Los Angeles Drain Cleaner Ready to Serve and Expand

Koko Drains has earned a reputation for good service, with a work ethic that can only lead to growth.

Los Angeles Drain Cleaner Ready to Serve and Expand

Chiranian, left, operates the US Jetters 4018 to clean out a drain, while using a RIDGID SeeSnake CS12X and Mini Reel to see what is happening during a residential call in Pasadena, California. David Fox (right) assists.

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All right, world. Koko is at your service.

For a small Los Angeles plumbing and drain cleaning company to use such a slogan might seem a bit over the top; but it reflects both the ambition and the work ethic of the man who started Koko Drains.

Krikor Chiranian is realistic. He knows what he’s doing and where he’s headed. The son of a plumber and veteran of 17 years in the industry, Chiranian — everyone calls him Koko — has exhibited vision and a sense of purpose from the beginning of his working life.

Helping his father as a teenager on a summertime plumbing call, he met Ole Bugarin on the job site. Bugarin was a drain cleaner and that day unclogged a line by inserting a snake through a clean-out. Chiranian watched and was immediately drawn to the work.

“Right then I knew,” he recalls. “I knew I wanted to clean drains instead of plumbing. I told Ole, ‘I may want to get a job. Are you hiring?’ He said that as a matter of fact, he had just started his company and was looking for help.”

Chiranian worked at Bugarin’s American Rooter for nearly 10 years and set his sights on eventually serving the world.

BUILDING A FOUNDATION

Chiranian became adept at unclogging sewer and drainpipes, priding himself on overcoming whatever blockage he discovered. He was satisfied with his position at American Rooter right up until the day he had a conversation with A.J., a childhood friend. “Is this all you’re going to do the rest of your life? You just want to work for a company cleaning drains?”

His friend touched a nerve Chiranian didn’t even know he had. “That conversation opened my mind,” he says. He began to dive into self-development literature, including such classics as The Laws of Subtraction, The Science of Success and The Secret of the Ages: A Master Code to Abundance and Achievement.

“Growing up, I had a rough childhood,” he says. “I got these books and I read them over and over and over. Repetition burns it in the mind.” From them, he learned to think big and to lay a foundation of rules and habits to build upon, including always giving your best effort.

“You should take pride in everything you do. People always are looking at you. I tell myself; God is watching so I should always do the best I can. You never know who else is watching, too.”

In 2013, Koko Drains opened its doors. Chiranian was still studying for his C36 plumbing license, so his work mostly was drain cleaning using mechanical snakes. He had a ready customer base because of his time with American Rooter.

“While working with Ole, I was making a reputation for myself,” he says. “Customers got to know me and the kind of work I did and after eight or nine years they started asking me why I didn’t start my own business. I was kind of forced to start my business.”

Once licensed, he added household plumbing — toilets, sinks, sump pumps — to his repertoire. When a clogged line was especially resistant to mechanical snaking or needed a thorough cleaning, Chiranian subcontracted the needed jetting work. However, jetting was in so much demand, he soon invested in a U.S. Jetting unit and now does the work in-house.

COMMITTED TO GROW

He’s gone from being a one-man outfit to splitting work between him and three other technicians. David Fox came to Koko Drains as an experienced hand, having worked for five years for an LA franchise, Mike Diamond Plumbing & Drain Cleaning. His other technician, Stefano Assenza, was a drain cleaning rookie. His newest technician, Alex Huerta, started in early 2022 and is in the process of being trained.

In the office, the company has also recently hired a second secretary, Carol Lopez, to help Chiranian’s wife.

Chiranian’s training of Assenza was hands-on — having the new employee ride along with the boss for six months. The first month, Assenza watched. Then he was given the opportunity to undertake one task or another under Chiranian’s supervision.

“Finally, when I could see that Stefano could do a job and was comfortable taking on new jobs, I gave him a truck and sent him on his way,” he says. “They are both young guys and always are happy to come to work. I get a lot of compliments about them.”

The trio go on service calls in plain gray trucks that are unmarked by logos or the name Koko Drains. Chiranian does this in deference to plumbers who have called him to clear a drain for one of their customers. “I like to be loyal to the plumbers who give me work. If I come in with a truck with my name on it to help a plumber and the next time the customer calls me directly, it’s sort of stepping on the plumber’s toes.”

In fact, Koko Drains at this stage is a little-advertised company. No logos on trucks, no ads in the paper or on social media, just some posts on an Instagram account. “We have a Facebook page and a website but there’s not much evidence anyone looks at them. It’s mostly word of mouth and referrals.”

