3 Secrets to Success from Big-League Drain Cleaners

Get out a pencil and paper. Here’s some advice from fellow drain cleaners who've been in your shoes.
3 Secrets to Success from Big-League Drain Cleaners
Bill Smith, owner of Lincoln Sewer & Drain based in Mishawaka, Ind., says having the best equipment helped his company establish a loyal customer base.

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We’ve featured many of you on the pages — and covers — of Cleaner since it first hit your doorsteps 29 years ago. You’ve provided helpful product suggestions, business-building tips and offered words of wisdom for those just starting in the drain cleaning industry. 

In an effort to continue recognizing your underappreciated — and often overlooked — hard work in the drain and sewer cleaning sector, we’ve compiled some advice to help you remain successful. 

1. Be a people person

In an age where fewer people want face-to-face meetings, and many customers prefer emails and text messages, it can be difficult to build long-term, meaningful relationships with clients. But try you must because people are the lifeblood of your business — and that includes those on your payroll. 

“Your job is to create relationships,” says Kim K. Lewis, chairman and CEO of LiquiForce Services in Kingsville, Ontario. “Customers buy you, not just the services you’re selling.

“If you have the right people, you will have the technology. Surround yourself with the best people you can afford in all areas of your business, including advisors. Remember, you are only as strong as your weakest link.” 

And remember, educating customers can score high marks. Knowledgeable clients understand the complexity of your work, which means they are willing to pay more for your services. 

Dan King, co-owner of Mr. Rooter of Tri-Cities in Benton City, Wash., requires his technicians to follow a rigorous 14-step service model to ensure customers are happy and understand the work to be completed. 

“The longer we spend with a customer before we talk about price, the less important price becomes because we are giving them value along the way and helping them realize we are concerned about their property and their issues,” King says. “The highest priority is to take care of the customer, which includes making them feel comfortable having a stranger work in their home.” 

Bob Kirk, owner of Elliott’s Sewer & Drain located outside of Las Vegas, advises those new to the industry to stick to their guns. “Hang in there,” he says. “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.” 

2. Love what you do

When you dread coming into work, it shows. Before you enter the drain cleaning industry, be sure you can dedicate the time and energy necessary to be successful. 

“Make certain you are getting into something you love,” Lewis says. “You will be married to the business so be sure it is where you want to be. 

“It’s just common sense to ensure you are in a business you enjoy.”

Samantha Hawes, owner of Environmental Pipe Cleaning in Richmond, Va., understands the full-time commitment — and positive attitude — a drain cleaning operation requires. After earning a master plumbing certification, she took over the business from her father almost 25 years ago. 

“You have to love what you do in order to succeed,” Hawes says. “If not, you won’t prosper no matter what you do. We’ve shared this philosophy with our employees, and it shows. 

“We can’t be at every job and our employees take pride in what they do and make it happen for us. They share our mindset in how this business should be done and giving our clients the level of service that they’ve come to expect from our firm. It hasn’t always been easy, but the right attitude and perspective has seen us through and we’re confident it always will.” 

For Frank King of Action King Services in Lowell, Mass., going out of his way to treat customers fair is one of his favorite aspects of the job, and it pays off big in terms of retention. 

“We project as a small, family-oriented business in the community, and we go after employees who value that,” King says. “We treat our employees like family. I bring in doughnuts at least once a week, and our employees bring in treats for everyone quite often. We care for each other, and each other’s families. It’s a great work environment. 

3. To be the best, you have to use the best

For your business to flourish, you need to show up to jobs with clean, reliable equipment. Breakdowns and mishaps make you seem unprofessional and they prevent customers from referring you to friends and family. What would you think if you took your truck to a garage to get new tires only to have the tires fall off as your drove off the lot? I doubt you would refer that garage to anyone. 

Bill Smith, owner of Lincoln Sewer & Drain based in Mishawaka, Ind., says having the best equipment helped his company establish a loyal customer base. 

“I just think of all the trouble I will have a few years down the road if I don’t buy the very best,” Smith says. “I can see trying to save money, and then later kicking myself because I was stupid. 

“The best resolution when you are deciding to make an investment is to talk to other people who are doing the work. People like to talk. Most people will tell you the truth about something like this.” 

He also recommends doing some legwork to pinpoint the specific equipment you need to get jobs done quickly and efficiently. “You need someone who is not just trying to make a sale, but will tell you what is the best way to go about doing a specific type of work,” he says. “Before I bought my first machine, I researched all the distributors to find the person I wanted to work with. 

“A good distributor will know about the companies he is representing. If there is a problem, if you are unhappy about something, you can let the distributor know, and they will get the information to the manufacturer. They all want to keep you happy.” 

When Smith added CIPP lining, he talked for three years with Nu Flow Technologies Inc., before buying that system. He recently added a dual tank trailer jetter (18-gpm/4,000-psi) from Harben Inc., with two 300-gallon water tanks. The company’s three standard color inspection cameras are SeeSnake units by RIDGID.

Another bonus? Reliable equipment helps you deliver the best service, which can lead to word-of-mouth referrals. “Always deliver what you promise because if you do, people will trust you and call you back,” Hawes says. “If you don’t deliver, clients lose all confidence in you and will take their business elsewhere. This was strong advice and something that has always stuck with me.”


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