Philadelphia Company Experiences Strong Growth Thanks to Diverse Service Offerings

John Snyder’s start in the industry was more happenstance than intent, but now he’s the proud owner of a focused and growing company providing a full array of plumbing and drain cleaning services

Philadelphia Company Experiences Strong Growth Thanks to Diverse Service Offerings

 John Snyder replaces old plumbing with new cast iron fittings on a job site in Philadelphia.

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John Snyder knows what he wants. That hasn’t always been true of the owner of the Philadelphia plumbing and heating company that bears his name.

Snyder got into plumbing sort of by happenstance, became a master plumber as an afterthought, and only recently discovered the potential of drain cleaning after attending an industry show. As a professional, serendipity is his middle name.

Yet 15 years after he began plumbing and four years after he opened his own business, the owner of John Snyder Plumbing & Heating presides over an expanding service company with a newly opened commercial storefront and a growing fleet of trucks.

“We definitely are growing,” he says. “Four years ago, it really was just me and my old truck. Now we have three trucks, the oldest being a 2019, and we’re really busy. My personal expectation was that we should have been a little further along by now, but that’s mostly just me being critical.”

Nothing wrong with an entrepreneur being somewhat dissatisfied with the status quo. It’s called motivation and Snyder is fully engaged now.


Snyder was initially planning to be a high school history teacher after earning a degree from Marist College in New York. He knew he had to go to college to be successful — that’s what his high school teachers told him. When he graduated, his father, a union welder, felt pride that his son was the first in the family to graduate from college.

But Snyder never made it into a high school classroom. He quit an interim administrative job at a hospital after growing disgruntled with shuffling papers and being micromanaged, then went home and told his father that he was unemployed. His father’s terse advice was to get a job.

Snyder did so after an evening with friends, one of whom had started his own plumbing business and was looking for an apprentice. Snyder hired on.

“I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have,” he says. “I told myself that I was only doing plumbing until I found a career. After all, I had gone to college. But a couple years later, I was running a crew and I realized I was pretty good at the work and that I should take it more seriously.”

The same lackadaisical attitude had resulted in him not seeking to become a master plumber, though he had worked at the trade for five years. He did officially start his apprenticeship at that point and has been a certified master of the trade for seven years now. Three years after becoming certified, Snyder started his company, finally fully engaged as a tradesman.


When John Snyder Plumbing & Heating launched, Snyder offered customers the entire gamut of traditional plumbing services, from faucet replacement to water heater installation to heating systems that circulate heated water through pipes. He did not offer drain cleaning. That wasn’t traditionally done in Philadelphia.

“There’s a big thing in Philadelphia where a lot of master plumbers sub out drain cleaning rather than do it themselves,” he says.

But after talking with friends in the drain cleaning industry, Snyder decided to add it to his menu of services.

“I realized how much money I was leaving on the table by not doing it,” he says. “Talking with them really opened my mind to the opportunities and possibilities in drain cleaning.”

About 18 months after opening his business, Snyder was also inspired by WWETT presentations in Indianapolis.

“I had my eyes opened, and not just about the aspect of cleaning drains,” he says. “The real reason I got into drain cleaning was because it opened the way for drain repair work. That’s where opportunities really lie.”


Snyder hasn’t turned his back on his plumbing roots, of course. After all, drain cleaning isn’t even in the company name. Snyder is steadily growing his plumbing business and has reshaped it to his liking. Early on as company owner, he targeted big commercial plumbing contracts. He soon realized that was not the right track.

“When you’re dealing with the big companies, you get lost. You see a contract and you think you’re going to get rich, but when you break it down, you make just as much doing residential work and you get paid every single day,” Snyder says. “I remember on one commercial job I was doing the finish work when I received my first check. I was financing those guys’ jobs. Meanwhile for me, there was a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Fully 90% of his service work now is residential. He does have commercial accounts, some of them contractual, with small businesses like restaurants and bars. Smaller jobs and quicker payoffs — that’s the working formula for the company.

