Contractor Remains Passionate for the Industry After 40 Years of Business

Steve Allen has spent four decades building a successful plumbing and drain business in Hawaii, but he continues to look for ways he can evolve to better serve his customers

Contractor Remains Passionate for the Industry After 40 Years of Business

 Allens Plumbing owner Steve Allen poses with his Piper Saratoga aircraft that he uses to transport equipment and supplies between the islands of Oahu and Maui.

Interested in Cleaning?

Get Cleaning articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Cleaning + Get Alerts

Steve Allen arrived in Hawaii in the summer of 1981 at age 26, hoping to find a job. He says he “banged around” for a few months, then worked for a solar company before realizing that the plumbing skills he had carried to the islands from his Southern California home were in demand.

“I got on top of that real fast,” Allen says of the work opportunity he spotted. On Sept. 15, 1982, he officially completed his first plumbing job in Hawaii on his own. Four decades later, Allens Plumbing is an established part of the commercial community on Oahu and Maui islands, producing millions of dollars in business volume each year under the watchful eye of the man who founded it.

Although the company indisputably is an entrepreneurial success story, the plain-spoken Allen isn’t all that impressed by such terminology.

“Entrepreneur is a nice word, but if you just get up and work hard all the time, you’ll be OK,” he says. “I started out of hunger and stayed hungry.”


Plumbing is the focus of business for Allens Plumbing, but drains, sewers and other underground infrastructure together constitute almost half of the firm’s business activity. That’s poetic, because Allen actually started his Hawaii adventure in 1982 by cleaning drains. He lacked certification for plumbing work, not having been a resident for at least a year.

A friend with whom he had apprenticed in California visited him while Allen was still finding his way and suggested he clean drains under the name of “drain surgeon.” Allen readily agreed and, four decades later, Allens Plumbing still is “Home of the drain surgeon.”

The company is also home to a complete lineup of plumbing services, from sump pumps to bathroom remodeling to backflow services. All those services intersect with the drain and sewer work, with plumbing service calls helping lead to drain work and vice versa.

“You have to be careful with your company name,” Allen says, speaking of the power of reputation. “When some homeowner has a water heater leaking, we respond to the call and do the plumbing. If we do the job impressively, we then are on their call list for related work like drains. You can reverse that, with drain jobs leading to plumbing jobs.”

In the beginning, Allen set up shop in Maui, undertaking an array of drain and plumbing tasks. Today, company headquarters is in Maui’s retail center, Kahului. From the office at 360 Papa Place, Ken Davis manages the plumbing division and generally oversees the drain division. Josh Kamauna is full-time manager of the drain division but, as needed, is also project foreman on Maui.

In an office on Iwaena Street on the bigger island of Oahu, Darren Kenny is the company’s general manager and Kane Coyle manages operations in both locations. Which is to say, Allen is fully staffed to keep tabs on the business.

“These are my key people that make it all go,” he says. “They are doing a great job.”

The managers have about 45 people working under them, a crew that Allen characterizes as “very young.” That is not to suggest it is an inexperienced crew. He cites employees with job tenures of 12, 16, 21 and 24 years.

“They work for the satisfaction of doing a good job, but we pay them well and make sure it is a home for them,” Allen says.

While skilled plumbers can be hard to find, Allen says he learned a long time ago that finding a plumber isn’t necessarily the answer anyway.

“You have to create them and keep them for a long time. That’s been the way to go for us,” he says of the company’s apprenticeship and other in-house programs.

On the other hand, Allen notes, people who can be trained to clean and repair drain and sewer pipe are relatively easily found.

“That’s the thing, more education is required for plumbing, but I can take a guy out of a pizza place and turn him into a pipe lining technician with some training,” he says.


Allens Plumbing got into trenchless repair work in 2000. Specifically, the company began offering pipe bursting. Allen relies on TRIC Tools and Roddie Underground bursting systems for the work and once pulled a new pipe through 220 feet of 8-inch failed pipe. The story is similar with his MaxLiner CIPP equipment: He successfully lined a 250-foot vertical length of pipe in a building.

Not all of Allen’s trenchless jobs are “monsters” of that magnitude, of course, but after two decades of doing it, Allen still finds the technologies very satisfying.

“Every time we pipe burst and I see that pipe come out of that hole, it’s very exciting. It’s exciting to see what we can do,” he says.

