Young California Contractor Targets Pipe Lining to Spark Business Growth

Reinvesting in the business by adding efficiency-enhancing technology has set up a young San Diego plumbing and drain cleaning firm for plenty of future success

Young California Contractor Targets Pipe Lining to Spark Business Growth

Sandra Rodriguez, Salvador Rodriguez and Mariana Rodriguez are the sibling team running RDZ Plumbing & Drains.

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If anyone doubts how investments in technology can change the trajectory of a company, consider the case of RDZ Plumbing & Drains, a small company with growth aspirations.

A roughly $60,000 investment in a Quick-Shot pipe lining system from Pipe Lining Supply (now owned by Waterline Renewal Technologies) recently jump-started the San Diego-based company’s growth plans, says Salvador Rodriguez Jr., who co-owns the business with his sister, Sandra Rodriguez.

“The Quick-Shot system was a game-changer for our company,” says Rodriguez, 33, who founded the company in 2018. “It has expanded our customer base geographically and opened up a new market for us, plus it helps us be competitive with other companies.”

It was a big decision for such a small company to go into debt to buy the lining system. RDZ Plumbing & Drains employs only six people and runs three service vehicles — two Chevrolet Express vans and a Ford Transit Connect van. But the investment not only underscores the need to keep up with competitors, but also the truth of an old business adage: Companies have to spend money to make money.

The Quick-Shot system does exactly that. Rodriguez says the company now does two to three lining jobs a month, which during the course of a year adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in gross revenue.

“I look at it as good debt,” says Rodriguez of the money he borrowed to finance the purchase. “I’m not at all scared by the debt because I knew that once we received the proper training, we’d make good money with the pipe lining system. Sure, it was a big expense, but the profit margins are very good.”

Meeting customer demand

RDZ Plumbing & Drains bought the Quick-Shot system in 2022. Rodriguez says his interest in pipe lining was piqued when he noticed more and more contractors lining pipes or using other trenchless pipe rehab methods.

“I knew we had to get into that, just to keep up with competitors,” he says. “And when we got invited by a contractor to see how they do it, I was surprised at how easy it was, especially compared to digging up someone’s front yard and all the costly labor that excavation requires.”

Furthermore, more and more clients were asking Rodriguez if RDZ Plumbing & Drains did pipe lining or used other trenchless methods.

“Customers already knew about it, but we weren’t able to do it,” he says. “I knew we had to change that.”

Rodriguez agrees that pipe lining comes with a degree of risk. But he says that proper training, supplied by Pipe Lining Supply, minimized the chances of jobs going sideways.

In addition, Rodriguez says he spent about $5,000 on liners and other materials so he and his technicians could practice shooting liners at his house. They practiced straight shots, then graduated to lining 45- and 90-degree pipe bends.

“We practiced and practiced and practiced until we felt comfortable,” Rodriguez says. “It wasn’t pleasant spending that much money on practice shots, but I felt we had to do it.

“You also need a positive mindset in this game and your workers need to be really focused. And they’re motivated because lining pipes is much easier than excavating to replace pipes. When they don’t have to dig anymore, they’re happy and the customers are happy, too, which motivates us even more.”

Rodriguez says it took about three jobs in order to feel completely comfortable about lining pipes. He praises the Quick-Shot system, which is compact and easy to operate. It uses hot water to cure felt liners in about an hour.

“Fitting the inverter in a van is easy and its compact footprint makes it easier to work in areas that might not be accessible with other larger systems,” Rodriguez says.

Lining challenges

One of the most difficult pipe lining jobs the company has performed involved an 85-foot-long shot in 4-inch-diameter clay sewer pipe that ran under a Mexican fast-food restaurant. The job posed a major challenge because about a foot of sewer line at the start of the run was badly degraded cast iron pipe.

“There were cavities in the bottom of the line, so we were afraid to jet it,” Rodriguez says. “There also was a failing grease trap, so chunks of grease were falling into the line. At one point, we actually thought about hiring a subcontractor to do pipe bursting instead of lining the pipe. But then I started thinking about how we bought this kind of equipment to do trenchless work, so I decided not to hire it out.”

