Atlas Plumbing Is Bringing Trenchless Pipe Lining to Las Vegas Valley

Siblings partner up to expand their plumbing business with the help of another industry veteran

Atlas Plumbing Is Bringing Trenchless Pipe Lining to Las Vegas Valley

Atlas Plumbing employees (from left) Thomas Brunner, Peter Rios, Xavier Garcia and Adan Villa set up for a lateral lining job with a Perma-Liner inversion drum.

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Atlas Plumbing founder Bob Ray learned the trade as a teenager by working with his father before opening his own shop in Las Vegas in 1980. He kept busy for the next 30 years solving traditional plumbing issues in homes and commercial kitchens. But when his children assumed leadership of the company, Atlas Plumbing began to evolve.

When Ray’s son, Rod, became a co-owner in 2011, he immediately began to enlarge the company from a three-man operation. Like his father, Rod Ray started his unofficial plumbing internship as a teenager, “if you count drilling holes and digging ditches.” With a good foundation in the trade, at age 35 he was ready to move the company to another level.

“I began to grow the company as Dad was getting ready to retire. I knew I was a really good plumber, but I realized I needed a partner to make this company succeed,” he says. Ray turned to his sister, Sunshine Ray, two years younger, who leapt at the opportunity to join him. The family partnership is going well. “She probably is the best business decision I ever will make in my life.”

When Sunshine came aboard four years ago, she drew upon her marketing degree to begin a makeover of the Atlas Plumbing image. A throwback website design was created featuring a Lucille Ball-like character whom the Rays fondly dubbed Alice. A new company slogan was launched emphasizing service. Coordinating uniforms for service techs making house calls were introduced, featuring either vintage overalls or a gray shirt, suspenders, a bow tie and a hat.

As consequential as these branding efforts were, something even more transformative occurred two years later after Ray met industry veteran Pedro “Pete” Rios. “Since Pete has come on, I have never done so much sewer work in my life,” he says. Rios has been instrumental in repositioning Atlas Plumbing as a trenchless pipe repair company.

Fostering growth

Rios is a California transplant and previously worked for a family-owned plumbing and drain cleaning business in Los Angeles. He, too, grew up in the industry, learning the retail aspects of commercial and institutional plumbing, performing sewer and drain cleaning work, and eventually pipe bursting and relining — “a little bit of everything,” he says.

He brought his expertise to Nevada and, one January morning, found himself in a Henderson plumbing supply house at the same time as Ray. Ray was there to talk about buying a trailer jetter and the easygoing Californian eavesdropped.

“‘Do you mind if I join this conversation?’” he recalls asking. “‘It sounds like you want to get into jetting because you have restaurant accounts. You can invest in a $50,000 trailer jetter, but a smaller compact machine will do what you want to do most of the time and you can get it for under $9,000.’ I just started laying it out for him.”

The chance encounter at the store turned into a two-hour discussion during which Rios suggested how much Ray could charge in various situations and gave him other business management advice. A few months later when Rios realized his employer was not on a growth trajectory, he remembered Ray and called to offer his services.

Today, Atlas Plumbing is on the move thanks to the uniting of the Rays’ vision with Rios’ experience and enthusiasm. “It is amazing how the energy level changes when Pete walks into a room,” Ray says.

The Rays are fully committing to trenchless work. In February, the trio attended the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in Indianapolis and came away with CIP inversion equipment from Perma-Liner Industries. “The training and the customer service are phenomenal. Its pricing is in the middle range for a starting package. The reliability of the system is unquestioned,” says Rios, and “working with the company is a great experience.”

Effort and experience

The company’s first relining attempt was a Farmers Insurance claim at a home where sewage backed up overnight while a family slept. “They woke up to a lagoon,” Rios says. The team started early in the day, clearing the line and preparing it for a new liner. Rios says he could tell early on that the effort would be successful.

“Before you even put the calibration tube into the line to hold the pressure inside the liner, you know it is going to go well if the liner goes into the pipe smoothly. If the liner goes in smoothly, the tube is going to go in. From the moment the resins are being mixed for the liner to the moment the inversion material is in the pipe is the critical time,” he says. It all came together beautifully on that initial job. “We had high-fives all over the place.”

“We have two guys with tons of experience in relining,” says Ray, referring to Rios and Hugo Barahona, Rios’ nephew, who also came to Atlas Plumbing from California. Barahona is certified by Perma-Liner and has relined 50,000 linear feet of pipe in his career. This experience is what separates Atlas Plumbing from other plumbing houses in the valley.

In the past if a customer needed a pipe relined, Ray would call a qualified company — usually from California — to subcontract the job. “It was happening weekly,” Rios recalls. Now Atlas Plumbing is soliciting other area plumbing companies as a local relining services provider, and Rios thinks they will become a dominant force in the valley. “I truly believe in my heart that Atlas Plumbing is going to be the tip of the spear of the relining industry here in Las Vegas.”

