water in your house. And replace your gate valves (the ones with the handle that looks like a wheel) with ball valves, which has a latch handle.