This year marks the 15th anniversary of Gary’s Plumbing. To help mark the occasion, WhatcomTalk sat down with Mary Gibb, Gary’s wife and the co-owner of the business, learn how they landed in Whatcom and built their company, what keeps them and their team busy now—and what the future has in store.
The couple met while living in the Denver, Colorado, area, but all that changed after Gary paid a visit to Seattle. “A business opportunity brought him out here, and it wasn’t going to pan out,” Mary remembers. “But Gary looked around Seattle, and he really liked it.” It wasn’t hard for him to make the visit permanent. “There’s such a need for people who have skills in the trades, so he was able to get a job in a few minutes. He worked in Seattle for about nine months as we planned the wedding, and he came back to Denver and we got married.”
Once the new couple had moved to Seattle, it was a short trip to discovering Bellingham, but they made it in a fairly unusual way. “Gary played lacrosse all through high school and he met up with some people—including a lot of Western alumni—that were starting a lacrosse team,” says Gibb. “Since a lot of them lived in Bellingham, they had parties and games up there, and Gary thought Bellingham was so much nicer than Seattle.”
The couple has called Bellingham home for the last 32 years, and started their family here 23 years ago, when Mary gave birth to twins. At the time, Gary kept busy working for a local plumber, but came to feel it was time to step out on his own.
It wasn’t their intention to grow their company as large as they have, but Mary and Gary aren’t complaining. “We started with one truck, and soon the phone would ring and ring and ring, because everybody knew how skilled Gary was. People wanted to come work for Gary,” Mary says.
Once they hired help, the couple became serious about managing their growth. “We try to do good by our employees, and then that translates into them doing a great job for the customer. It’s a way of treating people with respect, and it becomes a culture—a team culture, and a culture of improvement.”
As their family grew, it just seemed natural to bring their children into the business, as well. “We’ve always been team oriented, so the kids always came into the shop,” says Mary. “Will was taking some courses and needed a job, so he started filling in at the shop, then running parts, and that position grew for him. Sarah started out filling in on phones, and she’s become really skilled, learning all the aspects of the business.”
Family and staff being well taken care of, the couple looked next to the community. “Throughout COVID, a lot of people were worried, and we started thinking about how Gary’s could help. We developed a program called Gary’s Healthy Home. Customers can get discounts and products, like an air scrubber that can kill viruses on surfaces,” Mary says. “People want things that will help them and their family live a healthier lifestyle, and we can offer that through this program.”
They also noticed that another section of their clients were suffering during the pandemic, and worried about opening up again. “It’s bad enough that they had to shut down, but what’s even more terrible is when they’re trying to open back up and their plumbing has broken, or something like that,” says Mary. “We let lots of restaurant owners know we were there to support them, and we gave free services because we knew the pain they were going through. We wanted to help get them back on their feet.”
A local non-profit has also long struck a chord with the Gary’s crew. Brigadoon Service Dogs operates a program in which service dogs live with, and are trained by, incarcerated veterans. “What a thing: You serve your country, you wind up with PTSD, and you make some kind of mistake,” Mary says. “But maybe we can get back to their original idea of service. By training the dogs, they know they’re helping a brother or a sister. We’ve developed a supporting relationship over the years, whether that’s helping them with their plumbing and heating, or donating to an auction or volunteering.”
And Gary’s isn’t finished growing yet. “We’ve developed a new website that’s really looking fresh, so we’re really excited. We have some fun commercials coming out, and we have a podcast coming out, too, so that’s pretty exciting,” Gibb says. It’s clear that Gary’s is committed to continuing to serve both their clients—and their community.