With a single truck and a workshop with a leaky roof, Percy Brown and his son Percy “Joe” Brown Jr. started a plumbing business on the Island in 1956. Now, Joe Brown’s son, Russell, heads the family business, which has expanded to everything from plumbing and heating to oil, gas and even portable toilets, as it celebrates 70 years.
On Friday, August 18, the 20 or so employees joined with customers and well wishers for a barbecue in celebration of the achievement.
“As the island grew up around us, we kept expanding and growing,” said Russell Brown as he sat with a full plate of celebratory lunch.
Five generations of the Brown family have now taken up the task of keeping pipes piping, heaters heating and toilets flushing. Brown’s children, Chelsea, Rob, Whitney, Nick and Jacoby have all pitched in, and his grandchildren are coming up behind them.
Russell Brown said plumbing and heating are still the mainstay of the operation, but the past decade has seen expansion to other sectors. In 2018 they purchased Heanssler Oil Company with its gas station on Route 15. Brown said they’ve also expanded into the portable toilet business.
Laughing, Russell said one of the best jobs on his roster is the one no one wants to do—portable toilet servicing.
“You make your own hours, you get your own truck and you wear gloves. It’s not like you’re going inside the things,” he said.
Despite the steady growth of the company and the family alike, Brown said his biggest challenge is finding staff.
“I’ve got ads out in every newspaper and I haven’t heard a thing. It’s hard to get people to get into this business.”
As far as job training goes, Brown said the business helps its employees get licenses in everything from plumbing to commercial truck driving.
“If you want a job, we’ll teach you how to do it,” he said.
Even as the search continues for staff, Brown said his focus is still on providing good service to his customers.
One such customer, Bob Allen from Deer Isle, told a story that he felt showed Percy Brown and Son’s values.
“It was the big Christmas Eve storm we had this winter,” he said. “We had gone up to Bangor to see our kids, but the power was out and we had to get something to stop the pipes from freezing.”
Brown, already out replacing propane tanks that night, came within the hour with a solution in hand, allowing Allen to spend Christmas with his family.
“They really do the best they can to take care of you,” Allen said.
Renee Sewall, another happy customer enjoying the festivities, commented, “You call here and they simply pick up—it gives you a sense of security.”
As the business approaches a century, Brown said he has (mostly) enjoyed working with his family.
“They care, you can count on them to care,” he said.