Franchise Route Proves Successful for Upstate New York Drain Cleaner

Kathy and Duncan St. Croix were 11 years into a successful run as Drainman Jet-O-Rooter when they were featured in Cleaner magazine in 2009. Not long after, they joined the Mr. Rooter family, and the last decade has been filled with even more success.

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When first profiled in Cleaner magazine in 2009, Kathy and Duncan St. Croix’s Syracuse, New York, firm was known as Drainman Jet-O-Rooter. In 2018, though, the St. Croix family’s business is now Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse, part of the nationwide Mr. Rooter franchise. And going the franchise route is proving to be successful for the business, helping it survive the recession and laying the foundation for future growth.

“We were experiencing trouble growing the business,” Kathy says, explaining why they decided to sign on with Mr. Rooter. “After the 2008 stock market crash, we had challenges.”

Duncan says that the commercial work they had relied on to grow the business in their first decade ground to a halt in the wake of the recession, even though they continued to run a professional operation that earned — and has retained — a Better Business Bureau “A+” rating.

“It was like sailing without a compass,” Duncan says.

They officially became a Mr. Rooter franchisee in March 2010 and started to move beyond their previous business identity as Drainman Jet-O-Rooter.

“That was one of the best things we ever did,” Kathy says.

Mr. Rooter supported the firm with extensive training through its 14-step program — everything from enhanced customer service to how to properly read a profit and loss statement. The business training program gave the couple the tools to build their business into an organized, fine-tuned operation.

“We learned that we should ‘work on our business, not in our truck,’” Kathy says. “And we learned how to better watch our numbers and cash flow.”

Another step in the road to success: training managers to watch over the day-to-day operation, which frees up the couple to focus on the big picture. Kathy and Duncan’s oldest son, Nick, now 30, is one of the business’ managers. In 2009, Nick was responsible for upgrading the firm’s business technology. Today, in addition to other managerial duties, Kathy says, “Nick maintains the price book and payroll.” Nick’s wife Crystal also works for the company, as does Kathy and Duncan’s younger son, Tyler, 26, and a nephew.

Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse was last featured in the magazine in December 2009.
Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse was last featured in the magazine in December 2009.

Since being profiled in 2009, Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse has expanded from nine employees to 16 employees and a fleet of 10 trucks — six Fords, two Chevrolet Kodiaks and two cutaway cube vans. They also have a vacuum truck, backhoe and some dump trucks. They purchased two Easy Kleen Pressure Systems gas-powered jetters, which Duncan says are cheaper to own and run.

“They can fit in a van instead of a truck,” he says.

But they still also own their US Jetting 3010 models and the Harben P-series water jetter. And the company continues to offer both mechanical and chemical means to clear out the pesky roots that are prevalent in their heavily wooded upstate New York service area.

Plumbing and drain cleaning services are still at the heart of the St. Croix family’s business. As part of their growth plan, Duncan and Kathy recently invested in pipe bursting technology from HammerHead Trenchless.

“We’re doing more sewer replacements than ever before,” Duncan says. “Our business is now about 80 percent residential.”

That’s a large swing from 2009, when it was about 60 percent commercial. The change reflects the effects of the recession, plus Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse’s new emphasis on residential business. 

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2009 is that the firm keeps its technicians spread out within its service area, which stretches more than 60 miles north to south and more than 30 miles east to west.

“With a local guy in each area, we can get to our customers faster,” Kathy says. 

The firm also offers complimentary video inspections — a courtesy greatly appreciated by customers.

“People like to know what’s wrong with their sewers,” Kathy says. 

The cameras come in handy when dealing with aging or improperly installed septic systems. Bringing these oftentimes antiquated systems up to code isn’t just good business, though — it’s also improving the area’s watershed and drinking water supply.

“We’re in the Finger Lakes region,” Kathy says.

The area, which features 11 major lakes and several smaller lakes, is a popular fishing and recreational area. In recent years, the lakes have been plagued with algae blooms. The slimy, blue-green swaths are often fed by fertilizer or wastewater runoff, as well as stimulated by warmer summer temperatures. Several counties, including Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego counties, have enacted ordinances to deal with the situation. Regrading land to discharge water into holding tanks, repairing or replacing aging septic systems, and being alert to issues that require county intervention are how, as Kathy says, “we try to keep the lakes clean.”

The effect of all these changes since last being profiled in 2009 has been beneficial for Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse. “We’ve tripled our sales,” Kathy says. A new office is in the works, as well as the development of a succession plan. 

“We’re looking to retire about eight or nine years from now,” Kathy says. “The plan is for our sons to take the business over. It’s the only job they’ve had since age 12.”

But if the past 20 years of superior service is any indication, Mr. Rooter of Greater Syracuse will be in good hands, thanks to its founders’ careful planning.

Playing Catch-Up

Cleaner has been revisiting companies profiled in the past to see what has happened to them since they last graced the pages of the magazine. Check out these other update stories about past Cleaner contractors:

Company Looks at Fine-Tuning Operations Following Rapid Growth

Sticking to Key Business Principles Drives Company's Growth

Young Plumber Continues to Grow Longtime LA Firm

Company Doubles Revenue By Sticking to Its Customer Service Principles

Contractor Adapts to Changing Demands of Service Area

Company Maintains Success By Cutting Back Service Offerings

Company Finds Success Staying Small, Focusing on Niche Market


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