Buying One Piece of Equipment Can Change Your Entire Business

Purchasing a trailer jetter and committing to more drain cleaning services dramatically boosts revenue for Ohio plumbing firm

Buying One Piece of Equipment Can Change Your Entire Business

The Campbell Plumbing & Drain Cleaning crew includes (from left) Jack Laing, Vince Lamitie, owner Scott Haymer and Pat O’ Brien.

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It may sound implausible that one new piece of equipment could dramatically change the fortunes of a plumbing company. But that’s exactly what happened at Campbell Plumbing & Drain Cleaning in Eastlake, Ohio, after the company invested about $50,000 in a trailer-mounted water jetter.

In fact, the Warrior jetter from Spartan Tool was such a game changer that father-and-son owners Ray and Scott Haymer changed the name of the company from Campbell Plumbing & Heating to reflect the company’s new emphasis on drain cleaning.

“Our company name included heating because we did some boiler work,” Scott Haymer explains. “But we never truly were an HVAC company, so we changed the name to better reflect our services.

“We totally rebranded ourselves. Drain cleaning is a very profitable business niche. In fact, the Warrior paid for itself in about 10 months. After it’s paid for, all the money you make is profit. Our revenue and our productivity went way up.”

In addition, drain cleaning jobs can easily lead to other lucrative services, such as excavation-based pipeline replacements (the company subs out trenchless pipeline rehab services) and clean-out installations.

“That’s the beauty of drain cleaning,” he says.

Furthermore, when a contractor shows up with a trailer jetter, an inspection camera and other drain cleaning options — like a Maxi Miller drain machine from Picote Solutions, for example — and still can’t fix the problem, the customer can see that all options have been exhausted. “That makes the more expensive trenchless pipe rehab or major excavation work an easier pill for them to swallow,” he says.

While Haymer says it’s difficult to determine exactly how much more revenue the company generates compared to the pre-Warrior days, one fact speaks volumes: The business bought a second Warrior jetter in 2019 and now runs two service trucks instead of just one.

“Going from one jetter to two and from one truck to two was a pretty big step for a small company like ours,” he says.

Jetters promote efficiency

The Haymers’ experience is especially notable for plumbers who, for one reason or another, avoid diversifying into drain cleaning. Sure, drain cleaning is dirty work. But the revenue provided by this higher-margin business, coupled with the additional business it generates, makes it worthwhile, Haymer says.

“We subbed out waterjetting for years to avoid the initial upfront investment. But we did the math and found out you don’t make a lot of money subbing out that work. … The profit margins are marginal. You leave a lot of money on the table with each job.

“You’re basically paying for an education (about how to water-jet lines) and when we learned enough, we took the plunge and went out on our own. Now when people call, we tell them we don’t snake drains anymore because it’s older technology. A lot of people still don’t know what waterjetting is so we put a video on our website that explains it.”

Furthermore, the jetter eliminates the effort required to lug a heavy cable machine up and down basement stairs, not to mention back injuries. It also removed a frustrating element for customers: waiting for a subcontractor to find time to come over and do the job, he says.

The Warrior features a triplex ceramic plunger water pump that generates pressure of 4,000 psi and flow of 18 gpm; a 300-gallon water tank with integrated baffles that allow it to be towed while fully filled; a 180-degree pivoting hose reel; a fiberglass enclosure for protection from the elements; 75 feet of 1/4-inch-diameter hose; remote-control capability; and automatic shutdown protection for low water, low engine oil pressure and high engine temperature.

Investing in timesaving, productivity-enhancing equipment is more important than ever before, Haymer believes, because of the nationwide labor shortage. “The fact that you can’t easily find guys makes finding equipment that can do work more efficiently even more critical. I’m always interested in new technology that makes our company better, stronger and faster.”

Humble beginnings

Ray Haymer started the company with a friend in 1969. They decided to call the business Campbell Plumbing in honor of his grandmother, whose last name was Campbell. Scott Haymer started working for his father on and off during high school and full time for around five years after graduation. Then he left in 2001 to take a sales job.

In 2013, Haymer came back to work with his father again. That spurred a stronger emphasis on drain cleaning, primarily because Haymer really enjoyed the work.

“Sure, drain cleaning is dirty and smelly — it can be gross,” Haymer says. “But it’s also very rewarding work. You go to a home and there’s a bunch of sewer water in the basement, and when you’re done, the water goes down the drain and you look like a hero.

“Overcoming the challenges that pop up is also rewarding. There are few things better than seeing that water vortex as the water finally starts moving down the drain.”

Along with a stronger emphasis on drain cleaning, the company’s success stems from serving just customers within a small radius around Eastlake, which is about 15 miles northeast of Cleveland, along Lake Erie. That makes for better productivity through reduced windshield time. As Haymer puts it, “It’s hard to make money while you’re driving.”

This approach also frees up technicians to spend as much time with customers as needed — focus more sharply on providing great customer service. That fits in well with another Campbell Plumbing business philosophy: attracting and retaining lifetime customers, not one-time customers.

Haymer also credits some of the company’s growth to its soft-sell approach. Technicians don’t get commissions for upselling customers on various products, and customers appreciate the lower-key approach.

