Startup company builds its customer base by getting involved in the community and establishing a strong reputation.
Twelve years of service with other companies gave Austin Taylor a strong foundation in the plumbing and drain cleaning business. When he earned his master plumbers license, he knew he had something else to prove.
Taylor was introduced to plumbing while working at a Boy Scouts of America facility and decided it would be a way to earn a good living. He worked for three plumbing firms, including two franchises, and gained significant experience and knowledge. Eventually he became a continuing education instructor, which provided exposure to more industry professionals along with opportunities for his own growth.
“As I worked in other companies I began to realize it would be a challenge for me to own my own firm,” Taylor says. “I figured I had to prove that I could do this. I needed to get out and give it a shot. I wanted to control my own destiny.”
Before he started his own business, he worked for both large and small companies, and observed management on both levels. He also had the opportunity to work in the field with a wide range of equipment, adding to his skills and understanding of the profession.
In preparation for opening his own firm, Taylor joined online plumbing forums and began talking to other owners, picking their brains as to what it takes to start a business. He learned from their mistakes and challenges, and gained insight on pricing and costs.
Taylor opened Dynamic Drains of Texas in April 2014, operating out of his home with one service van. In the first year, sales totaled just $18,000, but growth came quickly. Sales jumped to $113,000 in 2015, and reached $213,000 in 2016. He anticipates an even greater increase in 2017 after hiring a technician and helper, and putting a second service van on the road.
Laying the ground work
From the start, Taylor has focused on service and repair work in the residential and light commercial market. He started with a full complement of equipment, including a RIDGID camera and a Spartan cart jetter.
He knew what he wanted out of his equipment, and he knew from experience as both an operator and manager how the business should operate.
“I learned you better know your numbers,” he says. “You better be charging accordingly or you will not succeed. It is expensive to do it the right way. I learned the importance of a professional appearance and customer relations. Not just a uniform, but how you present yourself — the use of shoe covers, the way you talk and those things.
“I worked for a while in a small company, and the owner was not keen on buying new equipment. He preferred to repair. In my opinion it would not operate as well as new equipment. I cannot stand rigged-up equipment on the job. It’s more dangerous and ends up costing more time. Trying to save money doesn’t always pay off. This is something I do differently.”
Before starting his own company, Taylor had the opportunity to film some videos that he now uses as a tool to educate current and future customers.
“I use it as a means of demonstrating to a customer while on a job the benefits of hydrojetting and how their drain system works. I also used it to assist with internet presence in general, being that Google owns YouTube. I uploaded various videos of before and after jetting along with one demonstrating trenchless pipe bursting technology, and one where we found and retrieved a customer’s wedding ring. Being it was free, I saw no reason I shouldn’t use it to help promote my company in the future.”
Building the base
Upon opening his business in the small community of Brenham, Texas, Taylor began knocking on doors and doing the requisite groundwork establishing contacts with light commercial establishments. It paid off from the get-go.
“I pounded the pavement,” he says. “I went in and talked to the owners of small restaurants. I would be thanked for coming in. I was told that no one had ever come in to solicit business.
They had work for me and then I did work for their employees. This developed good working relationships.”
He also contacted other plumbing contractors who didn’t offer certain services such as jetting, drain cleaning and video inspection, and developed business on that front.
He joined the chamber of commerce, and attended many dinners and functions, volunteered with the Boy Scouts, joined the Elks Lodge and took part in many events.
“I filled my time getting to know people,” Taylor says. “In a small town you are not always quickly accepted. You have to show you are part of the community and want to give, not take from the community. Besides, I had more time than money.”
Taylor says it was helpful that his father-in-law was a well-known lawyer in Brenham, but notes that it was his own efforts that led to his success.
“I got my name out there as I was building public relations from the grass roots.”
Finding a niche
Taylor operates in about a 60-mile radius that encompasses College Station and other small cities. The sewer systems are composed of a variety of pipes with issues typical to older systems. They see a lot of cast iron, but also clay, concrete and Orangeburg, plus thin-wall PVC. Lines are typically shallow, from 2 to 3 feet deep, and they hand-dig when excavation is required.
Taylor is particularly interested in new technology and eager to promote pipe bursting, which is not being offered in the area. Recently they did a pipe bursting job using rented equipment from HammerHead.
“I was contacted by a resident for a sewer job, and when he saw the possibility of getting the job done and not destroying the landscaping, even though my bid was higher than others, we got the job. My focus is on offering better options for my customers. We will offer pipe bursting services in the future.”
Taylor is also excited about jetting and promoting the value of that technology, which he offers to other contractors who don’t have the equipment.
Since Dynamic Drains still operates out of Taylor’s home office with a storage unit for additional equipment, the company doesn’t carry an inventory of water heaters or other large fixtures. When plumbing projects require such items, Taylor directs the customer to a local supply house with a large variety of inventory. The customer picks out what works for their home, and Taylor picks it up and does the installation — charging only for the service and pickup.
Working with the supply house has also helped generate referrals. The supply house will suggest Dynamic Drains for repair, and in return they send customers to the supply house.
The company took a significant step toward further growth when a local plumbing company decided to sell and move out of the area. Taylor purchased its phone lists, which led to an immediate jump in business and prompted the hiring of two more people.
“That really helped me,” he says. “This was a friend of mine. He warned me ‘You had better be ready to handle the work.’ That’s when I hired Adam Cunningham, a young man I had known and had wanted to bring into my company. I couldn’t meet all the calls for about a month until he was on board. We took care of calls and then ordered the second van and brought in a helper for him as well.”
Taylor has criteria for bringing in new technicians. He looks for a self-motivated individual, eager to learn, clean-cut, and wanting to improve — someone who can see plumbing as a career.
Equipped for the future
The business sorts out to about 70 percent residential, with the balance in light commercial. They serve several restaurants, and a chicken processing plant as well. About half the work is drain cleaning and the other half is basic plumbing.
Good work requires the right equipment, and Taylor’s tools of choice include a Spartan 1065 sewer machine with 100 feet of 0.66-inch cable, and standard blades and spiral cutters. There is also the Spartan 727 gas-powered cart jetter with 200 feet of 3/8-inch hose with standard flusher nozzles and RIDGID Root Ranger nozzle. For inspection, he turns to a RIDGID SeeSnake color camera with 325 feet of pushrod for 2- to 12-inch lines, and a Mini SeeSnake color camera with 200 feet of pushrod for 1.5- to 6-inch lines. Both are complemented by a CS10 SeeSnake monitor.
“I am meticulous about things, careful about materials used for a customer,” he says. “I like certain brands because I’ve worked and found what parts I like. I have stuck with those over the years. I see what is better and what lasts longer and is easier to service. I have found tools that work better for me. I always say ‘spend the money and buy once.’ Don’t go cheap.”
Manning the helm
As an employer and business owner, Austin Taylor can look back on those times when he was an employee and didn’t always understand the actions of a business owner or boss. Now with the responsibility on his own shoulders he can better realize why some actions are necessary.
“I try to pay attention to the things that motivate my employees, and any training or explaining as to what or why we do things a certain way,” he says. “I try to pay well, as that is the main motivator. I don’t want to put an employee down, but keep the job enjoyable and take into account what they know and not drive them beyond their capabilities.”
Moving forward, Taylor would like to establish two divisions within his company, one for plumbing and another for drain cleaning and repair.
He finds that promoting his business, developing new skill sets and learning how to run a plumbing company is much more satisfying than working in the field.
“As for myself, I plan to continue my own education, working with my employees and growing the company.”