Offering a Wide Range of Services Requires the Equipment to Back it Up

Rob Broccolo learned early on to invest in better equipment and go all-in when he adds new services

Offering a Wide Range of Services Requires the Equipment to Back it Up

Owner Rob Broccolo started his own business, Professional Drain Services of Southern New England, with the help of his family: (left to right) uncle John Broccolo, cousin John Broccolo, Rob, and dad, Rob Broccolo Sr.

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Some drain cleaners are leery about ever buying expensive new equipment. Others do so only when they have to, perhaps to remain competitive or take on a certain project they otherwise couldn’t handle.

Then there’s Rob Broccolo Jr. of Westerly, Rhode Island, who makes investments in advanced technology the centerpiece of his business strategy. The way he sees it, newer and more efficient equipment ticks off many boxes: Increased productivity. Improved profitability. Better retention of technicians. Higher levels of customer service. And entry to new markets.

Moreover, reliable and nice-looking machines provide free marketing for his business, Professional Drain Services of Southern New England, and helps his business create a great first impression as a professional and proficient contractor.

“Investing in the right equipment has led to our growth and helped us create a professional image in our market,” says Broccolo, who started the business in 2017 with his father, Rob Broccolo Sr. “I’ve slowly but surely reinvested profits into new equipment that helps us work faster and more profitably.

“When we show up on a job site, the lettering on our trucks says Professional Drain Services, so I feel like we have to show up with the best equipment. When I look back just three years ago, I’m amazed at what we have now compared to when we first started out.”

As for growth, the numbers speak for themselves. Since 2017, the company’s sales revenue has doubled each year, he says. And the company’s customer base — which is about 60% commercial clients and 40% residential — has grown by 30% annually. The business offers drain cleaning and inspection, septic tank pumping, and sewer and water pipe replacement and rehab services to customers throughout Rhode Island, plus southeastern Connecticut and part of Massachusetts.

Spend money to make money

The need to invest in reliable equipment hit home quickly as Broccolo started out. To save money, he bought a cheaper drain cleaning machine and inspection camera that didn’t provide great service for customers. He learned the hard way that there’s truth behind the old adage that sometimes one has to spend money to make money.

“It took me about a year to figure out what’s good and what isn’t,” he says. “I did that through the internet and networking on social media with other professionals.”

Two key contributors were a RIDGID SeeSnake inspection camera and a RIDGID FlexShaft drain machine. The latter allows operators to clean and inspect pipes simultaneously, rather than repeatedly pulling one out and pushing the other back in — a time-consuming and labor-intensive way to get jobs done.

“It’s nuts when I look back at the basic equipment I started out with,” he says. “But just less than a year after I started, the company started growing and I started loading up my van with the professional equipment I needed.

“With more powerful and efficient equipment, I started knocking out more calls per day and making more money. And they made work a lot easier, too.”

Adding value

In addition, Broccolo noticed that customers felt they got more value for their money when they could see what was clogging their pipes. They also like to see how a drain machine like the FlexShaft cleans a pipe from wall to wall, he adds.

“I could write a novel about how FlexShaft and the SeeSnake camera changed the game for me and my business. They’ve been total game-changers — dead serious.”

Better yet, Broccolo says he spends no money directly on marketing. The equipment does it for him. Doing work quickly and professionally generates repeat business as well as word-of-mouth referrals, not to mention favorable reviews on social-media platforms.

“We come to job sites looking as professional as possible — like we’re ready to get stuff done,” he says. “When we pull up, we’re ready to go with all the equipment needed to handle any drain situation.”

Broccolo says he’s even had neighbors of customers come over and ask him to look at a problem at their home because they’re so impressed with the company’s nice-looking 2018 Ford Transit van and equipment.

He’s also developed relationships with a group of about nine plumbers who don’t do drain cleaning; they refer work to him and he refers customers that need plumbing work to them.

