When Circumstances Call for Extra Fees

Between equipment, manpower and unusual circumstances, not all residential drain cleaning jobs are the same. Do your prices reflect the true cost of the services you provide?
When Circumstances Call for Extra Fees
A camera inspection can be used to show the customer if there are root problems, breaks in the line or other issues that might call for a jetter.

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Determining when to charge additional fees for drain cleaning services vary throughout the industry. Explaining extra charges to the customer presents an additional dimension to the discussion. Because of the high cost of acquiring and maintaining equipment such as cameras and jetters, and some of the unusual circumstances encountered by technicians in the field, there is a legitimate debate.

Benji Grimes, manager of Drain Surgeons in Arnold, Missouri, says that when a technician goes out for a cable call and finds more problems in the line, it would benefit the customer to have a camera inspection to determine the best solution. If money is tight, the customer can decide to wait or go ahead with the service at that time. Drain Surgeons charges $100 to camera the line or $175 for a return call. Since a camera is on every service van, it makes sense for the customer to save $75.

Grimes says having the camera on site helps reduce down time. The camera also can be used to show the customer if there are root problems, breaks in the line or other issues that might call for a jetter.

“Using the jetter is a two-man job in order to follow protocol for safety reasons,” Grimes says. “While a second technician picks up the jetter at the shop, the initial worker stays on the job completing his work.

“The jetter is a more expensive piece of equipment, plus the labor costs of two men. We charge portal to portal. The clock starts when he leaves the warehouse, goes to the house, and the drive time back. The jetter tells us if we need to go further to solve a problem.”

Drain Surgeons charges $275 an hour to use the jetter. Grimes points out the operating costs and the expense if a camera is damaged during the inspection.

“We talk to the customer and explain these additional fees are a part of the business.”

The attitude of the customer? “It just depends on the customer,” Grimes says. “Money is time. When there is a problem they will try to get the money together.”

Ronnie Meeks, owner of Meeks Plumbing of Vero Beach, Florida, says the only add-on charges they ask for would be for rodding a line back to the house. For this they charge $75.        

“Some people cook with a lot of grease and oil and this can create problems,” Meeks says. “This is when we would make the recommendation. The other thing that would bring an extra charge would be for an enzyme product we offer. We do recommend this as it will help keep the bacteria active.”

He says they do not try to sell anything extra, and if there’s no problem they will not recommend rodding the line. But they do tell the customer that the enzyme product will keep the drainpipe healthy.

“We live in a small community, a small-market area, and we have built a good business and reputation by being fair and honest with people,” Meeks says. “You have to let your actions speaker louder than anything else.”

For Charlie Hall, owner of Mr. Rooter of Southern Colorado, it depends on the job.

“Let’s say you have your guy on a call and it’s a crawl space and you might need two guys to get a machine into the crawl space. There should be a fee for unusual circumstances,” Hall says. “You would not want to double the rate … maybe a $50 upcharge for that. Or say a guy has to crawl through an area where he would need protective clothing — goggles. Unusual circumstances. That is how we do it here.

“I don’t like bait and switch. That is not my nature. So if it takes more people than normally, or requires protective clothing, I would consider an extra cost. I always say let the code of values be your guide: Treat others as you would want to be treated.”

Hall always puts himself in the shoes of his customers. He says if a technician calls to discuss a situation, Hall will ask about the circumstances.

“If it is a retired person on a fixed income, I just tell my guy to ‘deal with it.’ We like to give a break for the retired and also the military.”



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