Pipe Cleaning and Rehab Services Provide Opportunity

New York plumbing company diversifies by investing in state-of-the-art technology to tap into underserved markets.
Pipe Cleaning and Rehab Services Provide Opportunity
The AP Plumbing team includes (from left) industrial service manager Don Dugan, office manager Stephanie Corcoran, general manager Lynette Raimondi, commercial service manager Frank Marino and residential service manager Cy Jensen.

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Andy Prestigiacomo is a believer of taking risks, of seizing opportunity when it presents itself.

Look no further than the successful growth and diversification of his 30-year-old company, AP Plumbing, for testimony to that: Over the last decade, it has expanded into hydroexcavating, pipe lining, sewer cleaning and inspection, and septic and grease tank pumping, which has pushed annual net income to $6 million.

“I’d love to tell you how brilliant I was, but I didn’t have any set goals 30 years ago,” Prestigiacomo says. “I was too busy working.”

Prestigiacomo steered his Rochester, New York-based company in this starkly different direction after recognizing the area’s aging infrastructure as a golden opportunity to add lucrative services. This expansion into sewer cleaning and pipe lining stands as a good example of AP Plumbing’s high-risk, high-reward strategy — and its success boldly underscores the importance of taking calculated financial risks to enter underserved markets.

“As crazy as it sounds, we kind of put the cart before the horse,” he explains. “We took an ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach and started to invest in specialized equipment. We wanted to offer more than just the typical service provided in the Rochester area.”

Though it’s what propelled the company forward, investing in expensive equipment such as vacuum trucks, water jetters and a hydroexcavating truck was unnerving at times. But as Prestigiacomo notes, it takes money to make money. “I always felt that there was no better way to invest in our company and our employees than by investing in new technology.”

Educating and establishing expertise

Being the first company in the region to buy equipment such as vacuum and hydroexcavating trucks and pipe lining technology gave AP Plumbing significant competitive advantages: establishing expertise in unconventional technologies, and developing key business relationships, Prestigiacomo says.

“Our first Vactor truck brought us into the spotlight and helped us gain many new contracts with municipalities and utility contractors,” he notes.

About three years later, the company bought a Vactor 2112 vacuum/hydroexcavating truck, a purchase that coincided with burgeoning industrywide demands for a safer way to expose utility lines than traditional excavation methods.

But being the first company in the region with such cutting-edge technology also meant customer education played a critical role. AP Plumbing used the internet, sales calls, and radio and television ads to educate customers. The company also leveraged one of its most valuable resources: an extensive customer base cultivated over the 30 years serving the Rochester area.

In addition, Prestigiacomo took on a business partner, Alex Brocutto, who helped build a management team that would help the company grow more strategically.

AP Plumbing’s education outreach includes highlighting the value of preventive maintenance contracts, which not only builds customer loyalty by decreasing expensive emergency calls, it also secures consistent, recurring revenue. Moreover, the contracts make it easier to schedule work, rather than relying on the unpredictable demands of emergency service work, Prestigiacomo explains.

“We tell our customers it’s like going to a doctor for regular checkups so you don’t have a catastrophic problem down the road,” he says. “It’s much better to monitor and maintain lines because it helps our customers save money over time, which strengthens their belief in our company and its representatives. That’s what keeps our business model strong.”

High-quality equipment and employees

Along with the 2008 Vactor 2112 vacuum/hydroexcavating truck, which is mounted on a Sterling chassis and features a 1,500-gallon water tank, a 15-cubic-yard debris tank and a 6,000 cfm dual-stage fan, AP Plumbing’s fleet includes:

  • Vactor 2100 Plus combination sewer vacuum truck, featuring a 2011 International chassis, a 1,500-gallon water tank, and a water pump that generates flow of 80 gpm and pressure of 2,500 psi
  • US Jetting trailer-mounted water jetter (18 gpm at 4,000 psi)
  • Spartan Tool trailer jetter (18 gpm at 4,000 psi)
  • Amthor International vacuum truck mounted on a 2013 International 7500 truck chassis, featuring a 3,600-gallon aluminum tank and a vacuum pump made by National Vacuum Equipment

In addition, the company relies on a 52-gallon ProVac pumpout system made by Westmoor Ltd., used for cleaning grease traps; a sewer inspection truck featuring Envirosight camera equipment; a MaxLiner CIPP lining system; assorted RIDGID pipeline inspection cameras and hand-held drain cleaners; and sewer cleaning machines made by RIDGID. The company also owns about 20 service vehicles, a Ford dump truck and a Bobcat 35 Series compact excavator.

