Everything You Need

Mississippi cleaning company takes advantage of opportunities by adding services to suit customers’ needs.

Everything You Need

Members of the B Clean staff outside the company shop in Laurel, Mississippi.

As America’s fifth-largest producer of broiler chickens, Mississippi helps feed the world with poultry. But behind the scenes, B Clean — a full-service industrial cleaning company in Laurel — plays an important role in keeping that multibillion-dollar industry running smoothly.

In one sense, B Clean has a lot of its business eggs in one basket since about 60 percent of its annual revenue is generated by cleaning pipelines and tanks in roughly 15 poultry-processing plants. That includes some of the largest companies in the industry. The company also does work for related industries, such as feed mills and chicken hatcheries, says Chris Hodge, the company’s sales manager and a cousin of company owner Alex Hodge.

But the multimillion-dollar-a-year company, based about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, also offers a full range of other services, including hydroexcavating and hydroblasting for oil and gas field customers in the southeastern U.S., commercial and residential sewer cleaning, grease trap and septic tank pumping, portable restroom rentals — even garbage collection.

“It’s really amazing how something else grows off of almost everything we do,” Chris Hodge says. “For example, nobody in their right mind would buy a garbage truck unless they’re in the garbage business. But we saw an opportunity after a local garbage company got sold to an out-of-state company. People around here like to use local companies. So guess what we did? Our customers determine the services we provide.”

Nonetheless, B Clean still is a business built largely on the back of the region’s chicken-processing industry, which generates more than $2.7 billion in annual sales and an economic impact of more than $18 billion statewide. Most of the services stem from a very simple fact: The plants process millions of chickens a week, which generates untold tons of byproducts, ranging from fat to feathers.

And if those byproducts clog the numerous pipelines that run throughout the plants, U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines require production to cease. Such stoppages cost those plants thousands of dollars per minute in lost production, Hodge says; he also owns a large chicken farm himself (88,000 chickens) and worked in the industry for 25 years before joining B Clean.

“That’s why we’re 100 percent ready to go all the time,” he notes. “We’re on standby 24/7, just in case there’s an event in a plant that might cause a shutdown. On most nights, we have crews working somewhere. … We literally work around the clock.”

The company’s dependence on the chicken-processing industry doesn’t bother Hodge. “We’re committed to the chicken industry,” he says. “As an economy gets worse, people eat more chicken. So even a bad economy doesn’t hurt our business.”

The heavy metal

To clean chicken fat and other debris from pipelines, the company relies on a fleet of Vactor combination trucks — two 2100s and a pair of 2100 Plus models. They each feature a 3,000-gallon debris tank, a 3,000 psi/80 gpm Vactor water pump, a 6,000 cfm Roots Systems blower, 1,500-gallon water tank, 15-foot-long boom that rotates up to 180 degrees for maximum coverage, a hydraulically operated rear debris-tank door and 600 feet of 1-inch-diameter hose.

Chicken fat is surprisingly difficult to clear from pipelines. Hodge says it dries as hard as rock; the company typically uses StoneAge Warthog nozzles to cut through the clogs. “The fat forms what looks like stalagmites and stalactites you’d find in caves,” he says. “They’ll eventually turn, say, a 10-inch-diameter line into maybe a 3-inch line.”

While it may seem counterintuitive, chicken feathers also create tough clogs. “There’s thousands of pounds of feathers going into a 25-inch-diameter pipe every day, and when they dry up and get compressed, they’re like concrete,” he explains.

Cornmeal also wreaks havoc with pipelines at feed mills, he adds. “Have you ever seen cornmeal in a drain?” he asks. “It’s just like chicken fat. We do work at a corn-dog plant, and let me tell you, corn-dog sticks and cornmeal do not work out too good in a drainline.”

B Clean (the letter B stands for the initials of Alex Hodge’s sons, Braydon and Bryson) encourages customers to sign up for maintenance programs that include regularly scheduled cleaning for production-floor drainlines. While Hodge concedes such plans are expensive, he says they’re a value compared to the revenue lost when a plant can’t process chickens. Moreover, pipelines that get cleaned on a quarterly basis, for instance, are far less likely to develop problems. “Companies on a program have very few problems with clogged pipes,” he says.

Unlikely start

It’s hard to believe that a sprawling company like B Clean started with just a single pressure washer, used for cleaning feed trucks. But that’s exactly how Alex Hodge started out in 2000. After a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he worked for the Mississippi Highway Patrol. To earn extra money, he drove feed trucks on his days off.

“One day someone from a local chicken-processing company approached him about buying a pressure washer and getting into the truck-washing business,” Chris Hodge relates. “So he put in a bid to wash trucks, and when he landed the job, he bought a pressure washer.”

A few months later, Alex Hodge heard the company was also looking for a contractor to clean stopped-up drains, so he invested in a small vacuum truck. Then another large chicken producer offered him more drain cleaning business, so he invested in a combination sewer truck — his first Vactor 2100 — in 2005.

“I came on board in 2008 and really started to push the chicken business,” explains Chris Hodge, who earned a poultry science degree from Mississippi State University in 1989. “I knew a lot of people in the chicken business. We just grew the business, one job at a time, into a multimillion-dollar-a-year company.”

Disposal of byproducts usually isn’t an issue for B Clean because the processing plants take most of whatever debris the vacuum trucks collect and put it back into their waste systems, which separate and clean the byproducts and sell them to rendering plants. “Virtually everything gets reused, from feathers to claws to the blood, which is a rich nutrient used to make blood meal,” he explains. “If it can’t be reused, we get a manifest for a landfill and take the material there for disposal.”

