35 years of MARTA History

Sisters grew up in the family business—plumbing

From left, sisters Melissa and Michelle Cary say their father taught them to do every job well. Photo by Kathy Mitchell

 

Some people do a double take when they read the sign for a venerable Decatur plumbing company: M. Cary and Daughters.

But Melissa and Michele Cary delight in telling the story of how they joined their father’s business. “We lived in New York City when we were children and our father used to take us with him when he went out to do plumbing work just to keep us off the streets,” Melissa recalled, “We were his little helpers.” She said that growing up they worked in the plumbing business any days they weren’t in school.

When the family moved to the Atlanta area, Mitchel Cary started a business that in the mid-1990s moved to Decatur and the older daughter, Melissa, earned her master plumber credentials, making her at age 20 the youngest female master plumber in the Southeast.

The daughters now essentially run the business as their father takes more of a supervisory role. “He keeps an eye on us. He wants to be sure everything runs just the way it should,” Melissa said, adding that she and her sister treasure the values they learned from their father.

“He taught us to do every job the right way—not to cut corners—and to learn everything about the business. There are people in this business who only do certain types of jobs. Well, as far as my father is concerned, if you can’t do it all, you’re not really a plumber,” she said.

Still a family business, M. Cary and Daughters has crew members—a term they prefer to employees—who are not strictly speaking family. “We all feel like family. We look out for each other like family,” Melissa explained. “If any one of us needs something the others are right there.”

She noted that, while there are two female plumbers on staff in addition to the family members, it’s not an all-female business; there are male plumbers as well. No matter whom they hire or what their background, they are trained the M. Cary way, Melissa said.

“Lots of plumbers are trained that you line up A to B and B to C, but they don’t know why. We make sure everyone here understands the how and why of every job. That way if A, B and C doesn’t work, they can figure out what will work,” she said.

A favorite saying around M. Cary and Daughters is “a hacksaw and a can of glue doesn’t make you a plumber.” They explain that every plumber working for them is trained beyond what the law requires.

“You may have put in your three years and gotten your license, but we’re not going to turn you loose in a truck if you’re not ready,” Melissa said.

Although M. Cary and Daughters accepts a wide variety of commercial and residential projects, the business specializes in older buildings. Decatur, where many homeowners take pride in classic older homes some of which are more than 100 years old, is an ideal place for them, said Melissa, adding that she and her colleagues have come to be known as “the old house specialists.”

“We don’t do much new construction,” she noted. “Often with new construction, contractors want the cheapest plumbers they can find. If price is your bottom line, we may not be your plumbers. We’re not the most expensive, but we’re often not the least expensive. You’re not going to get better work, however.”

Melissa said the company prefers to work with quality materials, including copper fittings, where practical. “We understand that there are places where people don’t want to use copper because it’s too vulnerable to theft so we work with them.”

Commenting on whether their own daughters are likely to go into the family business, Michelle said, “I’m going to insist that they go to college. Then if they want to become plumbers, fine. But I want them to have options.”

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