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A Father's Day story: Lemont father, son build a better business together

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 1:18 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:39 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Father and son Phil (left) and Ryan Sullivan have been working together for eight years at their Sullivan's Home Design Center in Lemont. Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
Father and son Phil (right) and Ryan Sullivan have been working together for eight years at their Sullivan's Home Design Center in Lemont. Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com

LEMONT – It's not the traditional story of a son learning his father's trade while growing up, but timing and circumstance brought father and son Phil and Ryan Sullivan of Lemont into business together.

Phil owns Tom Callahan Plumbing, while Ryan owns Sullivan's Home Design Center, both located at 900 Main St. in Lemont.

"While our businesses are separate in name, we utilize a lot of each other's employees," Ryan said. "We utilize each other's services. We utilize each other's resources, as far as tools and trucks and brain power."

Phil said the business began as a plumbing company he started with his former partner, Tom Callahan.

About 10 years ago, Callahan moved, and Phil bought the entire company.

"I decided at that time that, though my name is Sullivan, to leave it Callahan Plumbing because the community knew the company fairly well at that point," he said.

In 2004, Phil purchased the property at 900 Main St. and built a showroom to expand into the kitchen and bath design business.

Ryan graduated from DePaul University in 2005 with a degree in business and marketing and was struggling to find a career.

"My dad had this exciting opportunity where he was going to open this second business, but he was going to need someone to run it on a day-to-day basis because he had his hands full with the plumbing business," he said.

Ryan had a partner in the business from 2005-09, when it was called Sullivan and James. He said he had little experience with plumbing or construction industry when he started.

"My dad never pushed his business on my brothers and I," he said. "Once we got to the age where maybe our manpower could help our father, we were spending our time playing club sports and being involved in extracurricular activities in high school."

While still learning about the industry, Ryan said he used marketing experience his father did not have to help with advertising and branding. He also made sure to become involved in the community, including the Lemont Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Right away, I knew I had to get out from my dad's spotlight in the community because a lot of people know him as 'Phil the Plumber' and I had to build my own name," he said.

While Phil has taught Ryan how to be a business owner, Phil said Ryan has brought a lot to the business, as well.

"When I saw Ryan in the business and I saw the value he had, I realized how important it was to have a family member in the business that I could be able to talk to and trust about things that maybe you wouldn't if it wasn't a family member," he said.

Phil said young people, in general, are an asset in the workplace and he tries to surround himself with younger employees.

"I think their ideas, the way they look at things, are refreshingly better in a lot of ways than my generation," he said.

Ryan said he gets most of his business leads from his father's plumbing company. He said that having a family business adds a trust factor with customers, especially in a small town like Lemont.

"When [customers] come in and see that I'm his son, their eyes, you can tell right away, light up," he said. "That, 'Oh, we had a comfort level with Phil for 20 years, so we know we're going to have that comfort level with you.'"

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More on the businesses

To learn more about Sullivan's Home Design Center, call 630-257-2999 or visit www.sullivanhomedesigncenter.com. For more information on Tom Callahan Plumbing, call 630-257-0464 or visit www.callahan-plumbing.com.

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