You could joke that, even at just age 27, Brady Jolly is a fixture in the Northern Kentucky community.
Fixture is a loaded word in the world of plumbing, and ever since 1979, when his dad, Barry Jolly, started Jolly Plumbing in Alexandria, there’s been an unlikely association between the word “jolly” and the emotions more typically associated with the need to call in a plumber.
It’s an identity that has worked, though, and is reflected in the company’s signature slogan — “A flush beats a full house.” A smile and a chance to laugh often prove helpful for people stressed out over a problem they didn’t see coming.
With years of recognition built up around the community, Brady — a former basketball star at Campbell County High School and a graduate of NKU with a degree in entrepreneurship — took over leadership at the company in 2014 and now has established Jolly Enterprises, expanding the company’s reach into cleaning and restoration, property maintenance, and event management in the full-sized gym that is part of the company’s renovated 25,000-square-foot headquarters in Wilder.
We caught up with Brady to learn more about how he builds brand in a company whose name is already well-established, as well as other challenges he faces as a young owner of a mature business.
Do you view yourselves as a Northern Kentucky-centric company?
We’re definitely Northern Kentucky-centric. Take our plumbing business — we do about 30% of our business across the river. We've really taken the approach with our plumbing business to really grow in Cincinnati. You know, we've been around for 40 years now and we’re really, I think, a staple in the Northern Kentucky community. We want to emulate that exact same thing in Cincinnati.
Being local and being around for so long, [what's] just important for me with the community is just the idea that I'm going to be here my whole life and I want to be able when I'm at the grocery store to look people in the eye. I want us to be proud of what we have, and make sure we're taking care of people and being honest with them. I don't want to be out there running up and having our guys out there selling on everything they possibly can, where it makes people think we’re trying to take advantage of them.
Your company name is well established for a lot of people who have had contact with your company over the years. What ways do you work on building and shaping your brand now?
To me, it's all about our branding going back to being just cheery, happy, and fun with all of our service businesses. We want our customers to feel surprised by our service and think, man, this isn’t just another plumbing company. The same as our office here, we have a really neat, new-style industrial office. We've got a basketball court inside our office.
(Interrupts) Gee, I wonder why that happened?
Right, right. I had this idea that I was going to start every morning off by going out and shooting some free throws and then go into the office. But I don’t shoot free throws every day, even though I wish I did. I want to get rid of that old idea of what a plumber is and what a plumbing company is, and restructure that whole idea and that whole experience. That's been, I think, really good goal for us.
How old were you when you first started going along on jobs and getting involved with the business?
I was in fourth grade. That was the summer that I kick-started coming to work with dad. At that point, he was pretty much in the office all day. So I would either come in with him or one of the excavation guys named Scotty Mays, who still works for us, he would pick me up and we’d go out and I'd work on the excavation crews with him, and then he would drop me off. And still to this day, he tells the story of me falling asleep in his truck on the way home. I couldn't hang the whole day. They wore me out and I fell asleep on the way home in the truck.
Did you have the idea then that this was what you wanted to do for your career?
Yeah. I actually have four older sisters. I’m the youngest of five. My sisters worked in the office quite a bit when we were growing up, so you never really knew how that would shake out. I knew for sure that this is what I wanted to do. I always would think that I'm going to take this thing and grow it like crazy all over the country. My sisters, I think, at one point wanted to do that as well, but when they really dug into it, the girls didn't really like the plumbing stuff as much and were more grossed out by it, so they all now have their separate careers. And I ended up being the only one that really got into it with the family business.
So did every basketball and baseball team you played on growing up have “Jolly Plumbing” on the front of the jerseys?
Absolutely. I think that started with T-ball when I was four years old, and I had one of my best friends, Ryan Steffen, who played every year with me on those teams. I think we played on teams together for 15 years. And my sisters, too — every softball team they played on were the “Jolly Lady Plumbers.” Now it’s the second generation of Jolly baseball teams coming up. My sisters all have kids and I have 15 nieces and nephews. There are three or four teams out there already.
You’ve always done things like that to create a local presence for the company. Are there things you can do to create awareness that work across all of Northern Kentucky, or do you find that every community is unique?
I think it is changing. We have the unique thing in this area — we can have our guy in one day work ... in Butler or Falmouth, and then just two or three jobs later in the afternoon, he could be working in downtown Covington or downtown Newport or across the river in Cincinnati or Anderson or out to West Chester. Those are all different markets.
But what relates to everybody, I believe, is the idea of honest, friendly, prompt service. It is an interesting transition because like in Alexandria and then down into the outlying counties, we still get calls from people who literally were some of my dad's first customers, ever. You have to try to balance that they remember when you were a one-man shop, and Barry Jolly would answer the phone. We obviously have grown a lot, but we try to maintain that bond, that family feel in what we do. But they remember when you would come clean out a drain for $20 and now it might be $120, so you’ve got to try and keep creating the idea of value with those people who are your customer base.
So what is it like now to go back to your parents’ house for family gatherings with all this history behind you?
It’s great. I’m close with my sisters and close with my parents. We have Sunday lunch almost every Sunday. They all want to hear about the business and talk about the business, even if they are not involved in the business. When we were growing up, it was always Jolly for me and my sisters. It’s something we were all proud of, and we all want to see it succeed and grow. It’s an exciting thing.