Plomero en Phoenix Transforms From One-Man Operator to Million-Dollar Contractor

Armando Ramos got his start offering cheap drain service via Craigslist ads, but his company quickly grew thanks to a savvy rebranding and some sound third-party business advice

Plomero en Phoenix Transforms From One-Man Operator to Million-Dollar Contractor

Armando Ramos, owner of Plomero en Phoenix, poses in front of one of his service vans.

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When Armando Ramos decided at age 19 to open a drain cleaning business in Phoenix in 2010, he was the definition of a business rookie — a one-man operator who unclogged drains for $50 a pop and relied on Craigslist ads to attract customers.

Now the owner of Plomero en Phoenix (Plumber in Phoenix), Ramos, 31, is an experienced businessman, not a novice. He employs six people; runs three professional-looking service trucks, replete with eye-catching vinyl wraps; manages an effective marketing campaign centered on social media; and generates more than $1 million in gross revenue annually.

Not bad for a self-made entrepreneur with little formal education.

A combination of key factors drove his transformation from small-time operator to big-time contractor: a strong work ethic, an innate sense of marketing savvy, business coaches and investments in durable and efficient equipment.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any other options,” Ramos says when asked what made him think he could build a successful business. “I had no other career path to follow. What could go wrong?”

He started out with only a 1992 Toyota Tundra pickup truck and a RIDGID drum drain cleaning machine.

“I already was making minimum wage at my job as a maintenance technician at an apartment complex,” Ramos says. “So in my head, I figured if I did three or four drain jobs a day for $50 apiece, I was making much more money.”

Ramos was inspired by the high prices he saw contractors charge for cleaning drains at the apartment complex where he worked. During his time there, he also gained basic plumbing knowledge from a longtime elderly employee.

“I’d talk to technicians and ask them about their jobs, which intrigued me,” Ramos says. “And money-wise, they would take maybe 30 or 40 minutes to unclog a drain and then charge $250, which seemed like a lot of money to me. It opened my eyes to the opportunities.”

Those prices are what prompted him to charge only $50 per cleaning. The low price helped him “buy” market share, but he later realized it was unsustainable from a business standpoint.

Willing to work hard

At first, Ramos cleaned drains only very early in the morning or after finishing his shift at the apartment complex. But after about five months of working and building his confidence, Ramos quit his regular job and worked full time on building TCI Solutions, the first iteration of Plomero en Phoenix, by running Craigslist ads.

Even then, Ramos displayed a commonsense aptitude for marketing by writing his own ad copy as well as using different phone numbers for different ads so that he could track which ones performed better than the others. He used a free app called Google Voice to funnel all phone calls to his cellphone.

“I spent a lot of time at night trying to figure out how to stand out with my Craigslist ads,” Ramos says. “I had to think outside the box.”

After dabbling in a couple other advertising platforms, Ramos achieved a breakthrough when he created a Google My Business profile and a website page in Spanish. 

“After about two weeks, the phone started ringing,” he says. “I figured out it was the Spanish website and Google profile. So when I saw how many people wanted a Latino plumber, I switched gears and rebranded the company from TCI Solutions (which he had envisioned as both a plumbing and a handyman business) to Plomero en Phoenix. At that point, making the change was a no-brainer.”

At first, Ramos feared he might lose his English-speaking customers. But that didn’t happen. In fact, he says many customers call the company because they want to support a minority-owned business.

The price wasn’t right

Ramos credits much of the company’s success to several business coaches he’s hired over the years. They taught many important basics of business, including how much to charge customers for various services.

In short, Ramos learned that was selling himself short by doing drain cleaning jobs for only $50.

“I went really low with my prices to be competitive,” he says. “I was proud of telling people that I did the same thing as other contractors, but for a much cheaper price. But then we had a hard time paying the bills. Charging people too little for your services is one of the biggest mistakes a business owner can make.”

Ramos says he knew he needed help when he eventually realized his profit margins were consistently too small.

“I thought we were making money, or at least it looked like we were,” he recalls. “But when we’d do our taxes at the end of the year, we’d realize we didn’t make that much money after all. It looked like I didn’t even own a company. We were doing a lot of jobs and trying to stay competitive, but we weren’t making much money. So I realized we needed someone to show us some better business practices.”