Finding employees who are skilled enough to operate equipment has become more difficult in the last 10 years or so. To attract and retain quality employees, Prestigiacomo says the company offers signing bonuses for new employees, as well as for any current employee who refers someone that gets hired. “To me this is key,” he says. “Rewarding our existing employees for helping us grow the business will continue to strengthen our team and allow for continual company growth.”

To develop an employee pipeline of sorts, the company gives presentations at local trade-focused programs and hires interns, some of whom continue on as full-time employees. And cross-training employees in the company’s three major divisions — residential plumbing, commercial plumbing and industrial/municipal cleaning — plays an essential role in maintaining a positive, fresh work environment.  

“Being a full-service company that runs 24/7, employee stress can be a problem,” Prestigiacomo notes. “But it’s easy to cross-train our guys in different areas of plumbing and industrial applications, and I feel that this intermingling, if you will, helps us keep our employees from burning out.”

Prestigiacomo says listening to employees and taking their suggestions to heart also serve as great retention tools. “Our team has grown to 37 members over the years, and I cannot tell you how many times their opinions or ideas have steered this ship in the right direction,” he says.

Optimistic outlook

In the next three to five years, Prestigiacomo expects to maintain the company’s consistent double-digit annual growth, and he plans to place even more emphasis on customer and employee relations. As he puts it, “Growth will happen for our company … but I want to focus more on how AP Plumbing and my employees get there. The engagement of our staff is vital to our current growth and gaining market share.”

Looking back, Prestigiacomo says he’s amazed at how AP Plumbing grew into such a large, diversified company. But he gives total credit to his employees and his management team: Lynette Raimondi, general manager; Stephanie Corcoran, office manager; Don Dugan, industrial supervisor; Cy Jensen, service manager; and Frank Marino, commercial manager.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without all our employees that contribute on a daily basis. They truly are a driving force in our success.”

Short work of a tough job

In 2012, AP Plumbing in Rochester, New York, faced a particularly difficult job: hydroexcavating a tunnel 160 feet below a local electric utility substation, near high-voltage equipment. The company was contracted to create a roughly 3-foot-square, 160-foot-long trench for a new run of conduit that would carry a new electrical line upgrade for the substation.

The on-site challenges were daunting: The substation could not be shut down because it provides power to sections of Rochester, and the company’s Vactor 2112 hydroexcavator had to be positioned at least 25 feet from any substation component. The hydroexcavator also had to be grounded to protect operators from electrocution. Adding to the job site’s complexities, the soil was a mix of clay, rock, dirt and other assorted fill debris, says Andy Prestigiacomo, the company’s founder and owner.

Proper planning between the utility contractor and Don Dugan, industrial supervisor for AP Plumbing, was critical to the project’s success. The company also relied on expertise provided by Joe Johnson Equipment, a local equipment sales and rental outfit that sells and services Vactor equipment.

“They helped us devise a plan to facilitate this job and meet all the criteria,” Dugan says. “We had to determine the work parameters, including site-specific training, how to safely determine (hydroexcavating) access points, where to place the hydroexcavator and how to ground it. In addition, we had to utilize plastic piping instead of metal piping because of the very real possibility of electrocution.”

To dig the trench, workers used 6-inch-diameter SDR piping that enabled remote excavation and water pressure of 1,600 psi and flow of 8 gpm for hydroexcavating. This high-pressure/low-water flow combination was required to prohibit excess water from entering electrical systems, causing damage or injury. The job took two days to complete, Dugan says.

“In the end, the customer was very pleased with the work and the outcome,” Prestigiacomo says. “It showcased our capabilities for facilitating difficult projects, and we’ve been called upon to use these skills on similar applications.”


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