New Owner, New Services, Same Reputation

For the buyer of a Las Vegas drain cleaning company, success was a matter of keeping the best of the business, then adding new equipment, services and approaches
New Owner, New Services, Same Reputation
John Butler of Elliott’s Sewer & Drain makes a stop with a jetter from Sewer Equipment Company of America along the strip in Las Vegas.

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Take a look at the Elliott’s Sewer & Drain cleaning company featured 10 years ago in Cleaner magazine. We spotlight the company again in a follow-up story to see how the business has evolved over the last decade: “Cleaner Rewind: Sewer & Drain Cleaning Company Sees Steady Growth in Sin City.”

When Bob Kirk bought Elliott's Sewer & Drain in Las Vegas in 1999, he knew that the company had a good reputation, built during more than 30 years in business. Bob also believed he could greatly expand the business and add equipment and services. 

That is exactly what has happened. Five years ago Elliott's was doing about 2,500 line cleaning jobs a year using a cable rooting machine. In the past year, the company handled nearly 6,500 such jobs.

In 1999, the company operated with one inspection camera. It now has three. In 2000, the company added a 2,700-gallon Ford pump truck built by Indiana Vacuum Tank Trucks Inc. to collect septic and grease trap waste. 

The employee roster grew from six to 13. The customer list has expanded to include a larger variety of facilities. That includes gold mines in Southern Nevada for which the company provides water jetting. To help customers who need to locate sewer gas leaks, Bob added smoke testing equipment from Superior Signal Co. 

Along the way, the company's monthly gasoline costs more than doubled – but Bob takes that as nothing but a sign that the business is thriving. 

The company recently bought a property just off a major boulevard with an 1,100-square-foot house and two-car garage, zoned commercial, and with parking space for the pumper truck, office staff, and one or two other vehicles. The house is now the office, and the technicians drive their service vans home at the end of the day. 

Keeping it together 

As well as the transition has gone, there were some bumps along the way. At the time Bob bought the business, some key employees planned to leave because of the coming change of ownership. But he and his wife Pamela persuaded them to stick around and give it a try. They did, and they're still on board.


From the start, Bob believed Elliott's could grow through more efficient use of personnel, more equipment, and new approaches to service. He observed that the company had not always bothered to respond to small jobs.

"My motto is to never say no," says Bob. "Never turn down a job, no matter how small or what time of day it comes in. We had so much faith in this business that we cashed in our retirement funds and took out Small Business Administration loans to do the expansion. 

"We purchased two new vans each year in the first two years and continued to grow from there. We would get the van and get it outfitted, and then hire a technician. We were able within a few months to have it fully operating. Yes, we have been aggressive, but it has paid off. 

"We believe in treating our employees with dignity and respect, and that they will return that two fold. It has been great. They know we have put so much into this business, and they want it to grow as much as we want it to grow. We have great employees." 

Knowing what to keep

Important elements of the business stayed the same. For example, the office is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For the off hours, an answering service takes calls. One technician works the night shift with another on back-up. So Elliott's is ready to respond on the spot, thus keep its splendid reputation. 

The company's success is based upon the technicians' commitment. Bob encourages them to develop relationships and in essence become their own business operators. Regular customers frequently ask for a specific technician. 

"Our system is designed to let the crew work at their own pace," says Bob. "They work on a commission basis, and what each accomplishes in a day is that employee's choice. How much they make is determined by the number of jobs they perform. 

"Invoices are turned in daily, and pay is based on a percentage. One change we made was to make that percentage higher. We have invoices turned in with 10 or more jobs listed. Another might have fewer jobs. The important thing is to establish a good relationship with the customers, and our people work at that." 

The customer base

Just as important to Bob is the relationship with other contractors. Over the years, local mechanical contractors and plumbers knew they could count on Elliott's to take jobs on referral. Then there are the general contractors who have relied on Elliott's for jetting, line locating, and video camera inspection. Bob has stepped up to the plate with even more services than before. 

His advertising consists of two small directory ads. "We don't need something big because our reputation stands for everything," says Bob. "Word of mouth plays a big part."

The company serves a variety of customers, including restaurants, apartment complexes, mobile home parks, casinos, bars, golf courses, and hospitals. Residential customers accounts for 40 percent of the business. 

Video inspection and root detection has become an important service. Golf courses are among customers who have problems with root intrusion. "This work requires our RIDGID/Kollmann SeeSnake camera, a large Gorlitz rooter machine, and in severe cases our Sewer Equipment of America trailer jetter that runs at 4,000 psi and 18 gallons per minute," says Bob. 

At the gold mines, Elliott's clears buildup inside tailings pipelines. To remove hardened debris, technicians first use a cable to break it up, then clean it out with a jetter. The lines range from 500 feet up to 1,500 feet long. 

Casino work generally involves removal of grease, soap, detergents and beverage syrup in the lines. On a project at a major hotel/casino undergoing room remodeling, Elliott's cleaned the tub, toilet and basin drains in the finished rooms. "In one day we did 28 rooms, and another we did 55 rooms," says Bob. 

While the hotel/casinos often have their own equipment and staff, many prefer to bring in a contractor for drain cleaning so that in-house personnel can focus on other matters. "We have established good working relationships with the hotel/casino engineers," says Bob. "They know all our employees on a first name basis." 

Equipment on the go

The Elliott's fleet includes 12 service vans. Two are Ford 3/4-ton vehicles that do the jetting. They transport the propane-fueled hydrojetter, the smoking equipment, and line locating and camera equipment. The balance are Chevrolet Astro vans, each carrying Gorlitz drain machines and commode augers for small jobs. The vans have electric ramps so that the technicians can avoid most heavy lifting. A propane (hot- and cold-water) hydojetter by Gorlitz has been an asset in serving restaurants and casinos. Because it does not emit carbon monoxide, it can be used safely indoors. 

Bob asks the technicians to drive their vans home after work for practical reasons. First, there is insufficient parking space at the home base. Second, when a technician is called out on an off-hours emergency, the van is there and ready to go. Third, technicians take more ownership of the vehicles and treat them with respect. 

Finally, the vans, with the company name displayed prominently, serve as rolling billboards. A visible name tied to a solid reputation, provides just one more component in the success story that is Elliott's Sewer & Drain.

SIDEBAR: Working With Others

While Bob Kirk has expanded Elliott's Sewer & Drain Cleaning Service, he has not ventured into other plumbing fields. 

"We do no repairs of any type," says Bob. "That is not our area of expertise. We have our reputation with the plumbing industry. They have us come in to use the video camera and identify the problem, locate the problem and let them know exactly where and how deep the problem is. They can then do the repair. 

"We try not to recommend specific plumbers if we find a problem, as we try to stay neutral. If someone is having a problem with a line they know, they can call us, and we'll tell them what we've found – then suggest they get a plumber." 

Local plumbers know Elliott's can handle difficult jobs. Recently a plumbing company called them to check out a seven-year-old casino where the pit pumps were stopped up. The pumps would kick on and then back up in the loading dock area. The health department was about to shut the place down. Making things worse, building drawings were not accurate, and no one knew where the lines were located. 

"What we did first was use our rooting machine and hydro jetter," says Bob. "After several hours, all drains were flowing freely. We then ran the VHS tape and located all the sewer lines, putting tape on the floor or carpet so there would be a record as to where all the lines were. This took an additional six hours." 

The most unusual job for Elliott's was when a customer called from the Virgin Islands. John Butler, one of the stalwarts for Elliott's, went over to do some work for a major hotel that was having drain problems but could not get any help locally. Generally, Elliot's prefers to stay in Southern Nevada.


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