CASA GRANDE -- Even in his young adulthood, Bob Brutinel had no idea he was going to be a plumber, or that he was going to live in Casa Grande. Yet now his name, and indeed his face, have become synonymous with both.
That tends to happen when a business in a small town stays open for more than 70 years and remains a go-to destination when people encounter their messiest problems.
Such is the standing for Brutinel Plumbing & Electric, which has been serving Casa Grande and the surrounding area since 1948. While the man who gave the business its name is no longer the owner, residents likely know his face well, as it is plastered on the company’s many vans and trucks, not to mention the sign in front of the building.
He attributes the success of the business to a set of ethics, which the company continues to live by to this day.
“We’ve been honest, people are never over-charged and we always back up our work,” he said. “This office is very well-run.”
Getting to that point took an interesting road. Brutinel’s parents were living in France, where his American father had met his mother following World War I. When his mother became pregnant with him, the couple decided they needed to move to the United States if they were going to make ends meet. On their way to Clifton, Arizona, they stopped to visit family in El Paso, Texas, which is where Brutinel happened to be born, much to his chagrin as he considers himself an Arizona boy.
After serving in Japan during World War II, including on Iwo Jima, Brutinel returned to the States and met Maxine, a woman from Casa Grande who would eventually become his wife. She was still a student at the University of Arizona at the time, so the two moved to Tucson.
There, Brutinel needed something to do for a living, so he took up an apprenticeship at a plumbing company. He would get trained two days a week while working on the job until a recession hit and he was laid off. His boss told him to find something to do until the good times came back and he could be hired again.
It turned out, however, that Brutinel would never return to that old job. He and Maxine instead moved to Casa Grande, where he started operating a plumbing business out of his home at 1128 N. Brown Ave. The going rate for service calls when he started was $2.50 an hour.
At the time, there were only about 4,500 people in town, so it wasn’t too difficult for word of mouth to spread. So what started as a handful of customers quickly grew, and Brutinel Plumbing soon became a go-to name when somebody had trouble in their home or business.
Brutinel would later buy a lot downtown across from what was then Bashas’ and is now Food City. There, he would operate and continue to expand his business until 1981, when he sold it to his young neighbor, Wes Baker. Baker would then purchase a house that had been used as a radio station at 600 E. First St., where the business still operates today.
“I was tired,” Brutinel said. “I was tired of always trying to collect, tired of contractors taking bankruptcy on me, tired of recessions. So I just had enough.”
Now, there are 27 employees on the payroll, and the business is still going strong. One of those employees is none other than Bob Brutinel himself, who continues to come into the office every day, meeting with customers and finding odd jobs to do to help out despite his own kids’ already being retired from their careers.
Of course, while the ethics and dedication to the field remain the same, a lot has changed in the plumbing business. The biggest change that Brutinel didn’t want to make but was eventually convinced of was payment policy. Back in the day when everyone knew everyone, he would bill customers. That method grew outdated with the rapid population growth, and customers started having to pay on the spot. Computers have also automated a lot of the business.
But until, as he says, “they throw dirt on my face,” Brutinel plans to ride out all these changes and continue to be a part of people’s lives as he has for many decades. He said he’s now working with people whose grandparents were customers. They always enjoy seeing him and he always enjoys providing whatever help he can.
“I don’t want to watch television all day and I don’t sit at a bar,” he said. “So this is great.”