Service Network

Contractor draws on years of industry experience and good business relationships to support his company’s transformation.
Service Network
Brenda Denney, wife of Scott Engineering LLC owner Dennis Denney, takes care of the office work. (Contributed photo by Scott Engineering LLC)

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After many years in the investment business and time spent working for others in the sewer industry, Dennis Denney was presented with the opportunity to purchase a company within the industry.

“At the time I was a general manager for a sewer rehabilitation operation and we were doing a lot of business using smoke testing for municipalities and engineering firms,” Denney says. “The equipment we were using came from Scott Engineering, a company I had dealt with for many years. The owner explained he was going to be selling, and he offered me the opportunity to have my own company.”

They put the deal together and Denney carried on with the operation for a number of years. Eventually, he began to see the business shifting, and he decided to segue into cleaning, inspection and repair services. People he had dealt with throughout the years encouraged him to take advantage of his past experience and offered to provide job opportunities and assist in rounding up some serviceable equipment to help with the transition. In 2010, the smoke testing equipment arm was sold, and Denney was on the road to steer Scott Engineering in a totally different direction.

Denney was able to purchase property adjoining his home for the expanding business. In addition to the 1,800-square-foot house, which serves as an office, there is a three car garage and room to add an additional building on the 2-acre site.

With the addition of CCTV equipment from Cobra Technologies and a rented Vactor combination unit through Jack Doheney Companies, Scott Engineering was positioned to provide inspection and cleaning services to municipalities and engineering firms. When an opportunity came to fill a substantial lateral relining commitment in the city of Westport, Ind., Denney drew on his past relationship and experience with Perma-Liner Industries and invested in a lateral relining system.

“We’re now doing a lot of relining as a subcontractor and we have worked throughout Indiana and into adjoining states,” he says. “The big relining job was for Westport with a population of 1,200 people and lines for 700 residences and businesses. We have done cured-in-place relining on around 400 lines, after the pre-cleaning and televising. The engineers were deciding which lines they wanted to reline and which they wanted to dig out.”

Noteworthy challenges

Despite the challenges that go along with starting a relatively new business, Denney has seen their yearly sales increase substantially, and he says he only wishes he had started his own business 20 years ago.

In the 200-mile radius they serve, Denney says many smaller municipalities are focused on their mainlines and infiltration issues with manholes. Along with these projects, the lateral lines, which are frequently the responsibility of the homeowner, are also in need of service and repair.

Pipes are typically vitrified clay, a few as old as 100 years, but many were installed in the ’50s or ’60s.

“These pipes are good,” Denney says. “They would last forever, but the material used for the joints is deteriorating, and there is a tremendous amount of infiltration. The pipes become offset. Soil has migrated into the pipes. It’s like a roller coaster – up and down, causing stress, cracking and breaking.

“Then there have been problems when other lines have been added along the sewer lines and equipment has punched holes in the pipe. Fortunately, technology has improved the process through better locating equipment and the use of hydroexcavation to expose lines.”

Denney frequently rehabilitates leaking manholes, and they also see the destructive effects of hydrogen sulfide on the interior of older manholes. Older brick manholes often need to be rebuilt.

“We find little leaks, and big, and systems that need to be completely rebuilt,” he says.

In 2012, the company had a contract to inspect 500 manholes in Indianapolis, where they handled all of the surveying and paperwork for the engineers so they could determine what the rehabilitation project would entail.

Denney says their current customer base is principally municipal at 80 percent, and the balance is industrial and commercial. They work as subcontractors about 50 percent of the time, typically for general contractors, engineering firms and lining companies.

He is now making an effort to develop the residential business in order to create a more steady revenue stream, since receiving final payment for municipal work often means a wait of up to
six months.

“I like the cash flow with residential work,” Denney says. “We’re talking with plumbing companies where we would act as a subcontractor, and we’re running some ads and talking to people. That is the best way to get started on something like that.”

Outstanding support

Denney says the initial encouragement and support he had from his suppliers made the venture a success. When he contacted Cobra about a CCTV unit, a long-term relationship paid off, and he was able to rent a unit that turned into a lease and eventually a purchase. The same with Perma-Liner, a system he had worked with prior to having his own company. Even the local bank made loans available based on past experience with Denney, at a time when loans were hard to obtain.

“All this support was imperative for a virtually new business when you are waiting 60 to 90 days to get paid and you have invoices out there. You might have $50,000 coming in, but you don’t know when it comes in and you have payroll, insurance, a lot of things, and it’s spent before you get paid.”

Denney currently works with a 1999 Vac-Con on a Ford L 9000 chassis, a Vac-Con pump (2,000 psi/80 gpm), a three-fan blower, and a 14-cubic-yard steel debris tank from Cobra Technologies. Four pickup trucks (three Dodge and one Chevrolet) complete the fleet.

His CCTV van is a 2002 Ford box van with a Cobra pan/tilt/zoom camera and software featuring a data logger.

Other equipment includes a ProCam mini camera system and Mainline sewer root cutter from UEMSI, and a MaxLiner hot water boiler unit for lateral lining.

Denney says all his services go hand in hand in making things work for the benefit of his clients.

Starting line

Denney depended on Jerry Moore, his superintendent and a longtime industry associate, to assist in managing the relining project in Westport, 65 miles from their headquarters. There were two to three men on that crew during the year-long commitment, including technicians Daniel (Opie) Hornyack and Jason Austin. All three had extensive experience with the system from previous jobs, as did Denney.

“During the project I would be at our headquarters running the CCTV truck, or bringing in extra manpower to run the vac truck and help clean pipe,” Denney says. “I have to be out there, and I admit it is hard work. I work with my guys.”

Additionally, Denney wants his crew to be able to work independently and take the initiative.

The Westport project was unique in that in this older community there were no city curbs and no continuity in layout. Denney says they saw low-quality pipe – some completely collapsed – and a lot of roots. Every line was a different length. The first step was cleaning and televising the lines to assess the condition of the pipes, which ranged from 20 to 160 feet long. Obtaining proper measurements was a challenge. Lines had 90-degree bends, and many had multiple 45-degree bends, which made it very hard. They used a Root Rat cutting head from Chempure Products with their Vac-Con to deal with the roots.

“Every situation, every setup was different,” he says. “We had to get into the lines. We found different pipe – different sizes, different lengths. We started the process when the temperature was in the 80s or 90s, and then it was in the teens. That was one of the hard things because the resins we used were temperature sensitive. There were challenges.”

He notes relining is a concept that is catching on in the area. Prior to having the capability, he would get calls from towns and consulting engineers who had two or three laterals needing relining, but because of the cost of the system, he was turning down those opportunities.

“The startup costs are substantial and we were not in a position to make that investment until I had a job,” Denney says. “When you are a small guy you can’t go out and drop that kind of money to do a little job. The numbers don’t work.”

Good combination

Denney’s combination truck has been an important tool for cleaning and repair, particularly in preparation for relining projects.

“The lines must be 100 percent free of dirt and deposits. Protruding taps have to be eliminated. And then you use the TV unit to be sure everything is clean and ready.

“The Vac-Con is essential,” he says. “I wish I had a couple more. With the experience we have and the equipment, I think we can go out and offer residential service effectively. I’m hoping that the plumbing companies will see the benefit of working with us in that capacity. We are not a plumbing company. We will not compete. We will do the work and let them bill the homeowner.”

Denney wants to maintain an attitude of friendly competition. “If I get too much work, I’ll call them. When they have too much they will call me. It all goes back to networking. My past experience proves this to be a winning prescription.”


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