Randy Behle Grew a One-Man Operation Into a Large Complete-Service Plumbing Company

Multiple divisions allow Behle Inc. to offer complete plumbing, sewer and septic services throughout Iowa

Randy Behle Grew a One-Man Operation Into a Large Complete-Service Plumbing Company

McDowell pumps out a grease trap on a commercial job site. 

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“BEHLE INC.” may not be an especially descriptive company name; but after 26 years in business in Ames, Iowa, most residents recognize Behle Inc. as the home of quality plumbing and sewer solutions.

“We are the largest complete plumbing company in the area,” says Craig Aukamp. The Behle CEO says the diversity of services the company offers separates it from competitors. “We offer so many services, while others only offer pieces of what we do.”

Company founder and owner Randy Behle began to fit the pieces together when he formed the company in 1996. He had gotten his start in plumbing services as the employee of a Roto-Rooter franchise in the area.

“He learned the business and continued learning from that day to this. He’s still learning,” says Aukamp, who brought his business management experience to Behle when he joined the company a year ago.

“I have great respect for Randy. His passion, his willingness to help customers and people in general. That is what really drew me to the company — and it’s a good company. We provide services that people don’t realize they need until they need them. You don’t call someone to look at your pipe until you need someone to look.”

STATEWIDE SERVICE

At the outset, Behle Inc. was pretty much a one-man operation. Behle took care of the pipes, his late wife took care of the books, and the company grew. Today, it employs 26 people. The heart of its service area is the city of Ames, Story County and adjacent Boone County, but calls are made anywhere in Iowa.

“We’ll travel throughout Iowa for you!” the company website declares. Aukamp says that’s not just a rhetorical flourish. “A high percentage of the work — maybe 80-90% — is in Boone and Story counties, but we really are starting to venture out to other counties and it’s paying off.”

Some of the need for Behle service outside Ames stems from its septic tank services. Iowa is a rural state, after all, and many homes are served by individual wastewater systems. “Septic systems are alive and well here in Iowa,” Aukamp says. The company has service agreements with property owners to periodically pump the tanks and will repair them as needed. “We install new systems, too, but typically our septic business is service and repair.”

The entire state is a reasonable territory for the company because Ames is virtually in the center of Iowa. Sioux City and Council Bluffs are to the north and west, Cedar Rapids and Davenport to the east, Des Moines about 30 miles south. And all those septic tanks lie in between.

The company’s Roto-Rooter plumbing and drain cleaning services are limited by territory to four counties — Story, Boone, Greene and Carroll — but Behle’s lining, jetting and septic services are available anywhere. The company name is carried to all jobs on the sides of 15 trucks and vans.

Long-distance service calls are more problematic than they used to be, of course, because of the recent spike in fuel prices. Aukamp says the service company is “feeling the fuel price pinch like any other company,” but that distant customer calls for help will continue to be answered.

“We hope the price comes down, but we remain customer-focused and won’t shy away from answering calls.” So far, the company hasn’t felt compelled to add a surcharge to offset fuel costs. “We’re charging what we always have charged. We’re not going to gouge our customers.”

Not all Behle Inc. customers are a trek away, of course. Besides homeowner calls from the city, local meat-processing companies, restaurants and other industrial and commercial firms are regular customers.

The largest customer is Iowa State University. Behle Inc. has a service contract with the university. Calls from customers there range from campus maintenance and other university departments to fraternity and sorority houses. Iowa State staff and students account for about half of the city’s population of nearly 70,000.

PROVIDING OPTIONS

Company techs work in four separate divisions. The company’s foundation remains its Roto-Rooter franchise, with divisional employees also providing traditional plumbing and drain cleaning services. Septic repair and cleaning and grease trap cleaning constitute a separate division. Sewer repair and jetting has its own crew. The newest division is trenchless pipeline repair.

Technicians sometimes help across division lines, of course. “Everyone here is a team player,” Aukamp says. “Everyone helps out as needed. Heck, I’ve gone on jobs and I have little knowledge to offer. But for the most part, each employee works in a specific division of the company.”

Fourteen years ago, Behle Inc. began to offer trenchless solutions for pipe repair. Aukamp says it happened by chance after someone asked if the company offered the services. “Well, Randy doesn’t turn down business, so he learned on the job how to do it and has been doing it ever since. It’s a good chunk of the business.”

Behle opted to go with the Nuflow pipe lining system, offering both pull-in-place and inversion remedies for failed pipe. The former is an epoxy liner pulled from one entry point to another one and hardened with UV light. Inversion involves insertion of a liner from a single point of entry. “Once that liner is fixed in place, it ain’t moving,” Aukamp says of the process. “It’s guaranteed for at least 10 years, but the truth is it probably will last longer than you or I.”

Behle customers with a failed pipe have a choice: Dig it up or reline it. Aukamp says the company pushes the trenchless option “because it’s a better solution. It’s quicker and doesn’t leave a yard dug up. But there still is a portion of our pipe repair jobs that involve digging up the pipe. It’s a customer’s choice.”

When digging is chosen, techs utilize a Bobcat skid loader with a backhoe attached. Also in the equipment yard are two jetters — a US Jetting unit and a Harben jetter, each a 375-gallon unit. Camera inspections are primarily done with RIDGID camera systems.

FULL SERVICE

Aukamp sees a bright future for the “complete” company, particularly for trenchless work.

“Our lining division is getting busier all the time. I think you’re going to see that solution getting more and more popular. There’s no one else around here doing lining at the level we’re doing it, the typical 4- and 6-inch line. It’s still a pretty new solution for customers and no one else can get into it without some serious investment.”

Furthermore, Aukamp feels good about the synergy of the company’s divisions, none of them an outlier to the company’s signature identity as a plumbing, sewer, drain and septic service company. Upgrades in equipment will occur, he says, but branching into a new service field isn’t likely. Aukamp believes the company is well positioned for continued progress.

Despite fuel prices undercutting profits, Aukamp isn’t sure whether it’s a good time to establish another branch office. “I’ll say it this way, in the six-to-12-month outlook, we’re not seeing that. But I’m not foolish enough to say that I’m never going to do that. If the opportunity presents itself…”



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