Camera Delivers Visible Profits

Inspection cameras help California contractor’s customers get the picture on drainline clogs and repairs.
Camera Delivers Visible Profits
Andy Soto (left) and Jonatan Villasenor of Mr. Rooter of Sonoma County with one of the company’s RIDGID SeeSnake cameras, which are a big part of the company’s ability to diagnose problems and sell jobs.

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Convincing skeptical customers that they need a drainline repair — or that a drain cleaning job was successful — is a difficult task for many contractors. Paul Kitchen isn’t one of them, thanks to his RIDGID SeeSnake inspection cameras.

“Our SeeSnakes help us sell jobs,” says Kitchen, who co-owns Mr. Rooter of Sonoma County with his partner, Saunda Kitchen. “It allows us to get the customer out there so they can see what’s going on — see that we’ve done a cleaning job properly. Or they can see what’s happening inside the pipe and decide how to resolve a problem like a broken pipe.”

Kitchen says he started buying RIDGID inspection cameras in 1998, the same year he and Saunda established their Mr. Rooter franchise. Based in Santa Rosa, the company serves the Sonoma County area with a wide range of services, including drain cleaning, pipe bursting and pipe lining. About 85 percent of the company’s business focuses on residential work, with the balance coming from commercial clients, he says.

“We’ve had the SeeSnakes from day one,” Kitchen notes. “We followed in the steps of other Mr. Rooter franchises that used them to get jobs and increase profits. We couldn’t imagine not having them — they’re an absolute must for our business.”

The franchise provides a free pipeline inspection with every drain cleaning job to show customers that the problem at hand was resolved. “We’re already there,” he notes. “We just want to know if we resolved the problem or if there’s something bigger going on.” The company does charge a fee, however, if they’re hired as a subcontractor to inspect lines or perform services such as preliminary pipeline inspection for homebuyers or sellers.

To clean lines, the company relies on large cable drain cleaning machines made by Gorlitz Sewer & Drain, as well as Gorlitz cart-mounted water jetters (1,500 psi at 2.1 gpm). The company also owns a 4018 trailer-mounted water jetter manufactured by US Jetting (4,000 psi at 18 gpm) and uses either US Jetting nozzles or Warthog nozzles made by StoneAge. The company has also invested in a TRIC Tools pipe bursting machine and a pipe lining system made by Perma-Liner Industries.

The cameras are critical lynchpins in the Kitchens’ franchise because pipeline inspections often lead customers to use their other services, such as pipe bursting or lining. “The cameras pave the way,” Kitchen explains. “They let us know if we need to dig up just one spot or replace an entire line. The fact is that you can’t see underground unless you start digging everything up, which is disruptive and invasive.”

Key features of the standard SeeSnake include a self-leveling camera that ensures images are always upright, a hardened stainless steel camera-head spring assembly, high-intensity lights, and a built-in transmitter for pipe locating. The camera is capable of inspecting 2- to 12-inch-diameter pipes and can inspect lines up to 325 feet long.

Kitchen also cites the cameras’ durability and ease of operation. He says technicians can be trained to use a SeeSnake in an hour or two. If a camera head gets broken, it’s easy to change it out with a new one; the franchise typically keeps an extra camera head on hand, just for those instances. For larger issues, such as bent or kinked cables, the cameras get sent in to RIDGID for repairs. “But in the last six or seven years, we’ve only sent maybe two cameras back in to get fixed,” Kitchen points out. “They’re very durable.

“On average, our four SeeSnakes are out in the field on a daily basis, getting used at least four to five times a day,” he continues. “They really get a workout and they do so in the wettest and nastiest conditions. They’re watertight and very durable. Reliability is very important because it doesn’t look real good if a camera breaks down while a customer is watching an inspection on the monitor.”

Kitchen says it’s difficult to calculate the return on investment for the SeeSnakes, which run about $10,000 apiece. One thing he does know, however: Virtually all of the underground replacement and repair work the company does stems from camera inspections, so the return on investment is significant. “They help us sell jobs to customers, so they’ve paid for themselves time and time again,” he says.

What would Kitchen say to plumbers who would like to invest in a pipeline inspection camera, but hesitate because of the expense? “I would say it’s an investment worth making because the return on investment is huge,” he notes. “First of all, with a camera, you know you’re doing the job right, which reduces profit-killing service callbacks. And that $10,000 camera you purchase could help you land a $20,000 job. It’s truly worth it to help you seal the deal.”


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