That marketing plan will change, though, Chiranian says. “Because we work for so many plumbing contractors, it sort of prevents me from advertising. But I told my wife when the day comes that plumbers don’t need me, I’ll start advertising more.” That day may not be far off: He already has noticed a decline in calls from plumbers as more of them get into drain cleaning.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

The business continues to evolve. Because Chiranian repairs and replaces failed sewer and drainpipes, he opted to acquire a TRIC Tools X30 pipe bursting system. The X30 has almost 30 tons of pulling force and an 8 gpm hydraulic flow rate. It readily accomplishes the company’s bursting and replacing of 4-inch and 6-inch laterals.

His longest bursting job so far replaced 80 feet of 4-inch pipe. “We don’t burst pipe that frequently,” Chiranian says, and that’s partly by design. “I don’t try to sell the pipe bursting as much right now because whenever I do a job, I have to empty my work van of other tools and fill it up with bursting equipment. I’m getting a new box truck I ordered in August and I’m going to turn that into my trenchless truck.”

Koko Drains fixes short sections of failed pipe using an APS Versa-Patch product that inserts a resin-sided liner where a pipe is broken and inflates it with a bladder until the liner affixes itself to the pipe. Chiranian currently subs out longer lining work, but by the end of the year, he plans to invest in a cured-in-place lining system.

He jets pipe with a US Jetting 4018 model, which produces 4,000 psi and pushes out 18 gpm. His choice of jetters reflects his commitment to growth and best service. “People at several companies told me to get a small cart jetter, but a lot of jobs a cart jetter can’t do. The 4018 can work on pipe up to 24 inches in diameter. I decided I would invest a little more upfront and get the best machine so I can be confident going into every job that I’ll be able to clear the pipe.”

He relies on a couple of jetter heads — a bullet nozzle and ball nozzle — along with a warthog nozzle to break through grease jams. He runs his inspection camera simultaneously with the nozzles to ensure a pipe is thoroughly cleaned. Because he guarantees his cleaning work, the camera is instrumental in warrantying the work.

His cameras of choice are RIDGID SeeSnake mini reels, his newest units boast a high dynamic range that lets him see 4 feet ahead instead of 1 foot. They also incorporate tilt technology for changes of elevation in a line. Besides cleaning, the cameras are used for real estate transaction inspections. At least once a day, Koko Drains receives calls from LA-area real estate agents.

For mechanical pipe cleaning, Chiranian pulls out Gorlitz Sewer & Drain cable equipment. His Gorlitz GO 68HD features 150 feet of 11/16-inch cable powered by a 3/4 hp reversible motor. “It’s a very powerful machine. It does not stop. It is not made for an amateur drain cleaner.”

He doesn’t own a mini-excavator or other powered digger. Because most lines are laid pretty shallow in Southern California properties, “we do all our digging by hand. The only time you need an excavator is when you are digging in the street and I’m not licensed for street-digging.”

GROWTH MINDSET

Half to three-quarters of his drain and sewer work is for residential customers. He’s called frequently by commercial clients — fast-food restaurants and property management companies — and he is open to more commercial work. Recently, Chiranian completed a job under a 30-unit condo building, replacing 40 feet of 4-inch sewer line.

Repair and replacement of pipes is where Koko Drains can make the most money, he says. Yet drain cleaning keeps the company busy and requires less overhead. Some pipe in the Los Angeles area dates back 100 years, so there’s plenty of potential work for the company. Aging pipe and tree roots keep him busy, too. Chinese elm and oak trees, among other varieties, are “tearing the pipes apart,” Chiranian says.

When he started his company, he did the books along with everything else. His wife — then his girlfriend — worked for a tax firm. She didn’t especially enjoy the overall environment of the work — liens on property, tax payments and so on.

“So I asked her to come work for me and she did. It was the best decision we ever made and now I can focus on the work and on growing the company.”

Chiranian looks back to the beginning of his drain cleaning career and gives his first boss lots of credit. “Ole Bugarin was an honest man and taught me everything he knew. He was the hard job specialist. When others couldn’t clear a line, he would. I learned that from working under him.”

He has plans. He formed his company under the corporate banner of Right-a-Way Rooter — “When customers call, I tell them we’ll have someone there right away” — but operates for now as Koko Drains. If the company expands and franchises, as Chiranian plans for it to do, he will pivot to the Right-a-Way name.

“A major goal of mine is to have an office in every state, and maybe one day be a worldwide company. That’s the kind of growth mindset we have. Whether it happens, we’ll see. I just know that if you shoot for the stars, you might be able to grab the moon.” 



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