Wisconsin Contractor Remains Growth-Minded After a Century of Service

Heiden Plumbing doesn’t shy away from investing in equipment and new technology in order to keep an upward growth trajectory

Wisconsin Contractor Remains Growth-Minded After a Century of Service

Heiden Plumbing’s ownership today includes, from left, Andy Wyderka, along with his sister Tami Sackett and brother Scott.

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The power of investing in machines and equipment that generate new revenue streams, boost efficiency, enhance customer service and open up new markets is on full display at Heiden Plumbing, a nearly 100-year-old company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Over the decades, the company — established in 1925 — has embraced pipe bursting, pipe lining and pipe coating systems to provide more options for customers and diversify its services. At the same time, the business has also enhanced its drain-cleaning capabilities with machines that work in a wide range of applications.

A trailer-mounted jetter for clearing tree roots in mainlines? Check. Milling machines for descaling cast iron pipes? Yup. Cable drain machines for unclogging drainlines? Got it.

“We 100% believe in investing in advanced technology,” says Andy Wyderka, who’s the president and co-owner of the company with his brother, Scott, and sister, Tami Sackett. They bought the company from their father, Ken Wyderka, in 2019.

“My father believed in the philosophy of nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he says. “He was big on trying new things and taking calculated risks. So we’re always looking for that next niche technology that fits in with our other work.”

That emphasis on keeping up with new technological advancements, as well as diversifying into heating and cooling and other ancillary services, also explains how the company remains successful 50 years after the Wyderka family purchased it.

“Finding those niche markets has been vital to our growth,” Wyderka says.

SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY

Being first to market with new technology also helps by keeping the company ahead of competitors, Wyderka says, pointing to pipe bursting as a prime example. The company bought a PortaBurst pipe bursting system machine from HammerHead Trenchless (a division of The Toro Company) back in 1999.

“We were told we were the first company in Wisconsin to buy one,” Wyderka says. “I don’t always like to be the first one because you’re kind of the guinea pig and sometimes there are bugs to work out. But being first also opened a lot of doors for different projects and gave us a competitive edge.”

Furthermore, investing in equipment and systems decreased the company’s dependence on subcontractors.

“We still hire subs for certain things here and there,” Wyderka says. “But overall, owning your own equipment gives you more control over projects than waiting for subs to be available, plus you have more control over job quality and costs. When we get to a job site, we can facilitate the work from start to finish.”

Ironically enough, Wyderka says the company periodically gets hired as a subcontractor by other companies that lack the array of equipment Heiden Plumbing owns.

However, the company does hire subcontractors for hydroexcavating work because two of Wyderka’s siblings, Steve Wyderka and Kim Wehse, own Wisconsin Utility Exposure, based in suburban Milwaukee. The primary focus of that company, established in 1999, is locating underground utility lines, Wyderka says.

“It gives us another tool in our tool bag, even if we don’t own the equipment,” he says. “It’s a big benefit for us to have this relationship. My family is very entrepreneurial and we all work together toward a common goal — another reason for our longevity.”

A CENTURY OF SERVICE

Al Heiden established Heiden Plumbing back in 1925. Andy Wyderka’s grandfather, Stan Wyderka, and his father worked at the company, which Ken Wyderka purchased in 1974.

Andy Wyderka became a full-time employee in 1994 after graduating from high school a year earlier and attending a community college for a year, essentially to play soccer.

“I was a really good soccer player, but not a very good student,” he explains. “So I realized that college wasn’t for me at the time. So I asked my father if I could work for him. I started out as a laborer and discovered that tools just felt good in my hands. I was never pushed into it — it just felt right. So I took the opportunity and ran with it.”

In the 1970s, the company slowly shifted to more commercial and residential service and repair work as the market for industrial plumbing waned a bit. In the 1990s, the business added forced-air heating and air conditioning to its services.

“It complemented the hydronic heating work the company had already done for decades,” Wyderka says. “It allowed us to give people more options and become more of a one-stop shop for customers. It also made sense because we could leverage our existing customer base. If you’re already in people’s homes doing plumbing, you need to stop and think about what else you can do for them.”

EQUIPPED TO WORK

Heiden Plumbing runs 11 service vehicles, mostly Ford Transits and one Ford F-450 walk-in step van equipped with a body made by Utilimaster (a brand owned by the Shyft Group). The Ford step van is used primarily for underground water and sewer work.

