The Family Business Behind ‘The Toughest Tools Down the Line’

General Pipe Cleaners has been dedicated to the drain cleaning industry for four generations

The Family Business Behind ‘The Toughest Tools Down the Line’

Second, third and fourth generation members of the General Pipe Cleaners team include (from left) Mike Silverman, Jeff Silverman, Steve Glick, Steve Silverman, Art Silverman, Marty Silverman, Bob Silverman, Lee Silverman, David Silverman, and Ethan Silverman.

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General Pipe Cleaners has been a fixture of the drain cleaning industry for nearly a century. A division of General Wire Spring, the family business first began creating drain cleaning tools in the 1940s, and continued to add new machines, including recording-capable inspection systems, throughout the following years.

The company recently celebrated 90 years in business and has started welcoming in the fourth-generation of workers to the fold.

Cleaner recently spoke with Marty Silverman, vice president of marketing at General Pipe Cleaners, about the many machines General has developed over the years and the company’s incredible longevity.

Cleaner: Tell us a little about the history of General Pipe Cleaners and its products.

Silverman: In 1930, my grandfather, Abe Silverman, stepped out on his own from his uncle Frank’s Rapid Wire Spring Company to found General Wire Spring Company.

We started as a manufacturer of custom springs — we made springs for anything from elevators to oven doors to pool covers to highway construction signs. We even made custom springs for a hot air balloonist attempting to fly around the world.

When a guy asked my grandfather to make a drain snake, he agreed. In the 1940s, working to make a more durable snake, he patented a process of wrapping spring wire tightly around a braided wire core. He called the heavy-duty design “Flexicore cable.” It has remained the core of our business ever since.

Our first drain cleaning machine was introduced soon afterward: the Sewerooter. The Sewerooter evolved to the Sewerooter Junior for smaller lines; the Feedomatic, which was the industry’s first automatic feed machine; the Sewermatic; and a series of Speedrooters. 

In the following decades General continued to innovate and produced more drain machines, a line of water jets, and portable video pipe inspection systems with built-in recording devices.

As we complete our 90th year in business, a monumental task for a family business, we have started to welcome in the fourth generation. More than 40% of General’s workforce remains multigenerational, including some of the company’s independent sales force. It’s amazing to think that the grandfathers of some of our employees worked alongside my grandfather. My grandfather would be proud of the business he built for his family, and of generations of plumbing and drain cleaning contractors who use our products.

Cleaner: What differentiates your drain machines, jetters and inspection cameras from the competition?

Silverman: Our Flexicore cables are the heart and soul of our machines. After all, it’s the cable that does all the work. All of our cable machines, from our Super-Vee hand-held sink machine to our popular Speedrooter for mainlines, include Flexicore cables.

Our jetters include features that help increase performance. For instance, our JM-1450 Jet-Set electric jet includes a unique Vibra-Pulse system that maintains the same pressure and flow rate whether the pulse is on or off. This makes a big difference with small electric jetters to help the hose glide around tight bends and farther down the line.

We were the first to introduce portable sewer camera systems with a built-in recording device. Back then it was a VCR. These days, our Gen-Eye inspection cameras offer recording on a flash drive. They also include a Wi-Fi transmitter to send the video to your smartphone or tablet. We also reduced the size and weight of our system from heavy monitors to all-in-one systems with the lightweight monitor, reel and camera in one compact package.

Cleaner: What sort of needs do they address? Tell us about the machines and what applications they best serve.

Silverman: General Pipe Cleaners equipment is known for its effectiveness and reliability.

Our equipment is purchased by a wide range of end users, but what they all have in common is a desire to diagnose and clear clogged drains. Sometimes the clog is in a small pipe with many twists and turns exiting a kitchen or bath. For this job, you could use one of the General cable machines specifically made for small drains, like a Super Vee or Power Vee. If the clog is in a connecting pipe between two baths, you could use the Mini Rooter Pro, which is designed for medium-sized indoor drains. When the drains in the whole building are backed up, the Speedrooter 92 would be best because it’s engineered to remove roots and other tough clogs from laterals. If you believe that the stoppage is made of grease, one of the Jet-Set high-pressure water jetters would be the correct tool for the job. The Jet-Sets come in seven models, each specializing in small, medium or large pipe sizes. If the user needs a diagnostic camera device, they can use a Gen-Eye pipe inspection unit.

In the drain cleaning world, one size does not fit all. Specific machines are needed for specific problems, and because you never know exactly what you’re in for when you answer a call about a clogged drain, you must have access to each type of machine to be effective. General manufactures a wide range of equipment designed to address any drain cleaning problem.

In addition, General’s equipment is safe and durable. Our Flexicore cable is known for its toughness and longevity, and the machines that deliver that cable are engineered and manufactured in  the U.S. to the highest standards.

As our motto says, we make ‘The Toughest Tools Down the Line!’

Cleaner: What are some recommendations for customers shopping for inspection cameras?

Silverman: Video pipe inspection systems are available at a wide range of price points, and as a rule, you get what you pay for. If your inspection system spends most of its time in a repair shop, or waiting for parts, you will never recoup a return on your investment. Camera systems built with quality components tend to cost more, but end up saving money in the long run. Potential customers should get word-of-mouth reviews from their peers before investing in any inspection system.

Along with durability, customers should make sure that their camera system has enough features and accessories to meet their needs. For example, in most real-life situations, it’s essential to be able to locate the camera head in the pipe after a problem is found. This requires the unit to come with a sonde or remote RF transmitter, as well as a separate locator device. Recording the inspection is often necessary, either as proof of performance or as a marketing tool for the next stage of the job. Recording devices range from using USB thumb drives or SD cards to recording on a smartphone or tablet app via Wi-Fi. 

We recommend that customers first evaluate what they need, and then make sure that the equipment conforms to those requirements.

Purchasing a video pipe inspection system from General makes it easy. Our line of pipe inspection systems reflect the fact that we have learned what works and what doesn’t, and we know what customers really need to be effective. 

Cleaner: Your customer service team is known as the Drain Brains. What kind of support can customers expect for your team?

Silverman: Our Drain Brains customer support team has more than 250 years of combined experience in the industry. When you call with a question, you’ll get real world experience, not someone reading from a script. General also has a contractor advisory group that can assist other contractors with difficult drain cleaning situations or questions.

Cleaner: How do you see the drain cleaning industry evolving?

Silverman: High-speed drain cleaners using flex shaft technology is the “next big thing” in drain cleaning. A flexible rod, like a speedometer cable, spins inside a sheath at 2,000 rpm. Traditional drum machines spin at 160 to 200 rpm, sectional machines spin at 400 to 700 rpm. High-speed flex shaft machines do a better job of cleaning pipes. They’re also safer because operators aren’t grasping spinning drain cable. Watch for General’s new Flexi-Rooter, scheduled for release in 2021.

Cleaner: What’s new for General in 2021? What can customers expect out of General in the future?

Silverman: We are always looking at ways to improve systems and make a contractor’s job easier. We have a number of product innovations and upgrades we are planning to introduce in 2021. Readers of Cleaner magazine will be the first to know.

Cleaner: What do you want your customers to think of when they hear the name General Pipe Cleaners?

Silverman: We’re a 90-year-old, fourth-generation business located right here in the U.S. The No. 1 feature we try to build into all of our products is durability — starting with the strength of our Flexicore cables. You make your living with dependable tools. You can rely on General. 


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