Plumbing and Cleaning Contractor Follows Signs of Success

Professionalism and good promotion propel young contractor to the top of the heap in popular Washington State tourist region.
Plumbing and Cleaning Contractor Follows Signs of Success
The crew at Allied Plumbing & Pumps includes (from left) Blanca Lehman, Cindy Smiley, Andrea Skube, Korey Kase, Kevin Britton, Paul Dahlstrom, Jadens Miley, Tyler Allen, and owners Zack Smiley and Ron Smiley.

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Smiley, co-owner of Allied Plumbing & Pumps in Chelan, Washington, when he invested in a strategically located building and put up his company sign in 2013.

While ordering Chinese food at a local restaurant, 25-year-old Smiley, wearing a new company uniform, was approached by a stranger who exclaimed that he noticed a new plumbing company in town and congratulated Smiley on the building and the sign.

The business first opened in 2009 when Smiley rented a storage facility, took out a business license and began offering plumbing services. But it wasn’t until four years later, after Smiley took a brief hiatus from the business so his wife could attend college in Spokane, that the new building and prominent signage began drawing potential customers’ attention.

During the hiatus Smiley worked as a plumber for a large firm, finalized his journeyman license and honed his skills, knowing he would return to his startup operation in Chelan and eventually to nearby Wenatchee.

The rebirth, so to speak, included inviting his brother, Zack, to become a partner.

It’s in the name

Smiley had always envisioned his shop as a 24/7 full-service provider. He opted away from calling the company Smiley’s Plumbing or Lake Chelan Plumbing in favor of Allied because he felt it was more encompassing and created a better perception. He had the vision from the inception.

Although he started with the most basic of services, it wasn’t until the re-emergence of Allied that he and his brother expanded into CCTV, drain cleaning, jetting and pipe bursting in addition to traditional plumbing.

By mid-2015, the company was running seven service vans each with approximately $8,000 in inventory. There are now six technicians and three office staff, and Allied has quickly become a premier service provider in Chelan and nearby Wenatchee.

When a service call comes in, the company’s ServiceTitan software system helps determine which truck is best suited to go on that call. All technicians have expertise across disciplines, but Smiley says they triage the calls coming in to decide which individual they want to respond.

Around the lake

Chelan and Wenatchee are situated on Lake Chelan, a 52-mile-long lake in the middle of the state. Total population of the two towns is a little over 45,000 permanent residents, but there is an influx of vacation homeowners during the summer and everything gets busier.

While Allied Plumbing & Pumps was on hiatus in the lake area and Smiley was in Spokane, he was doing more than just working in the field. He was also observing and learning many of the finer points of customer relations, advertising and new technology.  

“While working in Spokane I was introduced to pipe bursting. The firm I worked for would occasionally sub out one of those jobs,” Smiley says. “I was wowed by it — so impressed. I had a chance to talk with the owner of the system. I realized the benefits to the customer, particularly in our area, and for the profit potential.”

Smiley elected to include pipe bursting in his “rebirth.” He initially subbed out those jobs but was soon in a position to buy his own HammerHead system. Pipe bursting has become a major contributor to the bottom line for Allied, representing 25 percent of revenue. Drain cleaning and jetting make up about 35 percent and the rest is plumbing. About half the work is residential.

Systems in the company’s service area include a wide variety of pipe including clay, Orangeburg, concrete and cast iron as well as PVC, and Allied works on all of it.

Root impaction in the sewer systems is a common problem, and many of the issues with replacement are brought about because of the historical nature of the area.

The approximately 16 small cities around the lake, most with sewer systems, don’t always allow open-dig pipe replacement, which means pipe bursting is playing a significant role by providing a viable alternative for properties protected by strict dictates to preserve older structures.

Another unique aspect of the lake is that some communities are not readily accessible by road. To serve these areas, Allied loads its equipment onto a customized pontoon boat and hits the water.

Because of these challenges, homeowners faced with a need for sewer repair or replacement often turn to pipe bursting because it is acceptable to the municipalities and limits disruption.

