Adventures In Drain Cleaning
Mini-JettersWhen your staff cables a 2-inch drain with a 3/8-inch cable, well, you get the picture.
Snaking a drain used to be the only option for inside residential work. However, with the advent of affordable mini-jetters priced down to $800, contractors have an opportunity to service their clients better, solve their problems more permanently and significantly increase drain cleaning profits.
To use jetters profitably, you don't need to be a huge practice with significant Yellow Pages or other advertising presence. You just need to have some drain cleaning or stoppage calls.
That's because jetting does something cables don't: it removes buildup. When you can convince a client that this works better to solve their stoppage problems, you can turn the common $80-$90 drain snake procedure into a $275 and up procedure - even if you're a one-man plumbing practice. We know plumbing practices who have mini-jetters who charge about $285 to jet a residential secondary line. For every six stoppage calls, one job is converted to a jetter procedure.
You can apply the "sell up to sell down" principle, informing your client that "the buildup problem is caused by rough, corroded surfaces on the inside of old steel drain pipes, giving the buildup something to adhere to and compound itself." As a result, they can have the buildup removed with a jetter, or your firm can cable the drain and include drain chemicals such as Bio-Clean or a similar enzyme/bacteria product. Many plumbing and drain firms are including Bio-Clean in their drain cabling selling price, while others separately charge $39.50 to $59.50.
If you offer these products separately, remember, that many contractors enjoy significantly increased sales as a result of not discounting. Instead, they say charging a premium for these products gives their clients the perception of higher worth, thus increasing sales and profits. This same principle can apply to services as well as products.
Sewer CamerasSewer cameras are like fax machines; you never know how much you needed it, until you got one and had to do without it. The only difference is not having a sewer camera can cost you thousands of dollars in lost sales - monthly!
Sometimes a main sewer line can clog up from root intrusion after your technician has snaked it - requiring a callback. This is the time to video the drain line and show the client what the real problem is.
Sewer cameras give the smart contractor the ability to take on objections such as, "Your drain-cleaning machine isn't strong enough" or "If you can't clear the stoppage, maybe I should call a specialized rooter company."
Without the camera, a service tech can pontificate to his heart's content, but until the client sees what they should be seeing, well, take your pick of cliches: Seeing is believing or, a picture is worth a thousand words.
While your camera will present visual evidence, be sure to add a little botany lesson to emphasize the extent of the situation. For example, tell your clients that roots are like plant twigs - every time you cut an end off, another one branches behind it, increasing its mass. Also, every root strand adds a ring to its diameter just like a tree trunk does every growth cycle. (For more on this subject, see sidebar.)
If you can only sell a main cable procedure, then also always offer a foaming root killer product. This product's effectiveness and profit-making potential is to roots what bacteria/enzyme-based products such as Bio-Clean is to secondary drain line residue buildup. Many contractors are getting $50 to $100 per foaming root killer treatment, taking the frequently low margins of many main snake procedures and turning them into profit-makers, even if they don't sell a sewer repair or replacement.
Pipe Locators and TracersPipe locators and tracers are used most frequently in conjunction with sewer cameras, allowing you to pinpoint where the problem in a broken drain pipe is. You can just as easily use these cameras and locators in main drains under houses or in yard area drains, too. You can also trace metallic piping to find out where another plumber laid that convoluted yard line when you're diagnosing subsequent water pipe plumbing problems.
Contractors again report that bells and whistles oftentimes allow them to command a higher price. You would be well advised, however, to acquire one with an audio output mute feature since some clients who hear the ascending/descending audio location tones think that the equipment can be operated by a child, making high margin pricing problematic.
Some contractors even acquire the aforementioned equipment via leasing, outright owning them at the end of lease term while enjoying the tax advantage of a lease-style loan. Whatever you do, don't wait for the deal of the century to come your way. You can lose a lot more (in lost sales) in the interim. Conversely, if you acquire low-end equipment you may regret it later, so decide carefully.
By effectively using these types of technology and sales techniques, contractors can enjoy sales and profits remarkably in excess of the equipment's costs, and service their clients more professionally.
The Root Of The MatterTo understand root control, it helps to have a basic understanding of the biology of roots and their growth.
The bio-mechanism behind root growth is a continual process at the end of root tips called hydrotropism wherein roots grow toward moisture. Root cells are added at the tips one at a time, which is why roots can penetrate extremely small openings.
Although root growth can occur the entire year, most root growth is concentrated in the fall and winter when external foliage is dormant. Root growth can also spurt during the spring season at the onset of foliage growth.
As roots grow larger, their exterior is covered with phloem, which is living tissue. Immediately under this surface is cambium from which new tissue originates and causes secondary root growth. The center part of roots are called xylem, which is the woody part of the root that causes it to become stronger.
Once roots have penetrated a hairline crack, they can initially stay very small, but increase in size on both sides of the opening. As a result, they often seal the cracks they make. The real problem, however, is the parenchyma cells within the center xylem that divide and can eventually exert enough force to damage the pipe. Eventually, these roots divide their cells hundreds of times, blocking the pipe.
Next comes that familiar call to the plumbing firm who typically bores a hole through the root mass with a root cutter head smaller than the inside diameter of the drain being cabled. This actually encourages new root regrowth.
This type of treatment for drain failures is temporary and an ineffective means of removing all roots from the drain pipe. Anyone who has ever done plant pruning knows that when you cut off the end of a living plant stem that another one usually buds off right behind it. Now after a period of time you have two stems where there once was one.
A good analogy would be cutting off the top half of a 100-foot high tree. The tree will continue to grow new limbs and the base certainly will grow new rings around its diameter.