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Lee County Plumbing Supply culls Blue Chip Award

By Staff | Nov 6, 2014

Dania Lopez smiles as her daughter Dionne Lopez reacts with happy emotion as Lee County Plumbing Supply Inc. in Cape Coral is named the Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award winner for 2014. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Neither the death of the company’s patriarch, a recession, nor the construction of big box hardware stores could keep Lee County Plumbing Supply in Cape Coral from closing its doors.

And it was surviving and thriving through that which allowed the 32-year-old business to receive the 20th Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award during a luncheon at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers on Thursday.

The award is handed out annually to companies that have faced adversity and not only survived, but thrived. Of the five nominees, three were from Cape Coral.

Dionne Lopez and her mother, Dania, were on hand to accept the award, thrilled and stunned to be receiving it.

“It’s amazing. I’m overwhelmed with happiness and hope in the next 30 years I can continue and thrive like my parents did,” Dionne said. “I’m honored and blessed to receive this.”

Dionne Lopez and her mother, Dania, accept the Southwest Florida Blue Chip Community Business Award on behalf of Lee County Plumbing Supply Inc. at the 20th annual Blue Chip Recognition Luncheon at the Harborside Event Center on Thursday. Lee County Plumbing Supply Inc. was the 2014 winner. CHUCK BALLARO

“It’s a great honor to receive this award after 32 years working in Cape Coral, and continuing the business and passing it on to my daughter,” Dania said.

William and Dania Lopez bought the then-struggling company in 1982 and turned it into a successful specialty parts supply business and propane sales operation.

In 1998, William died in the store of a brain aneurysm. His wife took over the business, his father sold the propane, and a cousin served as secretary, keeping the business a family affair.

Then came the recession in 2008, and construction and home improvement virtually ceased. Also, Home Depot and Lowe’s built stores throughout the region.

Instead of folding, the family dug in, kept expenses to a minimum, saved what they could, did inexpensive promotions and offered the best customer service they could, a release concerning the awards program states.

Jay Bisson, Priority Payments South Florida; Bob Bassett, BB&T Bank; Jonathan Gabel, Priority Payments South Florida; Gary V. Trippe, Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers; Kevin Smith, Priority Payments South Florida; John Pollock, BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company. Priority Payments South Florida was a Blue Chip finalist. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

They invested funds they had saved during the “good years” and were able to build the Lee County Plaza, where business is based today. Business tenents supply additional income.

“We bunkered down and cut costs and thrived. The main point is we stuck together, as a family and as a business,” Dionne said.

Priority Payments of Southwest Florida and Turbine Generator Maintenance were the other two Cape Coral companies nominated.

Priority Payments is owned by Jonathan Gabel, who moved to Cape Coral to work for a credit-card processing company, which the owners closed.

Gabel launched his own merchant services company from a spare room in his house, funded on his savings. He rehired employees of the previous firm and took no pay for 19 months, but the company eventually took off.

Bob Bassett, BB&T Bank; David Branton, Turbine Generator Maintenance; Gary V. Trippe, Disabled Veterans Insurance Careers; Robert Davis, Turbine Generator Maintenance; Karen Ramos, City of Cape Coral Economic Development Office; John Pollock, BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company. Turbine Generator Maintenance was a Blue Chip finalist. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It now has its own office, six full-time employees, and two part-timers and is turning a profit.

“I was ecstatic that we were nominated. I felt responsible to take everyone under the wing we created and relaunched the company,” Gable said. “I’m a good saver. It was instilled upon me to save money. That’s how we stayed alive.”

Turbine Generator Maintenance was facing revenue issues when three employees offered to buy it from the private equity firm that owned it.

David Branton (president/ CEO), Robert Davis (chief financial officer) and Todd Feeley (vice president, business development) instituted a new company culture.

Employees took a 20 percent pay cut while they three cut their own by 40 percent. They changed pay systems for field-based employees to salary plus performance bonuses, shifted to an inside sales force and worked with Fort Myers Institute of Technology to train technicians. The company became profitable in 2010.

“We went out to the industry and talked about our company and why we were unique and we’ve grown every year,” Branton said. “We were honored that people noticed, but we made it a point to involve the community when we bought it, and everyone has helped us greatly.”

The other finalists are Purely You Spa in Naples and Marketplace Title in Estero.

The event included a keynote address by motivational speaker and best-selling author Sgt. Dakota L. Meyer, a U.S. Marine veteran awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Ganjigal in Afghanistan in 2009.