Cleaner Rewind: Sewer & Drain Cleaning Company Sees Steady Growth in Sin City

Cleaner Rewind: Sewer & Drain Cleaning Company Sees Steady Growth in Sin City
Elliott's Cable Supervisor Lester Kalmins runs a sewer cable.

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We celebrate the continued dedication and hard work of drain cleaning contractors by revisiting companies profiled 10 years ago in Cleaner magazine. Check out the original story on the Elliott’s Sewer & Drain company we featured in the January 2004 issue: “New Owner, New Services, Same Reputation.”

Ten years ago, Elliott’s Sewer & Drain in Henderson, Nev., was riding high. The housing bubble was at its peak, building was booming and lots of people were flush with cash to spend in Sin City. Bob and Pam Kirk had just purchased this 30-year-old business, bumping annual completed jobs from 2,500 to 6,500 by the time of our profile. 

They didn’t see the coming economic crash any more than anyone else did, but the foundation of solid business practices they built before it happened helped them stay the course and it continues to pay off today. 

Adding capacity

The Kirks had built the business from a one-truck operation to three inspection vans and a brand new pumper truck for septic and grease trap waste, and more than doubled the six-person crew to 13. They had recently moved into a 1,100-square-foot office and yard, and all the growth was due to the Kirks’ attitude of accepting all jobs, no matter the size, staffing with the right people, and providing them the right equipment. 

It’s an attitude that has remained at the forefront of a business that continues to thrive despite the lagging economy. These days, the annual average of completed jobs is 10,000, including line locating and cleaning, hydrojetting, and video inspection for casinos, restaurants, golf courses, mobile home parks, apartment buildings, commercial facilities and residential units. 

Elliott’s commercial/residential split remains 60/40 percent, with jobs now accomplished by 18 employees. The residential work is for multi-family units, most of which are owned by out-of-town landlords and property groups that have resisted going on regular maintenance contracts, while a good number of their commercial jobs are contracted. 

Proactive and paying attention

Cleaning and jetting accounts for 60 percent of their annual billings, with the remainder being root detection and video inspection. Elliott’s also cleans out blockages from tailings pipes at nearby gold mines, though that work is about half the volume it used to be since the mine is producing less these days. Work at new casinos recently built in Las Vegas’s city center has picked up the slack, increasing that division by about 15 percent. Other service areas include Boulder City and Laughlin. 

Bob Kirk believes that regardless of the “flavor of the month” being touted at any given time by business management gurus, there’s no substitute for paying attention to the market and using common sense. There’s no magic, he says, to how Elliott’s managed to stay alive and also to thrive when so many others struggled or went under. 

“We’re always refocusing on current customers, and making sure we do everything they need,” he says. One smart move they made early on was to secure more maintenance contracts with casinos, the mainstay of their business and in some way, just about every other business in the region. Elliott’s proved during the good times that their work ethic is solid and reliable, and that their professional advice can be trusted. 

“Generally, if we get called back to the same place four or five times within a relatively short period, our guys will ask to put that place on a maintenance contract,” Kirk says. Usually, by then, the customer will see the wisdom of prevention rather than the hassle and expense of ongoing emergency visits. And those contract visits add up to a reliable portion of the revenue stream. 

It’s all about connection

For those customers who opt out of a contract, Elliott’s team members realize they are responsible for maintaining a steady flow of work, since they’re the company’s direct interface with clients. Technicians earn a commission on each job so they are motivated to do what it takes to keep the jobs rolling in. 

“In the office and in our trucks, all our people keep close contact with existing customers, and we’re not shy about asking for referrals,” Kirk says. “During the rough economic times, we still picked up customers from those.” 

The company still does smoke testing about three times a month, but they dropped one service that wasn’t paying for itself: septic and grease pumping. “We decided a few years ago that we’re going to concentrate on our core businesses of jetting and cleaning,” Kirk says. “We sold our pumper truck and made a deal with a company called Pipe Maintenance to handle our pumping requests, in exchange for their referrals for jetting. It has worked out very well.” 

Valued employees

Kirk acknowledges the debt that Elliott’s owes to its dedicated workers. “We have the best employees in the world,” he says. “I attribute our growth to them. They just go all the time and work hard. They’re here every day, and they’re dedicated to what they’ve chosen to do.” He’s proud that his company provides these committed employees with what they need to be successful. 

“We train new employees more for the technical side of the job,” he says. “When they’re out with other employees, that’s when they learn how to interact with customers. In monthly training, we bring up customer relations and say when people ask for certain technicians for their jobs, that’s a good thing.” He realizes that warm customer relations translate into positive brand perception and customer loyalty, and he makes sure employees do, as well. 

Elliott’s also provides the latest in professional-grade equipment and keeps it in good repair so it’s ready when needed. They run a total of 13 utility vans, mainly Ford Econoline 350s and a few Dodge D-3500s. 

Most inspections are done from two vans, with the remainder outfitted for jetting. Inspections are performed with two standard RIDGID SeeSnake inspection cameras and a SeeSnake Mini. The company has moved recordings from VHS primarily to cloud-based storage and sharing. 

They run two 4,000 psi/18 gpm trailer-mounted jetters, one from Sewer Equipment Co. of America and the other from US Jetting. These are joined by a 1,000 psi electric Mustang jetter and two Gorlitz Sewer & Drain cable machines, also rated at 4,000 psi with flow rates of 5-8 gpm. 

A few bumps in the road

What competition? “We’ve been here so long, we don’t have any competition,” Kirk says. “Our main challenges are equipment and vans being stolen. We put GPS on all our vans about a year ago, but they just unplug it and throw it away. We’ve had a rash of that in the last four months. One van got stolen, and the thieves got in an accident with it.” They’re now considering installing LoJack or a similar, difficult-to-detect theft tracking and recovery system into the vehicles. 

In the grand scheme of things, however, Kirk admits that Elliott’s has been fortunate, and expects the company’s solid commitment to logical business practices will see that trend continue. It’s not rocket science, he says. A lot of success just means doing what you know is right and sticking to your guns, even when things get tough. 

“Hang in there,” he advises. “Do things the right way. Have fair prices, and don’t worry about making all your jobs big. We’re as happy with a $50 job as a $1,500 one. Mostly, you need to treat people right — your customers and your employees — and you’ll do fine.” 


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