Marketing Magnate

A small-diameter pipe lining company in Virginia uses search engine optimization strategies to double annual revenue in six months.
Marketing Magnate
Wes Fogelman, left, Donald Libby and Nick Santoni install a liner from MaxLiner USA at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Nick Santoni operates in a niche filled with famous names and famous places. Technicians from his company, Dynamic Drain Technologies in Virginia Beach, Va., have lined small-diameter pipes at the National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Capitol Building, Postal Service buildings, University of Virginia and Theodore Roosevelt Island. Military bases, including Quantico, also populate the list.

While doing market research on the feasibility of opening his new business, Santoni found many civil engineers, utility site contractors and defense contractors were either unaware of trenchless technologies or were hiring out-of-state pipe lining firms. He located only two small-diameter pipe lining businesses within 200 miles of Virginia Beach.

Dynamic Drain opened its doors in 2008, just as the economy softened. Santoni, 28, undertook a guerilla marketing campaign that generated $500,000 in annual revenue within four years. In June 2012, he hired Marketing Director Mark Kolodziej to facilitate search engine optimization marketing – winning new business through advertising. The strategy doubled the company's revenue within six months.

In the blood

Marketing and sales are Santoni's heartbeat. After graduating from Johnson and Wales University with a degree in management, he spent two and a half years developing clients for Perma-Liner Industries. He networked with plumbers, pipe cleaners, and sewer and drain contractors, managing 65 accounts.

Once he made the decision to branch out on his own, Santoni purchased a Perma-Liner trailer from a client who was going out of business, and rented a 3,000-square-foot shop with offices, a conference room and two service bays in an industrial strip mall. As more former clients sold off equipment or closed their doors, they forwarded job leads to Santoni. They also subcontracted projects to him throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

"I strategized to meet these people at national trade shows, for dinner, or at their offices," he says. "Even if contractors had lining equipment, I marketed the ability to do jobs with which they were uncomfortable."

Initially, Santoni made 200 phone calls per week until contractors felt confident he wouldn't steal their clients and began referring them to him. Three full-time and two part-time employees cleaned, inspected and rehabilitated pipes using the ambient cure Perma-Liner lateral system or hot-water cure MaxLiner system.

Workers inspected 2- to 8-inch piping with four Vivax-Metrotech V push cameras, and cleaned them using two Spartan 300 cable machines or a trailer-mounted Mongoose 184XL sewer jetter with an 18 gpm/4,000 psi pump and nozzles from StoneAge. Reinstatements were done with pneumatic cutters from RS Tecknik.

"My team's attention to detail contributed greatly to our success," says Santoni. "We did a lot of earlier projects together and earned each other's trust. I can send them into any building now without worry, and concentrate on selling the next job."

High-profile government or military projects require certain conduct. Workers must be incredibly safe, take their time, and avoid ramming equipment into door jambs or tracking epoxy on the floors. "Everything we walk on and all the infrastructure is beyond monetary value," says Santoni. "It's our nation's history."

Strategic alliances

Six months after opening the company, Santoni published a website and began using Google AdWords where advertisers pay when people click their ads. "Companies choose keywords related to their business," says Santoni. "When people search on Google using them, ads pop up next to the search results based on how much companies bid to pay per click. We were popping up first."

Whenever crews weren't on projects, Santoni had them visit property management companies and plumbers to enhance Dynamic Drain's subcontracting presence. The effort worked. The company expanded from commercial to industrial to residential customers, but the latter had logistical problems. "We couldn't respond fast enough," says Santoni. "Four or five calls came in a week from across the state. Based on location, we were 30 minutes to six hours away."

Santoni began searching for plumbers wishing to expand their customer base. He offered leads if they promised to promote lateral lining and subcontract the work to him. Plumbers then cleaned and televised the pipe and excavated an entry pit. With the job prepped, Santoni's crews lined two 50-foot laterals per day instead of one.

"We taught their technicians about the lining process and how to sell it, gave them brochures for the homeowners, and helped them advertise the service on their websites," says Santoni. "Since rolling out the program in 2009, we have 24 plumbers between Maryland and Virginia working with us."

In 2011, the company generated $400,000 commercial annual revenue and $150,000 each in the industrial and residential segments. Adding another dozen plumbers to his network by the end of 2013 is one of Santoni's major marketing objectives. "Increasing residential pipe lining projects through our plumbing partners should generate another $75,000 to $100,000 annually," he says.

