How I Got My Job: Scott Liess on careers in the trades and how tech is reshaping plumbing industry

Eco-Flow Plumbing owner Scott Liess at his office in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Eco-Flow Plumbing owner Scott Liess spoke with Lookout about the plumbing industry, what it was like opening a business during the Great Recession and what the future looks like for a career as a plumber.

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Scott Liess is the owner of Eco-Flow Plumbing, a 24-hour plumbing company that services the Santa Cruz area.

Hailing from New Jersey, Liess grew up exposed to the plumbing industry while helping out at his uncle’s plumbing company. When he was 20, Liess started working for his uncle and stayed for two years. He later moved to California, where he freelanced and traveled while doing plumbing jobs. At 23, Liess moved back to New Jersey, where he went to plumbing trade school for three years.

Liess struggled with school, and at the age of 26, as he describes it, he “unplugged from mainstream reality” and focused on meditation, traveling and healing work. Liess continued to do odd plumbing jobs, eventually realizing that his strong suit was in plumbing.

Liess finally settled down in Santa Cruz at age 30 and got his plumbing license. In 2008, he opened his company, Eco-Flow Plumbing, with just a truck and some tools. Outside of his career, Liess finds passion in music and what he calls “the human potential.” He enjoys working out and, as he puts it, he’s into “flow kind of sports,” such as surfing and snowboarding.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


  • Completed a plumber license preparation internship in New Jersey
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) of California

Lookout: What is your job, and can you explain what it is?

Scott Liess: I am an owner of a plumbing company. I provide plumbing services and employ people to do that service.

Lookout: How did you get into the plumbing industry?

Liess: My mom was a bookkeeper for my uncle’s company and she would just bring us to work. My brother and I fell into the groove and we learned manual labor at kind of a young age. I probably started going on plumbing jobs with adults when I was 5 or 6. I was just being a little helper, handing tools and holding things. The customers liked to have kids on the job, too. You know, it’s a cool thing. Like the Yoo-hoo [drink] factory was right there, so you’d go to the factory and they’d give you Yoo-hoos.

Lookout: Can you describe how you became the owner of Eco-Flow Plumbing?

Liess: Reluctantly. I tried different things. I wanted to be a yoga teacher or go into the healing path of psychotherapy. School was just not my thing at all and I struggled in school big time. I tried and it didn’t work out. It was also hard for me to make a profit off of somebody else’s pain or suffering. But plumbing just came to me. No one had to explain it. Anything but history or geography just seemed foreign to me.

After some traveling, I just said [to myself], “Look, here’s the deal: You know this trade and you know you could do it.” There was also no way I could have worked for anybody, so that was my only option, really. You have to be prepared to sacrifice relationships and fun. Not to say you can’t have those things, but when people are depending on you for a paycheck, it becomes priority.

Lookout: What was it like to open a business during such an intense economic time?

Liess: It was hard. I drove all over the Bay Area getting work, but it was nice because I didn’t have any overhead. It was just me. I had a truck with tools and equipment. Then I just kind of slowly went on from there. I worked for five years on my own. Like I said, I was reluctant to start because I didn’t know if I wanted to be all-in. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give it that much energy. But then life happens and you find yourself [saying], “I’ve gone this far, let’s keep going.” You start hiring guys and getting payroll, getting a little bit bigger, buying more trucks and equipment. And life goes on.

Lookout: Can you describe what a typical day on the job looks like for you as an owner?

Liess: The typical day for me is usually a sauna or hot tub then a cold plunge and coffee. Then I make sure the guys know where they need to go and that they’re prepped and know what materials and equipment to take. Right now I’m wearing multiple hats. I am answering the phones, busy scheduling, invoicing estimates and looking for new hires. Then throughout the day, I am answering questions [that] the guys might have, and [they] FaceTime me about the problems on the job. Around 12 p.m., I go to CrossFit. I’ll come back [to the office] sometimes, go out in the field and check on employees, do quality control and make sure they’re doing what they say they’re going to be doing. One thing with the trades, you’re constantly doing quality control. I wrap up around 3-3:30 p.m.

Lookout: What was the typical day like for you when you worked as a plumber?