The company also owns RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection cameras and RIDGID K-7500 cable drum machines for cleaning 3- to 6-inch-diameter drainlines, RIDGID K-7500 cable drum machines for cleaning 3/4- to 4-inch drainlines, and RIDGID K-45 handheld drain machines for sink and tub drains.

“I couldn’t imagine doing plumbing and not doing drain cleaning,” Wyderka says, noting that the low-flow, water-saving toilets that are so prevalent today make drains more prone to clogging. “Drain cleaning allows us to complete entire jobs instead of having to call in someone else and then wait for them to arrive. In today’s world, you have to be a one-stop shop. Plus drain cleaning provides a very good revenue stream.”

The company broadened its drain cleaning capabilities when it invested roughly $35,000 in a trailer-mounted jetter from Harben (a subsidiary of Flowplant Group Ltd.). The machine, which features a 350-gallon water tank and a Harben water pump (4,000 psi at 18 gpm) opened up a new market for cleaning sewer mainlines, Wyderka says.

The company also owns Mini and Maxi Miller drain machines from Picote Solutions, plus Picote’s pipe coating system; a HammerHead Portaburst PB30 pipe bursting machine; a pipe lining system from Perma-Liner Industries; two pneumatic piercing tools, a Grundomat from TT Technologies and a Mole from HammerHead; trailer-mounted air compressors built by Ingersoll Rand; and power tools from Milwaukee Tool and Bosch.

For excavation work, such as replacing sewer or water lines, the company relies on Caterpillar excavators, a Bobcat skid-steer, a Mack dump truck with a 10-cubic-yard dump body manufactured by Crysteel Manufacturing and two GMC mini-dump trucks with 2-cubic-yard dump bodies made by Knapheide Manufacturing Co.

Heiden Plumbing also relies on a Ready Fleet GPS system from Ready Wireless, which is used to track service vehicles for more efficient dispatching.

“It wasn’t about playing Big Brother and tracking where technicians are,” Wyderka explains. “It was all about the ability to know where each truck is so if a job pops up, we can bounce someone there more efficiently. It started as an add-on service from our cellphone provider and turned into a great productivity tool.”

THE VALUE OF TRENCHLESS TECHNOLOGY

The company continued its emphasis on investments in new technology when it purchased a Perma-Liner pipe lining system in 2010. The system, which uses felt liners that are hot-water cured, provides Heiden Plumbing with yet another option for customers with drainline issues. 

To illustrate the value, Wyderka cites a job the company did at a home in 2018 in Milwaukee.

The homeowners had spent roughly $100,000 on a massive landscaping project that included a large pond with koi fish. Unfortunately, a sewer line that ran under the garden at a depth of about 12 feet needed repair.

“When we told the homeowner what the problem was, I thought she was going to fall over,” Wyderka recalls. “It was a very expensive landscaping project that had been completed about 11 months earlier.”

Furthermore, the sewer line came out the back of the house, then took two 90-degree turns before running out to the mainline, located under a street. But Heiden Plumbing was able to line the pipe without disturbing the landscaping. The result? One very happy customer.

“In situations like that, trenchless technology comes in very handy,” Wyderka says.

STEADY GROWTH

Looking back, Wyderka says he has no regrets about leaving college to work for his father and entrenching himself in the plumbing and drain cleaning industry.

“I love solving customer problems and working with my hands,” he says. “And you get a real sense of accomplishment when a project is done. Running the business creates a totally different dynamic compared to being in the field, which I really miss. I’d love to turn off my cellphone and go back in the field — that’s what I enjoy the most. But I also get a lot of satisfaction out of watching our younger employees become tradesmen. That’s where I get the most enjoyment now.”

Looking ahead, Wyderka says the company plans to maintain its pattern of slow, controlled expansion, aiming for 3 to 5% revenue growth annually. The only thing that might hinder those plans is the inability to hire enough qualified technicians to fulfill the additional labor needs.

“Growing fast doesn’t mean you’re making more profit,” Wyderka points out. “We like to grow slowly so we can provide a good end product and maintain great customer service.”

Slow and steady growth also enables the company to preserve the legacy built by his father, he adds.

“What he accomplished is remarkable and we take great pride in keeping that legacy alive,” he says.

Is another 100 years in business in the works?

“I hope so,” Wyderka says. “But time will tell.”



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