A Small Business Turns Into a Family Legacy

by Paula Leslie, Managing Partner, Mankel Mechanical and Two Brothers Plumbing

Twenty years ago, I told Eddie Mankel, my husband at the time and my current business partner, that he would probably never be completely happy working for someone else. He had owned a landscaping business with a partner in the 80s and really liked it. My job at the time paid all the bills, and we had equity in our house that we could use for startup capital so I encouraged him to get a license and go out on his own.

Eddie chose plumbing. He had been doing it since he was 12 years old, starting as a helper for Vernon Hancock, one of the first plumbing contractors in the Casa Grande area. If you ask him, Eddie would take you by the apartments where he dug plumbing trenches by hand. Vernon and Eddie’s relationship lasted until Vernon’s death. Eddie has a lot of respect for the man that offered him not just a job, but a chance to learn a trade.

The economy was ripe in 1999 for a new subcontracting business, and we started a business — Mankel Mechanical — and soon had contracts with some of the best local builders. Eddie always stayed away from service and repair plumbing. The business was 80 percent new construction and the rest repair and service, and new construction paid the bills until a recession hit.

We kept three large white boards at the shop to track progress on the three phases of new construction plumbing. The first board was for the new starts. Eddie will tell the story about how one day he walked into the office and noticed the first board was empty. And just like that, construction in Arizona came to a screeching halt.

We have a friend living in Texas who used to work for a franchise restaurant company in the construction end. He was in charge of new builds and remodels. He had a lot of remodels coming up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and he wanted to know if we were interested in doing the plumbing. Eddie got on a plane to Austin, took and passed his Master Plumber license for the state of Texas, and for the next two years we stayed busy out of state. Both our sons, Vaughn and Shea, had been working for us for a while by then. Vaughn also went to Texas and got on-the-job training remodeling commercial bathrooms and kitchens.

After the last economic recession, Eddie was a little more open to the service industry, but we could never find the right person to represent our company. I suggested Vaughn. Once he started doing service calls, a whole new avenue of our business exploded. We decided the service side needed a new name that sounded more “service-y.” The boys came up with a business plan, a name and a logo. With some new paint and new stickers, the van was transformed from Mankel Mechanical to Two Brothers Plumbing. Although Shea works the new construction field most of the time, he is considered one of the “Brothers.” We now have two vans and employ another full-time service plumber and recently hired an apprentice and an office assistant.

Twenty years ago, I never would have envisioned our sons taking over the business, but I am proud they have an interest. I’ll stick around for at least another 10 years, (Vaughn says more like 30) and then at our 30th anniversary, maybe I’ll order my last fixture schedule. I’ll be secure in knowing that both of our boys learned plumbing from the best and most knowledgeable plumber in Pinal County and that both of them are hardworking men, devoted fathers and good plumbers.

And at the end of the work day, they really are just two brothers.