A New Generation Gears Up to Continue the Legacy of Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning

Matthew Sadler grew a solid drain cleaning business while preparing his son to take it over

A New Generation Gears Up to Continue the Legacy of Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning

 The Sadler Sewer and Drain Cleaning team consists of Matthew Sadler (right) and his son Max, who is taking over the business next year.  

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It’s rare to end up in the career you first became infatuated with at five years old.  

Matthew Sadler was introduced to sewer and drain cleaning when he was 5, when his father took it up. During the next 35 years, he pursued other interests but continued drain cleaning part time during high school, college and while teaching.

In 2015, Sadler committed to the trade full time and opened Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning. Six years later, he still loves the work, and his son is continuing the family tradition.

A family affair

As is often the case with multigenerational companies, it began with Dad. Sadler’s father, Bill, worked full time in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, sewer department. The elder Sadler became interested in doing drain and sewer work on his own when the family’s sewer line became plugged.

“They couldn’t find anyone to do it, so it was a couple of days before someone came and cleared the line,” recalls Matthew Sadler. “My father watched the person working on the line and said to himself, ‘I think I can do that.’”

That was in 1976 and Bill Sadler indeed found he could do it. He began clearing lines part time in the afternoons after punching out at the sewer department. Sadler remembers his father’s “specialty” became answering sewer service calls between 3 p.m. and midnight, the hours when drain cleaning companies sometimes defer customer work until the following day.

Bill Sadler worked alone out of the family home, hauling tools in his pickup truck. By 1981, 5-year-old Matthew was accompanying him on weekends to clean out grease traps at restaurants. “We did a lot of that together,” he remembers.

While growing up at home and even after he enrolled in Silver Lake College down state in Manitowoc, he worked with his father when he could. That routine continued even after he earned a degree and returned home to Green Bay in 2000 to teach at a pair of elementary public schools.

“I loved teaching. I have a passion for teaching writing and literacy to children,” Sadler says. Yet he left it behind after 14 years in the classroom to return to his “childhood dream” job of cleaning sewers and drains. “It became clear that the schools really were focused on production rather than on teaching. It was time for me to move on.”

Tools of the trade

Sadler clears lines with more sophisticated tools than his father did. Basically, Bill Sadler had a hammer, a chisel, a screwdriver and an Electric Eel dual-cable machine. “The Model C,” his son says. “We still have that original Electric Eel, though it’s been rewired a bunch of times. It’s amazing how it’s served three generations.”

The old Model C cabling machine mostly has been supplanted by a tool of Sadler’s own contrivance. He adapted Electric Eel cables to operate on an 18-volt Milwaukee Super Hawg right-angle portable drill. “We’re completely cordless with all of our equipment.”

To blast through compacted grease or a tangle of roots, Sadler has a Spartan Soldier trailer jetter that produces 12 gpm at 3,000 psi. With either a Warthog or Hydra-FlexReaper nozzle on the working end, the jetter is called upon 15 to 20 times a week “to give a customer the best possible product that will last the longest. Using a cable, you can charge a smaller fee and put a hole in a clog that will last a customer six months. Or the customer can spend a little more upfront and clean it with a jetter so it will last for three to five years.”

For visual inspections, he tried several brands before settling on an Insight Vision camera system, produced in Saukville, Wisconsin. Sadler has four cameras on his shelf to avoid the risk of downtime if one is out of commission. Sadler remains open to other camera systems, however, and specifically wants to check out new camera developments from Milwaukee Tool. “We’re keen to see the new technology that Milwaukee has.”

Steady work

A new customer base for Sadler Sewer is real estate agents who want a sewer and drain system on a property inspected before a deal closes. One regular Sadler customer is a company that flips houses and calls the company for an inspection before they put a renovated house on the market.

Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning is pretty much on speed dial with numerous Green Bay area plumbers. Ten or more times a week plumbers refer their customers to Sadler for camera inspection of lines and follow-up work. “We don’t advertise at all. It’s entirely word of mouth, but we work hand in hand with a majority of plumbers in Green Bay,” Sadler says of the industry support. “It’s amazing to have that kind of relationship.”

Three-quarters of company service runs are to homes and businesses in Green Bay proper, but Sadler also regularly answers calls within 30 miles or so of the city, down to Appleton, for example. He also will trek into Michigan or farther north in Wisconsin if a customer seems to have no closer access to a jetter.  

His work is a 50-50 split between commercial/industrial and residential clients. Industrial jobs come at a slightly higher rate because they can involve accessing lines buried under a concrete floor. While he doesn’t formally have a contract with the Green Bay public school system, the system calls on the former teacher for all its sewer work. “They have tunnels. It’s fun to go down into the tunnels under the city, see the work of a hundred years ago, and come up with a solution.” Other regular clients include the city park system and some paper mills.        

The next generation

Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning is one of those relatively rare companies that maintain family ownership for three generations. Sadler’s 18-year-old son Max has been working with his father since he, too, was 5 years old. He first just hung out with Dad and, as he grew older, began to work beside his father at the end of school days. For the last two years of high school, Max was home-schooled and increased his involvement in the family business. He trained with his father to master the various service options.

Max now drives his own company service van. He’s learned the business “front to back, including invoicing,” his father says, and along the way has earned his father’s complete trust. “I can go on vacation knowing my 18-year-old son is in charge of my business and that he will make proper choices. I’m amazed to watch him work with master plumbers, him showing them where the sewer is and where to dig to find it. They’re impressed.”

Sadler works from his home in Black Creek as well as from a Sadler Sewer & Drain Cleaning office in Green Bay. His son will use the Green Bay office as his home base. And, from time to time, Max might call on his sister Lucy. She, too, has worked with her father and can competently do the company books, as did her grandmother before her. 

“My son and daughter and I like to work together but also to play. Even when we are working, we try to have fun, go biking and stuff. That’s what’s great about sewer work, … you can do a job and then have a nice lunch somewhere. Being the owner of the business really helps.”

Sadler has positioned his son for success in Green Bay. Max will take over the family business in one year, at which point Sadler is moving to Oregon to pursue another business interest. “I love the wilderness and the outdoors. I want to spend more time skiing and by the ocean. I love to grow fruit trees. It’s a milder climate out there and I’m ready to leave 20 below zero temperatures.

“Max will take the company where he wants to take it, not just doing what worked for Dad. He can drive this sewer company wherever he wants it to go because it will be his. I am giving him the great gift of freedom.”

Max Sadler says he indeed may take the family business in another direction, taking on pipe lining as a new service. “It’s a pretty big industry and I want to learn more about it,” he says. His favorite aspect of the work, however, is interacting with customers. “My favorite part is the people I get to meet. It’s a real warm feeling to help someone with a problem.” 

“My son and I often talk about this,” Sadler says. “We sometimes feel more like a counselor than a person on a service call — being there for someone to talk to, to help along the way. We find caring about their lives really rewarding.” 


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