Finding the Right Fit With a Mr. Rooter Franchise

Deborah and Brian Poole found their ideal franchise opportunity in Mr. Rooter and have built a successful branch in Virginia

Finding the Right Fit With a Mr. Rooter Franchise

The crew at Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Virginia Beach includes (back, from left) Joe Hartlley, Shane Pittman, Sam Bailie, TJ Gaffey, David Diggs, Bryce Cummings, Caitlin Morgan and Kevin Brown. Front, Michael Poole, Deborah Poole, Brian Poole and Adem Riecken. (Not pictured: Paula Boring)

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The Tidewater region of coastal Virginia has no lack of water. But area natives Brian and Deborah Poole noticed that high-quality plumbing services were in short supply, and in 2016, the couple decided to open their own plumbing shop to serve greater Virginia Beach and the surrounding area of Southside Hampton Roads.

More precisely, they landed a Mr. Rooter Plumbing franchise, which has steadily grown in business volume in the ensuing years. Today, even as its drain cleaning and pipe descaling work grows, the company is actively diversifying into related services.

Finding the one

“My husband and I knew we wanted to start our own plumbing company here and a friend of ours heard of this franchise opportunity and told us about it,” says Deborah Poole, who is vice president and concentrates on service, sales and marketing. “It was just the two of us at that point and we thought the franchise was a great way to get into the business.”

The couple already had some experience in the industry. Deborah had previously been employed by a Hampton Roads commercial contractor that focused on large-scale commercial projects, offering HVAC and plumbing services. They met while both worked for a large mechanical contracting company.

Brian earned an MBA in 2014 from the College of William & Mary in nearby Williamsburg, in anticipation of one day running his own plumbing services company. That day arrived two years later after the couple flew to Waco, Texas, to the corporate headquarters of Neighborly, the world’s largest consortium of home service brands, including Mr. Rooter Plumbing. “We wanted to see if it made any sense for us,” Deborah says of their Texas trip.

There are other franchise opportunities for aspiring plumbers, but the Pooles chose Mr. Rooter “for a couple of reasons.” A key one, she says, was the impressive roster of successful home services brands and franchisees under the Neighborly umbrella — it has more than 4,000 franchise-holders in nine countries. “And they already had what we knew we wanted in our business, the culture and customer service emphasis and the value system we wanted to represent at our company.”

Neighborly’s “code of values” reflects the optimism and positive approach of Don Dwyer, a businessman who founded Neighborly and eventually landed in the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. The values are categorized into Respect, Integrity and Customer Focus, and range from striving to maximize customer loyalty to communicating honestly to “speaking calmly and respectfully without profanity or sarcasm.”

Deborah is the day-to-day caretaker of the company’s culture, cultivating and maintaining Neighborly’s core values. “I passionately believe in running a family-owned business. I’m the mom. The guys express to me all the time how they would get yelled at in other companies, pushed around, have bad language thrown at them. I bring to the business a skill set to take care of our employees, to care about and coach them instead of yell at them.

“But I also am not afraid to push them outside their comfort zone.”

Building a reputation

Four years ago, the Pooles launched Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Virginia Beach and they now manage 15 employees who answer calls in their Mr. Rooter-red shirts all across the South Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Three-quarters of this work is residential, the remainder in light commercial establishments such as restaurants.

The company offers some two dozen wide-ranging services, including sewer, water and gas line installation and repair, drain cleaning and jetting, pipe descaling, cleaning and coating, water fixture maintenance (heaters, purifiers, softeners, boilers), and emergency plumbing services.

Emergency work is a calling card of Mr. Rooter franchises: Plumbers are available 24/7 and the emergency runs cost a customer the same regardless of the day of the week or hour of the day. The flat rate reflects one of those aforementioned values — striving to maximize customer loyalty.

The company also repairs pipes damaged during freezes. However, that call rarely comes to the Virginia Beach office since the average minimum wintertime temperatures is 34 degrees. On the other hand, between 45 and 50 inches of rain falls each year, which can test sewer and drain systems. Therefore, a more frequent call is to clean and restore clogged drainlines and sewer pipes.

Plugged small lines are cleared and toilet and laundry tub clogs are broken up using an assortment of Spartan Tool and RIDGID hand and drum cable machines.

Larger diameter and more gravely plugged lines are flushed with a Spartan Warrior trailer jetter. It is a 74 hp unit with a 300-gallon water tank, producing 4,000 psi at 18 gpm, and can clear lines up to 24 inches in diameter, which is sufficient for most any job the Pooles take on.

For corroded and encrusted pipe that resists clog removal by water pressure alone, company technicians have Spartan Revolution M2 and M4 milling machines, from the line of machines created by Spartan Tool and Picote Solutions.

