By Debra Moore
It was Monday of Memorial Day weekend, two days before they were scheduled to close the doors on the business they opened 47 years ago, but Jim and Judi Madden were at work. She was busy answering phones, even though it was a holiday, and Jim was heading out to Calpine to cover four service calls in the vicinity.
The couple opened Madden Plumbing and Heating on June 1, 1976 and closed the doors on May 31, 2023. Though they aren’t taking new calls, Judi said that they have about a month’s worth of commitments to complete and then they will begin the next phase of their lives — which at ages 76 (Judi) and 78 (Jim) they are eager to undertake.
Jim and Judi will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary this August; they met in San Mateo where Jim was a third-generation plumber. “Each generation had their own plumbing company,” Judi said, so during a visit to Quincy in 1973, when Ted Hoskins, then manager of Bank of America said the town needed a plumber, the decision was made.
They bought a house in 1974 and spent a couple of years going back and forth between the Bay Area and Quincy, while Judi studied small business management. They operated out of their home at first, and then from a building in East Quincy before moving into their current building just off Main Street with its signature red, white and blue decor and matching trucks parked out front.
The building is filled with 40-plus years of records and plumbing paraphernalia that will need to be sorted, stored and/or sold in the coming months. The Maddens had hoped to sell their business, but there have been no takers — not yet anyway — despite its profitability. “We have trained so many plumbers and then they went on their way,” Judi said, and while many have gone on to operate their own businesses, none has wanted to take on an operation as big as Madden Plumbing has become.
Madden Plumbing billed $138,000 in April, and $1.4 million for its last fiscal year. That workload requires employees — to answer the phones, schedule the calls, perform the work, send out the bills and collect the funds. Judi said that the plumbers they have trained aren’t interested in managing that kind of staff. For Judi and Jim, it has worked because she handles the office, while he is out in the field.
Judi has long been known for how she answers the phone. “It’s a great day at Madden Plumbing and Heating … how can I make you smile?” Usually the answer is pretty simple: Help!
Judi credits part of their success to their approach — they eschew new construction and focus on service calls. “We have done one new house in the last 10 years by choice,” she said. “There’s no money (in new construction). We are in business to be self-sustainable, pay our employees, contribute to the community and be here when our customers call.” When people call a plumber, they have a problem and are only too happy to pay to stop the water from leaking or the toilet from backing up.
One of their stranger calls involved the latter, when it was discovered that a Ninja Turtle was responsible for the overflow. Another time it was a set of dentures. There was also the nursing home patient who regularly flushed pillowcases down the toilet.
The bulk of their business comes from the Quincy and Eastern Plumas areas. They also serviced Greenville but lost 150 customer homes to the Dixie Fire. Judy can plug in any address in their service area and tell you the 20-year service history for that residence or business.
During COVID, when many businesses were forced to scale back or shutter, the Maddens were busier than ever. People moved into their second homes during the pandemic and their customer base expanded quickly.
As they sought to sell their business, the Maddens worked with a mergers and acquisitions firm, who told them that part of their challenge was that they were 80 miles from a Home Depot. They responded that was a strength. “We have water heaters here and someone to install them,” Judi said of their ability to provide full service.
But after 47 years, it will be up to someone else to install those water heaters or unclog those toilets. When they finish their final eight commitments, they will begin the actual process of closing. In addition to dealing with the equipment, there is a four-legged animal and winged creature to consider.
Jack Flash the cat, who spends most of his time in the office sprawled wherever he wants, will become a more permanent fixture at home, the place he reluctantly goes, when Judi insists. It’s not far, Jim and Judi live just 177 steps away from the office (according to Judi’s fitness tracker).
Then there’s Wyatt Papenhausen, who greets all who enter from the large birdcage in the building’s entry. He (actually she — as an avian veterinarian informed them— but that wasn’t known when Wyatt was named) hopefully will be reunited with his/her family.
In their retirement Jim and Judi hope to spend more time with their own family. Daughter Jessica lives in Cold Springs near Reno and they look forward to playing with grandson Logan, who will turn 3 in September.
The Maddens also have an extended family of exchange students that they have housed over the years, as well as Feather River College students. They are not only generous with their contributions, but with their time.
Now they will have more time to spend with each other and traveling, though Quincy will always remain home. No doubt Judi will be answering the phones as they wrap up operations, so give her a call, and this time we can all say thanks and make her smile.