THE ENTREPRENEURS

East End Plumbing keeps on plugging with second generation


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When Art Mascilli Sr. started East End Plumbing and Mechanical in 1957, he had $4,000 from a cashed-in veterans’ life insurance policy, the support of his wife, Florinda, and little else.

Nearly six decades later, his sons Arthur Jr. and Anthony have taken on the day-to-day operations of the company, which sees annual revenue between $3 million and $4 million.

“I used to tell them what to do,” the Mascilli patriarch said with a chuckle, as he sat with his wife and sons in their Sharpsburg storefront. “Now, they tell me what to do.”

Mr. Mascilli immigrated to the U.S. from Italy as a teenager, and was drafted into the Korean War not long after receiving his journeyman’‍s license from the now-defunct Connelly Technical Institute. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers, where he rose to the rank of sergeant and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in battle.

He started the plumbing business after being honorably discharged.

Both Mascilli sons were raised working in the plumbing company, and while both pursued business-oriented education and training, they intended to return to the family business at some point. As they watched colleagues get laid off from information technology jobs similar to their own in the early 2000s, it seemed like the time had come.

“Our objective has always been to continue the business,” said Anthony Mascilli. “My parents created a legacy, and every decision they made was for the benefit of their family.”

Arthur Mascilli Jr. said he and his brother were both mindful of how the succession of a family business often hinged on the second generation.

“You hear story after story of the kids taking over and they fail,” he said. “Our parents instilled an appreciation for the business in us, and my brother and I both have mechanical aptitude, so it made a lot of sense for us to be more involved.”

East End Plumbing has done work for the Pittsburgh Public Schools since the early days, and has since added dozens of other school districts in southwestern Pennsylvania. The firm was involved in the renovation of the Highland Park fountain, and Arthur Mascilli Jr. remembers when a car ran into it last fall. “We saw it on the TV news and there’‍s this car upside down in the fountain, but the spout was still working,” he said, evidence that the plumbing work was sound.

They also take great pride in having customers whose parents and grandparents were customers, too. On a recent afternoon, Mrs. Mascilli was talking to an elderly customer patiently (and loudly) on the phone and giving instructions about when to expect a plumber to come fix her sink.

Mrs. Mascilli, who runs the front office and manages the bills as she has since the company started, said having her sons as part of the company has not come without moments of disagreement, but the family rules don’‍t allow for discussing work during Sunday dinners.

“We may bicker, but we never fight,” said Mrs. Mascilli.

And, Anthony added, they have a business lunch every Friday. “We are all passionate about what we do, but we don’t take work issues personally,” he said. “Being part of a family business is kind of like a marriage; if you never fight, there’‍s something wrong. The important thing is we always resolve our disagreements. And we never talk business at the dinner table.”

Mr. Mascilli Sr. moved the company from its original location in Shadyside to Sharpsburg in the late 1980s, as he was preparing to wind things down a bit and look toward his retirement. The sons have found they are outgrowing the Sharpsburg location and have plans to move operations to Richland in the near future.

Like many trade-based companies, the Mascillis say they have had difficulty finding skilled workers and they scratch their heads wondering why. “A technical degree has so much value,” said Anthony Mascilli. “It seems like kids are always steered to go to college, like there is some negative image of the trades.”

While the Mascilli sons are nowhere near retiring, they’re both thinking of what will happen to East End Plumbing when they are ready to slow down. Their children aren’t old enough yet, and they wouldn’t push the next generation toward the business unless they were really interested in it.

“When they’‍re ready, they can make that choice,” Arthur Jr. said. “But we hope that we can continue to grow the business and build on what our parents started.”

 

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Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241.

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