The heating segment of Snyder’s business is seasonal.

“No one needs a boiler replaced in August,” he says.

Because the company doesn’t do any forced-air heater work, dealing exclusively with hydronic systems that rely on heated water circulating through floors, it doesn’t do any air conditioning work either.

“I am a firm believer that my guys and I are plumbers,” Snyder says.

Still, he declines to pigeonhole himself within the industry.

“One of the things I really don’t like in our industry is guys who say, ‘I am a rough-in plumber,’ or ‘I’m a service plumber.’ I don’t buy into that. The way I put it is, if water runs through it, we do it.”


Each of Snyder’s three service techs is cross-trained to provide any company service, which makes scheduling of service calls easier for his office person. Whoever is in the area or is free can be assigned a call. One of his techs, Anthony Alfonse, has the second most experience in the company. He began working with Snyder when both were employed by his friend’s plumbing company. Khalil Reed is a journeyman and Xavier Cornish is an apprentice.

Service trucks are outfitted with Milwaukee power tools. All drain cleaning equipment is RIDGID — Snyder’s favorite camera is a RIDGID M40 with a CS6X monitor.

“When I started cleaning drains, I bought what I could get at a good price,” says Snyder. “Then I realized I needed to spend money on better equipment to avoid downtime. That’s when I went with RIDGID.”

Most of the water heaters he installs and works on are Bradford White, a Pennsylvania company that dominates the market in Philadelphia. He works with PVC and PEX plastic piping, cast iron pipe and copper tubing, whatever is called for by plumbing codes in the city. Most of his pipe work is in the 4- to 6-inch range, though he has worked on some 12-inch pipe.

When a job calls for digging, Snyder subs out the task for now. He finally has commercial space with an equipment yard, so he plans soon to pick up an excavator and a compressor and do some excavation work himself.

“Some sewer mains are 12 feet down and I’ll still give that work to the subcontractor,” Snyder says. “They are really, really good operators. One guy can pick up a quarter with his backhoe. When we have to go that deep and shore up the walls, I want them there to make sure we all go home safely.”

Eventually having his own excavation equipment will be more than a plus for billing. It will also help him stay on schedule in responding to customer calls.

“One of the reasons I want to get a mini-excavator is the scheduling,” Snyder says. “There are times when something needs to be dug out and I call my subcontractor and get, ‘Well, I’m booked up for a week and a half.’ That doesn’t help my customers.”

Snyder snakes clogged pipes and has a Picote Mini Miller for descaling them. On his to-get list is a jetter for flushing lines, but a hydrovac unit to clean out a line is not likely to be in his equipment yard any time soon. One reason: In Snyder’s words, “Philly is an old tool city.”

Only a year and a half ago, according to Snyder, did Philadelphia officials allow pipe bursting in the city. Lining is still not allowed. Therefore, he feels investing in trenchless technology like lining and coating equipment is pointless at the moment, though he likes what he sees.

“I don’t get enough calls to justify spending a hundred grand on pipe bursting equipment. But bursting and lining are definitely on my radar,” Snyder says. “In a year or two, the city may allow lining. One of the things I’m focusing on is developing a relationship with lining companies so when Philly does allow it, I can hit the ground running.”


All in all, John Snyder, who just turned 40, feels good about the future of his company. He has his eye on new products and services — like pipe lining — to offer his customers. He is on pace to put a couple more trucks in service in the next year, which will allow him to assume more of a managerial role in day-to-day operations. The hydronic heating side of the business is poised to expand because of the rising cost of heating oil.

And his drain cleaning work is becoming a sizable component of his business.

“It really is growing,” Snyder says. “Diversifying into drain cleaning helped me make more money and has increased the number of repair jobs and digging jobs. When we go in and put that camera down there and show customers what’s going on, it makes sales so much easier. It really has helped my business.” 


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