Know the numbers

Enter Matthew Barbosa, a business coach and trainer from a company called Service Excellence.

“Matthew taught us how to price jobs properly and build value for customers,” Ramos says. “He taught me that we have to create value so that at the end of the day, price no longer is a factor because customers understand the value of what they’re getting for their money.”

Barbosa also showed Ramos how to factor in all business expenses when setting prices, including salaries for him and his employees then a 12% to 15% profit margin on top of that.

“Now we’re not the cheapest contractor around,” Ramos says. “But the other day, we won a job even though we were $1,000 more than two other competitors. How? It was the way we treated them — provided a full evaluation and different options with no sales pressure.”

Spend money to make money

Ramos also pays for a coach from Power Selling Pros that provides ongoing coaching for employees who take service calls. The result? A 20% increase in job bookings, he says.

In addition, once a year for the last two years, he’s hired a coach from Service MVP who holds a five-day “boot camp” for technicians.

The company spends roughly $2,100 a month on coaching, but Ramos says it’s a worthwhile investment because it helps him see his business in a totally different light.

“If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business,” he says.

Ramos also hired an outside marketing firm, KickCharge Creative, for his rebranding campaign.

“I wanted to go full bore on the rebranding,” he says.

Based in New Jersey, KickCharge Creative specializes in branding and advertising services for home-service contractors. The company developed Plomero en Phoenix’s eye-catching logo and vinyl wraps for service vehicles.

“I’m not afraid to spend money on outside consultants,” Ramos says. “The way I look at it, I’m investing in my company by hiring the right people who can teach us how to do things right and help get us where we want to go. They’ve all been a huge part of our success.”

Productive equipment

Technicians drive three service vehicles: a 2021 Isuzu NPR chassis with a Hackney box body and 2021 and 2006 Chevrolet Express cutaway vans, one with a WorkMaster utility body from Harbor Truck Bodies and the other with a utility body made by Knapheide Manufacturing Co.

Each truck is equipped with a K-60 portable cable machine and K-45 handheld drain machine from RIDGID and a wheeled model 100 cable machine from Spartan Tool.

“I like RIDGID machines because they’re so durable — real workhorses,” Ramos says. “The K-60 is light enough that you can carry it up to a rooftop without dismantling the machine. And I love the automatic feed and retrieve functions on the Spartan 100. I don’t have to use my back to pull back the cable.”

The company also owns a larger Spartan Model 300, designed for 3- to 6-inch-diameter lines, for jobs the other machines can’t handle, like severe root blockages.

In addition, Ramos has invested in a trailer-mounted Brute water jetter (9 gpm at 4,000 psi) and a PlumberJet cart-mounted jetter (5 gpm at 3,000 psi), both from Jetters Northwest.

“Overall, they’re very dependable and they’re powerful — they get the job done,” Ramos says. “Every time I turn them on, they work.”

The company also relies on three inspection camera systems — one RIDGID SeeSnake Mini Pro and two SeeSnake Minis — that Ramos describes as “real moneymakers” for the business. Technicians use RIDGID Pipe Patch Repair kits for point repairs in pipelines. A Bobcat E20 compact excavator rounds out the company’s equipment fleet.

How did Ramos initially afford equipment? Largely with lines of credit, he says.

“But all the machines paid for themselves very quickly,” he notes.

Just getting started

Looking back, Ramos says he’s both amazed and proud of how far his company has come in the past decade.

“I was just a solo guy in a truck who could barely pay his bills and now I employ five guys and run three trucks,” he says. “But it’s not just me. At the end of the day, I’m even prouder of everyone who works around me, including my brother, Bryan, and my wife, Triny. You’re only as good as your employees.”

As for what lies ahead, Ramos is eager for more growth. In five years, he says he wants to be a $5 million-a-year company.

“I want to bring on more technicians, bring trenchless pipe rehab in-house (the company currently subcontracts for that) and keep growing our market and keep making the right investments,” Ramos says. “We just want to keep growing.”


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