“We might point out to a customer that a water heater is old,” Haymer explains. “But we won’t tell them that we can sell them one today for just $59 a month, for example. If they’re not interested in a new water heater when we’re there, we put one of our stickers on the old one and tell customers to call us when they’re ready.”

Equipment matters

Providing good customer service requires a well-rounded fleet of equipment and vehicles. Campbell Plumbing runs two service trucks: 2017 and 2019 Chevrolet Express 4500 cutaway-cube vans outfitted with 17-foot Aerocell box bodies made by Unicell Body. 

For drain cleaning equipment, each truck carries the following RIDGID products: a K-40 sink machine, a K-3800 drum machine and K9-102 and K9-204 FlexShaft machines. Haymer’s truck also carries two drain machines from Picote Solutions: a Maxi Miller and a Super Midi Miller. One truck carries mostly Milwaukee Tool power tools, and the other truck carries primarily RIDGID tools, Haymer says.

The company also owns a Spartan 2001 drain machine, a RIDGID SeekTech SR-20 pipeline locator and six RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras: two standard SeeSnakes, two nanoReels, a Mini and a MAX rM200.

Technicians also depend on concrete saws made by Stihl; two Honda inverter generators used to power drain cleaning equipment when no electricity is available; and a Laserplane 220 laser transit level manufactured by Spectra-Physics. The company also invested in a Caterpillar 305 mini-excavator, primarily used to install clean-outs.

The company also owns a 4-by-7-foot trench box made by Allen Trench Safety and a StairCat motorized stair-climbing hand truck made by Escalera, which saves time and helps minimize on-the-job injuries that can be incurred while muscling heavy items like water heaters up and down stairs, Haymer says.

For invoice creation, tracking and other cloud-based services, the company relies on the Invoice2go app. “We have internet hot spots set up in all of our trucks, along with printers. Technicians can look up jobs on the cloud while they’re sitting in someone’s driveway.”

Look like a pro

Professionalism also is critical to the company’s success. That includes wearing company-logoed T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats. In addition, service vehicles feature hand-painted lettering, done by RL Signs in an eye-catching red, white and blue color scheme. Business cards and other company materials all feature the same lettering and colors to boost brand recognition.

To maintain good customer relations, technicians are trained to be polite, courteous and clean. “At the end of the day, customers are hiring plumbers, not lawyers and doctors,” Haymer says. “We can be a little rough around the edges, but we’re always nice. … We introduce ourselves, take off our shoes and clean up our messes.

“We’re there to do our jobs in a way that impacts customers the least. If it looks like we weren’t there when we’re finished, then I know we’ve done our job.”

Haymer also believes that using newer machines and equipment and advanced technology — such as inspection cameras and water jetters — contribute to the company’s professional image. It also helps customers understand why some repairs cost so much.

“After they see all the equipment you’re bringing in and the technology you have, price objections sometimes go away,” he explains. “If they ask why a job will cost so much, you can point out the cost of things like cameras, jetters and locators. Once you do that, they have a better understanding of where the costs come from.”

Looking ahead, Haymer says he expects further growth for Campbell Plumbing. He’s a bit surprised at what the company has accomplished in the last five years, but he says it’s a testament to good employees — Vince Lamitie, Jack Laing and Pat O’Brien ­— and advanced, reliable equipment.

“The running joke in our shop is we thought we really made it to the big time when we bought our first cordless Sawzall and our first laser transit,” he says. “Then when we bought our first water jetter, we said, ‘This is almost as good as our first cordless Sawzall.’

“That jetter was a milestone investment, for sure. So was the mini-excavator. And we’re aiming for the next big milestone, whatever it may be.”

Friendly competition
It’s not unusual for a handful of plumbing contractors in and around Eastlake, Ohio, to refer their customers to each other when they’re away for extended periods of time or don’t have the capability to provide the required service.

“We’ve had guys go on vacation and put our name on their answering-machine messages,” says Scott Haymer, who co-owns Campbell Plumbing & Drain Cleaning with his father, Ray Haymer.

Is that surprising? “Hell yeah,” he says.

“But at the end of the day, that customer who calls that company needs help, and there’s already a degree of trust already there (with their contractor). It’s really no different than getting a referral for a doctor from your own doctor. People don’t want to wait for service, so it’s better to refer them to someone you trust.”

The informal referral network developed within the last 10 years or so. It wasn’t always that way; Haymer says he used to rarely talk to competitors. But as the years went by and he saw other contractors repeatedly at supply houses, as well as at children’s school and sporting events, they went from competitors to acquaintances to friends.

“You learn what they do, and they learn what you do,” Haymer says. “When they get calls for drain cleaning, they call me. And when I get calls for remodeling or maybe getting a hotel plumbed, I refer people to them. In the end, we all know our customers will be taken care of in a timely fashion. And customers respect and appreciate that because they know we all have their best interests at heart.”

It helps that there’s typically more work in the area than everyone can handle, so no one feels threatened by competitors, Haymer says. In addition, the contractors don’t poach customers from each other, a practice that helps sustain the unusual dynamic.

The informal network also can minimize the need to make significant investments in equipment to enter new markets, such as pipe lining. “I’ve subbed out pipe lining and pipe bursting jobs to another contractor, Tom Carlisle (the owner of Underground Connections in Wooster), for seven years,” he says. “He has 20 years of experience and I’ll never surpass that. I’d rather pay him for his experience.”


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