Should you offer drain cleaning services?
Adding an additional service to your business can be a daunting decision.
Adding an additional service to your business can be a daunting decision. With the number of drain cleaning tools out there designed to make the task as simple as possible, adding this service to your line up can prove to be very rewarding.
There is still much to take in to consideration, though. PM asked its readers to help each other out. Below, several contractors offer advice on how to implement these additions, what the benefits are and what their favorite tools are.
Be a one-stop shop
Contractor: Joseph C. Wood, owner, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, Dorchester, Mass.
Benefits: Drain cleaning is an essential service to offer your clients for many reasons: One, it is important to be a one-stop shop today as much as possible. Two, you are often the first call for a client and being of service is the name of the game. Three, a drain cleaning tool might be the most profitable item on your truck.
Implementation: I recommend having one person run point and ‘own’ the drain cleaning trade, if you don’t have someone already. This person can swing over and run other calls if you don’t have the volume and then become a department head over time if things go well.
Favorite tool/product: Super Vee from General Pipe. This tool is a small investment that packs a big punch. We’ve used this tool when a larger piece of equipment wouldn’t fit (or similar) and got our client out of a jam.
Tips: Use a blank plate on the tub waste and overflow to prevent the overflow tube from becoming damaged or loosened during the drain cleaning. Nothing is worse than a callback for a leaky drain line. If you only treat the problem and never offer a solution, it is not a good recipe for repeat business.
Contractor: Willy Hughes, owner, service manager, The Polite Plumber, Ledgewood, N.J.
Benefits: The benefits of drain cleaning services are an outstanding segue into plumbing work and vice versa.
Tips: Do not get involved with drain cleaning service unless you are well prepared and trained with the proper equipment. What I love about drain cleaning is it separates the men from the mice. If you just dabble in drain cleaning, sooner or later you will run into a problem that you won’t be able to solve and have to call in a pro. Be that pro. A good drain cleaning company is no rag-tag operation. If you’re into drain cleaning, you have a great understanding of not only how to fix the problem, but also how to prevent it from reoccurring.
Hire the right people
Contractor: Trent Dawson, owner, Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Mid-Ohio, Mansfield, Ohio
Benefits: Not only will these services bring additional value and revenue to the company, but they also will allow for employee growth and will expand the amount of services offered.
Implementation: It all starts with the hiring process. My first tip would be to hire someone that understands the service industry as a whole, along with all aspects of plumbing and drain cleaning. It’s important that they understand the company’s goals and possess strong leadership skills; you then, in return, have to compensate well. It’s also important to provide employees with the correct tools to do the job correctly and efficiently. Additionally, you must be sure to charge the correct price for drain cleaning and must also ensure your employees are educated on the difference between drain opening and cleaning — they are very different but are often called the same service.
Favorite tool/product: My favorite tool is the Ridgid camera. It’s durable, has a very clear picture and helps the consumer know and understand the difference between an open drain and a clean drain.
Tips: Hire good people and train them well. Take care of the customers and they’ll take care of you.
It takes a truck
Contractor: Jim Criniti, general manager/owner, Zoom Drain Philadelphia
Benefits: Adding drain services to your existing business can be another profit center if it’s done right. However, it takes more than just buying a drain cleaning machine and/or sewer camera and throwing it on an existing service truck. Asking your technicians to offer and perform one more service out of that single truck can be a morale killer. When do we stop asking them to be masters of every trade out there?
Implementation: To do it right — to be considered a drain pro — it takes a whole truck. That means outfitting a specific truck that’s geared toward drain cleaning, inspections and even some drain repairs. Our trucks carry five different drain machines, a sewer camera and locator, and a high-pressure water jet. Plus, we carry all of the other miscellaneous supplies needed to complete a job — things like bowl waxes, j-bends and traps, and drain-care products for treating roots and grease.
Favorite tool/product: Well, you need them all, but a truck-mounted high-pressure water jet is essential if you want to provide great cleaning solutions for your customers.
Tips: First, give your technicians all of the tools and equipment to do the job right. In addition to drain cleaning machines, make sure that each truck has a sewer camera. Your technicians need this diagnostic tool to check their work — to know they cleaned the drain thoroughly. They also need it to see if there’s a problem with the drain so they can recommend the proper solution. This eliminates the guesswork.
Second, develop a written set of standards that your technicians can use to evaluate each drain’s condition. Is a 5-foot sag or belly in the drain acceptable to you or to your local plumbing code? How about 10 feet? Should your technicians all be recommending a repair in this case? Make sure they’re all on the same page, they are evaluating a drain’s condition and that subsequent repair recommendations are consistently and always in the customer’s best interest.
