Coupling Makes Quick Work of Waterline Break

California plumbing company builds trust with its commercial clients.
Coupling Makes Quick Work of Waterline Break
Members of the Sac Val Plumbing team with a company service vehicle equipped with a Knapheide body (from left) are Aaron Jones; Dmitry Chuguy; Will Hernandez; Dennis Martinez; Ian O’Keefe; Dennis Delight; Tabitha M.; Nick Kastanes, owner/general manager; Julie Kastanes; Alex Levtsenyuk, owner/field supervisor; Ruslan Gidenko, owner/project supervisor; Pam Handley; Richard Golladay, co-founder and owner; Sergey Slabosnitskiy; Ruslan Zavorotynskyy, owner/fleet supervisor; and Adam Eyster.

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When an underground waterline springs a leak, there’s no time to waste.

That’s especially important when over 90 percent of your business comes from serving property management companies and commercial accounts in the seven-city Greater Sacramento, California, area and its 1.44 million residents.

Such was the case for Sac Val Plumbing when an underground waterline feeding a multi-unit apartment complex stopped flowing. Locating the source of the break, Sac Val used a 2-inch Romac coupling to join a piece of brass repair pipe to the PVC supply line. Compared to glue, the mechanical coupling saved hours on the repair, greatly reducing service disruption to hundreds of residents.

“Trust is very important with this particular clientele,” says Nick Kastanes, co-founder and general manager for Sac Val.

“You have to complete the job, and do it right,” he says of the commercial clientele he serves. “You have to gain the trust of your customer. That is the big factor in dealing with property management firms. If they trust you, they give you the go-ahead. You have a green light to proceed. We have that before we go in because of our relationship.”

A growing market

Founded in 1991, Sac Val began offering basic plumbing services to residential customers in two communities, but after about four years Kastanes found a rapidly growing market in property management.

The company’s menu of services ranges from repair and replacement of household fixtures to water and sewer line replacement and repair, drain cleaning and sewer services, electronic leak detection, line locating, CCTV and hydrojetting.

Cameras are from RIDGID, Ratech Electronics and MyTana Mfg. A Mongoose trailer jetter delivers 3,000 psi and 15 gpm. Leak detection equipment is from Fisher Labs with locating equipment from Ratech Electronics and RIDGID.

Commercial clients include restaurants, retail stores, municipal buildings, clinics, supermarkets and office buildings that often call for more hands-free faucets and toilets than residential clients.

“Usually they’re special order,” Kastanes says of the “smart” fixtures. “They’re not stocked on the trucks, but are available on a same-day basis.”

Commercial plumbing is also seeing an increase in the use of PEX.

“Sacramento just changed where they are allowing plastic piping,” says Kastanes, who adds that the difference between residential and commercial plumbing is like day and night.

“With the residential customer there needs to be a great deal more communication. Even if you give a homeowner half-price, they will not always be sure they’re getting full value. We have a one-hour minimum, so if we do a job in 45 minutes, they question that. Depending on the person, it can be emotional.”

Commercial clients rely more on your reputation and past experience, he says.

“Again, the big factor is trust and reliability.”

To build that trust, Kastanes assigns more experienced journeyman plumbers to commercial accounts, but finding the perfect match isn’t always easy.

“I’ve been doing this for over 40 years and it can be very challenging,” he says of potential hires who possess both the experience and the proper attitude.

“A person will generally have one or the other. What we look for is somebody with the great attitude, and the ability to gain the expertise we want. We have to weed them out. One out of five will want a career and not just be looking for a paycheck.”

New employees serve a three-month probationary period with a review after six months and again after one year. The company does not have a formal apprenticeship program, but Kastanes plans to begin a training program for new hires in the coming months.

In the beginning, Kastanes also offered employees the opportunity to buy into the business.

Employee ownership

“I wanted to have this as an employee-owned operation,” he says. “Early on I offered five employees the opportunity to buy into the company.

“My main reason for this was I didn’t want an employee to become a competitor. We discovered that while someone is a qualified plumber and a good employee, not everyone is a candidate to be an owner with those additional responsibilities. Within a short period of time, I bought out three who continued on with the company as employees. There is a difference between an owner and an employee. Over the years we have offered part ownership to employees and we now have five on our rolls.”

Field supervisor Alex Levtsenyuk has been with Sac Val since 1992, and an owner since 1996. Ruslan Gidenko, project supervisor and owner since 2005, has been with Sac Val since 1999. Fleet supervisor Ruslan Zavorotynskyy has been with the company since 2005, and an owner since 2012. Richard Golladay is a co-founder and owner from the beginning.

Each of the owners has complete authority over their area of expertise. As a group, they meet at least every other month to review operations.

Sac Val Plumbing operates with a fleet of 10 service vehicles, mostly Chevrolets ranging in age from 1997 to 2015. Vans are preferred for light-duty work, while larger jobs require walk-in box trucks with roll-open or double doors.

Serving a large area across California’s Central Valley metropolitan area puts a priority on vehicle maintenance.

“You have to take care of your fleet,” Kastanes says. “It’s your bread and butter.”

Especially when a waterline springs a leak.

Putting technology to work

In 2013, Julie Kastanes retired as IT project manager with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, where she helped install a dispatch system. Upon joining Sac Val Plumbing as accounting manager, her goal was to bring the company’s technology into the 21st century.

“We wanted to do this for a long time, but just didn’t have the time or expertise to get it done right,” says Nick Kastanes, the company’s general manager. “We had been operating almost 98 percent as a paper company, and we knew that was not the way forward. With the paper world, things get lost. On the computer, it’s there unless you erase it.”

Julie Kastanes says the company lacked a good scheduling system, and although it had QuickBooks, the company still required the services of an outside accountant.

“My first goal was to automate the scheduling system so each job was properly entered and tractable, and we could see how many jobs we were doing each day, and which were invoiced out to the customer, and which needed to be invoiced.”

The upgrades, such as the addition of GPS on trucks, have generated significant growth for Sac Val, but not without resistance.

“Whether it’s GPS on a plumbing van or on a cop’s car, the first notion is ‘Oh no. Now Big Brother is looking over me and they will see everywhere I go,’” she says. “But once they see the benefits and what it can do for the company, attitudes change.”

If a plumber needs a particular part, GPS enables him to quickly locate another vehicle that is in the area and might have the needed fitting, saving a trip back to the shop or supply house.

“They see how technology can help them work as a team,” she says. “They began to realize the benefits, and that it can be a good thing.”

Having GPS has also been a huge time-saver responding to calls, eliminating back-and-forth phone messages to locate drivers.

“Whether your plumbing company has three service vehicles or six, GPS is essential,” Nick Kastanes says. “Even the smallest firm will benefit.”


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