How does his project manager decide which pipe repair methodology to employ when a pipe has cracked or otherwise begun to fail?

“It is whatever a customer wants, but at the end of the day, the contractor makes the call,” Allen says.

A CIPP repair can cost more. Each method takes about as long as the other to install. Everything considered, Allen prefers pipe bursting.

“I like it for the product and for the customer. Bursting is cheaper and more durable,” he says.

Yet pipe lining seems to be the preferred solution in today’s market.

“Lining is faster, somewhat easier, more easily sold. It can solve a lot of problems, but I still think bursting is a better product,” Allen says.


The variety of Allens Plumbing’s services is helping the company’s push into contractual work on multistory buildings. An example is a current $465,000 contract to upgrade pipes without tearing out the walls and floors of a six-building Oahu condominium.

The project involves lining horizontal sewer lines beneath the buildings as well as vertical stacks serving upper floors, bursting pipes running to the buildings, and redoing aboveground plumbing. The company’s diverse expertise lets it undertake such projects. That has been enhanced by its embrace of new joint lining products by Repiper, which produce seamless T-connections between vertical and horizontal pipes.

Allen says his crew is becoming more efficient at multitasking projects.

“These vacation condominiums produce revenue, so the longer they’re down, the greater the loss of revenue,” he says. “Consequently, the faster we get the work done, the more property owners are attracted to us for other jobs.”

Lining of vertical water or sewer-bearing pipes is increasing because stacks in many of the high-rise buildings are aging out. When such pipes catastrophically fail, insurance and damage costs can run high. Lining them is an appealing option, even though Allen advises property owners to totally replace the pipe if possible.

“Most of the time we tell the condo owners that they shouldn’t line, that they should do tear-outs,” he says. “But lining a vertical pipe is about 25-30% the cost of a tear-out, so they usually opt for lining.”


A busy company operating on two Pacific Ocean islands 90 miles apart necessarily has redundancy in its equipment yards and fleets. In all, Allens Plumbing operates 43 service trucks and vans that make between 600 and 800 calls a month. It has 10 cart hydrojetters from Jetters Northwest that produce 9 gpm and 4,000 psi, and four jetters at 18 gpm and 4,000 psi — two of them from Sewer Equipment Company of America, one US Jetting machine and a custom-made unit. The company’s heavy-duty jetter that pushes out 60 gpm at 2,000 psi is also a Sewer Equipment unit.

High-speed drain machines and pipe-coating equipment are in one corner of the company shops, a variety of pan-and-tilt inspection cameras in another, or in work vans. A trio of excavators and a dump truck stand ready for open-trench work. The company’s latest equipment acquisitions are two job site trailers built on the mainland and shipped to the islands.

Now Allen is contemplating investing in UV equipment to speed the T-liner joint-sealing process. Cost and durability are his concerns.

“I once was told, if you spend a dollar, make sure it will be sent back with a friend. You can’t touch the UV stuff for less than $30,000. Is the investment going to be worth it? I don’t know yet,” he says.

The company also has a Piper Saratoga single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft parked at the Kahului airport. Allen became licensed to fly it 17 years ago. Recently, he flew the roomy workhorse aircraft to Oahu “absolutely packed” with fittings needed for a project on the big island.


Piloting a private plane at 67 years of age isn’t as remarkable as still running in United States Track Association masters division sprints. Allen started the sprinting regimen 10 years ago and has at least one bronze medal to show for his efforts. He is, in a word, competitive.

“I’m not the fastest guy on the track, but I am thankful I can do it. From a child, I never liked being in second place, if I could help it,” he says.

The attitude has carried over into his career.

“I treat the business like the gym,” Allen says. “You get up each day and you go. You might not want to go, and some days you are stronger than other days, but you need to show up every day.”

Allens Plumbing is nominally a family-owned company. It may not remain as such. Allen has a 46-year-old daughter who is a successful tax lawyer and is uninterested in running a plumbing business. His other child is a 10-year-old son.

“He flies the plane with me, likes the trucks and plays with the tools. I have no idea if he will be interested in the company someday,” Allen says.

Here’s the more interesting rhetorical question asked by the founder of the 40-year-old company: “When the company celebrates 50 years, will I still be at the helm? I like to think I’m working my way out of this position. When that actually is going to happen, though, I don’t know.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.