Plumbers Take On Pumping

Business savvy and spectacular customer service help California plumbing contractor expand into septic pumping.
Plumbers Take On Pumping
Kurt Bohmer’s Professional Plumbing & Drain Service brought one-stop shopping convenience to his Southern California customers by adding septic pumping. Bohmer is shown at the company yard with a 2014 Peterbilt truck from Flowmark carrying an Amthor International Tank and Masport pump. (Photography by Collin Chappelle)

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As a stickler for providing great customer service with a personal touch, Kurt Bohmer won’t abide not getting the same treatment in return. That explains why his company, Kurt Bohmer’s Professional Plumbing & Drain Service Inc., also pumps out septic tanks in and around Los Angeles County, California. 

Established in 1984, Bohmer’s company has always focused on emergency plumbing repairs and septic system installations. But tired of and frustrated with pumping companies that showed up late to empty tanks before system replacement work, he expanded into septic pumping in the mid-1990s. 

“I told them they were forcing me to get into the business because too many guys didn’t return phone calls, show up on time or take care of their customers,” Bohmer recalls. “So we went out and purchased our first septic truck. We wanted to do things differently … and better control our installation schedules, too. 

“We were profitable from the start, running our truck nonstop,” he adds. “We bought a second pump truck within a year … I wish I would’ve gotten into the pumping business when I started out, rather than waiting 10 years.” 

Clearly, Bohmer knows a business opportunity when he sees it. And a willingness to seize those opportunities — combined with a strong emphasis on customer service and employee development — explains why his Santa Clarita-based company is a multi-million-dollar-a-year outfit. The firm employs 25 people and owns approximately $2 million in vehicles and equipment. About 60 percent of the company’s gross revenue comes from emergency plumbing repairs, and the rest from septic system installation and service. 

“You have to pull your head out of the dirt and look around,” he says, referring to the importance of taking calculated risks to add new business. “Otherwise you miss chances to get new customers, learn about new [productivity-enhancing] technologies and find new ways to do things more efficiently.”

 

Starts With the Customer

From employee hiring and training practices to equipment purchases, Kurt Bohmer Plumbing is a customer-centric operation. As with many companies, new hires must pass a drug and background check. But after that, Bohmer — an Eagle Scout as a teen — parts ways with conventional wisdom and focuses more on personalities and manners than prior experience. 

“We can teach anybody to do the job,” he says. “But it’s the personalities that resonate with the customers. So we look for good personalities before we look for qualifications — what they know about the trade. We’re looking for someone who’s friendly, has a neat appearance, speaks well and is confident and ready to take care of customers, day or night. 

“I like to pose different questions, but my favorite is to ask [prospective employees] what is the worst plumbing or septic problem they ever ran into,” he adds. “I like to see how emotional they are when they answer … it gives you an idea of how much they care." 

A caring personality is critical to helping customers, who typically call when they’re facing a crisis. Bohmer wants customers to know his workers have a passion for helping people out of difficult situations. Then the customer feels “that much more confident that their problem will be fixed correctly,” he says.

 

On Top of Industry Trends

The company’s ongoing training practices also reflect the emphasis on customers. Plumbing technicians are cross-trained in basic septic system operations and septic pumpers are cross-trained in plumbing fundamentals. For instance, a plumber on a service call may notice wet spots in a customer’s yard, indicating a lurking drainfield issue. Moreover, this also leads to cross-promotion of services. 

Sometimes the training goes beyond just plumbing and pumping work, Bohmer says, pointing out that the company’s septic technicians are also certified to install gas lines. Why? “Sometimes when you install a septic system, you run into gas lines,” he says. “If everyone on a team is capable of doing more, customers benefit — and so does the company.” 

The company also keeps comprehensive data about customers in computer files. This helps technicians because the company’s service area includes a broad mix of homes on both septic and sewer systems, and knowing ahead of time which ones rely on septic systems or sewers helps technicians work more efficiently. 

To enhance training, Bohmer attends the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show and takes employees along to attend the education sessions. 

Bohmer calls the trade show the “Super Bowl of the pumping industry” and compares it to getting a college education in the span of a few days. “If people in this industry aren’t going to the [WWETT] show, they should be,” he says. “What we bring back is so beneficial … like jetting and [pipeline] camera classes, for instance. There’s always something you can be doing better, and the seminars give you great information.” 

Providing ongoing training is a morale booster in the shop, Bohmer says. Employees feel better about their jobs and are more apt to remain loyal to the job when they know their employer is investing in their future.

 

Equipment Corner

Bohmer is a firm believer in investing in equipment that boosts profitability through improved efficiency. The company’s service fleet includes a 2014 Peterbilt 348 supplied by Flowmark with a 3,600-gallon aluminum Amthor International tank and Masport pump; a 2007 Sterling with a 3,000-gallon aluminum tank built out by Tri State Tank (a division of Walker Group Holdings) and a Masport pump; and a 1997 Ford Louisville with a 2,800-gallon steel tank and Masport pump. 

The company also owns two trailer-mounted water jetters from US Jetting Inc.; four portable jetting units made by RIDGID, Electric Eel Mfg. and Gorlitz Sewer & Drain; four RIDGID color pipeline inspection camera systems; a backhoe manufactured by J. C. Bamford Excavators; a 2008 Chevrolet dump truck; a 36-foot equipment trailer from Zieman Manufacturing; three 2013 GMC 1-ton plumbing service trucks; three Chevrolet Silverado pickups; two Ford F-250 utility trucks; and two Isuzu utility trucks. For waterjetting, the company uses Warthog sewer nozzles made by StoneAge. 

“Someone’s always coming out with a better mousetrap,” Bohmer says. “Staying up to speed with new technology gives you an edge. We’re professionals providing a professional service. If you’re a brain surgeon, you want the best scalpels available. The same should be true for us. 

“We spend a lot of money to have the best equipment available,” he adds, “but we’re always ready to serve customers when we get a call. And the amount of money some of these machines bring in is unbelievable … the money we’ll make every month from our new 2014 pump truck is incredible compared to the payment on that truck.”

 

Keep on Growing

A second-generation plumber, Bohmer says his father, Bill, taught him volumes about how to treat customers right — and inspired him to someday run his own company. In fact, he still vividly remembers the night he graduated from high school, when he went out with his dad on a 3 a.m. service call. After the duo returned home at 7 a.m., Bohmer went to bed. 

“When I woke up, I found two $100 bills on my dresser,” he recalls. “At the time, I wanted to be a marine architect. But that got me started in the plumbing business. I thought it was great — felt like I hit the lottery.” 

Bohmer expects further growth for the company. 

“Every year for the first 10 years, we doubled our business,” he says. “We’re not doing that anymore, but we’re still growing. In fact, the last three years were our best ever. 

“We learn something new every day in the septic division,” he adds. “But it’s a constant work in progress … a learning process. We can always get better at what we do. And as long as we’re learning, we’re heading in the right direction.”



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