Find a mentor
Contractor: Matthew Kuntz, vice president, Jupiter Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing and Electric, Tequesta, Fla.
Benefits: We were an air conditioning contractor first, then we added plumbing then electric and, lastly, drain cleaning and sewer replacement. The benefits to having a drain cleaning division is being able to handle any issue your clients have rather than them going to another vendor that might handle plumbing and risk losing the client. The drain cleaning business can be a large part of your business, especially when you get into the sewer replacement part of the cleaning business.
Implementation: Start by doing small drain issues like sinks and hire someone with experience clearing lines. You can cause a lot of damage if you don’t know what you are doing.
Favorite tool/product: General drain machines, Spartan drain machines, Ridgid snakes, Ridgid cameras and locator, and US Jetter for large jobs.
Tips: Drain cleaning is dirty, so make sure your team has the tools to protect clients’ homes, and clean up properly after the job. Doing this gets you referrals when a client says the plumber mopped my house after the drain cleaning or finished the air in my home after a bad bathroom clog. Always know where the line goes; you can flood a client’s home or run a snake into a bathroom and cause major damage. If you don’t know, don’t guess.
Find a mentor to help you start your drain division, someone that will help you get the right equipment. Having a mentor that has made all the mistakes helps you be profitable faster and makes the business more enjoyable. Learn the easy way.
Contractor: Todd Kasinski, plumber - restricted appliance, Milwaukee Plumbing & Piping
Benefits: Everyone has drain problems and a lot of people don’t understand how to clean a drain or even think about them. But in the end, proper drain maintenance makes a huge difference.
Favorite tool/product: I’ve really enjoyed the M12 Drain Snake. It’s easier to use than a traditional hand-crank unit. I’ve been using it for about half a year. It’s making me much more efficient and more productive. I used to use just a hand-crank one, or a corded unit. On the corded unit, the cords frequently got in the way or wrapped around the drum. On the crank-unit my arms often got sore from constant cranking.
Tips: Get a camera for the sewers because if you’re cleaning a sewer, no one can see inside it. Invest. Being able to see what you’re tackling is hugely beneficial.
Keep honest. Do a good job. Your reputation is everything. Keep it simple. Customers want to know what’s going on. In regard to tools, there are huge benefits to having cordless units like the drain snake I mentioned. You’ll have the capability of tackling jobs in locations without access to electricity and you’ll be able to work much faster.
Evaluate the system
Contractor: Jeff Moody, president and COO, bluefrog Plumbing + Drain
Benefits: You are sure you fixed the problem. If you unclog the drain and get the water flowing, it doesn’t mean you fixed the actual problem. It might only be a temporary solution. You have to do a proper drain inspection to make sure you fixed what caused the clog in the first place. Also you can help educate the client. It can be frustrating for a client not to know the real reason why they had plumbing problems. We also use diagrams to show clients what their systems look like and how it is interrelated to other systems. Another benefit is reducing future call out costs. It costs a company a lot of money to get a plumber into a client’s home. You don’t want your technician to go back to the client’s house in two or three days when they have problems again. You want to prevent it by making sure you fixed the actual problem by doing a drain inspection.
Implementation: The best way to implement drain cleaning and inspection services is to get your team to understand the importance of this service from the client’s perspective. It is in the best interest of the client to get their drain inspected. The client might think that the technician is just trying to sell more services. But as a plumber, you are the expert and you understand the system. For you to make sure a plumbing problem is fixed and won’t reoccur, you have to evaluate it to prevent future problems and costs.
Favorite tool/product: The video camera is our favorite tool because you can show a client what is really going on in their system. Seeing is believing.
Tips: Make sure you fixed the problem by the time you leave a client’s house. Evaluating the system is important. Don’t just get the system working; make sure you fixed the problem so you can give the client piece of mind.
Contractor: Donald MacDonald, CEO, Rooter-Man
Tips: User friendly lightweight equipment will make it easier to train technicians and improve their success. Also, existing companies joining a national brand have a distinct advantage with internet advertising and consumer confidence.
Your bottom line
Contractor: Michael Williams, owner, Just Drains
Benefits: Drain cleaning makes a difference to your bottom line and I would recommend it to everybody in the plumbing industry.
Implementation: It makes a difference on what type of equipment you use everyday.
Favorite tool/product: We use General because pound-for-pound General gets down.
Tips: We have Just Drains YouTube videos that people can watch and learn everything they need to know about drain cleaning. People can also call us in our office at 215-879-8459 and ask for me. I always tell anybody that wants to know about drain cleaning: It's a fantastic industry and it definitely makes a difference to your bottom line, so you should add it.
