Diverse Offerings Contribute to Growth for Hydroexcavation and Sewer Services Contractor

Canadian hydroexcavation firm grows out of another business and continues to grow with complementary services.

Diverse Offerings Contribute to Growth for Hydroexcavation and Sewer Services Contractor

An NCM operator empties the spoils tank at one of the company’s waste facilities in Stittsville, Ontario.

As his trucks rumble across the tundra of eastern Ontario, Canada, Kris Norris doesn’t see risk or cost — he sees potential. “Every time I see a truck going down the road, it’s like it fuels the fire,” he says. 

Norris built the company from a one-truck operation to 11 trucks, soon to be three inspection vans, 30-plus employees, and two material treatment facilities — and he’s not done yet. 

In less than five years’ time, NCM Hydro Vac Services has become the top contractor for hydroexcavation and sewer services in and around the Ottawa area. It’s all thanks to a simple formula: diverse offerings, reliable service and a commitment to growth.

The spark

NCM Hydro Vac Services was originally started to service a business owned by Norris’ brother, Platinum Construction, which specializes in home additions, and many of their projects require hydroexcavation. Norris had been coordinating subcontractors for that work and eventually bought a truck of his own, planning on doing work only for his brother.

But as a seasonal business, Platinum Construction alone couldn’t provide return on investment. Norris started taking other jobs, and it wasn’t long before he needed another truck to keep up with demand. 

“When it came around to summertime and my brother needed that work back again, we found ourselves more or less fully booked and not able to accommodate the guy who was giving me the work in the first place,” he says. 

As business grew, it became clear there was enough work to strike out on his own as a hydroexcavation contractor, and things snowballed from there. 

“Through any growth pains dealing with equipment failures, we learned quickly that when you buy two (trucks), you gotta buy two more,” Norris says. “You need an extra truck for unexpected breakdowns. You need to have an extra truck to be able to just get that asset to the customer and provide top-notch customer service.”

Always growing

NCM Hydro Vac Services has seven divisions today: hydroexcavating, foundation crack services, sewer services, septic pumping, waste bins, demolition and floating services. In addition, the company has two treatment facilities: one for treating silt and sediment waste from sewer cleaning, and another for recycling and dewatering soil from their five Super Products Mud Dog hydroexcavation trucks. 

Sewer cleaning was an early addition to hydroexcavation services. The company has since added four Vactor 2100 combination machines to its fleet to tackle municipal jobs. 

Sewer inspection services were added just in the last year, and Norris is already in the process of getting a third Aries-equipped van, with plans to add spot repair equipment from Pipeline Renewal Technologies.

Even more recently, the company purchased 20-yard solid-waste bins for contaminated soil that are rented out to construction sites.

Complementary contracting

Norris is all about complementary services. His company’s growth has essentially been a result of bleeding over into related lines of work: from hydroexcavating into sewer cleaning, which then led to pipeline inspection and now pipeline repair. 

“We just found ourselves buying additional assets to complement our service,” Norris says. 

The company’s two waste treatment facilities are another example of new offerings that came about as natural extensions of existing services. “We clean all the sewer pipe for all the city of Ottawa right now,” Norris says. “We deal with all the silt and sediment that comes out of the sewers, which is considered a contaminant, so we’ve got to be able to handle that.” 

NCM Hydro Vac Services dewaters the sewer waste to landfill standards. The water goes to the municipal treatment discharge facility, and the solids go to the landfill. 

The water recycling facility is another story. Hydrovac spoils are dumped into a containment area, which gathers all the silt and separates the water. The water goes to filtration sediment ponds, and the end result is clean water that can be put right back onto the trucks. 

“We’re not using city water, or we’re not pulling water from rivers or creeks or anything like that; we’re a fully recyclable system,” Norris says. “I guess we saw a bit of a niche on our end to be able to be the first here in Ottawa to start pushing into that eco-friendly transfer site.”

The company is also working on a program to recapture topsoil aggregates from the hydroexcavation process and to reintroduce it as a product for customers. 

“We’re looking to be able to introduce a better quality of sand back to our community — aggregate back to our community — and then sell topsoil so we’re not filling all these quarries and we’re not using up all the empty land with all kinds of fill,” Norris says. “We’re regenerating the material back into a usable product.”

Top-notch service

One of Norris’ main tenets of success is customer service. In any new venture he pursues, be it sewer cleaning and inspection or waste treatment, the customer is always top of mind. 

“I would say what’s helped us to keep driving forward: It’s never mattered what time the call is made or what needs to be done,” Norris says.

That mentality is what has allowed such rapid and continued growth for NCM Hydro Vac Services: It has built a reputation as a company that can get things done. The willingness to take on any job exposed the company to many different facets of the industry, providing opportunities to expand services. 

“(It) ended up more or less just pushing us into providing those services, like sewer cleaning and camera work and dealing with contaminated waste,” Norris says. “The market was so competitive that our clients are looking for somebody who can be the one call to do it all, so we never said no. … We are the solution.” 

It wasn’t just providing service that NCM Hydro Vac Services focused on — it was also how that service was provided. 

“We take a lot of pride in having our equipment look clean and presentable. We take a lot of pride in what our guys look like. We give them all proper uniforms with company badging and names; everybody has custom-painted hard hats with NCM on them, so we’ve branded ourselves,” Norris says. “People see that; they see a respectable company, a professional company, that takes pride in its staff and equipment and in the job that they’re going to do.” 

Employee attitude and morale is important, too, and Norris promotes a positive workplace. “Our problems never became our customers’ problems,” Norris says.

Word-of-mouth is NCM Hydro Vac Services’ biggest asset when it comes to finding good employees. By providing great benefits and a desirable work environment along with the promise of full-time employment, applicants have mostly come to them — sometimes even from competitors. 

“That word-of-mouth carries around, and we start to attract other seasoned veterans who are already in our industry and who maybe aren’t getting those types of securities or benefits with their current employer,” Norris says.

Beyond that, NCM Hydro Vac Services offers a highly competitive benefits package, including bonuses and retirement savings contributions.

Keeping the drive alive

It’s natural to ask how such a young company could grow so quickly, but Norris views the company’s youth as an advantage.

“I’ve still got a lot of drive; I’ve got a lot of ambition to keep pushing the NCM name,” Norris says. “There’s no lack of drive to keep going after contracts and work and looking into new avenues of how to use our equipment for other tasks to keep the equipment moving. It’s go time.”

Sticking to his roots

Kris Norris has always been a strong believer in sticking to his roots. “That’s pretty well what’s helped us grow. Being a local business, born and raised here, you’re able to deal with clients and customers one-on-one,” says Norris, owner of NCM Hydro Vac Services. 

Norris started the company in his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, which aside from being a commitment to improving the area, has also been a boon on the business side. “Through being raised in Ottawa, you get to know a lot of the same individuals in marketing and networking, so it’s been a constant push forward on growth,” Norris says. 

NCM Hydro Vac Services got its start taking any job Norris could find, leading to early successes in remote excavation and hydroexcavating for fiber optics. Though the company has grown considerably since those days, Norris is committed to continuing those services in the interest of being a comprehensive service provider. 

“We don’t want to stop growing. We want to keep changing our company philosophy to just keep grabbing new market and new equipment and be at the cutting edge for any hydrovac or vacuum truck cleaning industry.”


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