There was the iconic Rosie the Riveter, a fictional woman munitions worker of World War II. Then came Lillian Baumbach, recognized in the 1950s as America’s first female master plumber.
Now Woonsocket has its own queen of the trades, Anne the Plumber.
Based on years of study, experience and overcoming male skepticism, Anne-Marie Rosario Flores can show you her licenses as a master plumber and master pipefitter, and her associate degree from New England Institute of Technology. She also can show you an impressive roster of satisfied customers.
Flores, 45, started working early in life at a variety of occupations, including church jobs and working with nuns. Then she trained on the job and became a demolitions expert in Boston for several years with North American Site Developers, a national construction company.
In 2004, having gained on-site experience in several trades, she decided to go into plumbing.
“I like working with my hands, dirty work doesn’t bother me and plumbing offers good pay,” she said. “So, I enrolled in a two-year course at New England Tech, graduated and went to work for various master plumbers earning the experience you need to pass the state license examinations.
” By 2014, she opened her own statewide plumbing business – Anne the Plumber – based in Woonsocket.
“It’s a tough road for anyone,” she said, “but it’s extra tough for a woman in a male- dominated trade. ‘Whadaya know about it?’ a lot of guys would say. But then I show them that I know a lot, and everything is OK.
“Also, being a female plumber has definite benefits. When I arrive in my clean, white van at the home of a customer with a plumbing problem, the door is usually opened by a woman who is more comfortable with me than some strange man. Also, husbands don’t have to worry about their wives” being home alone with a female plumber.
Baumbach, who began working in her family’s plumbing business as a child in Washington, D.C., experienced the same problems that Flores did in a male-dominated trade, but she also experienced benefits too. Women liked seeing her and she became popular.
Baumbach also had an extra advantage working in the 1950s. The Korean War was underway and soldiers who saw her picture in local newspapers made her a popular pinup girl, much like the mythical Rosie the Riveter, whose dynamic picture in World War II decorated barrack walls across the world.
In its first three years, Flores’ company has grown to include three master plumbers, an apprentice and an office administrator. The company primarily serves residential properties, but it also serves dental offices, charter schools and assisted-living complexes throughout much of Rhode Island.
Flores says her approach to plumbing has proven highly successful in attracting business.
“I don’t surprise people with one big number, either before or after a job is completed,” she said. “I provide cafeteria pricing showing the cost of parts and service. I talk in layman’s terms. And I make clear what has to be done, what maybe is needed soon, and what is needed but can be done later.
“If you have a cracked boiler or a leaking water heater or a sewage pipe leaking sewage, that’s big trouble. It has to be fixed. But a lot of other things are elective. They can wait. I provide prices but don’t push. I make people comfortable in their own homes.
” Flores says she has another advantage in the selection of plumbers brought into her company.
“I want fellow workers who treat customers the way I do and respect each other’s capabilities. And I want an environment where we have fun,” she said.
Unlike many small-business owners in Rhode Island, Flores has no complaints about state and local rules and regulations.
“I get along with the regulators,” she said. “They know my work and treat me fairly.”
Looking at the future, Flores sees some additional growth in the next year and says if that happens, she will add another master plumber to her staff.
“But that’s it,” she said. “That’s about where I want to keep the company. I don’t want to get much bigger. That’s when you lose control.
“Today I can be involved in every job, making sure we do the job right. And our customers know that and expect that when one of our white vans with our Anne the Plumber logo on its side pulls up at their doors.
“When you get a lot bigger, that’s when things get sloppy,” she said.n
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