An honest living — Superior owner builds company using saavy management, marketing
by Sheri Kell
June 29, 2013 11:45 PM | 2923 views | 0 0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Staff/Todd Hull<br>
Above: James Cunningham, president of Superior Plumbing, at his office, below, in Kennesaw on Tuesday afternoon.
Staff/Todd Hull
Above: James Cunningham, president of Superior Plumbing, at his office, below, in Kennesaw on Tuesday afternoon.
KENNESAW — Born in Munich, Germany, and living the life of an “Army brat,” Superior Plumbing founder and owner James Cunningham moved multiple times before his family came to Acworth in 1978.

“I enjoyed moving around,” Cunningham said.

At North Cobb High School he played varsity soccer and baseball. After graduation, he married and attended Kennesaw Junior College for two years.

“I had to get a full-time job,” he said.

In 1983, Cunningham joined family-owned Sundance Plumbing in Marietta, and worked up to the level of manager. “They took me under their wing; I couldn’t have more respect for anyone.”

While there, he went to the Department of Labor’s plumbing school at night, passing the masters’ class in 1986.

In 1988, he opened his own company out of his garage with one blue van.

“I think I am more wired to step out and do things on my own,” Cunningham said. “I don’t remember any anxiety — I just recall the desire to do it. I was willing to work as much as I needed to work. I was making a ton of money when I left — it took me many, many years to get back to that point.”

In 1989, with three employees, the company moved to Cherokee Street in Kennesaw; then in 1990, to Harris Street in downtown Kennesaw.

By 1994, the company had three trucks in service and Cunningham says he brought in his brother-in-law as general manager, heeding some advice from a mentor who told him to get out of the day-to-day workload in order to build the business.

“I was smart enough to realize I needed to hire people that were smarter than I was,” he said. “I was willing to hire people and let them do their jobs. … My people are not being micromanaged by me.”

In 2001, the company moved to its current location on Royal Drive in Kennesaw, and two years later rented its first billboard advertisement.

In 2004, “The Honest Plumber” slogan was born. “We’re not trying to irritate the other plumbers. … It works to sharpen us and help us get better,” Cunningham said. “It challenges us to figure out when we mess up and be the honest one. We tend to get more from it than you think we would.”

Today, there are 32 Superior Plumbing trucks and plumbers on the road and 38 additional employees who service 500 customers a week. Cunningham says the company now has 100 billboards across the metro area and advertises in every form of media.

Cunningham says, “I would like to draw a line back to the simple fact that by not micro-managing and letting people do their jobs, I maintain the necessary hat to allow the company to grow — by marketing.”

Two of Cunningham’s children have been working in the business since they were very young and both have joined full-time since finishing college. David, 32, is a licensed plumber and is the accounting manager. Katy, 30, is the inventory manager.

Ten years ago, Cunningham was invited to be guest expert on WSB Radio’s popular Saturday morning “Home Fix-It Show.” He has been a regular since, diagnosing callers’ plumbing and water problems over the airwaves.

Because of his own experiences, Cunningham worked with his alma mater, North Cobb High School, to establish a vocational education program for construction, which has evolved into the “Ready for Work” program.

Superior Plumbing is fully funding the same program at Kennesaw Mountain High School and partially funding the program at Allatoona High School.

The company is also funding the Superior Plumbing Club at Turner Field that has special needs children at all home Braves games.

“I enjoy doing stuff that nobody knows about,” he said. “I already get enough pats on the back.”

Cunningham also serves on the board of directors for MUST Ministries. The charity’s president/CEO, Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard, calls him “a homegrown treasure.”

“I watch his energy level and his love for his community and stand back in amazement as he takes actions that make this a better world,” said Reighard. “He is a servant leader and avoids the limelight as much as he can while making an incredible impact.”

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