Innovation Breeds Success

The Clog Squad wasn’t content with the status quo, so they found a better way to serve their customers.

Innovation Breeds Success

The SeeSnake monitor shows the progress as the equipment works its way through the blockage. 

At a local Chinese restaurant, Ken Beyer had a formative experience.

He was riding along with his co-owner, Mike Phillips, looking to get back into active service work with their company, Clog Squad. Long story short, a kink in the cable machine they were using to clean the commercial drain resulted in toxic ooze spraying out into the surrounding area, covering Beyer.

Beyer also happened to be standing next to some salads. He informed the restaurant owner, and that was that — should have been no problem. But soon after, Beyer was on the phone with the health department, learning that 37 people had gotten sick at the restaurant following that job.

“Drain cleaning is one of the dirtiest jobs, and I’d say probably the most dangerous of the dirtiest jobs, too,” Beyer says. “Our lab isn’t a regular laboratory. Our lab is our customers’ homes and businesses.

“It’s cross-contamination. I think it happens all the time,” Beyer says. “We’re hungry to find easier, safer, lighter ways to clean drains, and that’s what we’ve been focused on.”

A winding road

Before Clog Squad, Phillips was working as a plumbing contractor in Iraq “of all places,” he says.

Beyer, who has been plumbing since 1996, was eager to get out of new home construction and into service work.

“A position opened up in the service department, and my boss at the time recognized that would probably be a perfect job for me. And he was right: I love service work,” Beyer says. “I found out that plumbing service was my true calling. I couldn’t find anything that I enjoyed more than helping people in their time of need.”

Phillips and Beyer have been best friends since high school, so when Beyer decided to start his own company, that was his first call.

“Ken had the vision for a service company,” Phillips says. “He and I have been friends since high school. At the time, I needed a job, so I became his partner.”

What started as a typical full-service plumbing company quickly evolved into specialty work.

“When Mike got back from Iraq, I shared my vision of a service company that could contract for other plumbing companies, doing the work that they didn’t know how to do or that they didn’t want to do, and Mike thought it was a good idea, so we started our own plumbing company in 2003,” Beyer says. “We specialized in high-dollar services, like after-hours emergencies, water heater repair, working on water softeners and other high-tech services.”

They also invested in locators and cameras for inspection work.

“Then in 2008, the economy crashed, new home builds stopped, and the plumbers who we were working for started doing their own service work, so we had to find our own niche again,” Beyer says.

It was around that time they started to focus on the drain cleaning end of the business.

“As we got more and more involved in it, more and more people started to use us, and since I thoroughly enjoyed drain cleaning, it just became a natural fit,” Phillips says.

Beyer wasn’t 100 percent convinced of the new direction and took that time while business was slow to embark on a side venture: marketing his own design for an assisted hygiene product to the medical industry.

“As a master plumber at that time, I wasn’t looking to clean drains,” Beyer says. “The medical industry is a whole lot different. Basically, while Mike was doing one of the dirtiest jobs, I was being educated in the importance of disease control, biosecurity, and the dangers of cross-contamination.”

Though the venture did not find success, it was a valuable and instructive time.

“After five years trying to bring a new product to the medical market, I failed. Mike, on the other hand, met with great success,” Beyer says. “I’d have to say Mike found his calling in drain cleaning. He became the best of the best, and he was loving it.”

Not only was the transition to drain cleaning a calling for Phillips, it was also a cash cow for the business. After riding along for a short time, Beyer saw that drain cleaning brought in more money than any other service they had offered before.

“He convinced me to ride with him one day, and what I saw was amazing,” Beyer says.

It turns out, Phillips wasn’t just passionate about the new direction, he also had an innovative mind toward the work.

“Mike developed his own equipment, and what he was doing with cable machines I never thought was possible,” Beyer says. “At the end of the day, I saw that he’d made more money than I’ve ever seen him make, but most of all, he was loving it.”

Beyer decided to jump back into the business with both feet in 2012. Then the infamous restaurant incident occurred, and business for the Clog Squad would never be the same.

Changing focus

“We both agreed that sewer cables in a commercial kitchen was something that we would not do without the proper safeguards in place,” Beyer says. “I don’t understand how anybody allows cables in their commercial kitchen.”

The unfortunate incident caused the duo to take a long, hard look at their methodology and, perhaps more importantly, their equipment.

“Some of the equipment that you have to use is a little bit messier,” Phillips says. “You just have to go that extra mile to make sure things are clean. We started getting more jobs in restaurants, some factories, where cleanliness is of the utmost importance. You just have to be clean.”

As it turned out, there was nothing on the market that filled their needs. And it wasn’t just the cleanliness.

“I guess a few things started to happen: We started to get older, so just the ability to get equipment where it needed to be became important,” Phillips says.

Typical cable drain cleaning units can weigh upward of 250 pounds, making it difficult to move up and down stairs — an everyday activity for drain cleaners.

“When you look at the industry, we’re still using equipment that was invented in 1935, and it’s still the same basic concept: a cable, a lot of torque. It’s heavy as hell, and it’s dangerous to use,” Beyer says. “I’m 52 now, and I think the median age of a plumber is like 54. As we get older, we can’t lift that stuff up anymore.”

