Plumbing Contractor Fully Embraces Trenchless Technologies

Texas’ Midway Plumbing was already well established with various trenchless pipe replacement methods when it was last profiled in Cleaner magazine, and now the company is committed to the trenchless approach even more

Plumbing Contractor Fully Embraces Trenchless Technologies

Zach Sims of Midway Plumbing shoots Nu Flow epoxy while relining a copper water pipe that had a slab leak.

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When Midway Plumbing, based in Abilene, Texas, was featured in the October 2010 issue of Cleaner magazine, owner David Ratliff said the then-quarter-century-old business had lasted by “doing new things and using new technologies” as stepping stones to further innovation.

That philosophy continues today. At age 56, Ratliff may be a little closer to leaving the business he started at 21, but staying on top of new technologies remains key for Midway Plumbing. Case in point, the company is even more focused on the methods of trenchless pipe replacement it was already heavily adopting in 2010.

“The technology we added to the company in the early 2000s has really helped us take off and grow,” Ratliff says. “We’ve marketed ourselves so well that we’re now the go-to people for any of the technology involved in lining water and drain lines, and that alone has driven sales tremendously.

“There’s been an evolution in equipment and processes that make things go better, faster, and quicker than before. We started out doing pipe bursting, then went to CIPP lining. Both have evolved over the years to a norm of everything trenchless — sewer lines, waterlines, gas lines. We used to own a backhoe with a full-time operator to do the digging. Neither of them is here today.”

Midway Plumbing was last featured in the magazine in 2010.
Midway Plumbing was last featured in the magazine in 2010.

Ratliff started Midway Plumbing in 1983 with an emphasis on new construction plumbing. He purchased drain cleaning equipment as a protective measure when the housing market declined. Then, when housing rebounded, Ratliff and his crew went back to the company’s origins while still keeping the service business active and expanding from drain cleaning to a variety of residential plumbing repairs. The decision to abandon construction entirely in favor of service work came in 1998, and with the many calls for sewer lateral replacements came the beginnings of adopting trenchless techniques.

“It made jobs go faster with higher margins. Instead of taking more than a day to do a sewer line replacement, we’d finish a job in less than a day. Pipe bursting opened the door into the trenchless business and a move into CIPP lining technology.”

At the time, Ratliff figured he had “unrolled (his) last set of blueprints,” but in recent years he’s ventured back into the new construction arena somewhat by taking on total bathroom remodels.

“My general manager now manages the plumbing side of the business and that has freed me up a bit to do some other things like remodels where we’re able to sell high-end fixtures,” Ratliff says, noting he has performed remodels up to $150,000, bathrooms with heated floors, steam baths, soaking tubs, custom cabinets and all-digital plumbing fixtures.  

“Nowadays everything is moving toward digital. I can go into a shower and make it fancy with things like ‘His’ and ‘Her’ or ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’ option buttons or quad sound and televisions. It’s insane what we put in these things today, unbelievable even to me — and I’m the one who installs them.”

RIDGID locating and inspection equipment remain staples of Midway's toolbox.
RIDGID locating and inspection equipment remain staples of Midway's toolbox.

Ratliff says he is comfortable taking on such projects and leaving the service work largely to his staff because of the amount of experience Midway Plumbing has been able to retain. The company has a personnel roster of 18, up five employees from where it was at in 2010, and many of those are longtime employees. Three people run the office with nine licensed plumbers in the field assisted by apprentices and warehouse support.

“We’ve got the same people on board that were with us when we were interviewed in 2010,” Ratliff says. “Some of my senior techs have been with me for 20 years or more, almost unheard of in the trade. And the new  techs we’ve added, we’ve grown ourselves rather than taking someone trained in some of the bad habits that dirty up the industry.

“I teach our service techs the skills aspect of the business. I can teach anybody the technical craft. What’s different with us is I teach them customer service, how to respect a customer’s home and their time. Everything they do is a presentation of professionalism, that’s why we wear uniform shirts rather than T-shirts. And no dirty trucks, they’re all kept clean because it all comes into play — how you present yourself at the front door.”

With 83 percent of revenue coming from existing customers in a base market of about 150,000 residents, Midway Plumbing offers a preferred client discount to those repeat customers — good for $40 off on services on the slower days of the week.

“Our older-generation, value-oriented customers figure they can put up with a leaky faucet for another day in order to save some cash,” Ratliff says.

Midway Plumbing continues its RIDGID brand loyalty with all sewer machines and cameras carrying that logo.

“We use a K-60 on our drain cleaning machines for 2-inch to 4-inch drains and we use RIDGID locating and inspection tools like their SeeSnake cameras for all diagnostics. They may cost a bit more, but they hold up well. And if you get on a job and can’t camera it, where’s the benefit of that? You lose time and waste manpower,” Ratliff says.

While clogged drains and runny toilets represent the majority of service calls these days, Ratliff says, “we’re also getting more requests involving water units because of today’s water quality and the fact that consumers are wanting to filter and soften it after it’s been made potable. Where we are, everyone uses lake water that gets contaminated by runoff containing chemicals. There’s a whole lot more water heater and copper pipe failures today than in the past because that water is just volatile.”

It’s a trend Ratliff anticipated, as the installation of whole-building and point-of-use water filtration equipment was something Midway Plumbing was just beginning to launch when it was profiled nearly a decade ago.

Though he’s approaching four decades of operating Midway Plumbing, Ratliff says he has no immediate plans to begin preparing for retirement.

“I’ve had several people make runs at buying me, with me staying on the payroll, but I’m not so sure I’d make a good employee. I have a 10-year exit plan, but something will probably have to change in my life to make me want to quit this — a great job surrounded by great people. The decision I made to get into this business was the right one.”

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

Recruiting Local Talent at Core of Company’s Growth Strategy



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