Smiley notes that there will always be some situations where an open dig will be called for and approved — for example, where there are negative grade issues or an old system with a lot of sags in the pipe but no historical restrictions.

Smiley says homeowners initially have no awareness of the process, but when they learn that their problem can be solved without digging up the yard or driveway they want to know more. “This is a solution that sells itself,” he says.

Since Allied is the only company in the area offering pipe bursting, municipalities often refer distraught homeowners to the company. Other area plumbing and drain companies also call on Allied to provide pipe bursting for their customers.

“In some situations a job will be more suited for a CIPP replacement, and when that occurs we will bring in a subcontractor,” Smiley says. “But having these various options for a customer has brought a lot of attention to the company. Most often pipe bursting is the most suitable method in the area.” He estimates that one out of 16 jobs would be a candidate for CIPP.

Allied has put a lot of effort into promoting all of its services, but particularly pipe bursting. In 2015 they launched a significant advertising push for that process in a commercial being shown on stadium billboards and movie theater screens.

The menu grows

During his time in Spokane, Smiley saw the advantages of having a trailer jetter and he added that to his wish list.

“I looked at the franchise operations in Spokane and saw they would have several trailer jetters,” Smiley says. “I also saw and experienced that using a more powerful jetter was a much better way to clear a line. I figured the big companies had that equipment for a reason.”

In 2014 he was finally in position to purchase a larger jetter and chose a Spartan Ultimate Warrior Hydro-Jet (4,000 psi at 18 gpm). It has become an important asset for the business.

In addition to the jetter, Smiley also knew the benefits of having a reliable camera system, and that was at the top of the list when he reopened his shop. “That was a day-one purchase.” He has a Spartan 200 camera and a NaviTrack locator from RIDGID.

The pipe bursting systems are HammerHead HDD pipe pullers with a variety of heads. He also added directional boring equipment from Pow-r Mole.

His fleet includes a variety of Ford and Chevrolet vans and trucks, along with a Bobcat E-35 compact excavator and a 22-foot custom-made pontoon boat.

Stretching the borders

Allied operates out of a 3,000-square-foot building on a 1-acre lot in Chelan. They have office and warehouse space, and as noted a prominent company sign.

When the Smiley brothers contemplated expanding into Wenatchee, they considered a billboard on a major thoroughfare. When reviewing that cost, it was decided it made more sense to buy a building along that route and put up another sign on the building. The exposure has been beneficial and the cost not that much greater than the billboard.  

They opened a 3,400-square-foot building on the main route into town, and they are specifically promoting pipe bursting in this region.

Smiley is a firm believer that having a building in view of the public is a superior method of advertising and building name recognition.

Building the team

Finding technicians is a universal issue and a significant challenge for Smiley. Despite advertising for technicians throughout the area and into Spokane, the response is often disappointing.

“We currently have a woman who is getting her plumbing license, and we will be pleased to have her on our team. Since we have a large population of Hispanics in the area, we are also fortunate to have a bilingual technician.

“For potential employees we will offer a two-week training experience and have a candidate riding with one of our technicians before agreeing to a commitment to hire.”

He says they invest heavily in safety training, and technicians are all fully licensed and trained for confined-space entry. They also have licensed divers for any work that is required on the lake itself. Some homes draw lake water for domestic and potable use, and the company services the submersible pumps that are on the lakebed, following all regulations carefully.

Smiley considers himself very fortunate to be in this business. He has family members who have successfully operated plumbing companies in other regions of the country, which has been an inspiration for the young entrepreneur. Still, he says having his own experiences and forming his own path has been extremely rewarding as the business continues to grow.

He is particularly grateful for the guidance he has received since joining PHCC (Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors) and the networking opportunities he has shared with other contractors out of his immediate area who have been in the industry for
many years.

“It was like having someone take you under his wing,” Smiley says. “Those people have been willing to offer suggestions, insight and counsel every step of the way — very helpful for our efforts. I give the organization a lot of credit for the position we have attained here in our area.”


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