Liess: It’s a grind, that’s one thing about the trade. You start at 7 or 8 a.m. and you’re going for the whole day. One thing that’s nice about the work we do is that you’re out in the world. So if you want to get lunch, you get it from your favorite place. You’re seeing different people and you’re never stuck in one place for more than a couple hours. For somebody like me, there is no way I could work in a cubicle behind the screen for more than a couple hours a day.

Scott Liess in his office at Eco-Flow Plumbing
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout: What are your favorite things about the job and your biggest challenges?

Liess: Well, my favorite part of the job is the people. The biggest challenges of the job are [also] the people, but that’s partially true. The job itself, it’s hard work. You’re dealing with people’s fecal matter, you’re crawling underneath houses, you’re working at busy intersections. Most people want to spend their money on a vacation or a brand-new Tesla or acupuncture. The last thing they want to spend money on is a new water heater. We’re in the customer service business. Me and the guys are challenged by the people on the job. It’s all a balancing act of keeping everybody on track and moving in the right direction. You know, post-COVID people are kind of ungrounded and a bit freaked out, so you’re managing that. People are in fear, they don’t know what’s going on and then they have an emergency in their home. And you need to go into their home. We had to learn to navigate and make sure we’re safe, clean, healthy and make the customers feel comfortable.

Lookout: Did you notice a difference between your career before the pandemic and then during?

Liess: The difference was [challenges with] the supply chain. It was harder to get certain things, or the shipping lanes were closed for a while. I remember San Francisco Bay was just filled with ships. All the prices went up on the materials. They doubled to tripled and you saw it in every industry. We had to be more creative about choosing the jobs that you wanted to do, which is letting customers know, “Hey, we’re going to do our best in getting this, but you might have to wait two weeks.” I think communication has been more of a challenge. As a whole, as a collective in the world, it seems like people are on a little bit of an edge.

Lookout: What type of person do you think is best suited for this type of job?

Liess: So for the plumbing service end of it, No. 1, it’s got to be someone that hard work is just ingrained in their psyche. It’s how they were raised and it’s just a part of who they are. No. 2, respect and reverence for the job and the tools. No. 3, a good communicator [who] works well with others and [is] a team player. Four, someone who is aware and conscious but also mechanically able to understand things. You can work here and not be able to do that. You could do labor work, which is digging, sweeping and cleaning, but to be a mechanic or an installer, you have to be able to see the roadmap of the job in your mind, how it’s going to play out from nothing to a full installation.

In the office, somebody that’s able to be an office manager, able to understand those things but also understand the guys and the people in the field. You have to understand the clients.

Lookout: Are there any specific requirements for your job, or specifically for being a plumber?

Liess: What we look for is somebody who is honest, wants to learn a trade, works hard and shows up. Someone who is fair, a good communicator. Somebody has to be honest and respectful because they’re going into a customer’s home. Everyone that works for me, and it’s not many, I trust all of them.

I went to a plumbing trade school for a license, and if somebody went to that, that’s great. I don’t think they’re offering much of that anymore, or if someone went to college and wanted to learn a trade, that doesn’t matter. In California, you have to work for somebody for four or five years and then you get your license, so all you have to do is take a test. In New Jersey, you had to go to an apprenticeship [program] to get a license and the test was a lot harder than it is here.

Lookout: How much can someone get paid in this field?

Liess: Anywhere probably between $15 to $20 an hour [starting salary]. Depending on where you are in your career, you can make anywhere from $25 to $65 an hour, maybe even more.

Lookout: What advice would you give to a new graduate or a career-switcher interested in pursuing a job in this career field?

Liess: Learn as much as you can, go to trade shows and expos. It’s about getting hours. You don’t really know anything until you get that 10,000 hours, for anything. If you do the math, it’s like 40 hours a week for five years, that’s your average apprenticeship.

Lookout: What does the future of your business look like?

Liess: We want to grow at our speed, and what’s comfortable, have the best equipment to do the jobs we need to perform in the safest way. I think one thing we like to do is have the most innovative equipment. We like to use machines rather than human labor, and the guys really enjoy using the technology. A lot of the work we do is underground, which is sewer work. So we use cameras that go into the sewer lines and we use locators to locate the heads of the cameras to find out what breaks there are. We have equipment that digs like excavators and we have equipment that cleans sewer lines.

Lookout: What is the outlook for careers in plumbing?

Liess: I think it’s always going to be a good industry. As my dad would say, there’s an ass for every toilet seat. It’s just a part of being a human. As humans, we need plumbing.


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