3 Tips for Growing Your Drain Cleaning Business

Veteran drain cleaners discuss how they’ve met the inherent challenges of growing a successful operation.
3 Tips for Growing Your Drain Cleaning Business
“The stability of the drain side helped the pipeline side weather through some of the beginning storms,” says Duane Johnson, vice president of Affordable Pipeline Services. “Larger projects and larger income helped facilitate growth on the drain side, allowing us to buy more equipment, enhance services and add technicians.”

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The fear of growing your drain cleaning company too fast and not being able to keep up with the rigorous demands and increased expectations is a legitimate concern that any small-business owner eyeing expansion can relate to.

That’s a good thing. It means you are carefully weighing the options and are conscious of the challenges that lie ahead. That should not stop you from taking the next step, however, if you’ve already done the due diligence of considering all the pros and cons.

Maybe you want to grow your service area and will need to hire more technicians to cover the larger footprint. Perhaps you have looked into adding a new service or increasing your fleet in order to stay one up on the competition. After all, you have managed to build a good reputation and your phone is ringing off the hook. So what’s holding you back?

1. Stay within budget

First, you must ask yourself, “What’s the rush?”

“We saw what happens when companies grow too fast,” says Jason Franke, co-owner of A-1 Sewer and Drain in Rapid City, South Dakota. “We’ve seen too many businesses go under by expanding too fast — hiring too many employees at once or buying too much new equipment.”

But you really need that shiny, new custom-built vacuum truck to take you where you want to go as a business. Not so fast. Have you considered all your options? Knowing your bottom line and staying within the constraints of a conservative operating budget is not only a good business practice, but also helps to mitigate those risks that owners like Franke are concerned with.

“We always looked at what we owed on trucks and equipment and never took too large a leap,” he says. “If we wanted a new vac truck but could only afford a refurbished unit, we went with the refurbished truck. We never took too large a risk.”

2. Create stability (and be patient)

Just because you saw enough demand in your market to add a new service does not mean that this new service will suddenly take off. Being able to rely on an already established core service or a stable division within your company can help you get through some of those initial growing pains.

Duane Johnson joined Affordable Drain Service in 2000. He and owner Craig Post saw potential in adding a CCTV truck, so they created Affordable Pipeline Services as a separate entity to build on the emerging opportunities in the municipal market.

Post — who mortgaged his house to buy the company’s first CCTV truck so they could inspect and clean larger-diameter pipes — already had steady business in residential drain cleaning work throughout the San Diego area. The vision was to sustain the residential side of the business as a means to develop the new division, which required a substantial investment in equipment.

Although the two divisions have very different clientele, they complement each other in many ways.

“The drain cleaning side is a much more steady, constant flow of rather common work,” says Johnson, who now serves as vice president. “With pipeline you have an opportunity to bring in the bigger clients, bigger customers — it’s much more of a roller coaster.

“The stability of the drain side helped the pipeline side weather through some of the beginning storms,” he adds. “Larger projects and larger income helped facilitate growth on the drain side, allowing us to buy more equipment, enhance services and add technicians.”

3. Reinvest in the company

If you are fortunate enough to start bringing in additional revenue, be smart about what you do with it. Consider a little extra cash flow a reward for your hard work and a sign that your company is consistently meeting customers’ expectations. But an increase in profits also provides an opportunity to put money back into your growing business, develop or train employees, or give back to the community.

“Most companies distribute profits to the owners,” says David Sprecht, president of The Waterworks, one of the largest commercial and residential plumbing and drain cleaning companies in central Ohio. “We never take money out of the company. We reinvest in the company — in technology and manpower and marketing.

Sprecht says this approach is what has given the company the financial flexibility it needed to help them through the tough times, such as the recent recession.

“We don’t use lines of credit to expand a new facility or buy new equipment,” he says. “It enables us to be bold and grow the business and be a leader in the industry.”


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