Last year was one of the bleakest in history for most of us economically. Yet Cincinnati’s Thompson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling grew more than 50 percent in 2009. The company now has more than 50 service vehicles on the road and employs upwards of 80 people, with a penchant for hiring military veterans.

Last year was one of the bleakest in history for most of us economically. Yet Cincinnati’s Thompson Plumbing, Heating & Cooling grew more than 50 percent in 2009. The company now has more than 50 service vehicles on the road and employs upwards of 80 people, with a penchant for hiring military veterans.

Founded more than 80 years ago, the company has a lot going for it. A visit to its spiffy website,, reveals Thompson PHC to be at the forefront of operational excellence and progressive marketing. One element of their marketing program is especially noteworthy - adopting our country’s veterans as a way of saying thanks, and reaping rewards for the company along the way.

Last year Thompson celebrated Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11) by hosting a “Veteran’s Day Breakfast” for military veterans. At the breakfast, they presented a check to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) for $22,470 - a portion of Thompson’s profits from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30 that was the focal point of a “Disabled American Veterans Campaign.” The 1.2 million-member DAV is a non-profit organization founded in 1920 and chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1932 to represent this nation’s disabled vets.

More than 100 military veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan attended the complimentary breakfast, held at Thompson’s headquarters. In a PR coup, two major network news stations broadcast live from the event.

Thompson’s owner, Wesley Holm, conceived of the Disabled American Veterans program in honor of military veterans everywhere, dedicating it especially to his father, father-in-law and Thompson employees who have served. “Thompson Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling is proud to financially support these heroes who have helped keep our country free and safe, precisely at a time when others are cutting back on charitable giving,” said Holm.

“This is an incredible contribution at a time when our nation’s disabled veterans and their families need our services more than ever,” said DAV’s National Headquarters Executive Richard Patterson. His assistant, Marc Burgess, attended the breakfast and accepted the check on DAV’s behalf, noting that it was one of their largest individual contributions.

Thompson PHC is doing it again this year, and every year from now on, Holm told me. This year’s goal is to raise $25,000 for the DAV. (Persons wishing to make a contribution to DAV may do so via Thompson’s website,

The company also latched on to an equally good cause by sponsoring the “Freedom Concert.” Since 2003, the Freedom Concert Series has raised millions of dollars for the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarship money to the children of military personnel who have lost their lives in service to our country.

In a telephone conversation, Holm gushed about the widespread support his veterans’ initiatives have received from the news media and his community at large. Thompson’s robust performance in a miserable recessionary year ought to raise some eyebrows about the potential of charitable marketing as a business tool. The positive publicity he received was priceless - yet free. “But this fundraising event was really about the heroes who have made incredible sacrifices to ensure our freedom. A company like Thompson could not thrive and succeed in any other country in the world,” said Holm.

He told me a big reason the event went over so well was holding it on the more subdued Veteran’s Day rather than our widely celebrated patriotic holidays when people are distracted by weekend getaways and cookouts. On Memorial Day or Independence Day the breakfast likely would have been overshadowed by parades and government ceremonies and barely noted by the news media.

Anyone Can Play

Giving to charitable causes is worthwhile in its own right, yet nothing is wrong with doing it in a way that also benefits your business. Not everyone has the wherewithal to pull off an ambitious program like Thompson’s but there are opportunities in every community to do well for your business by doing good for others.

Years ago I wrote of a plumbing service company that gave away free carbon monoxide (CO) detectors as a promotion, and a local TV station treated it like a public service announcement. They sent a camera crew to a customer’s home and interviewed one of the firm’s service technicians about the dangers of CO gas and how to prevent it. Another company donated service agreements to a PBS station to auction off as part of its annual fund raising drive. Opportunities are endless.

In addition to military veterans there are numerous worthy causes your company might be able to support. We live in an era of constraints that are forcing state and local governments, school districts and even private charities to cut back funding for programs aimed at children, senior citizens, the indigent and disabled, etc. Pick a group that’s close to your heart and put on your thinking cap for services and promotions you can offer that would help them and rebound to your business benefit.

It might involve donating your services to some institution. Heck, many of you don’t have enough work to keep all of your crews busy anyway. Here’s a way to do some good and maybe generate some great buzz for your business in your local community.

Or, you can take Thompson’s approach and designate a portion of your profits to your charity of choice. Yeah, I know, what profits?

Well, I suggest you consider upping your asking price by 5 percent to 10 percent on all jobs, making it known that this percentage will be donated as part of your program of charitable support. I bet a lot of customers would be willing to pay a slightly higher price knowing some of it is going for a good cause.

These are hardly the only ideas available for doing well by doing good. Look around your own community and heed what various philanthropic organizations and individuals are doing. Charitable promotions are not patented.

OK, I can sense your eyebrows raising a thousand miles away. Geez, Jim, we can barely feed ourselves much less raise money for others. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re missing a key point I’m trying to make. That is, I’m not suggesting charity for charity’s sake. Whatever program you come up with ought to be designed in such a way as to generate more business for your company. The impact may not be immediate but at the least it should open doors with movers and shakers in your industry and your community that will result in more work and increased profits down the road.

And, it just might take some of the sting out of this awful recession by making you feel better about yourself and your chosen profession.