The next step

The Atlas Plumbing equipment yard has a different mix of machines now. Besides the Perma-Liner equipment, Atlas Plumbing service vans now carry Picote Solutions Mini Millers and chains to scour lines. A cart-mounted Gorlitz Sewer & Drain GO 4200 jetter (3,200 psi, 8 gpm) with a Warthog nozzle (StoneAge) is the team’s choice for root and sludge removal.

The company’s trailer-mounted Spartan Tool 758 jetter pushes out 12 gpm and can be operated by one person, but the primary line-clearing tool is a truck-mounted Gorlitz GO 3500 jetter with 300 feet of 3/8-inch hose. To inspect lines and document cleaning and repairs, the Atlas Plumbing crew uses a Spartan PROvision 2.0 camera system, a RIDGID SeeSnake CCS6X attached to a 200-foot pushrod reel, and a RIDGID Scout unit.

Techs roll out on calls in one of 10 service trucks. Displaying the company’s new logo and promotional material on the truck bodies is one of Sunshine’s next projects. Missing from this lineup of equipment is a hydrovac truck, which the Rays rent as needed. “That’s the next step,” Sunshine says.

Rios advocates old-fashioned hand-digging, anyway. “If we need an excavator or vac, we rent one,” he says. “Mostly we use good old elbow grease. An excavator can make a mess and hand-digging is more precise. I’ve done this for so long that I’ve used every method. The least invasive is the vacuum truck, but even with that, soil gets dumped and you’re having to bring soil back in.”

The Rays cross-train techs so they can perform any of the company’s services, but a dedicated crew performs the CIPP work. Even there, other techs are rotated in and out occasionally so they can familiarize themselves with the relining process. “I want everyone to be knowledgeable,” Ray says.

This inclusive management of technicians is one way Ray hopes to win the loyalty of employees. Staff longevity is his goal. “I want people to come to Atlas Plumbing for a career. I want people to retire from here. I want to create a career path so technicians will come and stay for 15 or 20 years. This is where my sister and I are taking the company.”

Relining is the future

Residential plumbing still accounts for 75% of Atlas Plumbing service calls, but underground cleaning and repair work is the future. Revenue from cleaning and relining pipes has doubled from a year ago. Regular cleaning customers include Denny’s and Popeyes restaurants that serve Las Vegas casinos and clog kitchen pipes with sludge 24/7. As for relining, the crew is honing its skills on laterals 3 to 4 inches in diameter, occasionally taking on 6-inch pipe. Their longest job to date is 57 feet.

“In the next couple of years, I want to get to the point where we can do pipe up to 36 inches in diameter. I want us to get good at it so we can do the bigger stuff,” Ray says. He adds that they will eventually give pipe bursting and other trenchless solutions a try. “I’m looking at some pull-in-place products. There are situations where I don’t see inversion working.”

Where all this evolution will take Atlas Plumbing isn’t clear yet, but Ray is eyeing upstate Nevada as an expansion target for the company. And he’s keeping an eye on his 12-year-old daughter. “She helps stock and get trucks organized. I took her on a couple of relining jobs. If someone in the family is to become a fourth-generation part of the business, I’d say it would be Hailey.”

Las Vegas joins the trenchless revolution

Fixing or replacing underground pipe without tearing up lawns and streets is a solution that’s been around too long to be called new. Yet CIPP lining is just now getting traction in and around Las Vegas, a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people.

Several factors seem to have combined to slow the rollout of CIPP repair solutions in the Las Vegas Valley, according to Pedro “Pete” Rios, sales supervisor and trenchless expert at Atlas Plumbing in Henderson, Nevada. The first is the dismal quality of the valley’s water.

“The water is so hard that I’ve seen it snap plastic, wear out glue and ruin water heaters,” Rios says. “And water softeners discharge acidic water into the sewer, so cast iron doesn’t last either. In Los Angeles, we were replacing sewer lines from the 1950s. Here, residential sewer lines from the ’80s are failing because of the water’s acidic content.”

The caustic situation adversely influenced valley governing boards. They were reluctant to give the go-ahead to CIP lining solutions for fear they wouldn’t withstand the corrosive fluids flowing in the pipes. “They wouldn’t approve it, and the common reason I was given was, ‘I don’t know why,’” says Rod Ray, co-owner of Atlas Plumbing.

In fact, the liners are up to the task. The high-grade resin-soaked-and-cured liners inserted into pipes have proven to resist deterioration from high temperatures and corrosive agents including acids.

Authorities eventually were persuaded that the liners are indeed capable of handling the valley water. It helped that a CIP system’s representative came to town and met with regulatory officials to demonstrate the resilience of the company’s lining product.

With approval finally given, sewer repair and replacement firms, including Atlas Plumbing, are busy introducing the CIP revolution to Las Vegas Valley communities.


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