Backbone of business

The company’s current roster of drain cleaning equipment includes RIDGID K9-102, K9-204 and K9-306 FlexShaft drain machines; a Mini Miller drain machine built by Picote Solutions; a RIDGID  K-5208 sectional drain machine; a JM-3080 cart-mounted water jetter (3,000 psi at 8 gpm) from General Pipe Cleaners, div. of General Wire Spring; a Milwaukee Tool M18 Drain Snake; a RIDGID NaviTrak Scout pipe locator; and a 4018 trailer jetter from US Jetting (4,000 psi at 18 gpm).

“The trailer jetter helped me get into a new market for larger drain cleaning projects at local universities and colleges and hotels,” Broccolo says. “I even clean catch basins for a local municipality. The trailer jetter gives me the ability to do bigger buildings and longer runs at properties I couldn’t do before.”

Along with the standard SeeSnake camera, Broccolo also relies on SeeSnake Compact M40, microReel and microDrain cameras, used in conjunction with a RIDGID CS6x Versa monitor.

The company also uses point-repair pipe liners made by Source One Environmental to perform small trenchless pipe rehab jobs.

To better manage the business, Broccolo uses SkyBoss field-service, business-management software, which handles invoicing and scheduling, builds a customer database, creates work orders and so forth.

More services, more customers

About a year after establishing the company, Broccolo decided to add septic tank pumping and septic system inspections, repairs and installations to his roster of services. The main motivation was an existing drain maintenance client, a large beachfront resort that relied on a massive septic system for waste disposal.

At 162,500 gallons of total capacity, the resort’s system is the second-largest commercial septic system in Rhode Island, Broccolo says.

“The company they used to pump out tanks wasn’t keeping up, so they offered the septic pumping to us.”

Other factors swayed him, too. Many customers in the company’s service area routinely call septic companies when they have drain issues, and Broccolo hated losing those customers. “I wanted to get those first phone calls,” he says.

Furthermore, Broccolo often encountered septic tank issues during drain cleaning service calls, and was tired of subbing out the pumping work and losing the resulting revenue to other companies.

So he invested $70,000 in a used vacuum truck with only 16,000 miles on it: a 2011 International built out by Transway Systems with a 2,500-gallon steel tank, Fruitland Mfg. pump (400 cfm) and a toolbox jetter made by American Jetter.

Broccolo also invested about $6,000 in a Power Booster from Pressure Lift Corp. and an Ingersoll Rand towable air compressor to power it, plus nearly $54,000 in a Kubota mini-excavator to do system repairs and installations. He also bought a Crust Busters tank agitator.

The Power Booster bumps up productivity by about 50% on remote-access jobs that involve long hose runs and/or deep vacuum pulls. “We can do 65- to 70-foot vertical pulls without any problem,” he says. In addition, the booster eases strain on the pump and keeps it cool during large commercial jobs where it might run for six to eight hours a day.

“When we’re on a job, I want to have all the equipment I need to handle any situation. That’s how I built this company. 

“Septic work has been a great complementary business. Pumping septic tanks gets us in the door for more service opportunities.”

Broccolo took the same cover-all-bases approach to licensing, earning certifications to repair, inspect and install septic systems. “I didn’t want to get cut short if there’s a chance to do more work,” he says. “I want to be able to do whatever needs to be done — set myself up for success instead of walking off a job with my tail between my legs.”

The inspections license is particularly beneficial because it generates an extra revenue stream, plus it often enough leads to repair work when state-mandated inspections for real estate transactions reveal system problems.

He learned the ins and outs of septic pumping by watching other companies at work when he subbed out pumping, networking with industry colleagues via social media and by figuring things out on the job. “I felt comfortable after about three months,” he says.

A change in plans

Broccolo, age 33, didn’t necessarily plan on a career in drain cleaning. But in 2007, while studying business at the University of Rhode Island, he fell into an uncovered storm sewer manhole while walking at night and broke his back. He then had eight steel rods inserted in his back, he says.

