Ray Gremaux was fresh out of high school when he delivered a pizza to a plumber who asked him, “Do you know how to read a ruler? Are you interested in a plumbing job?” When Gremaux replied “Yes,” the man, who ran a large plumbing company in Queens, N.Y., offered him a job that lasted for 11 years. “I’m thankful I was given that opportunity at a young age,” he says.
In 1983, Gremaux left his steady Queens position and began working small jobs on his own in and around his hometown of East Islip, N.Y. He worked day and night and slowly grew his business. He took on one journeyman technician, and then another, and another, as the years went by. In 2007, Gremaux put up his house as collateral to borrow money to expand his now-growing business. He also asked his wife to leave her secure job at a local utility to help him run the financial side of his business.
“I was officially all in,” he says. “It was a gamble, but it paid off.” With just a handful of business cards, a pocketful of contacts and a beat-up van, Gremaux slowly built up an extremely successful plumbing business on Long Island.
“I went from a one-man shop to hiring 25 employees,” he says. “I built my reputation on same-day service. If you called, I was there. I never stopped adhering to that model.” His customer service model paid off for him. His company, Ray The Plumber, has spent the last 40 years serving customers on Long Island. It has received accolades and awards for its dependable, fast and impeccable service.
Delving into drains
After decades in the plumbing service business, Gremaux received what he calls an “interesting phone call” from well-known industry consultants Ellen Rohr and Al Levi (a columnist for Plumbing & Mechanical) to visit Zoom Drain and Sewer in Norristown, Pa. The two experts were working closely with Zoom Drain and Sewer’s owners, brothers Jim and Jason Criniti, on a franchise concept.
Zoom Franchise Co., which grew out of Zoom Drain and Sewer Service, conducts its operations throughout the metro area of Philadelphia. The Criniti brothers started Zoom Drain and Sewer in 1995, although the franchise is a new endeavor. Rohr’s experience in the field, including a stint as past president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, part of Clockwork Home Services, was a major factor in Gremaux signing onto the idea.
Rohr is now the president of Zoom. Partners Levi and the Crinitis hold ownership stakes in the company. “Because of Ellen’s past franchising history and experience, she saw the potential for success with my company and Zoom Drain joining forces,” Gremaux notes. “I went down to visit and spent the day with that team, which included Al, and I was hooked.” And soon, ZOOM DRAIN Long Island was born.
It was a good time for an expansion. Gremaux knew there was a need in the Long Island community for a focused drain and sewer service company, something Ray The Plumber didn’t have the bandwidth to provide. It also was an opportunity to expand from a sizeable business in residential to a wider commercial market. “I asked my friend, Jason Kim,to partner with me as my service manager. We both saw the tremendous potential in the franchise,” he says.
Kim agrees, “Being part of a franchise team that has a systematical approach to growth with tremendous industry leadership experience is important.”
The two companies are singular entities but work in concert with one another. “At ZOOM DRAIN, we are the drain- and sewer-cleaning experts,” Gremaux explains. “We have around 35,000 Ray The Plumber customers at last count, and when we get a drain- or sewer-related problem, our customer service representatives are now thrilled to refer them to Ray’s experts at the franchise.” Ray The Plumber can receive 100 calls in one day, according to Gremaux, of which 10 may be for drain or sewer problems.
“The drain-cleaning business can now service those calls, thus bolstering both businesses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” he notes.
In addition, Gremaux offers his ZOOM DRAIN services to other local plumbers who may not offer drain or sewer cleaning, or don’t have the time or skillset to accommodate such services. The franchise operations and procedures manuals, robust and detailed training programs, and day-to-day support are just a few ways the parent company helps its franchisees to succeed. “The franchise company has great guidance for all aspects of the business,” Kim says. “Someone is always on the other end of the line to help.”
Gremaux says his personal hurdle before partnering with the drain- and sewer-cleaning franchise was finding qualified techs to do the work.
“ZOOM DRAIN is everything I ever wanted with Ray The Plumber as far as growing the business,” he notes. “I could not add these services before because of the weak pool of experienced craftsmen out there. Because of the franchise’s indoor and outdoor technician training, we are able to hire young people and teach them every aspect of drain cleaning they may encounter — and all in a very short career timetable. There is no more need to seek out applicants with 10 years experience.”
Zoom’s training opportunity offers hands-on experience to those interested in learning the trade — plus teaches them all the procedures for every aspect of the business, including customer service. The training program is rigorous and includes not only classroom instruction but ride-along training with experienced technicians.
The bright red trucks with the lighting bolt Z are garnering positive attention on Long Island. “Every week we have people coming into our office who notice the trucks and want to work for Zoom,” Gremaux says.
For Gremaux and his wife, the drain-cleaning franchise provides a level of reassurance about how to have an exit strategy when it comes time to retire. Currently, the pair enjoys spending time with their two youngest children whom, Gremaux says, keeps them busy, along with their two thriving businesses
ZOOM DRAIN Long Island recently celebrated its one-year anniversary and has seen sales steadily grow every quarter since its beginning. “It’s been a steady climb for Jason and I since day one,” Gremaux says, “and it’s very encouraging for us to see the company tracking $1 million in sales right around the corner.”
Gremaux strongly believes in the Zoom Drain franchise and how it has offered him a steady stream of income and success in the industry. “The potential has no boundaries,” he says. “If by chance a boundary should rear its head, we’ll expand our model in another city.”
This article was originally titled “Zoom (ing) to success” in the May 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.