Real-Tite Provides Reliable Expansion Plug Solutions

Since 1981, Real-Tite has focused on providing the industry easy-to-use, leakproof expansion plugs

Real-Tite Provides Reliable Expansion Plug Solutions

While Real-Tite still largely focuses on the plumbing and drain cleaning sector, today the company has expanded into many other areas, including new construction, data centers and distribution centers, power dams and wind turbines — any area that needs quick access for a point of entry, fast and ready to re-seal tightly. 

Interested in Cleaning?

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

Cleaning + Get Alerts

Carol Tholen Lins may have grown up the daughter of a plumber, but her experience in the industry was limited. She instead built a successful career in business and pharmaceutical marketing, sales and auditing.

That changed in 2006, when her father’s failing health caused her to take over his company, Real-Tite Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of plumbing expansion plugs.

Since then she’s worked hard to continue his legacy and build on Real-Tite’s reputation for making expansion plugs that are easy to install and remove, while still producing a leakproof seal.

Cleaner recently spoke with Tholen Lins about the company’s history and what differentiates its expansion plugs in the market.

Cleaner: Tell us a little about the history of Real-Tite.

Tholen Lins: My father, James Tholen, saw a problem in the field when his employees were struggling with removing brass and iron clean-out covers that over time had become fused together by rust and corrosion. This process of removal involves a heavy hammer, chisel and sawzall and leaves the clean-out hub with damaged threads. It requires extra time for the tech to remove it, not to mention replacing it with another plug. Time is money. This observation led to the engineering of the Real-Tite Plug, the patenting process and the marketing. The first marketing opportunity to reach a wide plumbing audience was by participating in a COLE Publishing trade show in the early 1980s, which served as a successful launching pad for the Real-Tite Plug.

Shortly after, Real-Tite was spun off into an entity of its own, gaining market share with wholesalers and contractors.

I was presented with the opportunity to purchase the company in 2005 when my father realized that his health was failing and his time was limited. My husband Bob and I made a life-changing decision to purchase the company to continue the legacy of my father and continue to serve the plumbing and drain cleaning industry. We felt that we both had acquired the necessary skills in both the sales world and business development fields to take on the task. Bob in national sales for Nestlé Foods and myself, an entrepreneur at heart, having started and sold two small companies and at the time working in the pharmaceutical industry, living “the life” in Montana. We headed to Minneapolis to spend time with my father and get reacquainted with my large family.

We closed on the business on Feb. 23, 2006. In March, my father’s health started failing quickly and on April 23, 2006, he passed away. My desire of spending quality time with my father lasted a short 60 days.

At this time, I rolled up my sleeves and dug into this new adventure. Admittedly, the only thing this plumber’s daughter knew was how to flush the toilet and turn on the shower. But I had a strong work ethic and a passion for a challenge. I knew that if my goal for the company was expansion, I had to begin the process of building upon the solid foundation my father had started.

Cleaner: What differentiates Real-Tite Plugs from the competition?

Tholen Lins: Real-Tite Plugs are unique in several ways. They are the only plug that incorporates a one-piece design with a fully enclosed stainless steel stop bolt so they cannot become disassembled, preventing loss of plug parts into the opening. They are the only expansion plug available in 12-gauge stainless steel tops for use in driveways and parking lots and available in a private label with the customer’s call-back information for marketing purposes. Unlike traditional expansion plugs, Real-Tite Plugs have a flush finish with no bulky wingnut, making them perfect for installing in floors or under carpet. Most expansion plugs seal behind or over the threads of an opening. Real-Tite Plugs have an oversized gasket that seals three ways, behind the threads, over the threads and utilizing a shoulder seal for triple protection against leaks. Real-Tite Plugs are available in 1 1/2-inch to 4-inch sizes in 1/2-inch increments, even the hard to find 2 1/2-inch size. They can be used in straight pipe, saving cost by eliminating an adapter or fitting. A 5/32-inch Allen wrench is used to install and remove, making them tamper-resistant.

Cleaner: What’s the most common problem you see your customers facing? 

Tholen Lins: There are actually two common problems customers face. Sealing smooth or threaded openings or openings with damaged threads and finding the correct size plug to provide a leakproof seal for the opening.

Cleaner: What are some recommendations for customers shopping for expansion plugs?

Tholen Lins: I would recommend customers consider the plug location and look for an expansion plug with a large gasket and no exposed metal on the backside of the plug that can rust or corrode. When comparing unit cost keep in mind what the plug is containing in the pipe. Don’t always go for the most inexpensive plug available if you are expecting a leakproof seal.

Cleaner: What’s new for Real-Tite in 2023? What can customers expect in the future?

Tholen Lins: Today, the company has national and international sales and serves many different industries. While our bread and butter is still the plumbing and drain cleaning sector, the Real-Tite Plug has expanded into areas of new construction, data centers and distribution centers, power dams and wind turbines. Basically, any area that needs quick access for a point of entry, fast and ready to re-seal tightly. Our stainless steel expansion plugs are the only product on the market designed to withstand heavy industrial traffic and we have re-engineered our product to serve correctional facilities and institutions with tamper-resistant security clean-out plugs.

We have launched a “smart solutions” database of thousands of customers, which offers targeted emails in a “problem, solution, result” format, and have quickly become a go-to resource for our industry. We have developed our Facebook page with the goal of connecting our customers to one another and offer networking opportunities and problem-solving discussions across the country. 

We personally answer our telephone 24/7, 365 days a year, and refer and help whenever we can. If we can’t solve the problem, we will direct the caller to a trusted company that can. 

Cleaner: What do you want your customers to think of when they hear the name Real-Tite Plugs?

Tholen Lins: Quality, U.S. made, and a reputable company that stands behind our product and our customers.

A CEO of an international plumbing wholesale company we serve says it best: “The Real-Tite Plug is the gold standard of clean-out/expansion plugs.”

I can count on one hand, the number of returns we have had — a testament to our quality control and application promise.


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.