The Revolution models are specially designed for use in pipelines with traps and multiple bends and feature an especially flexible encased cable. Poole says the M2 and M4 models in the company’s equipment yard can clear pipes from 2 inches to 12 inches in diameter, and a larger model to be procured in the near future will handle 16-inch pipe. “Our reputation is growing and we’re getting calls to work on larger pipe.”

To remotely keep an eye on the thoroughness of a cleaning process, the company uses RIDGID SeeSnake cameras. For some inspection work, it relies on a Quick Sight 40 camera. The Drain Gear-brand video unit weighs 22 pounds and features a 23 mm stainless steel waterproof camera head, wireless keyboard for inputting text and rechargeable six-hour battery.

Seven red vans carry the equipment to the home or business needing plumbing attention. When pipeline installation and similar jobs require excavation work, the company typically relies on its network of subcontractors to perform the work, but sometimes an excavator is rented. When the Spartan jetter needs towing to a site, the trailer is hitched to one of the company’s two pickups.

A diverse team

“We want diversity in our team and our services,” Deborah says. “It allows us to support all of our clients’ needs. By being able to offer so many services, we can hire apprentices and develop them into experts in different areas — drain cleaning, water heater repairs, water and sewer line repair and replacement.

“So, we enjoy the diversity of our services, but we continue to grow our underground work. We have expanded into pipe rehabilitation, including descaling and coating, and that has really taken off for us. We see it continuing to expand in the commercial world. The technology is just as applicable to large-diameter pipe and chilled waterlines as it is to sewer lines in an apartment building where you can do the work without moving tenants.”

Specifically, the company has become a certified Picote Brush-Coating installer. The Picote system uses a range of cleaning tools to prepare an aging pipe for new life. Picote brushes then apply a specially formulated epoxy resin inside the pipe. The coating can range from a single thickness less than a millimeter in depth to several coats that can add up to 4 mm.

The company will expand its pipe rehab work next year when it will begin to offer pipe lining. “The ability to go trenchless in commercial rehab work is just huge. It opens up a wealth of opportunities. So, we will grow that division of the company, but we won’t be getting out of the plumbing repair business.”

Three of the seven technicians in the company were certified by Picote — as was Deborah Poole herself. “Some of our customers think it a little strange when they see me out there looking at camera footage for one of our coating jobs. I get super excited about it and 

I think it is valuable seeing firsthand what is happening.”

The next goal is to hire more plumbers — including a female plumber. “Especially for the coating work. The trenchless rehab task is a perfect place to bring females into the trade.”

The Mr. Rooter Plumbing team in Virginia Beach may not have women in the field yet, but its crew includes master plumbers, drain cleaning and water-heater specialists and one apprentice plumber. The company is looking for a second apprentice.

“We feel very blessed and honored to be doing well enough to hire another apprentice and bring him or her into the trade.” 

A durable enterprise
Deborah and Brian Poole did their due diligence before buying a Mr. Rooter Plumbing franchise in 2016. The business is flourishing four years later because they continue to keep a vigilant eye on industry trends, carefully weigh pros and cons of possible new services, and market their company like they mean it.

When the married couple opened Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Virginia Beach, they brought with them years of experience in the industry as well as formal business management training. None of it has gone to waste.

They consciously look to vendors for emerging trends and technology information. They pore over industry literature to stay on top of developments. “We are avid readers,” Deborah says. They scrutinize the possible upsides and downsides of any new service they are considering and run financial models to see what it will mean in terms of new customers, additional employees and ROI.

“We carefully monitor each (marketing) campaign and app to understand our customers better,” she says. “How our customers are finding us and what they are looking for when they do is critical data that we analyze weekly. We have peers and friends in the business, some of whom are amazing technicians themselves, but they really struggle on the ad and marketing side, the things that make our phone ring.”

This methodical approach is building a durable enterprise. “Amazingly, it has gone better than we planned.” She says the key to their success has been diligence and patience. “In the beginning, it is important to focus spending to maximize smaller budgets. It is equally important to practice restraint, making smart purchases when the time is right. We knew at the outset we would need a jetter, for instance, but we waited until the right time.”

She says financial restraint lets them “pay a great wage to our team as well as give back to the community. It has allowed us to stay cash positive and, during the virus, to not lay off anyone.

“When the virus first appeared and shut down much of the economy, we were nervous. We had daily meetings to keep up with changes and to plan how we would continue to support our employees and their families, and keep them and our customers safe.”

The worst of the fears wasn’t realized. “We did notice a dip in revenue in April, May and June and we’re slightly off of our projected revenue for the year, but the market has rebounded quite nicely during the summer months.”

As a matter of fact, business has grown enough this year that the company is relocating from a small, rented office to a new one on Virginia Beach Boulevard with a larger office area and a warehouse. 

“The way it’s trending, we won’t double our business, revenue-wise, this year like we have every other year, but we’ll be only a little off of that. We are beyond blessed.”


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