Find Your Profit Niche

Specialty jobs can be a great source of additional income if you plan properly and play off your strengths.
Find Your Profit Niche
A vacuum truck operator prepares to insert an ENZ USA Ejector nozzle into a 48-inch siphon.

Most of you work in very competitive markets and constantly struggle to maintain your profit margins. With more and more contractors entering the market each day, competition for available projects has heated up considerably. In most areas, prices have dropped dramatically as contractors battle just to maintain their market share. Many have found themselves bidding uncomfortably low just to keep their crews working.

It’s not uncommon to see business owners disillusioned by the state of their industry, but rather than giving up, there are things that can be done in order to stay competitive and increase profit margins. Becoming more efficient is an important step in that direction. By providing good training and improved work techniques, and by investing in state-of-the-art tools, production levels can be increased significantly.

Tracking jobs closely is a major key to financial success. By ensuring that each hour of each day is run as cost-effectively as possible, you can guarantee that all your jobs run profitably.

Specialty jobs

An option to consider in the quest for profitability is to find work that allows you to charge a premium for your services. This may sound unrealistic, but it can be accomplished by finding market niches that play into your personal and company strengths.

Specialty jobs provide an opportunity to boost margins by working in areas within the industry that have less competition. For the most part, these types of jobs aren’t available on a consistent basis, so most contractors aren’t interested in them. But by zeroing in on specialty work, you can offer additional services that can increase your bottom line.

Any work that falls outside the primary industry activities can be considered specialty work. It may not be the cleaning of hundreds of thousands of feet of mainline sewer, for example, but it could be the cleaning of siphons that require special tools and skills. It may not be the standard CCTV inspection of an entire sanitary sewer basin, but it could be the inspection of hard-to-reach access points that require hand-carried equipment. And it may not be the lining of miles of pipelines, but it could be ancillary work such as top hat installation.

Your niche could even be something that’s common in other parts of the country, but not necessarily in your market. Trade shows and trade magazines such as Cleaner are ideal places to research and identify some of these options.

Taking on specialized work allows you to become an industry expert in a relatively short period of time. Since these jobs don’t come up regularly, you can pursue them with little to no competition. Before long, you will find yourself capable of performing the work better and more efficiently than anyone else. Over time, the word will get out and this type of work will come to you more regularly.

A contractor once told me that he made his biggest profits from specialty jobs. He explained that when customers came to him, they rarely questioned the price because they were so relieved to have finally found someone who could perform the work. Customers understand that specialty work requires special tools and skills and are therefore more willing to pay a premium for those services.


Since specialty work may not be steady, investing in expensive equipment may not be the wisest thing to do. The equipment could sit for long periods of time without paying for itself, at least initially. In fact, the best way to expand into these fields is to find specialty work that complements your current business and utilizes the equipment you already have. For example, if you currently clean pipelines and already have a combination unit, specialty work like hydroexcavation will require a minimal investment. The tools required for this type of work are inexpensive in comparison to the cost of a new combo unit. Plus, it’s a lot easier to justify the cost of tools and nozzles — rather than a combination unit — sitting on the shelf for extended periods of time.

Contractors sometimes become enamored with a particular process that is completely outside their field of expertise. For example, they may specialize in pipeline inspections and decide that they want to try making money by raising manholes. These are two completely different fields that require entirely different skill sets. Because this work is not available every day, hiring individuals specifically for these jobs is not practical, at least not in the beginning. You are completely misusing your talent if you take a CCTV inspection operator and shift him over to raise manholes. Computer-oriented individuals aren’t wired for that kind of work and may not stick around if they are forced into it. The answer is to use individuals in their area of expertise. CCTV inspection operators, for example, would be better suited to do specialty work such as manhole inspections or even GPS locating.

It is also important to consider how your company will be perceived by adding a new service. It is possible that it could hurt your main business. If your company image is high-tech and cutting-edge, then adding a service that doesn’t complement these virtues could be detrimental. It may be helpful to bounce ideas off your customers before committing to them.

Adding services should never compromise your company. If your bread and butter can be impacted negatively, you must let it go. If your financial investment is too great and puts your company at risk, you must not proceed.

The type of specialty work you choose must play into your background and experience. It needs to be something that you not only have the ability to perform but the passion to learn and excel at. Adding a specialty service to your company should be enjoyable, not stressful and uncertain. If it elevates your level of anxiety, you might want to reconsider.

Sometimes it is the talent and experience of an employee that dictates the new direction. This can work out favorably and add a level of expertise that wouldn’t otherwise be there. However, you must make sure of the employee’s long-term commitment before putting the risk completely on their shoulders.


Relationships are the key to expanding business. The friendships you develop with our customers can open up a realm of possibilities. Through these interactions, you’ll receive valuable insights into their needs, shortcomings and desires. Casual conversation can reveal areas of need that you can fill.

These relationships can also uncover information your competitors don’t have. Customers are often candid with people they trust and may divulge inside information dealing with budgets, timetables and concerns. This information can be very valuable and help define the direction you take. It can also be helpful in identifying the size of the investment required.

One of the most valuable rewards for having solid customer relationships is the opportunity for sole sourcing. Because of the trust that has been
established, the customer may have mechanisms in place to ensure a project is awarded to you without having to go through the normal bidding channels. Having these assurances can help you provide fair numbers that guarantee a healthy profit margin.

A known customer will also be willing to give you the first shot at your new specialty work. Because of the quality of work that you have performed for them in the past, they will already have an insight into your competence and integrity and will be more apt to trust you. They will be supportive of your new venture and will be more understanding of the learning curve required.

Finding surplus work for your crews and equipment by looking at specialty jobs is a great way to increase your workload and profit margins. Carefully selecting the type of services you offer can open up a whole new world and help grow your company in a positive direction.

By tapping into vertical markets within your industry, you can balance the workload within your company. When business is slow in one area, you can shift your resources into another, ensuring that your crews stay busy and that you have a steady stream of income.


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