Drain Cleaners Build a Full-Service Firm

Former Military men fight the war on roots and other plumbing problems in the Twin Cities
Drain Cleaners Build a Full-Service Firm
Virginia Moe (Justin’s mother) with Justin and Amy. Justin is holding a photo of his dad in Vietnam.

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Since opening the doors of his drain cleaning business in 2000, Justin Moe has experienced double-digit growth, despite the worst recession in his lifetime, and the death of his father and business partner, Wayne Moe, in 2009.

All Ways Drains in St. Paul, Minn., came about when the father-and-son duo put together their many years of experience independently running separate maintenance operations, as well as their service in the U.S. Army. Justin Moe idolized his father, and wanted the joint venture to ensure his father would have a comfortable lifestyle in his later years. Wayne Moe was an integral part and advisor to the business, and Justin was devastated at the thought of losing his father when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

While their initial customer base was the real estate management companies they had previously dealt with, they’ve also tapped into the residential and commercial market, and have since expanded beyond drain cleaning to offer CCTV and jetting.

They recently added septic pumping capabilities to satisfy their commercial accounts, and have brought in a master plumber to facilitate expansion in that direction as well.

Take aim

In the beginning, this 24/7 operation advertised heavily in multifamily housing industry publications, and established a strong presence at trade shows, often as an exhibitor.

“You have to put some money into it,” Moe says. “We attended and exhibited as frequently as possible, as well as making personal calls to acquire new customers. In the beginning, all our clients were in multifamily housing.”

Community involvement has put the company in the forefront. They have been cosponsors for the past two years with the Community Association Institute annual golf tournament. They also are cosponsors for the Holes for Heroes Ice Fishing Tournament, honoring the armed forces. Participants include families of military serving past and present.

Moe says 50 percent of their current business is in multifamily housing, while residential has grown to 25 percent with the balance in commercial. They will target the municipal market next.

With a diverse clientele, they contend with a variety of situations and conditions. High-rise apartment and condominium buildings will run from five to 30 stories. These buildings were constructed from the 1960s into the beginning of the 21st century. On rare occasions, the company is required to work from the roofs of these large buildings to clear drains, but most often they are in the individual units dealing with clogged pipes or similar situations.

Their cameras and jetter will more typically come into play when dealing with the laterals going to the mainline, or in the garages where they have overhead drainlines.

Moe says the biggest challenge with these clients is the sheer number and sizes they deal with in large complexes.

Root infestations in sewer lines are a common situation, and the company combats the problem with standard cables as well as high pressure waterjetting. Once they’ve removed the obstructions, they always send in a camera to ensure the lines are truly clean.

Moe says that if he could go back and do one thing differently from the start, it would be adding cameras sooner.

“We recently had a call when a customer had a blockage,” he says. “Our technician went out and was attempting to cable the line, but hit a dead end. He put the Pearpoint camera in and found that a fiber-optic cable had been horizontally bored through the sewer line. The camera picked that up, showing the obstruction clearly. Using our locator, we were able to inform the company that put in the cable exactly where the problem was, and how deep. They came in, dug it up and replaced the damaged pipe. That company was so happy we could give them this information.

“Cameras give you the ability to know you did a good job – that you actually cleaned the pipe. You find defects in the pipe. This helps with warranty issues. Using the camera is included in the call. We don’t have a tech trying to sell the use of the camera. If someone does not want us to use the camera, we won’t. But it is not an added cost.

“Our jetter is a service with an additional charge,” Moe continues. “This is a more effective way to clean the pipe, to get rid of sludge or grease or sand and also roots. The cable doesn’t always do the job, but the jetter will clean it out.”

Moe adds that their jetter goes out on a daily basis, and they are in the process of adding another unit. All technicians are trained to use the cameras and the jetter, both of which have become essential tools in their arsenal.

At the office, Moe’s wife Amy and employee Jane Pemberton handle incoming calls and are trained to ask the proper questions as to what the problem might be. Moe uses this information to determine what equipment might be needed and what technician can best handle a problem. They don’t want to send the jetter if not appropriate, or fail to include the tools that might be required.

Troops and tools

Moe says it is not difficult to find technicians in their area, and he can generally find a suitable candidate after just three or four interviews. All technicians are made fully aware of safety issues involving the use of power tools and high-pressure water.

All Ways relies on Pearpoint lateral line cameras and RIDGID mini cameras for smaller lines. They also use a RIDGID locator. The Spartan Tool 758 (3,000 psi/12 gpm) high-pressure jetter sits on a skid inside a 2004 Chevrolet extended van.

Moe says their next jetter will also be a Spartan, but with more power so they can clean bigger pipe and pursue municipal work.

There are nine service vehicles, all Chevrolet cargo vans, from 1997 to 2006. A 2003 Ford F-350 with a custom-made trailer-mounted pumper unit with a jetter was recently added to the fleet. This has an 800-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater tank, and the Honda pump provides 4,000 psi/8 gpm. The septic truck was built by JTC Sales Inc. out of Wisconsin. The added capability will benefit the company’s commercial accounts that require septic and grease trap pumping.

At this time All Ways Drains does not offer relining or pipe bursting, and will bring in a sub-contractor to replace pipe when required. The pipes they see are often not good candidates for some rehabilitation technologies because they are so damaged and misaligned.

“We’ve actually invested over $100,000 in new equipment in the past few months,” Moe says. “But the most important tool in the box is the technician. Beyond that, it would be the cameras and the jetters.”

Moe says when buying equipment, he gives serious consideration to the services offered by manufacturers, such as availability of parts, particularly for electronics.

Surge sequence

With high-rise and multifamily housing, preventive maintenance is encouraged, and Moe estimates around 50 percent of that client base will have such a program, while others call them in on an as needed basis.

Contracts usually include waterjetting the overhead drain lines in garages, garage floor drains, lateral sewer lines and the kitchen vertical drain stacks.

Customer service and customer relations rank high with all their clients, and there are generally follow-up conversations at the site, or phone calls after a job, as well as emails to ensure satisfaction. Moe believes this, along with their professional attention and courtesy on the site, has been a big contributor to the company’s success.

“Rule number one from the beginning, when it was just my father and me with our two service vans, has been we always carry our business cards,” Moe says. “Everyone, including all crew members and office staff, are encouraged to always have business cards.

“I believe business is all about relationships. That is part of rule number one.”

With plumbing added to the menu in 2013, a substantial investment in fixtures and tools was required, and several of the current technicians will eventually train as plumbers. Moe plans to hire other plumbers and expand the crew.

“This step has allowed us to become a full-service firm, something we believe will further enhance the company and the services our customers are looking for,” Moe says.

While the company now operates in a rented space with 1,000 square feet of warehouse and 400 square feet of office space, they are looking for a location that will better accommodate their growth, which has been substantial from the beginning.

“My main consideration and concern is with the customer," Moe says. "Making sure they are being cared for properly, and also my employees. We have always been a family oriented company. These are the issues that are at the forefront when I start out each morning, but they actually stay with me throughout the day.”



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