Pushing the Limits

CIPP and pipe bursting enable a Los Angeles County plumbing company to grow and stretch its services across a major metropolitan area
Pushing the Limits
Owner Juan Carlos Garcia uses a Connectra fusion machine from HammerHead to fuse two lengths of HDPE pipe. (Photography by Patrick Botz-Forbes)

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Within three years of opening Leading Edge Plumbing & Rooter, owner Juan Carlos Garcia had significantly boosted his business by bringing in new services and technologies and offering them across a 50- to 55-mile stretch of cities in highly populated Southern California.

Garcia, who started his company after working several years for other plumbers, has a passion for the business and the challenges of growing an enterprise in a highly competitive environment. Adding cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) lining and pipe bursting has boosted his bottom line by 50 percent and has established Leading Edge as the go-to place when other plumbers need a subcontractor with the right equipment and trained technicians.


Smart investments

Before opening Leading Edge, Garcia had done plumbing for a long list of homeowners, some of whom later became his customers. Word of mouth and many referrals contributed to his early success.

Today he operates out of Sylmar in Los Angeles County in a 1,300-square-foot home on 17,500 square feet of property, but he is building a 4,000-square-foot shop and warehouse. He has six technicians who run a fleet of Ford Econoline vans that include a 2004 diesel E-450 for lining projects, a 2004 E-350 for pipe bursting, a 2003 E-350 for waterjetting, and a 1995 E-350 for other plumbing work. He recently added a 1999 GMC 3500 box truck.

The business uses five SeeSnake mini-cameras from RIDGID with LCD monitors, DVD recording and 200 feet of hose. Technicians also use a RIDGID NaviTrak Scout locator.

Garcia attended the 2011 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo aiming to add equipment. There he bought a Spartan PROvision 2.0 push camera and the MaxCutter CIPP liner reinstatement cutter from MaxLiner USA, which he uses with his Easy Liner CIPP lining technology. From HammerHead Trenchless, he bought a PortaBurster lateral bursting system.

When opening the business in 2008, Garcia bought a 2008 Model 4018 trailer jetter from US Jetting. “One of the best investments I ever made was that jetter,” he says. “It’s the machine that got me my first and most important commercial account, a food manufacturing facility.

“When I decided to start my business, I knew I needed a jetter, as this company required jetting. I said to myself, if you want to grow this business, you have to invest aggressively. I bought the jetter and went to the account and told them that I had the equipment and that I would take care of them. That was my first big opportunity.”


Into trenchless

Garcia also saw the importance of adding CIPP and pipe bursting, as he found himself subcontracting out those jobs. “I was giving these jobs to others and losing significant revenue,” he says. “I knew how to run the equipment. I knew that within three months I could pay for the investment. So we got the equipment and training, and we love it. It is beautiful technology.”

Garcia uses HammerHead tools for pipe bursting. He says both Easy Liner and HammerHead have given him excellent service and support, including training. He finds pipe bursting jobs take about two hours, depending on the pipe length. With lining, measurements must be accurate, as the material can stretch. A typical project takes three hours.

Garcia typically stocks 1,000 feet of liner material in 330-foot lengths, and keeps about 120 gallons of epoxy resin, which he buys in 55-gallon barrels instead of 5-gallon buckets. For pipe bursting, he keeps about 1,800 feet of polyethylene pipe on hand in 20-foot lengths.

Once he added CIPP and pipe bursting, plumbers started calling, and Garcia took on more employees to keep up with demand. While the business serves a number of economically diverse communities, most jobs come from affluent cities such as Westwood and Beverly Hills, about 22 miles from Sylmar.

“Sewer lines in Los Angeles County are primarily cast iron and clay pipe,” says Garcia. “By the time the clay pipes have been in the ground 30 to 50 years, they are starting to crack and fall apart. Roots are breaking them up. Before the line collapses, we go in and restore the whole system with an epoxy liner. We do 2- to 6-inch lines.”

The typical lining job is 20 to 30 feet, but one project extended 80 feet. With the larger homes in older sections of the cities, there are alleys at the rear, and crews shoot the liner from the alley to the house. The largest commercial lining job was for 160 feet of 4-inch liner.


Customer choice

Providing a choice for customers is important to Garcia. He refers prospective customers to the company website to learn the facts about the repair options. “We have more people selecting lining, but pipe bursting is a more economical way to go,” says Garcia. “Liners are more profitable for us than pipe bursting, but we offer both, and it is up to the customer to decide what to do. We want them to educate themselves as to the options.

“With lining, there is also just the one opening, so if there is a nice concrete driveway, the homeowner avoids the second access hole and the required repair. We always offer a way for the customer to save some money.

“There is a lot of competition for this business. That has been the big challenge for us – everybody offering the same things. Even if they don’t have the equipment, they promote it and then subcontract. And the Internet competition is growing. Plus technology is moving so fast. It’s not impossible to keep up, but you have to be willing to do what it takes and to believe that if you want to do it, you can do it. I encourage my guys to think positive.”


Seeking specialists

Finding dependable and qualified technicians has not been an issue. Some of his employees have worked with him over the years, and he can depend on their loyalty. “I know them from the past,” he says. “I know how they work and that they really love what they do. If you find somebody who enjoys what they do, everything else comes out nicely.”

While Garcia wants technicians to be familiar with all the equipment, he prefers that they specialize. There are two operators for lining, two for pipe bursting, and two for jetting. For general plumbing, Garcia usually responds. He recently employed an office manager to help with the paperwork a busy and growing company generates.

“Everything has to come through me,” says Garcia. “I know who to send. I want to send the right person – otherwise I might have to resend somebody else, and that could mean a waste of time and money. You need to have people skills. I like to explain everything to the customers so they understand it. That helps to sell the job. They will know what they need.”

Employee Julio Lopez can handle estimates in some cases, but he checks with Garcia to be sure the charges are correct. “If I think the price is too high, I will want to lower it,” says Garcia. “We have a pretty standard rate, but we don’t want to go too high, since we have to compete against the other companies.”


Many partners

The relationship with other plumbers is one of friendly competition, and 60 percent of Leading Edge’s business comes from subcontracting. He and other plumbing company owners socialize on a regular basis.

By the same token, when the schedule gets heavy, Garcia can call on freelance plumbers to help meet the demand. He works with at least half a dozen other plumbing contractors who want to provide Leading Edge services.

Because he most often works as a subcontractor, Garcia is careful to send equipment that does not feature the company logo. “We are working for someone else,” he says. “If anyone at a job site asks us for more information or additional services, we just refer them to the person in charge of the job. If we are doing a job for Leading Edge, we of course follow up appropriately.”

Garcia is happy with his crew. He wants people who care about the business. “A lot of people need the work, need the money,” he says. “That is good. But I want people who love what they do. Those are the people who work best. If somebody doesn’t like the business, then they should find something else to do. Myself, I have a passion for plumbing. I love what I do.”


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