Plumber Finds a Better Way

Modified cargo trailer enables California plumber to operate more efficiently – and provides a power boost to boot.
Plumber Finds a Better Way
When Zach Peterson opened Sebastopol, California-based Exact Plumbing, he opted for a fully customized service trailer rather than a van. He says the trailer, which only cost him about $3,500, is far more efficient and flexible than a traditional service van.

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When Zach Peterson started Exact Plumbing in 2006 with a pickup truck and a 12-foot Haulmark cargo trailer, another plumber predicted he’d switch to a truck or a cargo van within a year.

Good thing that plumber doesn’t moonlight as a fortune-teller, because a decade later, Peterson and his Haulmark are still going strong. In fact, Peterson has modified the trailer to the point that it’s now his most valuable business partner — an eco-friendly power plant, rolling billboard, cargo carrier and productivity enhancer all rolled into one.

“Using a trailer is the best thing in the world for plumbers,” says Peterson, who’s based in Sebastopol, California, and primarily does residential service and remodeling work in Sonoma County, located north of San Francisco. “I can’t believe more plumbers don’t use them. They’re so efficient that I never once considered using a truck or van instead.”

While Peterson concedes that a trailer wouldn’t work well in urban environments where parking is at a premium, it works great for the market he serves. One advantage is the initial investment; the trailer cost him about $3,500, as opposed to tens of thousands of dollars for a new truck or van fully outfitted with storage systems.

Benefit No. 2: Peterson believes it’s inefficient and not very cost-effective to drive a box truck or van to smaller jobs, such as a faucet replacement. (For smaller jobs, he owns two electric-powered Chevrolet Volts that whisk him and his one employee, Jordan Loiseaux, to and from work sites.) “When I sell a big job, I schedule it, then come back with my trailer, which is fully equipped with materials and equipment,” he explains. “It’s just a different way of doing things.”

Moreover, the trailer — which he tows with a Ford F-250 long-bed pickup truck with a diesel engine — offers great flexibility. For instance, he and Loiseaux can tow the trailer to a job site, then one of them can unhitch it and drive the pickup to another job. “Without the extra weight, we get better mileage, too,” Peterson notes.

The trailer is surprisingly roomy inside, with 60 square feet of cargo space. Peterson built an interior storage system that features aluminum racks holding individual plastic bins that slide in and out of the rack. Each bin is labeled so Peterson can tell what parts are stored in which bins. He also carries two drain cleaning machines made by General Pipe Cleaners (a division of General Wire Spring Co.). The floor of the trailer is coated with Vortex spray-on bed liner to increase traction, and the roof holds a length of 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe mounted on brackets for carrying sections of copper pipe up to 18 feet in length.

But perhaps the most unique feature on the truck is a solar panel, located on the roof, that charges two 6-volt Interstate marine batteries. The system consists of a solar panel, purchased at an RV store; a converter that turns the solar energy into 12-volt power; the two batteries; and an inverter that converts the 12-volt power into 110-volt power.

“The solar power makes me completely self-sufficient,” Peterson explains. “It keeps all the batteries for my power tools fully charged and ready to go. And I can use that power to run everything from my snakes (drain machines) to wet vacs without having to use power from my customers’ houses, which they really appreciate. People in

Sonoma County are very forward-thinking and ‘green-oriented.’”

The solar power system also generates electricity to run lights inside the trailer and can even power a portable exterior spotlight for nighttime jobs. All the lights work even if the trailer isn’t connected to the truck. “It’s a huge time saver because I don’t have to worry about cords and finding power outlets to run things,” he says. “Self-sufficiency is always a good practice.”

Peterson estimates he’s invested an additional $8,500 in the trailer for other modifications, including converting it from a single-axle trailer to a tandem-axle unit more suited for heavy loads. He estimates the unit now has about a 1,000-pound cargo capacity. Moreover, the low trailer floor height makes it easy to load and unload equipment.

In addition, the trailer’s large exterior sides let it double as a rolling billboard, courtesy of lettering by FastSigns in Santa Rosa. Peterson opted for reflective letters that are visible at night. To further differentiate his company, he decided to paint the trailer black with red letters instead of the usual white truck/van commonly used by competitors in his area.

Peterson says it’s difficult to gauge how much the trailer impacts his profit margins through increased efficiencies and productivity. But with a total investment of about $12,000, there’s no doubt he’s further ahead than if he’d purchased a box truck or cargo van.

“It helps us work in the most efficient way possible,” he notes. “It’s basically priceless.”


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