Growing up in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado, Diego Lujan learned early on the value of hard work.
“Anybody that’s familiar with the San Luis Valley knows that you’re raised with a survival mindset,” Lujan said. “If you want something in life, you have to go out and get it.”
Lujan said he’s been hustling as far back as he can remember. Even when he was in kindergarten, he used to sell gum to his classmates for a profit. At 17, after dropping out of high school, he found his calling when he took a job as a plumber.
“What I fell in love with with plumbing is that you’re doing something new every day, you’re learning something new, and you’re being challenged,” Lujan said.
“I operate better when I’m under pressure and when I’m challenged. And that’s what plumbing does every day for individuals in the trade.”
Lujan said he took to plumbing like a fish to water, and before long, he had hit the ceiling of the profession.
“In 2014 I was maxed out in my career,” Lujan said. “I was young, only 24 or 25, and I was already a supervisor leading large commercial plumbing projects. … So that’s when I started the business.
“I knew from the moment I began in plumbing that I would own my own business someday. And I’m a firm believer that if you believe in yourself, never give up, and work hard in life, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
When Lujan started Alphalete Plumbing & Heat, he was working full time for another plumbing company during the day and building his business each night.
Lujan worked on Alphalete in his spare time for about six months before finally leaving his former company.
On his very first day running Alphalete full time, he got a glimpse of the challenges that awaited him as a business owner.
“I bought a little Dodge Dakota for work and … on the first day fully on my own, I was on my way to a customer’s house and the truck broke down,” Lujan recalled.
He called the customer and promised he’d still make it out to the site, but that meant renting a truck.
When all was said and done — after the truck rental and the price of repairing a broken flex plate in the Dakota — Lujan had spent $150 of his own money to finish the job.
Since then, he has grown his business significantly, and the customers he gained early on are still with him.
Alphalete now provides both commercial and residential plumbing and heating services, doing everything from garbage disposal replacements and fixing leaks, to water heater repairs and installing in-floor radiant heat.
Alphalete now has eight full-time employees and a fleet of seven trucks.
And Lujan constantly looks to bring innovations to his business — a trait that has become particularly valuable as the world adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For years, Lujan has dreamt of opening a plumbing trade school. Now, he’s found the perfect time to do so.
“I’m passionate about educating people about the trade,” Lujan said. “And a lot of people are going to be out of work, that were employed, because of the coronavirus. So I want to be able to give people opportunities.”
Lujan is looking to launch the trade program toward the end of June, using curriculum from a nationally recognized trade school and hosting classes in Alphalete’s business office.
Since COVID-19 still warrants strict social distancing measures, Lujan has also launched virtual plumbing consultations to save clients money and limit how long they’re exposed to a plumber in their home.
“It will help people to diagnose their own issues that they can solve themselves, like tightening drippy faucets and things like that, but also helps to pre-diagnose bigger plumbing issues,” Lujan said. “So it saves time and money for everyone and results in a quicker fix. And it eliminates the need to diagnose, then go get parts at the supply house, and spend an extra four hours in a home.
“Now … we can get what we need, show up and get the job done in a fast, timely manner and move on. So this is going to be great. It’s something that’s going to stick with us after the coronavirus [pandemic].”