Water Works

WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGES courtesy Michelle Cernak

Leaky faucets, running toilets, burst pipes…such is a day in the life of a plumber. And while they may be in an industry of professionals whose primary purpose is solving problems, the team at Westark Plumbing gives their clients a level of service that goes above and beyond, making even the biggest plumbing nightmare one that is as painless as possible.

Initially opened in 1993, Westark Plumbing is under the ownership of husband-and-wife team Bryan and Michelle Cernak, who bring their expert skills and passion to the table. A master plumber in Oklahoma and Arkansas, Bryan is also a contractor in Oklahoma and a serial entrepreneur. During his time as owner of Ed Walker’s Drive-In, Bryan was first introduced to Westark Plumbing, utilizing the company as his go-to for clogged drains, leaky sinks, broken water heaters, and any other plumbing issues that arose at the landmark diner. “He liked the business structure at Westark and their employees’ work ethic,” Michelle says.

Being the business mind he is, Bryan jumped at the chance to buy Westark Plumbing when it went up for sale in 2007. “We saw the growth potential—after all, everyone has a toilet!” Michelle says with a laugh.

The fit couldn’t have been more perfect. “Bryan was ready to get out of the restaurant business and had worked construction in the past,” Michelle explains. “He is really a jack-of-all-trades and worked the field before, so he relates well with his crew. Bryan is also a great teacher and is very patient. He cross-trains our crew to keep building our success in the field and genuinely wants the plumbing industry to succeed. What better way to do that than to create plumbers from the beginning and train them like apprentices?”

Because he understands technicalities and also grasps the need for explanation in layman’s terms, Bryan also assists with customer service. “He has a special way of helping people understand technical situations that can be very confusing if you don’t know how a plumbing system works—which is most clients,” Michelle notes. “They expect water to appear when they need it—as they should. But sometimes, an easy-to-understand explanation is needed not only for a reason for the repair but exactly how we intend to fix it. Bryan is incredible at giving that explanation to people, so they feel comfortable and understand the process.”

Customers receive those explanations appreciate the extra attention as it builds a level of trust that not all plumbers forge with their clients. It is one of the hallmarks of Westark Plumbing and its team—which includes a total of fifteen employees comprised of a drain team, plumbing crew, grease, and septic team, as well as an office staff of three: office coordinator and lead dispatcher, Robyn Barker; office assistant, Devin Neill; and company president, Michelle Cernak. “The office team’s goal is to keep Bryan, our service manager, equipped with information and tools to keep the plumbers and drain cleaners performing efficiently out in the field while assisting our valued customers,” Michelle explains.

As well as the company president, Michelle is the “numbers and marketing girl,” boasting a professional background in accounting and marketing. She, like Bryan, is also heavily involved in the community. “It’s the only way to stay connected, and I love the ‘boots on the ground’ method of running a business. Being an active community partner with the chamber and local nonprofits, we ensure we don’t just hand someone an invoice. We understand and appreciate that everyone uses water, sewer, gas, and grease and know the infrastructure needs to be in good operation for our customers to thrive in their business and homes.”

Married for more than twenty-five years, the Cernaks know teamwork. “We respect and trust one another to do the right thing every time, without question,” Michelle says. “Bryan is the brains of the field, and I know how to make sure the company is strong by keeping Westark Plumbing fresh and known, our credentials up-to-date, and everyone paid on time.”

Their goal, aside from fixing plumbing issues in Fort Smith and the surrounding areas, is, at its heart, excellent service. “We build relationships based on quality service, dependability, and the technical expertise,” Michelle says. “Our goal at Westark Plumbing is to serve our clients to the best of our ability and ensure our abilities are always at their very best.”

That is essentially their mission statement and something that sets them apart—as is their dedication to prompt service. “We answer our phones every time someone calls,” Michelle contends. “We take care of you immediately! We believe that what goes around comes around, and trust is our biggest asset. We provide people with honest, reliable, quality work with the kind of customer service that brings peace to our clients. Face it—no one calmly calls when they have a busted pipe or an overflowing toilet. We understand, and we care. We’ll make the problem disappear so our customers can continue like it never happened.”

As with any small business, they face their fair share of challenges. “Finding licensed plumbers to add to our team is difficult,” Michelle admits. “Also, inflation is a big challenge. Prices have tripled in the last year, and it’s hard to charge customers more to meet the increase in the cost of materials and everything else, but it’s something we must do so we can continue to serve when needed.”

Westark is a company in which the Cernaks and their employees take pride. “We pride ourselves on our quick turnaround for emergencies,” Michelle says. “Most customers can’t wait, and we understand. We build relationships, and customers have grown to trust us. We make ourselves different by the things that we do: We communicate with customers, keep up with safety and code regulations, we treat people like humans that share the same planet, and we play well with others!”

They also encourage their employees to be healthy, offering an onsite gym and access to healthy snacks and hydration for the crew. “If we feed our cars junk, they don’t run well,” Michelle observes. “Bodies are the same. I lift weights with the guys and walk around the office property with the office staff. We want it to be a healthy, fun environment, and I believe we’ve achieved that.”

Whether faced with a small leak or a significant backflow issue, Westark Plumbing can be counted on to give honest, quality work with integrity and heart.

For more information, visit westarkplumbing.com or call 479.646.5151.

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