Finding a Company Niche as a Small-Line Specialist

Expertise in small-diameter pipe cleaning and lining is helping Lomonaco Coast Plumbing grow

Finding a Company Niche as a Small-Line Specialist

 The Lomonaco Coast Plumbing crew includes (from left) technician Eric Sanchez, supervisor Antoine Price, lead technician Matt Robertson, owner Mike Lomonaco, technician Timm Hudzinski, lead lineman Orlando Alvarado, lead technician Roger Fowler and lineman Fred Pichay. 

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Sometimes continually expanding services is needed for business growth. For Mike Lomonaco, a more narrow focus on a specialty service is quickly becoming his company’s key to successful growth.

The owner of Lomonaco Coast Plumbing is developing expertise in small-diameter pipe cleaning and lining, a niche that’s letting him build out his customer base.

Over the last decade, the San Clemente business has grown its footprint from the 18 square miles of the city to offer plumbing and cleaning services throughout surrounding Orange County. “We developed into a No. 1 company in the city and are aiming to do the same in the county,” Lomonaco says.

Small leaking pipes — many of them cast iron — are spurring the expansion.

A new focus

Lomonaco got into plumbing and pipe work by default. He grew up around construction, his father being a general contractor. As a young man, he gravitated to framing houses. However, the economy and home construction in particular took a major hit when the recession struck in 2008.

The developer for whom Lomonaco was framing houses had a suggestion: Talk to the plumbing company that works with us. Lomonaco could be successful as a plumber, the developer said. “And it’s more recession-proof,” which particularly sounded good at that moment.

So, Lomonaco enrolled in a Long Beach trade school. Upon graduation, he worked for a plumbing firm for a short while before opening Lomonaco Coast Plumbing in 2011.

In the beginning, Lomonaco Coast Plumbing took on everything a plumber might be called to do: residential and light commercial plumbing, property management contracts, new construction projects and remodeling work. Today, the mix is a bit different, with new construction work being a low priority.

“I am trying to get us out of new construction plumbing jobs,” Lomonaco says. “It’s not what it used to be. There always are communication problems and difficulty getting the last paycheck from the builder. It’s just not worth it anymore.”

Residential customers are the focus of the firm’s plumbing work. However, plumbing accounts for only half of the overall business. Today, trenchless pipe repair and drain cleaning constitute most of the remaining work and are the faster growing parts of the business. “I got into NuFlow trenchless work and am focusing on that and drain cleaning. That’s where we are headed in the future.”

Of the NuFlow technologies, the company uses the NuDrain pipe lining system. It involves an epoxy-saturated liner being pulled into a pipe, a bladder inflated to press the liner against the pipe’s interior walls and the bladder deflated and extracted after the liner dries in place, resulting in like-new pipe walls.

Lomonaco says the pull-in method of inserting the liner appealed to him, versus the alternative inversion method of introducing a liner. “The way the whole application proceeds, I think it’s the best option for a customer.”

Pipes suspected of needing repair because of failure to contain the water or sewage moving through them are first inspected using a RIDGID camera system. If they are blocked or obstructed, they are then cleared using Spartan Tool drain machines. If they are encrusted with scale, Picote descaling tools are employed to ream them.

Then the scrubbed pipes are blasted clean using a US Jetting model 4018 jetter that can pump 18 gpm into the line at 4,000 psi. “It’s one of my favorite tools to use,” Lomonaco says. Cleared and cleaned, a pipe is ready to receive a liner. Lomonaco reduces the entire process to a mantra: “Snaking, jetting, lining.”

Small-line service

Pipe as large as 3 feet in diameter can be lined using the NuFlow process, but Lomonaco Coast Plumbing specializes in rehabbing smaller diameter pipe. “We’ll do storm sewers or sewer lines manhole to manhole, but the smaller applications are our specialty.”

Therein lies market opportunity. “There are not too many companies working on smaller pipes, and we’re top-notch in working on those lines,” he says. “Kitchen lines. Shower lines. It can be difficult to get into them and clean and line them, but that’s where our training and experience come into play.”

The company’s reputation for small-line work landed it a job rehabbing pipe in a $20 million vacation home overlooking a southern California beach. The structure had walls of marble and stone, which the owners were disinclined to rip apart to get at leaking pipe.

“We couldn’t open up anything,” Lomonaco recalls. His crew worked for a month and half at the home, upgrading nearly every 2-, 3- and 4-inch line serving the residence, a total of nearly 500 feet of pipe.

San Clemente has a long history, dating from the 1700s, and the city’s sewer and storm sewer systems have some age on them. Lomonaco says systems by and large are “pretty old. We have some really old systems, including quite a lot of Orangeburg pipe and a lot of cast iron and clay pipe that’s beginning to break down. It’s job security for sure.” Many of the properties near the coast have some of the oldest housing stock, so the pipes serving them are among the ones most needing repair.

Copper pipe is not at all uncommon in the region and the area’s hard water produces pinholes in the copper. Lomonaco Coast Plumbing pushes PEX as the replacement pipe in repairing sections of copper lines. “It’s a more resistant material than copper and copper is super expensive now.”

Satisfying work

Lomonaco’s eight plumbers and techs are skilled employees, but only partly cross-trained because Lomonaco has consciously divided the crew into two specialty divisions: service and repair, and lining and drain cleaning.

In-house training in all of these skills and technologies is constant. When Lomonaco comes across old sections of pipe, for example, he carries them back to the shop and uses them for his descaling and lining crews to practice on “above ground.”  

While some jobs are more difficult than others, “every job is super satisfying. To see a pipe transformed from scaly and corroded to nice and blue like brand-new is really satisfying. Any lining job that turns out well is satisfying.”

While he might especially enjoy jetting and other specific tasks, Lomonaco now spends most of his workdays dealing with customers, some of whom seek him out from previous good work experiences. He also manages large property accounts and secures new contracts. He says the company’s mix of property management clients and mom-and-pop customers has proven a surer way of riding out economic ups and downs.

He is an advocate of camera inspection work in real estate transactions. The company does a lot of second-opinion camera work and performs sewer inspections to determine the condition of infrastructure.

One facet of the business that has slowed are after-hours emergency service calls on drains and plumbing fixtures — which is OK with Lomonaco. “We still take the calls, 24-7, but mostly our customers are willing to wait until morning for us to come out.” Earning customer trust and confidence can pay off.

So Lomonaco Coast Plumbing continues to expand its customer base through top-notch small-diameter pipe lining, expert handling of traditional plumbing problems and ever-increasing proficiency with trenchless pipe systems. The company goal: conquer Orange County.

“In the next five years, I want to expand more and more into the county,” Lomonaco says. “I want to become top-notch in taking on bigger pipe lining accounts. That’s my focus. I think we are No. 1 in what we always have done, plumbing, and I want us to be No. 1 in trenchless work, too.” 


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