Gregg Butts and Val Heier have put together a business that keeps everyday maintenance and operations simple for fraternities and local businesses.
Butts founded FratFix out of his Mercury Sable about 10 years ago.
“I had 30 years of experience in maintenance at Penn State and rolled it out across Beaver,” Butts said. “What we do in fraternities now is basically no different than what Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant does within all the Penn State buildings.”
The business intrigued Heier in 2009 so much that he came out of retirement to be operations manager.
They’ve grown the business to serve 15 fraternities and businesses around State College.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for FratFix?
Butts: From an alumni out of one of the bigger houses. I did some small work for them, and then he started becoming my adviser and said “You need to do this,” because no one else was. He saw the need for it and mentored me through to where we’re at now.
Q: Did the business have a slow build at first?
Butts: Well, we started out in one house and out of the trunk of a Mercury Sable, and now we have six full-time employees and three part-time employees and a small fleet of vehicles.
Heier: The number of businesses now that we have has got to be at least two dozen that are serviced regularly, and then there are always some people calling in.
Q: What services do you provide?
Butts: I’ve tried to make it a one-stop shop. I often put it to the brothers in the fraternities that I can do everything for them except get a float for Homecoming. We’re doing a beach party for one of them now, fencing, Porta Potties, just everything they need. As far as what we do, it’s really about everything. We operate kitchens, we do the landscaping, snow removal, in-house supplies like paper towels, toilet paper, cups, plates and whatever plates they need.
Heier: The other thing here is that the kids have to comply, because they are owners or leasers of a property. They need to comply with ordinances, and there are inspections twice a year. Greg and his maintenance people go through the houses and identify any potential problems and they fix it prior to inspections. And if the inspector wants anything else done Greg makes sure it’s done. He’s a mentor in that way to the kids with his advice and how to save money when they’re running their fraternity.
Q: What’s your favorite house to go to?
Butts: See, I don’t want to answer that, because it would be the house that got me started, but I’ve also got friends in all the houses. In all honesty, it’s hard to say what my favorite house is. I might have a favorite house, but I might not like some of the people I have to deal with in it.
Heier: That may go on for the two semesters when they’re in charge, and when the new crew comes in the whole thing changes.
Butts: I have a simple expression I refer to: “It’s like herding cats.” About the time you get them where you want them a whole new group is in charge, and you start all over again. I do enjoy it, and I think most of the brothers are great guys.
Q: So what’s difficult about working with fraternities?
Butts: That is what’s difficult. I would like to see fraternities keep their in-house executive boards in office longer. I think it would benefit the houses as a whole in an operating way, because just about the time a person gets a hold of what his responsibilities are his term is up, and the new guy comes in.
Heier: They elect new offices every year, so around Christmastime is when their terms end. Then what you have is the problem of getting contact information, sitting down and mentoring them. What we’ve tried to do is put together an operations manual, and in there we show the kids here are the services we provide in categories, and here’s what you spent previously, so budget accordingly. In that way, we help them financially, too.
Butts: The manuals were designed for when that transition happens in-house. That manual explains everything for the new house manager for how much they spent on maintenance, house-cleaning supplies, kitchen costs, costs for rush events and parent weekend and other things.
Q: Any good stories about things you’ve had to fix in a fraternity?
Butts: Those sprinkler lines will blindside you real quick. You get a four-inch sprinkler line with an 80-pound pressure break, and that’s the biggest mess I deal with.
Heier: When that happens the decision has to be made real quick what you’re going to do. Will you work with it as it is? Do you have to take the kids and put them up somewhere? And, if so, where?
Butts: We had to put 35 kids up at the Days Inn last year for two or three days, because you’ve got to have a functional sprinkler system in a commercial building or it can’t be occupied. And this type of thing will happen at 1:30 a.m. So this one time we had to put the kids up last year it was minus 15 or minus 20 below zero, and the line broke in the attic space and started flooding the building. We got it under control and shut down, but with that much water under that much pressure it’ll cause a lot of damage real quick.