Josh Halstead Builds on a Legacy of Drain Cleaning in Cleveland

A third-generation plumber and drain cleaner continues a family tradition of quality work

Josh Halstead Builds on a Legacy of Drain Cleaning in Cleveland

 Valu-Rooter co-owner Josh Halstead uses a RIDGID SeeSnake CS10 to inspect catch basin lines on a commercial property in Elyria, Ohio.

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The Halstead name long has been associated with superior drain cleaning and plumbing in Cleveland, Ohio. Now a third generation is well along the family’s career path. Josh Halstead has a master plumber’s license on his wall and is increasing management responsibility for the family company, whose service area now ranges across a hundred miles.

It all began with his grandfather, Robert Halstead, who emigrated from West Virginia to Ohio in 1962. He first worked at a manufacturing facility in Brook Park and then at a plant in Avon. In 1971, he joined the workforce at the Lorain Ford Motor Co. assembly plant, which closed in 2005 after 48 years of production.

More significantly, while working at the Ford plant, he and his brother started a sewer cleaning company on the side. When Robert Halstead had the chance in 1973 to buy the Roto-Rooter franchise for Lorain County, he fully committed to the cleaning industry, leaving Ford behind and operating the franchise for the next 30 years.

Josh Halstead says his grandfather’s long involvement in the cleaning industry helped create today’s competitive drain cleaning industry in the area. “Grandfather trained up a lot of people around here in drain cleaning, people who went on to start their own gig,” Halstead says. “I’ll talk to my dad about some company, and he’ll say, ‘Yes, they used to work for your grandfather back in so and so.’ That happens quite a bit.”

Halstead’s father, Russell, also worked at the family Roto-Rooter business before launching a plumbing and drain cleaning company of his own in 1997, The Personal Plumber. He renamed his company Valu-Rooter in 2006, retaining “The Personal Plumber” as a company trademark. 

In November, a full 24 years after being launched and then renamed, Valu-Rooter is going strong and answering service calls across north-central Ohio. Company vans are in and out of Cleveland proper as well as serving a swath of suburbs along the south side of Lake Erie from Painesville on the east all the way to Sandusky on the west and as far south as Akron. 

At age 15, Halstead officially began working at the family business, drawing a part-time paycheck. Ten years later, while his father still comes to the office in Elyria “to make sure everything is running smoothly,” Halstead serves as field supervisor.

Ready to serve

Valu-Rooter is principally a provider of residential services, which partly is a reflection of the changing face of Cleveland itself. Once a center of heavy manufacturing — steel, auto production and shipbuilding — the city and its suburbs survived relocation of some of those mainstay industries to other states and the resulting “Rust Belt” period that followed. Today, biomedical, polymer, electronics and engineering are the major industries, with employees scattered among the various suburbs.

Consequently, some 70-80% of the company’s business is on residential properties, with perhaps 5% of calls taking techs to industrial settings, the rest being commercial. “Typically, a service call is the clearing of a line at a home along with ‘There’s also a drip under my sink’ kinds of things.”

Being able to respond to a variety of tasks on a single service call means the company’s eight service vans each carry gear for most routine fixes. RIDGID or MyTana camera systems are there so a technician can visually verify a clogged line problem and its resolution. Traditional cable machines in the trucks are from Duracable, the Des Moines, Iowa, manufacturer.

The latest addition to the company’s toolbox is a RIDGID FlexShaft drain machine. “Most of the time drain cleaning is done using the traditional cable, but the FlexShaft is growing in popularity,” Halstead says. “Every time I show customers that machine, they quickly see how great it is and they’re sold on using it.”

He says he especially enjoys using the RIDGID tool in descaling work. “It’s so cool that we can grind back cast iron pipe to its regular dimension, saving a customer from having to tear up a drain in his basement.”

Cast iron is a common pipe material encountered by drain cleaners in northern Ohio. “Cleveland is an old city,” Halstead says, “though it depends on where you go. Some of the suburbs are building a lot of new housing, but we still find clay tile. We still go to places that have original cast iron lines from a hundred years ago.”