The pressure was on because the restaurant owner, who was losing a considerable amount of money by not being able to operate, gave RDZ Plumbing & Drains one day to do the job. Rodriguez consulted with a representative at Pipe Lining Supply who suggested shooting what’s called a “skeleton” liner — a thin, pre-liner that serves as a guide for the real liner to pass through the damaged area.

“We knew if the skeleton liner got caught where the pipe cavities were located, we wouldn’t be able to line the pipe,” Rodriguez says. “So we cleaned the pipe ahead of and behind the damaged portion, then shot about a 60-foot skeleton liner into the pipe. It was such a relief when the skeleton liner got through.”

Deep plumbing roots

Rodriguez says he literally was born into the industry because his father, Salvador Rodriguez Sr., was a plumber, as were many uncles and cousins.

“When I was just a young kid, my dad and one of my uncles, Andres Rodriguez, would take me along to jobs every so often,” Rodriguez recalls.

But by the time he turned 18, Rodriguez had no desire to be a plumber because he considered it a dirty job. He instead started working in the grocery business and quickly became the director of a small chain of stores in San Diego.

That all changed, however, when Rodriguez’s father started thinking about retirement.

“I talked to him and he told me it was time to come back,” Rodriguez says. “So I decided to take that big step. Besides, plumbers can make good money.”

But the elder Rodriguez also pushed his son to get licensed and eventually open up his own business, which he did after working for his father for around three years. He was 28 years old at the time.

“I made the move and never looked back,” Rodriguez says. “I finally realized that this is what I was meant to do.”

Going it alone wasn’t easy, so his sisters, Sandra and Mariana Rodriguez, came aboard to help out.

“That’s when we really started growing,” Rodriguez says.

His sisters took responsibilities off his plate, which gave him more time to work in the field, and they also provided a lot of emotional support, he says.

Equipment investments

As the company grew, so did its fleet of equipment and machines. Today the company owns three Spartan Tool 300 and three Spartan 100 cable drain machines; three cordless M18 Drain Snakes from Milwaukee Tool; a BossJet Max cart-mounted water jetter from Amazing Machinery, equipped with a Cat Pump (5 gpm at 3,000 psi); a Viztrac XSC pipeline inspection camera from Amazing Machinery; and a skid-mounted BossJet (up to 10 gpm at 3,000 psi) water jetter with a 200-gallon water tank, carried inside a Chevrolet Express van.

RDZ Plumbing & Drains also owns RIDGID FlexShaft K9-102 and K9-204 machines; an RCM-10 drain machine from Renssi Finland Oy, used primarily for descaling drainlines prior to pipe lining; and RIDGID and Milwaukee Tool power tools.

The company’s continued investments in productivity-enhancing equipment and machinery has been critical to its growth. More equipment also enabled the company to diversify its offerings, which include plumbing service and repair work, remodeling projects, drain cleaning, pipeline inspections and pipe lining, all primarily for residential customers.

RDZ also attracts new customers by providing 24-hour emergency plumbing and drain services. How does Rodriguez handle that with just himself and two other field technicians?

“If anything comes up after normal business hours, I usually handle it,” he says. “Soon we’re going to start rotating technicians to be on call. But at the end of the day, I feel like it’s my business, so I feel responsible for handling those calls. If making more money and staying in business means waking up at 1 a.m., I go out there because I’m the one who needs to take care of business.”

No regrets

Looking back, Rodriguez says he has no regrets about carrying on the family’s plumbing tradition. What keeps him motivated, aside from making money? Helping people out during emergency situations, he says.

“I like to be part of something that helps other people,” Rodriguez says. “I know we charge people for what we do. But when you see clients in stressful situations, it feels good knowing you have the knowledge to get things back in order so they’re happy again. That’s always a big win for me.”

The problem-solving aspects of the job are also rewarding, Rodriguez says.

“I love getting in there and doing what I do,” he says. “It’s rewarding when jobs challenge your skills and require you to use your experience to solve problems. And you’re always gaining new skills, too. Every job teaches you something different.”

Looking ahead, Rodriguez says he wants the company to keep growing, but not so fast that he loses control over job quality and decreases customer satisfaction.

“My ultimate goal is to run at least two more vans and hire two more plumbing technicians within the next five years,” he says. “I would love to expand further north into Anaheim or Los Angeles.

“But overall, I want to keep it small. I don’t want to lose that family-owned feeling. And we don’t ever want to drop the ball when it comes to customer service.”


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