Beyer has had a number of health problems as a result of years in the industry, including two hernias, three knee surgeries, back pain and carpal tunnel.

“Your body starts giving out, and you realize, ‘Oh no, I’m in the fourth quarter of my earning potential right now. I might have to clean drains until I’m 80,’” Beyer says. “So we started looking at cleaner, lighter and safer ways to clean drains. We’re focused on the technology aspect of it.”

To that end, Beyer and Phillips over the last year started marketing their grand solution: the Clog Dog.

“I might have to clean drains until I’m 80. So I keep that in mind when we’re trying to find easier ways to do things, and cleaner ways. And my 14-year-old daughter wants to be a drain cleaner. So I keep that in mind when we’re developing the different equipment that we’re using because I want that to be an option for her someday.”

The drain cleaning product, which has evolved over many years, is a flex-shaft machine, the largest model with 125 feet of reach. With no exposed cable, the flex shaft reduces chances of splashing on retraction, as well as the danger of binding.

“I’m sure, like us, a lot of plumbers are out there right now, dreaming and praying for a sewer machine that you don’t have to psych yourself up like a weightlifter just to get it up a flight of stairs and back into your van,” Beyer says. “So we just started putting things together.

“It’s like we accidentally stumbled upon something that I think is an answer to a lot of guys’ prayers out there who are wondering if they’re going to be able to clean drains for a few more years.”

Cleanliness is good business

“Our best advertisement is the competition,” Beyer says. “They leave a huge mess with the cable spraying crap everywhere. Our machine goes in, and we keep it clean. We don’t even make a mess.”

In addition to their Clog Dog drain cleaners, Beyer and Phillips follow a strict practice of using protective tools to keep the customer’s property clean — mats and covers, even doorknob protectors — and they disinfect everything before they leave.

“When we go into a business as a drain cleaner, our primary focus is to do a cleaner, safer and more effective job than anybody else,” Beyer says. “That’s pretty much what we focus on.”

It’s not just their own Clog Dog that is necessary for a safe and efficient cleaning job. Clog Squad keeps a roster of well-maintained equipment, including RIDGID sectional machines, cameras and locators; one camera from MyTana Mfg.; a jetter from American Jetter; Pipe Genie bursting equipment; and lining equipment from Pipe Lining Supply. 

“I think it’s something that plumbers and drain cleaners overlook because we become cavalier about what we’re doing,” Beyer says. “We probably have the best immune systems out there because we’re exposed to everything, but that doesn’t mean the people that we’re coming in contact with have that same immune system.

“We put those safeguards in place to not only protect our workers, but to protect the people that we’re working around — other people’s families,” Beyer says. “Service work is definitely my purpose, and I love being a hero. I like showing up at jobs, the troubleshooting that goes into it, and helping people in their time of need.”

Better safe than sorry

On the grand scale, the odds are probably in a drain cleaner’s favor. Incidents like the Chinese restaurant are few and far between, but for Clog Squad, eliminating the risk is more than just good business — it’s common sense.

“You have to realize that what we’re doing as drain cleaners can put people in harm’s way. If I accidentally killed somebody because of my lack of acceptance of that, I wouldn’t be able to live with it. I could barely live with the fact that we made 37 people sick,” Beyer says. “There’s no OSHA safeguards or regulations when it comes to dealing with probably one of the most dangerous jobs that you’re going to do. I don’t understand that.”

If that’s not convincing enough, just ask your customers what method they prefer. The smart bet is on Clog Squad’s way.

“When somebody else goes in there, it’s a mess, and people don’t like a mess,” Beyer says. “When I first started plumbing, the guy that was training me told me that people aren’t going to remember how good of a plumber you are, but they’re going to remember the size of mess you made.”

The Clog Dog — plumbers’ best friend

After 37 people got sick following a drain cleaning job, Ken Beyer made a decision.

“I told my business partner I will never have one of these machines on my truck,” Beyer says, referring to the traditional cable drain cleaning machine.

So what’s a drain cleaner to do without a drain cleaning machine? Well, for innovation-driven Clog Squad, the solution was simple: They’d create their own machine. And that’s exactly what they did, ultimately finding themselves with a marketable product, which they call the Clog Dog.

“It works fantastic. We can use our cameras, so it’s turned drain cleaning into a surgical-like experience, like arthroscopic surgery. We can go right in and, as the shaft comes out, we can disinfect it. Which is huge,” Beyer says. “You can disinfect any type of drain cleaning cable, but with our equipment, it’s doing the work. And then as it’s coming back out, it’s not spinning and we can keep it clean. We can disinfect the shaft as it comes back.”

The Clog Dog made its debut at the 2017 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. Though it has been in development for at least four years, Beyer and Phillips only recently decided to delve into marketing the product commercially.

Response to the product line has been promising, and nearly 80 beta testers have lent the duo confidence in their invention.

“As we were developing it, we needed to have something that we could get off the van and back on the van by ourselves,” Beyer says. “There are a lot of problems that standard drain cleaning equipment doesn’t address. We started making our own equipment that we used with our service department, and it’s pretty much set us apart from anybody else that’s cleaning drains.

“We figure it will be a plumber’s best friend.”


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