Going Against the Grain to Provide a Better Experience for Plumbing

Pronto Plumbing does things differently, creating a highly structured environment that always puts customer comfort first

Going Against the Grain to Provide a Better Experience for Plumbing

 Conner Trinkle starts fusing sections of a new pipe together for a pipe bursting job.

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From structured process protocols for each and every job to giving customers free sewer line inspections, Pronto Plumbing definitely is not a conventional plumbing and drain cleaning company.

And when combined with an emphasis on investments in advanced, productivity-enhancing equipment — especially trenchless pipeline rehab technology — co-owners Barry Kindt and John Gribble have created a unique formula for success at the company, based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

“We do operate completely different than most plumbing companies,” Gribble says. “We believe everything is about image and creating comfort for customers that use our services.

“Providing a better customer experience creates a better image. And we do that by offering to inspect sewer lines before they become an issue, by running service calls the same way every time and by having a well-stocked warehouse and trucks so technicians can provide solutions to problems every day of the week.”

The numbers speak for themselves. With 53 employees, diverse service offerings that include electrical and HVAC, a fleet of 22 service vehicles and an ever-growing roster of machines and equipment, Pronto Plumbing has grown considerably since Kindt founded it in 1998.

Gribble says Kindt, whom he describes as a mentor, deserves most of the credit for the “visionary” approach to growing a company. “He’s a very driven man and his hobby is business. He’s been very inspirational to my career.”

Gribble came on board in 2015 to manage the company’s plumbing and drain cleaning services and became a part owner in 2020. And Kindt’s operating philosophies trickle down to employees, creating a driven and dedicated team, he adds.

Structured success

A key part of the company’s success stems from the comprehensive training protocols developed by Kindt and Gribble for all facets of the business, from plumbing repairs and pipe bursting to how employees handle customer calls and dispatching technicians to installation coordinators and warehouse employees, Gribble says.

The benefits include better productivity, which then translates into more revenue; better customer service through technicians consistently using the same techniques and processes; and increased employee retention because they’re more confident about their work, he explains.

“Plus I figured if I got all this stuff out of my mind and on paper, I don’t need to be out in the field all the time.”

Technicians respond well to the training protocols, which come in the form of small brochures with plenty of photos. For example, the company has a six-page brochure for learning how to do pipe bursting.

“It basically presents tips and tricks — best practices for every step, from opening up a ditch to exposing a basement foundation wall to fusing pipe,” Gribble says. “Mistakes still can happen if guys aren’t cautious, but this system helps to minimize them.”

Photos are a critical part of the education because most technicians are visual learners who understand procedures better when they see how they’re done, he notes.

Setting expectations

Another benefit of the thorough training protocols is that Pronto can charge a premium price for its services as well as confidently guarantee its work.

“In the end, it’s all about customer service,” Gribble says. “Having techs run service calls the same way helps because if a customer loves one of our techs and requests them, but they’re not available, we can send another tech and it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Gribble concedes that some technicians quit because they don’t like so much structure. But that’s okay, he says. “We call those people future customers.”

The training system offers yet another benefit in that it breaks the potential “fear barrier” some job candidates have about entering the plumbing field.

“We mention it during job interviews … it puts their minds at ease because it sets out expectations about what they’re going to learn and when they’re going to learn it,” he says. “By showing them a path, they can see that becoming a plumber is doable.”

It also helps when employees ask for more money because managers can show them exactly what’s expected of them to get to the next pay grade. In addition, the training helps classify technicians according to their abilities, which enables project supervisors to easily assign them to jobs that correlate to their abilities.

Free inspections

Giving customers free sewer line inspections might seem like a great way to lose out on revenue. Gribble doesn’t see it that way.

“I think it’s nuts to charge customers extra for inspections,” he says. “You’re doing a service for clients, plus it gives you more opportunities to get inside their homes. It gives us about 35% more (drain) business — and we’re not waiting for the phone to ring when someone has a backed-up drain.”

That proactive approach pays dividends during times when business slows down. “You have to maintain a full call board and keep revenue flowing in as well. So we proactively call customers to see if they want an inspection.”

To inspect lines, the company has invested in seven RIDGID SeeSnakes miniReel cameras and CS10 monitors.

Equipment matters

The company currently runs 22 service vehicles, seven dedicated to drain cleaning. They’re all branded with bright green vinyl wraps that feature the company mascot: an animated, smiling water droplet running with a pipe wrench in hand.

Most of the vehicles are Ford Transits, but the company slowly is transitioning to roomier Nissan 2500 and 3500 NV high-top vans. New Harrisburg Truck Body installs Adrian Steel shelving/storage units in the vehicles, Gribble says.

For drain cleaning, Pronto relies on two truck-mounted model 123 Mongoose “van packs” from Sewer Equipment, each featuring a 200-gallon water tank, 250 feet of 3/8-inch-diameter hose and a 30 minute run-dry water pump that generate pressure of 3,000 psi and flow up to 12 gpm; and one Mongoose trailer jetter (4,000 psi at 25 gpm) with a 300-gallon water tank and 500 feet of 5/8-inch-diameter hose.