While he recuperated at home, he eventually started helping his father, who owned real estate and was skilled at construction and plumbing. That led Broccolo to seek an apprenticeship at a local plumbing company, where he worked for about five years.

When the plumbing company decided to stop doing drain cleaning, Broccolo saw an opportunity to start his own business, aided by financial support from his father.

“It took off like crazy – one customer after another after another,” he says.

The back injury is one reason why he strove to find lighter, more mobile equipment, such as the FlexShaft drain machine.

Broccolo keeps up with new technology developments by relying on everything from networking with colleagues on social media platforms to attending trade shows like the WWETT Show, to equipment demos from manufacturing reps.

“I’m constantly networking on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. It’s so great to learn from others what tools they’re using and why and what tools they’re not using and why not. It’s nice to connect with guys that actually are using all this equipment out in the field.”

Many contractors don’t know that companies will come to their businesses to demo machines — even sometimes let them use the equipment for a day, he points out. “I like to do that because if I’m going to spend, say, $4,000 on a concrete saw or $8,000 on a camera, I want to be sure they’ll do what I need them to do before I buy them.”

The right path

Broccolo originally planned to earn a business degree in college and then get a job in marketing. But in retrospect, he says he doesn’t regret the unexpected U-turn his career path took.

“I really enjoy solving problems,” he says. “And I enjoy having all the equipment I need to do it, too.

“I honestly just love using all of the equipment and unclogging drains. I love to hear the sound — that pop or ‘whoosh’ you hear when things start draining again.

“It’s like you’re the hero of the day to customers.” 

Knowledge (and good equipment) is power
A little experience and good old-fashioned know-how, coupled with reliable equipment, is a potent formula for success in drain cleaning. A good case in point is a job handled in July by Professional Drain Services of Southern New England, based in Westerly, Rhode Island.

The company got an emergency call from the owner of a small apartment and retail complex in Groton, Connecticut. A clogged sewer line had flooded a Dunkin’ store, owned by the owner of the small, four-store complex. In addition, residents in the eight apartments above the stores couldn’t use any water, says Rob Broccolo Jr., who co-owns the company with his father, Rob Broccolo Sr.

“There was a 6-inch-diameter SDR plastic pipe running from the street to the building, which was connected to a 4-inch-diameter, cast iron pipe that ran the length of the building, with the Dunkin’ Donuts store on the far end,” he explains. “The owner had already called two other companies that couldn’t get it unclogged, and she’d already lost a day’s revenue at the store. Plus the residents were without water.”

Broccolo got the call around 9:30 p.m. and had the drainline running free in three hours. How he did it underscores the benefits of experience, as well as owning an array of reliable, efficient equipment.

First he inspected the line with a RIDGID SeeSnake camera and found the problem: a clogged 4-inch house trap that a contractor accidentally had covered with asphalt while paving the parking lot. “It was buried underground and no one knew it was there,” Broccolo says. “But I knew from experience there had to be one somewhere.”

After cutting open the pavement with a Milwaukee Tool cut-off saw, he popped open caps on the clean-out and the trap and cleared the blockage with a RIDGID FlexShaft drain machine.

“Next, we inspected the line to be sure there wasn’t anything else built up in the lines,” he says. Then his crew used the company’s 4018 water jetter, manufactured by US Jetting, to clean the rest of the drainlines — about 180 feet total.

“We found a lot of dried cream (for coffee) and grease built up in the lines. The owner was a little skeptical about how we could do what two other companies failed to do, but by 12:30 or so, she was pretty stunned and happy that we’d cleared the line so quickly. She was able to open the store by 5 a.m.

“It just shows how important it is to have a lot of different kinds of equipment available. We even were able to patch the asphalt for her.”

And as a bonus, the owner of the complex also signed up for a scheduled-maintenance program to have the lines cleaned every six months.


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