A Drain Crew That Is True to Their Word is in High Demand

Delivering on every promise is Delco Storm & Sewer’s calling card

A Drain Crew That Is True to Their Word is in High Demand

 Technicians Damian Pringle, Donny Deluca and co-owner David Hochberg (from left) discuss a job plan.

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Delaware County, Pennsylvania, has plumbing companies, and sewer and drain cleaning companies, serving municipal, residential or commercial accounts. What was missing until a year and a half ago was a company that would undertake all of the above.

“There always has been a void here for an all-services company,” says John Ettore, founder of Delco Storm & Sewer Services. “I mean, we had the guys who would do just drain cleaning and the plumbers that did just plumbing. Then there were the municipal storm sewer guys. We started the company to combine everything into one business. A one-stop shop.”

As owner of a general construction company, Ettore knew something about offering diverse services. His company did site work for new construction projects, plumbing jobs and about anything else related to construction.

After he launched the drain and sewer company, Ettore reached out to longtime best friend David Hochberg to partner with him. Like Ettore, Hochberg had been clearing clogged lines and fixing faucets for about 20 years, having grown up in a family-owned plumbing business. Hochberg’s wife Delilah bought in to the deal, too, as office manager.

“I still have my other company,” Ettore says, “but we’re phasing it out. We’re working here day and night.” Turns out an all-services company is a full-time gig.

The company office is in Drexel Hill, a suburb in Delaware County about 8 miles from downtown Philadelphia. The population of Philly’s metro area is just under 6 million, but Ettore for now is concentrating on the half-million people in Delaware County as well as two bordering counties — Chester and Montgomery. “I go into Philadelphia County, too, and do some work in the city.”

This 50-square-mile service area has evolved since the company opened its doors. Delco started out doing warranty company work in and around Drexel Hill, then began answering calls for help from other clients in more distant municipalities. Now, nearly two years after starting the company, Ettore is racing around three counties in response to customer calls. He has traveled as far as 60 miles for a customer, that one being a response to a storm sewer issue under Amtrak lines.

His path to entrepreneurial success involved hard work and learning as he went. “I dropped out of high school and had no place to go except to work.” He labored at several trades to polish skills and gain confidence, he says. “Then I started my own thing” — which has become a fast-growing business.

Providing solutions

Delco Storm & Sewer Services is primarily engaged in cleaning drains and sewers. Some interior plumbing work is taken on as necessary, mostly rough-in jobs on new construction sites. If there is a staple customer call, says Ettore, it’s a request from a real estate agent or property owner for a sewer inspection. That frequently leads to a cleaning or other fix.

Other fixes offered by the young company include trenchless solutions, which is not always the case with a new company. And Delco offers not one solution but two — pipe bursting and pipe lining.

It relies on a HammerHead PB30 when bursting is the answer to a failed pipe. The HammerHead can crack apart laterals from 2 inches to 6 inches in diameter and pull in a replacement pipe using up to 30 tons of pulling force. The tool has a Quick Grip feature that lets it grab the replacement pipe without using any other tools.

If lining rather than bursting a pipe seems the better solution, Delco relies on NuFlow’s NuDrain. The cured-in-place system can line pipe from 1 1/2 inches to 12 inches in diameter. The epoxy liner works on horizontal laterals and vertical stacks, as well as sewer pipe and vents. Delco Storm & Sewer Service is a certified NuFlow contractor.

“The reason we went with NuFlow, besides the quality of their products, is that they are a family-oriented company,” Ettore says. “I literally can pick up the phone anytime on any day and someone will be there for us. I don’t think you can get that anywhere else.”

In-demand services

To date, the company has found demand in their service area for each of the trenchless solutions. The region has a lot of aging clay sewer lines in the ground, he says. “Some of them have ‘bellies’ in them, so lining can’t correct the problem. In those cases, we burst instead.” The company’s trenchless work is split about 50-50 between the two methods.

Traditional trench digging to fix a pipe is done “rarely.” When it is needed, however, a crew member crawls in the company’s Case CX36C excavator and starts digging. The 24 hp machine can dig 7 feet deep, which exceeds most sewer and drainline depths. If dirt needs to be moved, the company has a Ford F-750 dump truck for hauling and a Case skid-steer for cleanup.

Conditions for any kind of digging — whether an access pit or a complete trench — vary greatly across the service area, according to Ettore. Loamy soil can be encountered in one place and a mile away the ground turns to sand or clay, shell or rock. The type of pipe in the ground varies greatly, too. “Here in Drexel Hill we are apt to have 5-inch clay pipe and 25 miles away in Montgomery County we’ll hit Orangeburg or asbestos pipe.”

Whatever the type of pipe, the company inspects it with a RIDGID SeeSnake camera. To unclog a pipe, RIDGID FlexShaft cable drain machines are in Delco’s toolbox along with Picote and Milwaukee options.

And then there’s the company’s jetting unit, a Mongoose 184XL. The trailer jetter produces 18 gpm and 4,000 psi and has a 600-gallon water tank connected to a pump powered by a 70 hp engine. “We did our research before we got the Mongoose. I think it’s the best jetter out there,” Ettore says.

Ettore, Hochberg and their four-person crew love to use the jetter — Ettore says jetting is their favorite work task. “It’s the fastest, easiest and most satisfying cleaning work we do. And we’re jetting a few jobs every day.”

A versatile crew

Delco relies on manufacturers to provide training for any new models of equipment. A manufacturer rep either trains everyone together at the shop, or — when the crew is busy — trains Ettore and Hochberg and they in turn share the information with crew members. Because everyone cross-trains to perform all the tasks, everyone has to be up to speed on the tools.  

“Everyone must be able to operate the jetter or the camera or whatever,” Ettore says.

“We try to make everyone on the team as versatile as we can so in case one guy is out for the day, we’re not without the skill or talent to do any of the jobs.”

This versatility of the crew is important and the variety of services offered is a calling card, but ultimately the success of the company comes from it living up to its promises, Ettore says. “That’s the No. 1 compliment we receive: that we are honest and clearly communicate what we are going to do before we do it. Our guys are doing a very, very good job of communicating with customers.”

Ettore has heard from customers about competing companies that came out to a property for an initial evaluation and then didn’t show up again for three weeks. “That’s not us.”

Honesty is the best company policy, he says, even though sometimes it momentarily hurts the bottom line. He cites a job where a customer had concluded his sewer line was unrepairable and that it would need lining or bursting at a cost of thousands of dollars. “We went in and did the camera work and found there was nothing critically wrong with the line and just cleaned it. We want to be honest because that’s going to take us further.”

Ettore isn’t sure what the future holds for Delco, but he and Hochberg know that they want to position the company so that it can service more municipal sewer accounts.

“I think we have done a really good job building the company we planned to build,” Ettore says. “Things are going even better than I thought they would be at this point. I hope to hire more techs so we can have a lining crew and an excavation crew and so on. Our long-term goal simply is to grow.” 


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