Hotshots Owner Gains Business With Warranties and Good Relationships With Area Plumbers

Dalton Coveyou has developed a successful company that takes on everything from emergency calls to restoring pipelines in historic buildings

Hotshots Owner Gains Business With Warranties and Good Relationships With Area Plumbers

The Michigan-based Hotshots Drain Cleaning crew includes (left to right) Jason Smith, Mitch Schley, and owner Dalton Coveyou.

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Dalton Coveyou has spent his young life taking care of others, so it’s no surprise he’s finding success in the service industry.

As the oldest of five children in Petoskey, Michigan, Coveyou had to grow up fast after his mother passed away when he was 13.

He entered the workforce full time after high school as a plumbing apprentice and eventually landed a job as a technician with a Petoskey business called Ballard’s Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration. He then earned a journeyman plumbing license.

After three years at Ballard’s and a year in a union shop, Coveyou was ready to open his own business. He named his company Hotshots Drain Cleaning as a nod to his four years of volunteer work with Resort Bear Creek Fire and Rescue. Coveyou was encouraged to start a business by Facebook friends on a page called The Plumbing Hacks, and his cousin and fellow firefighter, Jason Smith, also supported him.

He decided he would offer a specialty service — drain cleaning — because it offered a natural customer-feeder system. “Most journeyman plumbers don’t want to touch a drain machine. It’s a dirty job,” says the 25-year-old business owner. So, tapping his connections, he set out to persuade fellow plumbers to call him for their drain cleaning work.

“We are strictly doing cleaning and wastewater treatment work. If we were doing plumbing jobs, too, they wouldn’t call us. About 80% of plumbers call when they need a drain cleaned. They all know me from when I worked in the trade. It’s really great.”

If Hotshots didn’t do a good job on the first call, however, the plumbing allies wouldn’t call the company a second time. Judging from its five-star reviews on Google, it consistently does good work. “We have top-notch equipment and take pride in being super clean on our customers’ property,” Coveyou says. “Plus, we warranty all of our work. We’re really big on that.”

A product of his time, he swears by social media, mostly advertises through Facebook and Instagram, and leverages his company’s five-star Google reviews. This past spring, Coveyou formalized his online campaign by hiring a local marketing firm to promote Hotshots. The company, Social Guru 4 You, is the work of two Petoskey women, Jasmine Turner and Kalley Atkins. They focus on helping northern Michigan businesses promote their message through social media channels. “They’re a great group of girls,” Coveyou says.

Yet he also relies on word-of-mouth and a throwback — the phone book, which he uses to tap the older demographic in his customer base.

On call

Petoskey is situated on Little Traverse Bay near the northern tip of Lower Michigan. It formally dates from the 1870s, so much of its underground infrastructure is cast iron and clay. Most of Coveyou’s service calls are to clean 4- and 6-inch sewer lines and drainpipes, with 70% of the calls coming from homeowners. And though Hotshots enjoys a working relationship with a home inspection company for video inspection of drainlines and septic drainfields, most of the cleaning calls are spur of the moment.

“We’ll get two or three service calls a day on a slow day, six to eight on a busy day.” He says the 24-hour emergency service prominently advertised on the Hotshots website predictably results in middle-of-the-night calls. “I like doing emergency work. I don’t mind getting called at 2 a.m. to prevent a sewer line from overflowing a house. It’s not unlike firefighting, actually. I enjoy helping people.”

The company office at Fochtman Industrial Park is where Hotshots’ two Chevrolet vans roll in for equipment and supplies each day. In the equipment yard and trucks are an assortment of RIDGID drain cleaning tools including a K-5208 sectional 1 1/4-inch cable model, plus K-50, K9-102 and K9-204 units, and a K-6 closet auger.

Another tool is a 110-foot, 1/2-inch Clog Dog, a flex-shaft drain cleaning cable invented by a company — Clog Squad, a RIDGID tool distributor located in Hammond — that supplies Hotshots with all its equipment. Coveyou praises the Clog Dog for its precise operation and cleanliness, which dovetails with his own penchant for performing spotless work in customers’ homes.

Other Hotshots tools include a Honda-powered GX390 Water Cannon for septic system drainfield cleaning and a Watson camera system.

“The camera is not the most expensive one on the market. We can’t afford those cameras yet. But it works fine, and we get the job done and done right the first time.” For the same reason, he has deferred getting a trailer jetter for enhanced root removal, though procuring one is in budget plans. Until then, the Water Cannon gets the job done.

Somewhat surprisingly, also found in the equipment yard is a Bobcat 325, a mini-excavator with a 27 hp Kubota engine. While most underground pipes that Hotshots inspects and cleans are intact, sometimes a broken segment is discovered. When that occurs, the company leaves it up to the customer on how to proceed: Let Hotshots uncover and replace the failed portion of the line or contact a contractor. “We’ll locate and determine the depth of the broken pipe. If a contractor is wanted, we can recommend one.”

