Contractor Taps Into Demand for Cleaning and Inspection Services

Nevada contractor applies the lessons learned from one successful business in modeling his own success.

Contractor Taps Into Demand for Cleaning and Inspection Services

The real estate market in the Reno, Nevada, area has been growing, and with it, the demand for presale plumbing and sewer inspections. Absolute Drain Service has tapped into that demand, and it’s been good for business.

Mickey Castonguay, owner of Absolute Drain Service, had nine years’ experience as a technician with Affordable Drain Service in San Diego when he moved to Reno in 2004. He initially worked with a relative in general construction, but he was eager to put his experience and training with Affordable Drain Service to work.

He opened his company in 2006, offering cleaning and inspection services to local plumbers who didn’t offer those services themselves.

Building a base

Armed with cameras and a new US Jetting 4018 trailer jetter, he made a list of every plumber in the area and sent out a fax promoting his drain cleaning and inspection. He followed up with a phone call, emphasizing that he would not be in competition for plumbing and repair work; he just wanted to clean and inspect drains.

Through these efforts he was able to connect with a prominent local firm, Precision Plumbing & Heating. The company’s owner was soon recommending Absolute Drain Service to others in the area.

He was already off to a good start when another lucrative plum dropped into his lap. A local real estate agent heard about the company and inquired about presale sewer inspections, which were becoming an increasingly important element of real estate transactions. With the Reno-Sparks area in a growth phase, the real estate market provided a valuable opportunity.

The company now does about 15 to 20 percent of its business with real estate agents. Plumbing companies make up the largest portion of the business base at about 60 percent, with the rest coming from the commercial and municipal sector along with some direct residential service.

“When I started this company, I followed the same business model I had seen succeed with Affordable Drain Service,” Castonguay says. “No repairs. Work for plumbers. Rely on word-of-mouth. No advertising. Offer set pricing.”

For the Reno-Sparks area, which is about a 10-mile radius, the rates start at $69 for a simple drain issue, $89 for the next step up, and then $125 if they need to go in through the roof. A camera inspection ranges from $175 to $200. Jetting is $300 to $350. There is an added fee for traveling outside the immediate area.

Billing practices with the plumbing companies can go both ways: sometimes Absolute Drain Service will bill the plumber, other times the customer. But regardless, the rate remains stable. When the client is a real estate agent, the bill will go to the homebuyer or seller, depending on the situation. Once again, he sticks with the standard prices as long as they are within the local market.

When there is something in the system that requires repair, Castonguay has several firms he can recommend to come in and do the work. This includes relining and pipe bursting, along with excavation if required. Typically, he will suggest three firms to select from.

Housing bonus

Working within the real estate community has become a pleasant and rewarding part of the business for Castonguay.

“I really had not thought about finding business within the real estate community,” he says. “But I really like being a part of it. I particularly find the agents to be extremely organized and knowledgeable, and they want to take care of their clients. Currently, I have about 150 customers in that category.”

After the initial business came his way, he began promoting his services by stopping at real estate offices and putting his red business cards in the real estate agents’ mail slots.

“I did that for a lot of years, and the agents would refer me to others in the business,” he says. “This has become a regular inspection for these transactions. People have to be aware of the liability if there are problems. I actually do a lot of the real estate inspections myself because I like doing that.

“This business may pick up because of the renewed interest in Reno and the various business entities moving here and drawing national attention. We need to accommodate the real estate market. The agents want to make their clients happy. We do whatever it takes.”

Through the real estate connection, another avenue for growth developed with cleaning and jetting septic system leachfields. There are several regions with septic systems within the two cities and broader area they serve.

Ready to help

Castonguay has also built a good reputation with the local supply houses, and they will frequently refer plumbers to Absolute Drain Service. The owner of the largest warehouse in town even has Absolute Drain Service take care of his own personal property.

While the company primarily does residential service, it also has small commercial clients and has done municipal work within northern Nevada. For example, the company was called out to restore operation of the sewer system in the city of Gerlach during an ice storm, and at Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada, the company repaired service when the water system failed. They have also done work in adjoining Douglas County and South Lake Tahoe.

Castonguay also makes himself and his team available to other plumbing companies on difficult jobs, even during off-hours.

“I’ve had phone calls from plumbers on night calls, asking for my advice on difficult problems, and we will even go out to help for a major concern,” he says. “We do try to offer 24/7 service, with the exception of Sunday. We take Sunday off. Quality time with the family is important.”

Absolute Drain Service has informal preventive maintenance agreements with many clients for whom technicians return on a regular basis to inspect lines and remove roots to avoid stoppages.

Castonguay notes that since Reno is an older city, he still sees a lot of the Orangeburg pipe that was used up until around 1970. It often needs to be replaced.

“We also see clay pipe, asbestos cement and concrete, all with joints and lots of roots. These we jet out and then use RootX, which works very well.

“Inside the house, you find cast iron and some plastic. When handling the older pipes, you have to use kid gloves.”

Castonguay’s crew uses a RIDGID self-leveling microDrain camera with a CS10 monitor, and two Insight Vision Cameras self-leveling mini cameras. They also use a RIDGID locator and Spartan Tool drain equipment.

Good people

The right equipment is only part of the battle. Hiring the right people is even more important. Absolute Drain Service started as a one-man operation, but Castonguay now has six employees. His two young sons and one of his nephews — Mickey, Ian and nephew Bobby Reedholm — entered the business on a part-time basis and are now full-time employees doing drain cleaning and inspection work.

“Every plumber I know is trying to hire someone,” he says. “I keep suggesting that they go to the high schools and talk to the kids who are in sports. Talk to the wrestling coach where he has students training through intense programs. Talk to the boys in the other sports. These are potential employees if they have a chance to learn about the industry.

“It takes a lot of money to train someone, but if you take care of employees, treat them fairly and pay fairly, they will do well. This is important for the industry.”

Castonguay says the hands-on training and experience he received at Affordable Drain Service back in San Diego has benefitted his own company. “It gave me the confidence to know what I could do for myself.”

He says that the thing he most enjoys about his job and running his own company is that people are so happy when he shows up to handle a problem.

“That is what I love about this — when I fix something for my clients, they are so grateful.

“I have to say this is the only job I’ve ever had where every day people say thank you and are happy to see me. They are happy when the toilet will flush properly, or the shower will drain, or when they don’t have to spend a fortune to fix something we have helped to maintain. Those are the times when people want to say, ‘Thank you for being there. Thank you for taking care of my problem.’”

Building a stable business

Absolute Drain Service has seen impressive growth in a short period of time — going from a one-man operation in 2006, through the financial crisis, to the current status with four technicians on the road.

“Our biggest challenge in the beginning was the lack of money,” says owner Mickey Castonguay. “What I did have was the equipment — cameras and a jetter and locator, plus the training and the determination to make this a viable company for myself and my family.”

During that initial struggle while he made payments on equipment, his wife, Laura, held outside employment to pay the bills, but with the stability they now enjoy, she works in the office along with her sister-in-law Tawny Kline. The women split responsibilities on a part-time basis.

Castonguay is currently in the process of putting up a 2,500-square-foot steel building with two bay doors and a shop on his acre-plus property.

As for expanding the business, he believes there is opportunity in northern Nevada, but he wants to maintain the family atmosphere.

“Whatever we do, I want people who share the same dedication and mindset that I have,” he says. “We want to treat people fairly — to stand behind our work and have no hidden fees. No surprises for the customer when we are done.”


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