(Owner of Sturm Plumbing/ The Faucet Doctor Service™)
You just don’t read much about plumbers in the newspaper. The exception may be in the comic section where they are the ‘butt’ of some jokes. And certainly no matter how skilled you become in plumbing it is not a career choice that you expect to earn national recognition. One local Penn Township plumber has turned all that around by catching the attention of national publications and even one of the biggest home improvement TV shows.
The year was 1970 when Larry Sturm graduated from Penn Joint High School with no idea or direction for his life. His high school years were not productive and were complicated by his father’s lengthy struggle with lung cancer. Just before graduation, his father died leaving his mother with four kids and no substantial income. It was his mother’s hard work ethic & struggle that Larry credits for teaching him what he didn’t learn in schoolbooks.
While classmates were moving on, Larry didn’t have many options since finances made college out of the question. A high school friend asked him to “just ride along” while he took an entrance exam for admission to a trade school. With nothing to do after they arrived, the school somehow convinced Larry to take the exam along with his friend. And talk about a twist of fate. The friend was not admitted but Larry was accepted. As if the puzzle needed one more piece to fit together more perfectly, the school specialized in assisting orphaned & disadvantaged kids. The wheels of motion were now set in place & Larry was off to attend Thaddeus Stevens Trade School in Lancaster PA. Larry only learned later in life from a federal job recruiter that Thaddeus was the premier school in the nation where the federal government turns to when looking for highly skilled tradesmen. It was two years of intense study before Larry realized he found his calling. At graduation he was named ‘Most Outstanding Plumber’ (...add 43+ years experience to that!)
Larry went on to take a plumbing position for an oceanside firm in New Jersey. The surfing proved far more exciting than what his home back in Claridge offered. But while other plumbers punched the time clock & went off to the donut shop, Larry went straight to the jobsite and worked far into the evening. “I asked for a 25 cent raise & my boss said no…it was the best answer I could of received.” That reply caused Larry to pack his bags & head back home to Penn Township. Again mom came to his rescue, telling her friends in the kitchen at Jeannette Hospital about his new venture & Sturm Plumbing was up & running. His first job he loaded the sewer cleaning machine in the back of his mother's meticulalously clean car and had to scrub it for days. Later he recalls packing his two seater old Triumph with tools purchased from the money he saved from his childhood paper route when he was only 7 years old...(Larry learned to work hard by necessity since a very young age).
Jump ahead to 1983 when Larry and his new wife Cheryl decided to open retail store in a back alley of town. “We filled our shelves with the standard plumbing stock.” Larry said. He remembered how his wife watched the store with two small babies while he did the service work. Sturm would return at the end of the day & his wife would tell him that they didn’t sell a thing. She would say, “Everyone comes in asking for these things we don’t have. What are these?” she asked holding up a faucet stem. Larry explained but added that there were far too many varieties out there to stock. A light bulb went off & they made the bold move to specialize in hard-to-find plumbing parts. They packed up the kids and drove to Washington DC and filed for a national trademark on the name “The Faucet Doctor”. Cheryl recalled that after the long drive there she could not gain admission to the building because she forgot her identification at home. A kind hearted guard whispered to her that he goes on break in 15 minutes & no one would be there to stop her from entering. That direction in business is what first put this small town plumber on the radar map. Later, his expertise in solving difficult plumbing problems drew even bigger attention.
While all the plumbers around knew about The Faucet Doctor, their success became apparent when homeowners would travel 3-4 hours to find them. When we started to answer the phone & give directions to tiny Harrison City from Virginia and New York we knew we were on to something.”
“Back when we had the store*, we kept a visitor’s book at our counter for people to sign.” “We had people sign in from as far away as Georgia & Colorado for parts”. They would visit relatives here & tell them they had to tear apart walls because no one had the parts they needed. They knew right where to bring them!”
That was the situation an editor for Home & Garden Magazine faced when she called. “Her plumber told her it was no longer made, she had to rip out an entire bathroom”. Being very appreciative that Larry was honest enough to save her thousands of dollars she directed subscribers to his website in the next magazine issue.
About a year later The New York Times was on the phone asking to speak with Larry. They were doing a story & wanted his professional advice to write about. Even the popular Bob Vila Show heard word of this small town plumber. Their writers called that December & spoke with Larry for a story they were doing for their website. The interest hasn’t stopped. Fine Homebuilding magazine wrote him to thank him for his input. His expertise in saving time on jobs (and customer's money) won him first prize for Plumbing & Mechanical magazine section for Tool Tips. It must be in the genes because not only is Larry's son Jason working with dad after 4 years at Penn State but the youngest son, Joshua, writes a quarterly column reviewing plumbing tools for Pro Tool Review magazine.
Larry looks back at the twists & turns his life took as knowing “the Lord having a plan & purpose for my life”. As the small tidbit of fame & success puts a smile on this small town plumbers face, Larry is looking ahead towards his next big move of turning the business over to his sons in the next 10 years. “I have no doubt at all the Lord wanted me to be a plumber & I love plumbing. There are so many serious needs for plumbers to address in our world today. We have enjoyed doing a lot of missionary work, so I am looking forward to the time when I can take that passion for my work & use it again in poverty stricken areas like Appalachia or natural disaster areas – that’s what I’d rather be remembered for. That's true success. ” The family has helped orphanages to war heros with plumbing from Mexico to Alaska. The most current missionary project for the whole Sturm family is working in Alaska with Samaritan's Purse & the Billy Graham Association for Operation Heal Our Patriots. Injured heros from the war arrive to spend healing time as honored guests. Sturm Plumbing volunteers to make sure all the piping & plumbing works without problems in their facilites & cabins. Laying on frozen wet ground under buildings is never fun or exciting but the blessing of seeing the heros, who gave up so much, be honored cannot be compared to anything else.
The Sturm Plumbing family also gives back to their local community in more ways than can be counted. Currently Larry and Jason answered the call for a local Jeannette veteran amputee that had no heat or water. The company freely offered their services to restore his house. After working 10-12 hr days, every week for over 30 years Larry has dedicated over 4 hours in the evenings, every week, to work with the children at CLC Church in Trafford. Larry's wife was the founder of the Penn Township Business Guide and the Penn Township Business Association. She has been a volunteer for the Penn Twp Youth Commission and Westmoreland County Juvenile Court System as a volunteer probation officer for at risk youth in our community. Mission trips to Haiti orphanages and into the most remote schools in Alaska (which has the highest youth suicide rate in the nation) are projects they have been blessed to volunteer for.
If you are looking to hire an honest company, one that gives & returns of their blessings, we really do appreciate if you call Sturm Plumbing 724-744-2304.
*Today, Larry still operates the same plumbing service business he has from his early days, but for in-home service calls only. Our store manager retired in 2010 so the retail store operation of the business was sold to the Keough family from Braddock Hills. For all your in-home plumbing service needs, call Sturm Plumbing at 724-744-2304. For parts only, contact The Faucet Doctor Superstore, 225 McKinley Ave, Wilkinsburg, PA 15221 (412) 271-1505.
Sturm Plumbing specializes in solving plumbing problems from large sewer lines to small leaks (and everything in between). If you have been told it needs replaced by another company, call us to save $$$ and get an honest answer to your plumbing problems.
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