Preserving a legacy

Winters in northern Michigan are undeniably cold. Counting on that cold are three ski resorts in the Petoskey area, four indoor and outdoor ice skating facilities, and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing venues. But Petoskey is a summertime resort town, too. So-called snowbirds flock back north to enjoy summer temperatures from May through September.

The summer visitors spend six months walking the shore of Lake Michigan looking for ancient fossil coral called Petoskey stone or visiting casinos and other resort attractions on the Lower Peninsula. Some ferry across the Straits of Mackinac to Mackinac Island. Coveyou takes the same ferry to clean drains in well-preserved historical buildings and businesses, the kinds of properties where cleanliness is appreciated.

Mackinac Island’s year-round population of 500 is augmented each summer by 15,000 visitors and seasonal residents, while Petoskey has a base population of about 6,000 residents and experiences a similar influx of returnees and visitors. “The city triples in population in the summer,” Coveyou says, which is good for his business. Not only is there a corresponding increase in emergency drain cleaning opportunities, but inspections and cleanings also multiply as snowbirds return to properties that were closed up for six months.

Although a relatively new business, Hotshots gets plenty of work. “We have competition, but we’re good at what we do. We inspect lines before and after, and we dependably fix problems. And we’re the only one to offer a warranty on our work, a three-month warranty on all drains. If, say, a backup in a line develops a week after we’ve completed work, there won’t be another bill. So far, we’ve had no callbacks.”

Hotshots also offers some compatible services, such as the SludgeHammer wastewater treatment system (SludgeHammer Group) and a cured-in-place pipe lining product. The latter service was rolled out after Coveyou became curious about the technology and teamed up with a friend to offer it.  

“I take classes in different things,” he says simply. Last fall, he found himself in a pipe lining class at Clog Squad Academy, the training component of his Hammond tool supplier. After he finished the class, one of his first jobs was lining a pipe in the Hotel Iroquois on the Mackinac Island waterfront. With the closest CIPP competitor three hours away, Coveyou is hoping to corner the lining work in northern Michigan. “It’s going great.”  

Coveyou has set his sights on expanding Hotshots’ various services across northern Michigan. “I want to have about eight vans on the road to get to every town around here.” He plans to build his company’s reputation as a drain cleaning and trenchless pipe lining service with an appreciation for legacy properties. “We like it when we don’t have to tear up lawns or we don’t have to tear into 100-year-old walls with original wallpaper on them. I want to protect our heritage.”

He loves his work, adding, “It is a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. But the rewards are well worth it.”

Looking back over his company’s short history, he gives some advice for starting out in the industry: “Don’t get too big too fast. Make great connections through networking. Take pride in what you do. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, because mistakes can be good when you learn from them. I’ve learned from mine.”

In an industry that requires professionals to have a wide selection of tools on hand, Coveyou also cautions against going tool-crazy. “I buy tools as I go, upgrading what I have and only buying specialty tools as I need them. I don’t want to ‘buy’ myself into debt, so I pay cash if I can. You really don’t need to have the best equipment in the beginning. Your best tools are your hands.” 

Adding septic service

Hotshots Drain Cleaning has customers across 120 square miles of the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Because it operates in a region of small cities and rural landscapes, Petoskey-based Hotshots offers both septic tank solutions in the country and cleaning solutions for clogged drainlines and sewer lines in urban areas.

The septic service is called SludgeHammer, a finely engineered and scalable system that can be installed in existing septic systems to manage anaerobic bacteria. Over time, those bacteria create layers of sludge in septic systems that block soil from absorbing waste. The SludgeHammer system is designed to biologically restore equilibrium underground, letting septic systems work properly with appropriate application.

Ecology scientist Dr. Dan Wickham says he solved the septic sludge dilemma after years of bacterial research and introduced it through his company, SludgeHammer Group.

“There are 160 distributors and installers in more than 17 countries, and Hotshots is one of them,” says Dalton Coveyou, Hotshots president. “We are very fortunate to have the SludgeHammer world headquarters here in Petoskey.”

While the manufacturer has distributed its septic system product from northern Michigan for nearly 20 years, the Hotshots affiliation is new. In the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic added to septic tank work for Coveyou since property owners were staying at home — and overloading their septic drainfields.

When Hotshots was launched as a drain cleaning firm in 2019, Coveyou immediately saw the alignment of the septic tank system with his drain cleaning work and signed up as a SludgeHammer franchise-holder.

“They send me a lot of work,” he says. Most of the jobs are in northern Michigan, but not all. Coveyou has traveled as far away as New York state to install a SludgeHammer unit in a monastery.

Hotshots’ vans carry the SludgeHammer name too, alongside the company logo, to promote the partnership.


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