Small Jetters Can Deliver Big Results

Mississippi drain cleaner opens up clogs — and new markets — with compact but powerful trailer jetter.
Small Jetters Can Deliver Big Results
Technician Ronnie Baldwin cleans a residential lateral line with a trailer-mounted Spartan Soldier jetter. The machine has quickly become a significant profit generator for Mitch Wright Plumbing, Heating & Air in Southaven, Mississippi.

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There aren’t just two words in the English language that can define versatility, power, profitability, efficiency and great customer service. But in Mickey Wright’s world, two such words exist: Spartan Soldier.

“We’ve been in business for 32 years, and we’ve had the Soldier water jetter for two of those years, and I don’t know how we survived all those years without it,” says Wright, general manager of Mitch Wright Plumbing, Heating & Air in Southaven, Mississippi, located south of Memphis, Tennessee. His father, Mitch, founded the company in 1983. “The possibilities of what you can do with it are endless.

“We’ve cleaned everything from 10-inch-diameter lines at a grocery store down to 2-inch residential drainlines for washing machines,” he adds. “How do you beat that?”

Made by Spartan Tool, the Soldier is compact (10 1/2 feet long by 4 3/4 feet wide by almost 5 feet tall) but powerful (generates 12 gpm at 3,000 psi). It comes with 250 feet of 3/8-inch hose, 100 feet of 5/8-inch hose and 75 feet of 1/4-inch trap-cleaning hose; a 200-gallon water tank with integrated baffles; a triplex ceramic plunger pump; a 180-degree pivoting hose reel with variable-speed power rewind; a 27 hp twin-cylinder, water-cooled engine; and a noise-reducing cowling. It weighs 1,720 pounds empty.

Wright loves the combination of a smaller, more maneuverable unit that’s still powerful enough to handle tough clogs that typically would require a larger, more unwieldy jetter. The size factor frequently comes into play because most of the company’s business is residential work, he notes.

“It’s really easy for us to get the machine where we need it,” Wright says of the unit, which is towed by a Ford E-350 outfitted with a KUV utility body made by the Knapheide Manufacturing Co. “We can fit it into a (street) parking spot or in a carport. I’ve even driven it inside a warehouse. If you can get a vehicle inside a building, I can get the jetter in there, too. It’s much easier than towing around a big tandem-axle trailer.”

Before the company bought the Soldier, it relied mainly on a Spartan 1065 cable drain cleaning machine; it also owns three RIDGID K-400 drum machines, plus a SparVision pipeline inspection camera made by Spartan. But the Wrights wanted to open up new markets by offering more drain cleaning services, and the Soldier enabled them to do just that.

“This machine offers our clients better service,” Wright explains. “Sometimes a cable machine can’t get through a clog, but the Soldier goes right through it.”
In addition, by cleaning a line and then televising it, crews can spot more serious problems. That, in turn, can lead to larger repair jobs, which the company also performs; that produces additional revenue the company would have foregone before, Wright says.

“We just had a customer with a cast iron pipe for a washing machine line,” Wright notes. “Another company had cleared it with a cable drain cleaner, but it still was clogging up. We cleaned the line and removed some debris, which revealed that the bottom of the pipe was rusted out. So there’s a big difference between clearing a line and cleaning a line.

“A typical line repair runs around $5,000 to $8,000,” he adds. “This particular one cost about $6,800.” By generating additional jobs, Wright says the Soldier paid for itself after just one year in operation.

“We charge $650 for a jetting job,” he explains. “Sometimes that’s more than the customer wants to pay, but it helps to be able to provide them with different options, such as opening a line with a cable machine versus actually cleaning it with a jetter, so it’s like new again. When you have options, it eases the shock of a $650 charge.” To offset the sticker shock, Wright Plumbing also offers a one-year warranty on jetting jobs; if the line clogs within a year, the company will clear it for free. “That makes it easier to swallow the higher charge,” he says.

Wright also lauds other productivity-enhancing features, such as a pivoting hose reel that provides full access to drain locations, even if the driver can’t align the trailer exactly with a drain, and electronically controlled pump pulsation to force the nozzle head through tight turns and stubborn clogs.

“The baffled water tank is a big deal to me, too,” he notes. “You don’t have that weight shifting to the outside on turns. And I also like the unit’s built-in fill hose. If we’re jetting and run low on water, it’s nice to be able to just pull out the hose and refill the tank and keep jetting at the same time. I don’t have to take time to look around for a hose and then connect it to the water tank.”

The noise-reducing engine shroud is also a big plus, especially for a company that does most of its work in quiet residential neighborhoods. “You still can hear the engine running, but it’s not that loud — I’ve heard pressure washers louder than the Soldier,” he says. “And the engine shroud gives us room to put our name on the jetter.”

Like many contractors, the Wrights thought long and hard about spending roughly $20,000 on a larger jetter like the Soldier. But in the end, it turned out to be a profitable decision — call it spending money to make money.

“I can understand how guys feel like that,” Wright says. “We were there ourselves … we were scared about spending that much. But I’m so thankful we just decided to do it.”


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