Recruiting Local Talent at Core of Company’s Growth Strategy

Employee numbers have grown considerably since Iowa’s AccuJet Sewer and Drain Cleaning was last featured in Cleaner. The secret has been a focus on hiring fresh, local talent.

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Only one employee of Kyle Baxter’s current 16-plus roster for his drain cleaning company grew up outside its rural Midwest headquarters of Perry, Iowa. The rest are all homegrown locals.

It’s even more impressive considering that when Cleaner magazine last profiled AccuJet Sewer and Drain Cleaning in 2010, when the company was only 4 years old, it was a husband-and-wife shop with three employees. Now, the company consistently keeps a staff of 16 to 20.

In addition to the team that Baxter has built, he credits the assistance of a business coach, fine-tuning his service specialization, and focusing on core values as the reasons behind AccuJet’s success.

We have the best team with the best equipment, and we live by that every day,” Baxter says. “Our core values direct them on what they’re going to do every day and how they’re going to act — just really building that manpower and that team aspect.”

100 Cities by 2026

Growth was on Baxter’s mind at the time of the 2010 Cleaner profile. He’s accomplished a lot of that already, now working in about 60 different municipalities. But his ambitions go even further. Baxter’s long-term goal is to work in 100 cities by 2026.

“We have a steady growth rate of what we’re looking to add for new customers — basically planned out on how many we need to add each quarter, what our total is for the year. Right now I think it’s 12 new city maintenance contracts in a year. So basically one a month.”

Kyle Baxter (left) and AccuJet Sewer and Drain Cleaning were last featured in the magazine in May 2010.
Kyle Baxter (left) and AccuJet Sewer and Drain Cleaning were last featured in the magazine in May 2010.

Recruiting Locally

Baxter is proud to say he’s always been his own boss. He started AccuJet at age 22 without a college degree, and a goal of his is to show area kids that there are good opportunities in trade professions.

“I’m a large believer in trades. I did not go to college; I jumped in headfirst and never worked for anybody but myself, and so I try to really encourage these high school kids,” he says.

That philosophy plays into the way Baxter has built up his staff with an emphasis on local recruitment.

“We’ve got a lot of farm kids, a lot of hardworking kids, and we work closely with our high school, trying to pull kids out who don’t know what they want to do, where they want to go,” Baxter says. “We bring them in and start developing them and training them. I’ve never hired anybody who had experience, so we’ve had to teach everybody what we needed them to know.”

AccuJet has had about half a dozen summer internships, which have subsequently led to some promising new employees.

“We try to create interest in the construction world because our trade employment is struggling right now,” Baxter says. “With the way the market is, there’s just not enough people out there.”

AccuJet has tried many online job boards and services, as well as recruiting through social media, mostly without success.

“They’re not that great for what we do I feel,” Baxter says. “We hire more off of our core values than we do off of experience.”

To that end, not only does Baxter recruit locally, he also promotes training and leadership among his entire staff.

His secret weapon is a business coach who he has been working with for three years. They meet weekly and have an all-day meeting once a quarter. The coach is based out of Des Moines, Iowa, but is affiliated with the global organization ActionCOACH.

“It has really taken us from a husband-and-wife shop to more of, I wouldn’t say corporate, but an organized business,” Baxter says. “He does a lot of business development stuff with us, and organizing all across the business itself.”

One of the most important contributions of the business development coach has been running AccuJet’s regular leadership trainings.

“Leadership is huge to us. I try to train everybody to be leaders. Not just the management team. Every operator, every laborer, everybody goes to that leadership training, and it’s very, very important to me,” Baxter says. “I don’t look at our project managers any different than I look at our operators because they all have a place on the team.”

A Focus on Cleaning and Inspection

One seemingly counterintuitive approach that has propelled Baxter’s business is expansion by cutting back on services. While many companies seek growth via diversification, AccuJet decided to drop its pipeline rehabilitation services in order to focus only on cleaning and televising.

“We used to do everything: We used to do residential lining, pipe bursting; we used to do a whole array of stuff,” Baxter says. “We don’t do any rehab work anymore. We got rid of all of our lining stuff. We just saw that our focus needed to be clean and televise. So that’s what we’ve really directed ourselves to do is just clean and televise.” 

Lining prep, rather than lining itself, is what AccuJet has largely focused on, and the company has developed good working relationships with lining contractors. It keeps a lot of work still coming AccuJet’s way while not spreading the company’s employees too thin.

“We have a lot of great lining contractors in the area here who we work with. They do their part; we do our part,” Baxter says. “I don’t like stepping on my competitors’ toes. I like working with them. About 40 percent of our work is lining prep. Then 30 percent is city maintenance contracts. And the other 30 percent is new construction and miscellaneous: vacuum, hydroexcavation. We just kind of lump all that miscellaneous stuff together."

Thriving in the Midwest

From three employees to over 16, and from serving around 10 cities to upward of 60, Baxter and AccuJet have been on a steady growth trajectory since being featured in the May 2010 issue of Cleaner.

A key part has been the company’s employee recruitment abilities. At a time when trade industries across the country are struggling to recruit, AccuJet has found a wellspring of talent, not by broadening its net, but by narrowing the scope to its home base of Perry, Iowa.

Baxter says, “We can encourage high school kids more to look at all avenues and show them that they can make $40,000 to $60,000 a year without college by working in the construction industry, and what that gains them: They don’t have that college debt, and they’d have a career.”

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

Franchise Route Proves Successful for Upstate New York Drain Cleaner


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