Valu-Rooter techs have four jetters they can call on to clear a line. Three are Harben single-axle units with 300-gallon tanks and 18 gpm flow at 4,000 psi. A smaller Cam Spray jetter produces 2,800 psi. The ideal pipe diameter to jet is 10 inches, Halstead says, though the larger jetters are rated for 12-inch pipe and occasionally are called upon to clear mud from a storm culvert.

Picking up steam

If digging is required, the company has a trio of Kubota mini-excavators it can haul to a site. A 28 hp KX91 was acquired about 10 years ago. A 42 hp KX121 was added to the equipment yard eight years ago. A narrower 10 hp model K008 was procured more recently to give techs easier entry into fenced backyards.

The company does all kinds of pipeline excavations, Halstead says. “If water is running through it, we deal with it.” That means techs roll out of the equipment yard two or three times a week with an excavator in tow. The other heavy piece of equipment in regular use is a Kubota 65 skid-steer, which mostly is used to load small-diameter stone into dump trucks.

“Excavation work has been picking up, actually,” Halstead says, citing recent rains. “In Lorain, sanitary sewer lines tie in with the storm sewer, so when it rains, sewers clog and sewage backs up into basements. When it rains, we’re busy in northern Ohio.”

The company’s main office is on state Route 254 in the county seat town of Elyria, west of Cleveland, with two satellite offices to the east — one in Medina and the other in Willoughby Hills. The latter two locations are mostly warehouse and staging areas for technicians working those parts of the service area, thereby shortening supply lines and response times.

Halstead lives in the Sandusky area farther west along the Lake Erie shore. When service calls are scheduled, he is apt to end up calling on customers between the home office and his home. The busiest service area is in Cleveland and communities on its west side.

The company is a Rheem-certified and Moen-certified dealer and a full-service plumber, but the biggest single component of Valu-Rooter’s business remains drain cleaning. As was the case in other parts of the country, clogged pipes became an even bigger problem for homeowners with the onset of COVID-19. “During the pandemic, cleaning pipes picked up quite a bit,” Halstead says. “People were staying home and using the facilities more. Some of them learned that this or that didn’t go down the drain like they thought it did.”

Eye on the future

Halstead wears a variety of hats. Besides periodic service calls on the way home to Sandusky, he supervises other techs, repairs equipment, estimates jobs and calls on his master plumber experience to handle the larger and more difficult plumbing jobs. “Basically, I do whatever is needed.”

He also is the point man on large remodeling projects or the renovation of a house that has suffered fire damage. “I love those projects because it can be tricky to ensure the plumbing is brought up to code. I like the challenge, though. That’s how you get better. You don’t grow by being comfortable, so I welcome getting out of my comfort zone.”

As next in line to head the family business, Halstead also has his eye on the future. He is actively interested in having the company offer trenchless repairs, he says, probably starting with pipe patching, then getting into relining or coating. “I’ve been reading up on it, but before we make a decision we need to talk to vendors.” He had planned to thoroughly explore trenchless technology at the 2021 WWETT show in Indianapolis in February, but it was canceled.

For now, the company is concentrating on expanding its service presence in the Cleveland area, with additional trucks. Halstead has his eyes on Columbus as a future satellite location for Valu-Rooter, but there’s no timetable for such southward expansion. “We have to get a little bigger in Cleveland first.”

Besides the company’s eye-catching bright yellow-and-black service vans promoting “The Personal Plumber,” marketing of Valu-Rooter is primarily by word of mouth. He runs a few newspaper ads and Google reviews are welcomed, but the company’s business base remains referrals and repeat customers.

Halstead attributes such loyalty to the company’s belief in customer care. “We strive to take care of our customers. We’re not worried about upselling. My dad believes in customer care and our technicians all believe in it. Consequently, our customers trust us, and we get repeat business and referrals.”

It’s a simple formula, but it works. “I believe in treating customers like you want to be treated, so I recommend to a customer what I would do at my house. You go from there.” 


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