2019 Nominee Five: Standard Plumbing & Heating

In 1900, a german-speaking Canton grinding foreman named Tom Grabowsky died of black lung disease. His son was only 10 years old and didn’t know what big things were in store for him. 60 years later the old grinding foreman’s grandson introduced air conditioning to Stark County. It’s a Standard American story.

Dave Grabowsky grew up under the protective wing of two men so different from each other they could only be father and son. His grandfather, the grinding foreman’s son, was a “really tough guy.” His father, on the other hand, was once referred to by one of Canton’s leading businesspeople as “the nicest man in Stark County.”

The grinding foreman’s son became a craftsman who roamed Canton with a pack of friends, and employees, installing modern plumbing in commercial buildings. Every morning they walked through downtown Canton pulling small wagons loaded with tools and parts. At night they drank beer and told stories. That was Standard Plumbing in the early half of the 20th century. But, Canton businesspeople knew Herman Grabowsky as a man of his word. When the Great Depression came, he told his landlord he’d have to close up shop and leave. The landlord told him to stay and pay him when he could. A few years later the back rent was paid in full and Standard ended up purchasing the Walnut Street building where their headquarters still stand.

Herman’s son, Bob was smooth where his father was rough. An engineer by temperament and training, he befriended actor Paul Newman at Kenyon College. He joined Standard in the 1950s and was the engineer who brought air conditioning to Canton City Hall and then the county as a whole. When Belden Village Mall was built, hundreds sat on hills watching helicopters chartered by Standard as they set giant air conditioning units on the roof. When Malone College wanted to relocate from Cleveland to Canton, they couldn’t afford plumbing and the hot water heating system for their new building. Herman and Bob Grabowsky told them to pay when they could, the same deal offered Herman by a depression-era landlord. Malone accepted and became a Stark County fixture.

Both Dave’s grandfather and father were motivated by things other than fast growth. His grandfather was a craftsman and enjoyed spending time with his friends. Dave’s father was motivated by engineering challenges and barely tolerated the service side of the business. When his turn came, Dave invested heavily to expand service capabilities and began hiring the best people available and giving them the best tools. He instilled a culture of personal ownership and worked to make Standard a place where people loved to come to work. As a result the company has grown ten-fold under his leadership. Dave’s wife, Laura, the daughter of a successful Cleveland business family, has become Dave’s most valued business sounding board because she saw her father face similar business challenges.

Over the years, Standard has worked in virtually every major building in Stark County, from installing intricate humidity control systems at the Pro Football Hall Of Fame to renovating systems Dave’s grandfather originally installed in the Palace Theater.

The Grabowsky legacy was best expressed by a new customer who first called some Standard competitors. All told him his job was beyond their capabilities and he should call Standard. Stunned by the competitors respect for Standard, he finally took their advice.

Climbing on the strong shoulders of a rough-around-the-edges craftsman and a nice-guy engineer, Dave Grabowsky built a lasting legacy for a Canton family started by an old grinding foreman who died before his time.