Hansen’s Plumbing Shifts to a Fleet of Electric Service Vehicles

California drain cleaner continues to thrive by adjusting to a shifting business landscape, including a move to electric service vehicles

Hansen’s Plumbing Shifts to a Fleet of Electric Service Vehicles

The Hansen’s Plumbing staff includes (front row, left to right) Josiah Cagan, Josh Rodesky, Meagan Kunis, Patti Hansen, Cary Hansen, Taylor Hansen, Damen Baldonado, Jose Sanchez, (back row, left to right) Shayne Cheeser, Nicholas Garside, Michael Davis, Avery Brooke and Jason Warfield.

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There was a time when business at Hansen’s Plumbing was heavily weighted more toward plumbing and less toward drain cleaning — about a 60/40 split.

But the company — based in Ventura, California, about 70 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles — has flipped the script in recent years. Now roughly 65% of its business comes from drain-related work with the remainder from service and repair plumbing, says Cary Hansen, who founded the company in 1987.

The upshot? Improved profitability and cash flow and fewer hassles trying to find and train quality plumbers, which are as rare as a tree-root-free sewer lateral.

“A bigger emphasis on drain cleaning increased our profitability, even though our gross revenue has remained fairly level for a number of years,” Hansen says. “Part of that is efficiency gains from better-trained employees. From dispatchers to plumbers, our employees’ skill sets have been so elevated that they’re twice as efficient as they used to be.”

As an instructor certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (a not-for-profit organization that trains and certifies construction and maintenance professionals who want to be instructors), Hansen does the training himself.

“Doing more drain work has also helped because we now buy a lot fewer faucets, water heaters, parts and so forth,” he says. “Plus we don’t have to wait very long to get paid compared to doing commercial plumbing.”

Furthermore, it’s much easier to train employees to be drain cleaners than it is for them to become journeyman plumbers, Hansen notes.

“You can become a pretty reliable sewer-and-drain technician after a year or two, but it takes a minimum of four years to become a reliable plumber,” he says. “There’s also less risk and liability when dealing with sewer and drains than with plumbing, where a failed fitting can flood a home.

“And there’s plenty of drain and sewer work out there.”

Technology investments

To accommodate the shift to more drain-related work, the company also made two significant investments in machinery that boosted efficiency and profit margins: an R2 pipe bursting system from Roddie and a CV SGT trailer-mounted vacuum excavator from Vac-Tron (a Vermeer MV Solutions brand owned by Vermeer Corp.).

The pipe bursting system dramatically improves productivity for residential sewer lateral replacements and the hydrovac trailer enables crews to dig the small, square pits required for the pipe bursting system significantly faster. It also helps reduce back injuries caused by hand-digging the pits, as well as workers’ compensation claims, Hansen says.

For drain cleaning, the company relies on two RIDGID K-60 sectional drain cleaning machines and three Milwaukee Tool 2818 A-21 battery-operated sectional machines; cable drain machines built by Quadra Plex Inc.; a 4018 trailer jetter made by US Jetting (4,000 psi at 18 gpm); JM-1000 toolbox jetters from General Pipe Cleaners; Maxi Miller and Midi Miller drain machines from Picote Solutions; and inspection camera systems from Milwaukee Tool.

The company also owns a smoke-detection machine from Hurco Industries and a Cold Shot pipe-freezing kit from General Pipe.

For service vehicles, Hansen’s Plumbing owns three Chevy 3/4-ton utility box trucks with 8-foot bodies from Harbor Truck Bodies, a Nissan NV van and a Ford F-350 equipped with a crane from Auto Crane (a brand owned by Ramsay Industries).

Charging into EVs

But perhaps the biggest equipment investment of all has been the recent purchase of five Ford E-Transit (one 2022 model and four 2023 models) electric-powered service vans. The cost was about $65,000 per van, or around $325,000 total, which was about $10,000 more per van compared to vehicles with gas-powered engines, Hansen says.

California’s push to have electric vehicles account for 100% of new car and light truck sales by 2035 nudged Hansen to invest in the E-Transits for his company.

“I’m the president of the Ventura County Contractors Association, so I see a lot of state assembly bills coming down the pipeline,” he says. “All signs pointed to the state heading in this direction, plus fuel prices at the time were going through the roof to $4 and $5 per gallon.”

The purchase of the E-Transits roughly doubled the company’s monthly vehicle payments. But fuel costs for whatever gas-powered vehicles the company still uses — the Nissan van and Hansen’s Ford pickup truck — have dropped about 90%, a drop to some extent offset by an increase in electricity expenses.

“Overall, my ‘fuel’ costs, which include electricity, have decreased by about half,” Hansen says. “And those costs will drop further after we have a charging station installed at our shop.

“Furthermore, I expect that gas prices will only go up, which will make my calculations for cost savings look even better. When the dust settles, I figure that at worst, it will be mostly a wash in terms of expenses, but we’ll also be ahead of the curve for converting to electric vehicles. And our gas-powered trucks were nearing the end of their life cycles anyway.”

In addition, Hansen expects maintenance costs to be significantly lower on the E-Transits, aside from tires, which reportedly wear faster on EVs.

Finding the range

One drawback of the EVs is a lower-than-expected range, Hansen says. He was told the vans would get about 120 miles per full charge, but technicians have learned to not push past 100 miles to avoid getting stranded.

As for finding charging stations, Hansen says it isn’t an issue. A map feature on the vans’ in-dash monitors shows the locations of charging stations and the installation of the charging station at the Hansen’s Plumbing shop will largely render locations a moot point because technicians will be able to recharge their vehicles overnight, when electricity rates are lowest, Hansen notes.

“It currently takes about 15 to 30 minutes for our guys to recharge their batteries because they don’t fully deplete them,” he says. “I thought it would be more inconvenient, but it hasn’t been bad at all — and the guys love them. They’re basically rolling computers. They’re awesome.”

Marketing appeal

To maintain a high level of efficiency, technicians are instructed to either eat lunch while they charge the batteries or reorganize their vans, make business phone calls and catch up on paperwork, Hansen says.

“So far, their work efficiency is about the same,” he says. “They know it affects their numbers if they’re inefficient, so they’re very cognizant of wisely using that charging downtime.”

In addition, the driving range forces technicians to be even more conscious than ever about planning ahead to avoid multiple, time-wasting trips to supply houses.

“In that regard, it’s actually made them even better plumbers and drain technicians,” Hansen says.

The EVs also provide a marketing boost because they appeal to eco-conscious consumers. Hansen says the vans actually generate sales calls because people see them at charging stations.

“We’ve actually had people come up to technicians and ask for their business cards,” he says. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from people and plan to feature the vehicles in future marketing efforts.”

More growth ahead

Hansen expects continued growth at the company, which employs 12 people, including 10 technicians. But he anticipates that growth to begin after the business recovers a bit financially from the investments in EVs and the charging station.

“My plan is to eventually buy two or three more EVs and continue to gain market share in our current service area in and around Ventura,” Hansen says. “I think it’s doable because a lot of contractors I know are quitting and no one is taking their places, so I think we can capitalize on that.

“Geographic expansion into other areas is also on the table.”

In addition, Hansen is preparing his son, Taylor, 31, to run the company when he retires.

“He’s already trying to kick me out,” Hansen quips, noting he’s winding down his duties at the company, concentrating mostly on backflow testing and small projects. “He’s all in on eventually taking over, so in the near future, we want to give him some ownership.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve built here and Taylor has had a lot to do with it, along with my wife, Patti, and my daughter, Meagan. I’m really stoked about keeping things going as a family business, instead of just selling it and walking away.”


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