Investigate first, approach with caution
Contractor: Laura A. Engler, project manager, Jim Engler’s Homework
Implementation/Tips: Interior drain issues are usually solved with our 3/8-inch snake. Checking the drains lines for length, and diameter is the first step for common clogs. Checking the initial snaking attempt for the type of residue on the snake helps diagnose the underlying problem. Grease, hair, food or vegetable fiber, all create one type of problem. Bathroom products or laundry issues are another type of problem, that when recognized can help with the resolution process.
Venting issues are also a piece of the puzzle for common interior drain clogs. A blocked vent is often the source of slow drains, or offensive odors from drain outlets. Sometimes clearing the exterior roof vent with a shop vac can solve a mysterious problem. Galvanized drain lines and old Cast Iron Sanitary lines often will need to be replaced eventually, even if they can be cleared.
Exterior main drains are a much bigger and more complicated issue. For those problems, investigation is the first step. Identifying trees or roots on the premise are usually the first step in diagnosing the problem. The local city Building Department can sometimes be a resource with camera work and city plans for the connection of the original lines. When we start working on an exterior line, sometimes even the camera can’t see the extent of the reason for the drain back up.
When using our bigger 3/4-inch snake, we use the spade head to punch a hole in the clog and try to get the water moving. The root cutter type head is used to plow through roots, etc. in 4- to 6-inch main drain lines. The grease cutter head is used often in a commercial kitchen and put into the line beyond the required grease interceptor device. Sewer Jetting is more often used in apartment buildings or commercial applications, and we usually send these projects to our associate company.
Our 3/8-inch snake has usually only one head, a curled end with a small hook end. It is normally used for 1-1/2- to 2-inch drains, typically kitchen and bathroom drains.
We would always advise to run snakes slowly and carefully, and sometimes reverse the snake. Investigate first, approach carefully.
When it comes to quoting drain issues, we always start with an investigative range, and we also add a disclaimer about the complicated nature of drain issues. We have added language that is applied to every drain clearing project that includes the words: “The work to be performed will be a best attempt only to correct/repair the problem described in this quote. We provide no guarantee or warranty as a result of this attempt.” This is because in our area drains are often old and will need to be completely replaced.
Drain issues are often something of an emergency, and clients are usually very uncertain about how they need to be corrected. Preparation and experience can help to calm the fear, and lead to the best experience for all involved.
Look at the logistics
Contractor: Mike Agugliaro, co-owner, Gold Medal Service
Benefits: We are all about having a one-stop shop for our customers. We added the trade line because it made sense for our customers and for us, since plumbing goes hand in hand. The customers call us for plumbing and we can also take care of any drain issues they are having.
Implementation: First look at the logistics: Do you have the man power? What training practices do you have to adopt? Do you have the right equipment? Then look at how you will market this to your existing customer base. Then question the budget, what type of demand you can expect and how you will position yourselves to handle the new load of business. Finally, you should set up all the checks and balances to ensure you will deliver high-quality service and keep your people and customers safe.
Favorite tool/product: Our pipe bursting equipment. It can pull a new pipe right through the old one with minimal damage. All we do is dig a hole at either end of the line. Sometimes we can go through the basement, this way we don’t damage expensive landscaping and lawns. It is very efficient too.
Tips: We make sure our techs are trained to the highest level. They should know how to operate the cleaning equipment to the level of seeing any issues before they happen. An inexperienced tech can get a machine stuck in the old pipe or even hurt himself without proper training. If the pipe needs to be fixed or replaced, good locating equipment is necessary to ensure we give pin point accuracy to a repair so the customer is offered the best solution.
Be sure to do your research before diving into a new service. It’s best if you can network with the professionals already doing the service. Ask what the pain points are and the mistakes they have made so you can avoid them.
Offer regular maintenance
Contractor: John Matonis, president, Drain-Net Technologies
Benefits: Instead of just providing an emergency drain cleaning service, offer a regular drain maintenance program to your customers. Make cleaning floor drains a part of regularly scheduled maintenance program that will help prevent drain backups that require more aggressive cleaning techniques. This benefits the service provider by allowing for a more scheduled work life rather than just responding to emergency drain clogs all the time.
Implementation: I suggest doing a free drain inspection to show your customers how a regular drain cleaning maintenance program can help.
Favorite tool/product: My favorite drain cleaning tool is the Drain-Tech Commercial Drain Cleaning Brush with Splash Guard. It is perfect for cleaning floor drains that have FOG and solid buildup. It also features a splash guard so that debris doesn’t splash back onto the floor or the serviceman. If using cleaning chemicals, I prefer to use a foam product because it expands into all the cracks and crevices. This helps eliminate fruit fly breeding grounds.
Tips: Customers really appreciate service providers who look out for their best interest. Not only will you get regular business from them, but they will call you for the emergencies too.