Sewer Duck Gets A Clear Picture With SeeSnake

Drainline video inspection camera brought new revenue streams into view for South Dakota contractor.
Sewer Duck Gets A Clear Picture With SeeSnake
Sewer Duck technician Jeremy Sitter inspects a bathroom drainline with a RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection system.

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One of the smallest machines owned by Sewer Duck Inc., a drain cleaning operation in Aberdeen, South Dakota, also happens to be one of its most valuable assets: a RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection system. In fact, owner Jeff Goldade considers it one of the better investments he’s made since he bought the company from his father in 1996.

That’s quite a compliment, given that Goldade owns more than $300,000 worth of vehicles and equipment. That inventory includes 11 pieces of drain cleaning equipment made by General Pipe Cleaners (a division of General Wire Spring Co.) and a RIDGID K-7500 drain cleaner. But pound for pound, the SeeSnake — which Goldade bought about four years ago — delivers the goods, particularly in terms of boosting profitability, efficiency and customer service.

At a total cost of about $10,000, the SeeSnake — which features a stainless steel color camera head and a color, high-resolution monitor — represents a significant investment. (That price includes two reels, one with 90 feet of push cable used for inspecting small waste lines, and the other with 200 feet of push cable used for examining larger-diameter lines from clean-outs to the street.) But as the sayings go, sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and you get what you pay for — two philosophies that Goldade heartily endorses.

“I know it’s expensive, but without the SeeSnake, I can’t do a great job or provide the service my customers deserve,” he explains. “A video inspection provides me with great visual proof that a problem exists. And after we clean a line, we also can prove we resolved the problem. Seeing is believing … an inspection gives customers peace of mind that I’m not feeding them a line.”

The SeeSnake boosts profitability by providing Sewer Duck with an additional revenue stream. Goldade typically charges a flat fee for a video inspection on top of a drain cleaning charge. He also charges $100 to perform line inspections for homeowners who want to know the condition of their sewer line; the inspection results help them determine if they need to purchase special insurance that protects them against line breaks.

In addition, Goldade says he’s receiving more and more calls from engineers who want existing drainlines inspected prior to, say, remodeling projects. Or they want new drainlines examined to be sure they’re installed properly; in the latter cases, the inspection also protects contractors from liability issues if problems occur later on. For that kind of work, Goldade charges by the hour.

“Once we were asked to inspect new sewer lines installed for a major big-box retailer in town,” he recalls. “We found a collapsed line that they fixed before the store opened.”

Moreover, video inspections reduce callbacks to redo drain cleaning jobs because technicians can see if a line is completely cleaned before they leave a job site. “Most times we won’t warranty our work if the customer doesn’t agree to get the line inspected after we’re finished,” Goldade says. If a clog occurs again in a line that a customer declined to have inspected, Goldade says he’ll clean the line again — usually for free — but charge the customer for a video inspection.

In addition, Goldade says he receives a fair amount of work from plumbers who realize they can save time and money by having him use the SeeSnake in conjunction with a RIDGID sonde unit to pinpoint the exact location of a broken drainline. The camera head includes a transmitter that sends high frequency radio signals that the sonde detects. When the camera head reaches a line break, a reel counter tells the operator how far down the line the break is located, and the sonde can then determine the depth of the pipe.

“Before, a plumber would start busting out concrete at the clean-out,” Goldade explains. “Now we can pinpoint where the break is and start busting concrete at that location. And when it comes to busting out concrete in a basement, a smaller hole is much better than a large hole.”

Goldade lauds the SeeSnake for its durability and reliability while working under tough conditions. “It takes a lot of wear and tear,” he notes. The unit also offers another less tangible but equally important benefit: Its high-tech capabilities impress customers and enable Goldade to charge a premium rate for his company’s services.

“We’re the most expensive drain cleaner in our area, though not by very much,” he says. “I don’t want to be the cheapest guy and can’t afford to be, either. I have a lot of overhead costs from buying nice equipment to paying competitive salaries and benefits.

“But more often than not, a customer is more willing to pay a higher price if they see you’re using new, advanced equipment and driving clean, well-maintained vehicles,” he adds. “Over time, customers learn their lesson — that having a job done right the first time is cheaper in the long run.”


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