Internet goals

As the company moved from networking to Internet marketing, Santoni could not keep up with coding and website designs. Hiring Mark Kolodziej solved the problem. He added a second website, five blogs, and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages. He also edits inspection camera videos, adds sound and posts them.

"Last July through September, Mark increased our Internet-based service calls from 10 to 15 per month to 45 to 65 per month, and we're closing on five to six jobs per month," says Santoni.

Potential clients captured off the Internet receive MailerMailer and Constant Contact email campaigns that promote ways Dynamic Drain can work with them to make money. Mailings include new technologies, project profiles with references, and industry news or government press releases about the company. "We call everyone each month just to keep our brand, our name and our services in their heads," says Santoni. "When a general contractor or federal government entity needs something, they know to call us because we've already won their business through advertising."

Going live

The architect of the U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art and several Virginia military bases found the company through Internet advertising. Many projects are in-slab – pipes buried in thick slabs of concrete with tons of rebar. They are the most challenging and costly pipes to excavate.

A recent in-slab project involved lining a 150-foot cast iron drain at the new Marine One helicopter hangar at Marine Corps Base Quantico. After the team went through intense background checks and security clearance, they found themselves working 15 feet away from the presidential helicopters. "An armed Marine with a flak jacket and M-16 weapon watched us from three feet away," says Santoni. "Being guarded happens a lot, but we like working with government firms. Everything is organized and runs according to plan. There are no surprises."

Virginia Beach is packed with military infrastructure, bases and homes. When Internet advertising captures those likely clients, Santoni spends 30 to 90 days proving his qualifications before even proposing the project. To accelerate the process, he holds an open house twice a year, inviting potential military accounts, city engineers, general contractors and
subcontractors to pipe lining, reinstating and hydrojetting demonstrations.

"Pipe lining does not sell itself," says Santoni. "The more we work live in front of people, the more business it generates. Finding those opportunities has been a huge obstacle to growing sales." The open-house strategy has improved his sale closure ratio by 40 percent.

Historic places

Dynamic Drain has worked with the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for four years, averaging $100,000 in projects annually. The entire university is on the National Register of Historic Places. "Everything is brick and dates to Thomas Jefferson," says Santoni. "Any excavation requires an archaeologist on site. Hit something hard while digging and everything stops as the archaeologist and his little brushes make sure we're not disturbing artifacts."

A recent project involved lining a 4-inch terra cotta dormitory lateral running 150 feet from manhole to manhole under sidewalks, easements and buildings. The pipe was cracked, offset, separated, infiltrated with roots, and had multiple 45- and 90-degree bends. Santoni's team had eight hours to work each day before turning the water back on as students returned from classes.

Using the Mongoose jetter, they cut a path through the roots with a Warthog nozzle (StoneAge), then went back with a KEG nozzle and cleaned slowly to prevent damaging the pipe further. Where root balls formed at joints, they hit the area 10 or more times with 18 gpm/2,000 psi. It took a day to remove the roots.

The team used the MaxLiner system because water still infiltrated the pipe. Reinstating the wye connections and tie-ins with multiple bends was especially challenging. "Had something gone wrong, we would not be having this conversation," says Santoni.

Island life

One pleasant project involved rehabilitating 2,000 feet of water fountain lines on Theodore Roosevelt Island, a 91-acre nature preserve on the Potomac River. A 6-inch pipe suctioned water from the river to feed 3- and 4-inch pipes filling a 3,000-foot-long moat, two fountains and statues. "The setting was beautiful with wildlife all around us," says Santoni.

Another high-profile job involved the Washington (D.C.) Visitor Center, built 40 feet underground and 100 yards from the U.S. Capitol. Shortly after installing the vault housing 11 galvanized electrical conduits, groundwater infiltrated the vault roof, seeped through joints, and threatened to short out the security system and essential equipment. No excavation was possible with the Capitol nearby.

"Because the risk of electrical failure was high, we had less than three days to complete the job," says Santoni. "We lined four 114-foot-long conduits per day. As soon as a liner cured, the electrical contractor was stringing new wires. We both met our deadlines."

In 2012, the company generated $1 million from Internet leads, but the marketing strategy has yet to reach its full potential. Within 10 years, Santoni projects tripling annual sales or even hitting the $5 million mark. "That goal is within our capacity if we increase what we're doing while becoming better at it and refining our methods."



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