Large fleet

As the company’s services expanded, so did its fleet of equipment. In addition to the four Vactor combination sewer trucks, the company owns a Guzzler Classic vacuum truck equipped with a Roots Systems blower. It’s primarily used for dry-vacuuming spills at feed, saw and paper mills.

The company also owns two Guzzcavator hydroexcavating trucks equipped with water pumps made by Cat Pumps and a Roots Systems blower. The units are used primarily to expose underground pipelines at natural gas facilities and in oil and natural gas fields. “We like the Guzzcavator because it’s so versatile — it can handle dry and wet material, like heavy slurries,” Hodge says.

B Clean also owns a Vactor HXX hydroexcavator with a water pump from Cat Pumps and a Roots blower. Furthermore, the company has invested in two 130-barrel tanker trailers, used mostly for support in oilfield drilling operations. Dragon Products and Pac-Mac manufactured the tankers, and both are equipped with vacuum pumps made by Fruitland.

To clean grease traps and septic tanks, the company relies on a Vactor Predator vacuum truck with Fruitland vacuum and water pumps.

For cleaning sewer laterals and sewer mainlines, the company owns one US Jetting trailer jetter featuring a 300-gallon water tank and a water pump that generates 3,500 psi and 25 gpm and another built by O’Brien with a 300-gallon water tank and a 3,500 psi/20 gpm water pump.

When it’s time to turn up the pressure for descaling industrial tanks and oilfield pipelines, B Clean turns to a Jetstream of Houston hydro blaster with a pump that produces from 10,000 to 40,000 psi at 30 to 60 gpm. To handle pipeline inspections, the company owns a Ford camera truck paired with an IBAK camera system from RapidView and PipeLogix inspection reporting software, plus several RIDGID SeeSnake cameras, used primarily for residential lateral inspections.

Diverse services

The ability to perform many services has been critical to the company’s success because it boosts customer satisfaction. For example, the company deploys 10,000-gallon-capacity roll-off vacuum boxes. When hooked up to a vacuum truck (sometimes two or three at one time, in certain applications), the roll-off boxes collect the debris instead of the truck’s debris tank. The upshot? Vac trucks spend more time working rather than transporting sludge and other materials.

“That way customers spend more of their money on vacuuming rather than on hauling,” Hodge notes. “It keeps hoses on the job.”

The bottom line: There’s virtually nothing the company won’t do if a customer asks for it. “When a customer picks up the telephone, they know we can get the job done,” he says. “If they need a sandwich made or a drain cleaned, we’ll get the job done. We might have to hire someone who knows a little more about what they need than we do, but if they’re willing to pay for it, we’ll get it done.”

Hodge also attributes the company’s growth to providing quality service, which in turn stems from high expectations and standards the company has for its employees’ performance. “If you expect superior, you just might get excellence,” Hodge says. “When we drive up to a job site, we’re ready to go to work — no messing around. We’re not the cheapest people in the business. But when customers make that telephone call, they get the best in the business — high-quality service every time.”

Future outlook

Looking ahead, Hodge anticipates further growth, some of it coming from garbage-collection revenue and some of it via geographic expansion. “Our vision is to reach wider into Texas and North Carolina … find customers in those states and watch it spread from there,” he says. “I’d also expect to invest in three or four more Vactors.”

Of course, the key to expansion is avoiding lapses in quality control as the company gets bigger and bigger. That’s not lost on Hodge, who points out that the company’s sales team performs safety and quality inspections on every job. “We also follow up with customers to see what they thought about the job we did,” he adds. “It’s time-consuming and costs a lot of money. But in the end, it’s all worth it. We’ve always got somewhere to go every day. The phone never quits ringing.”

Company strives to retain quality employees

Thanks to a low rate of unemployment, it’s hard to find workers in the region around Jones County, Mississippi, the home base of B Clean, a diversified industrial cleaning outfit.

“We produce a lot of products around here, from computers and electrical substations to chickens, electrical transformers, and jet engines,” explains Chris Hodge, the company’s sales manager. “So it’s harder to find workers here than in other places.”

As such, the company does many things to attract and retain employees. When new employees come on board, they’re continually receiving training that makes them more valuable to the company. That includes cross-training for various jobs, which keeps employees motivated and helps them avoid burnout, Hodge says.

“We encourage further education,” he notes. “For example, we’ll help employees get their commercial driver’s license.” The company also provides training so it can promote from within. For instance, it’s not unusual for someone who starts out washing vacuum trucks to end up being a driver/operator. “We try to develop our better employees — people who are interested in bettering themselves.”

In addition, employees who are on call get to drive a company truck home, and the company pays a portion of their cellphone bills. The company also offers health insurance and paid vacation time and is developing a 401(k) retirement program. Moreover, B Clean strives to recognize employees for good work whenever possible. “People just want to be appreciated,” Hodge says.

The company also periodically closes down for a day for company-wide retraining. Employees attend lectures and watch videos and even live demonstrations of things such as cleaning restrooms; washing trucks; and operating vacuum trucks, hydro blasters, and pipeline inspection cameras.

“We might have a 6-month employee who doesn’t know the extent of all of our services,” Hodge says. “This day of training allows them to become sales people out in the field. They need to be the experts on what we do. That way if they see customers that have, say, roll-off dumpsters, they can ask the customer if they’re happy with their current provider. Having employees double as salesmen has helped us grow the business.

“This one-day focus on training also helps us establish standards for employee performance in all areas,” he adds. “Companies need to tell employees what the standard is. Whenever we do these sessions, it’s amazing how much difference we see in terms of employee morale.”


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