The company also owns seven RIDGID K-40 sink machines and two RIDGID K-750 sectional drain machines, plus jackhammers made by DeWALT.

For pipe bursting and horizontal directional drilling, the company relies on equipment from RODDIE: two R8 units and a Basement Buddy, respectively.

For excavating, two mini-excavators, two mid-size excavators and a track loader, all from Kubota, carry the load, assisted by four dump trucks: two on Freightliner chassis with dump bodies made by Heil (an Environmental Solutions Group Co.) and two on Ford F-550 chassis with dump bodies manufactured by Adrian Steel.

The company also uses ServiceTitan business management software.

Fully stocked

A 30,000-square-foot warehouse that stocks more than 2,000 parts helps boost productivity by eliminating the need for technicians to make time-consuming daily runs to part depots.

“We have a lot of jobs going on at any one time … and it’s a challenge to get materials fast enough from the distributors,” Gribble says. “So Barry built a warehouse about 20-some years ago.”

Four full-time employees work in the warehouse, and their duties include delivering parts to job sites when needed. While the warehouse, its staff and carrying inventory all contribute to higher overhead costs, Gribble says the added operational efficiencies are worth it and mitigate some of those costs.

Having parts readily available also helps technicians provide better customer service by not keeping customers waiting. It also improves morale because they can typically work without stopping to make trips to parts houses; that, in turn, increases their chances of earning performance bonuses.

Speaking of happier technicians, the business tries to minimize turnover by offering higher-than-normal base pay; family health, dental and vision insurance; a productivity and sales bonus program; life insurance; paid holidays and time off; tools and uniforms; and retirement accounts with matching company contributions.

“We have plumbers that make six figures a year.” Like so many contractors nationwide, it’s difficult to find qualified workers, so any added incentives help, Gribble says.

Passion meets potential

Gribble grew up in the industry; his father, John Gribble, was a plumber and excavator and Gribble worked for him during summers. He’s as passionate about plumbing as he is about growing the drain cleaning arm of the company.

“I’m addicted,” he says. “I’m very passionate about drain cleaning and plumbing. My fiancé thinks I’m nuts because I have a Pronto Plumbing flag in my front yard and a basement full of Milwaukee Tool power tools.

“Every day is different. No matter how many times you fix a sewer line, it’s never the same job twice — and I love a good challenge. I pretty much never say no to a job. Sometimes I’m sure the guys probably want to shake me, but we always manage to get the job done.”

In five years, Gribble would like to triple the company’s plumbing and drain cleaning revenue, which currently accounts for about 75% of its overall revenue — noting that geographic expansion of the company’s services, or even satellite facilities, is a strong possibility.

“I have an aggressive business mentality. There’s a lot of untapped potential in our markets and we have just the team to tap it.” 

Pipe bursting opens up a new market
In an effort to generate a new revenue stream, Pronto Plumbing in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, decided to enter the market for trenchless pipeline rehabilitation about five years ago. So far, so good — thanks to R8 pipe bursting systems manufactured by RODDIE.

At first, an under-performing pipe bursting system prevented the business from making headway as fast as co-owner John Gribble would have liked. But the RODDIE R8 units changed all that, bringing more efficiency, productivity and power to each project.

“Those RODDIEs make our company a lot of money,” he says. “They gave us a big productivity boost and about a 200% increase in revenue. We plan on buying another one soon.”

Technicians can both set up and break down the hydraulically powered R8s about an hour faster, which saves roughly two hours per job. “Time is money,” Gribble says.

Furthermore, the units are significantly lighter; the system breaks down into two 70-pound components, making it easier to carry. And its compact size means a smaller trench footprint, plus it can be set up vertically or horizontally, which provides greater flexibility when using it in cramped quarters, Gribble says.

While it may be compact, the R8 still generates plenty of muscle: 30 tons of pulling force at 3,000 psi.

The company bought a Hydra Control accessory that provides better control while pulling the bursting head.

“You don’t want to over-pull your pipe and end up lodging the bursting head in the machine,” Gribble explains. “The Hydra Control also allows you to stop a pull quickly when you hit a snag and the cable starts to bind.”

In addition, the R8’s swiveling bursting head allows it to easily travel through 45- and 22-degree bends in pipes, he says.

The RODDIE system proved its value about one year ago during a very difficult job performed under challenging conditions: a 300-foot long pull under eight attached rowhomes. At issue was a completely collapsed 6-inch terra cotta sewer line under the rowhomes, which turned the area under the homes into a giant cesspool, Gribble says.

“It was freaking painful. The line was completely gone, so it was nasty.”

Each end of the bursting job also included two 45-degree bends followed by a 90-foot long run to the mainline.

Pronto technicians had to jackhammer through the tops of the footings on the end of each home — nine footings in all — to create holes large enough for the RODDIE bursting head to fit through. The jackhammering was done through the floors of the homes, he says.

“It was the only way to fix it without tearing down the homes.”

The job was completed in four days and Gribble says the R8 made all the difference between success and failure.


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