This Prevention-Prone Drain Cleaner Kicks Emergency Jobs in the Butt

Snowbridge takes a proactive approach to keeping its customers’ lines clear in Colorado’s ski country.
This Prevention-Prone Drain Cleaner Kicks Emergency Jobs in the Butt
Bill Tatro, Noha Gauss and Chris Tatro (from left), reline a broken sewer pipe with LMK lining equipment and a Boss compressor.

Interested in Relining/Rehab?

Get Relining/Rehab articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Relining/Rehab + Get Alerts

Expensive and disruptive emergency calls for clogged drains take their toll on customers – and drain cleaners, too. That’s why Snowbridge Inc., a well-diversified drain cleaning business in Breckenridge, Colo., emphasizes preventive maintenance contracts for commercial customers.

“We concentrate on preventive maintenance – it’s our bread and butter,” says Chris Tatro, vice-president and co-owner of the firm along with his brother, Bill, who also serves as company president. “We clean customers’ lines anywhere from once a month to once a year.”

Snowbridge has been up-selling maintenance contracts to customers ever since Chris and Bill’s father, Bill Tatro Jr., and mother, Cheryl, founded the company in 1976. The reasons are threefold: Snowbridge’s commercial customer base includes a lot of upscale hotels, ski resorts and restaurants that stand to lose big financially if a clogged drain shuts down their business on a weekend during peak season; they help the company maintain steady cash flow; and they position Snowbridge as a preferred contractor when emergency work does pop up.

“But we rarely receive emergency calls,” Chris explains. “We make sure we do a thorough job every time we’re on a job site.”

Selling customers on the preventive maintenance concept has never been difficult, he says. And it’s particularly easy to convince customers about the merits of preemptive action after they endure a Friday night shutdown, for example.

“A backup on, say, a Friday night is a major hit to a restaurant or resort’s bottom line,” Bill notes. “Most businesses around here are seasonal … ski resorts and hotels have about 20 weekends a year from November through April to make a good chunk of their annual revenue. So every time we get an emergency call from a new customer, we fix their problem, then try to sell them on a maintenance contract. They usually see the value in it.”

Preventive maintenance also benefits Snowbridge by minimizing emergency calls, which makes it easier to control job scheduling. “It’s a lot easier to go out at 9 a.m. on Tuesday to clean a line than on a Saturday night,” Bill points out. “Customers can plan their day around it, too.”

Diversity spells success

Snowbridge provides many services aside from drain cleaning: septic tank pumping; septic system installations, repairs and inspections; grease trap cleaning; and trenchless pipe repair. Drain cleaning and trenchless pipe repairs account for about 70 percent of the company’s annual gross revenue; septic and grease trap pumping account for the remaining 30 percent.

To understand why Snowbridge is so diversified, simply consider the company’s location in Breckenridge, a ski-resort community nestled in the Rocky Mountains, about 80 miles west of Denver. Breckenridge is a remote community with a small year-round population that swells when tourists arrive during the skiing season. As a result, Snowbridge must go farther afield for business, catering to customers as far as 75 miles outside of Breckenridge, and offer them a multitude of services to sustain business volume and avoid the bane of contractors: expensive equipment that sits idle.

“We don’t have a lot of any one kind of work to do, so to stay busy year-round, we have to offer a lot of different services,” Bill explains. “We couldn’t survive just pumping septic tanks or doing inspections. Sometimes it feels like we do way too many things, and other times it feels like we don’t do enough.”

Offering diverse services provides other benefits, too, Bill says. First of all, customers prefer a contractor that offers one-stop shopping because they don’t have to call multiple companies to get work done. Second, it gives the company better control over scheduling because crews don’t have to wait for, say, a tardy excavation subcontractor to arrive for a septic system installation. And third, it creates independent revenue streams that can help offset slow times in other service segments and minimize the need for subcontractors.

“We like to be the only company a customer needs to call,” Bill says. “What starts off as a drainline problem might turn out to be a broken sewer pipe, which we can fix for the customer and keep that revenue in-house. … Some of our best jobs come from service calls. Many times, service diversity keeps your customers from looking around and hiring somebody else because you can do the job and do it fast.”

Equipment drives productivity

Providing a variety of services requires an array of equipment. On the drain-cleaning side of the business, Snowbridge owns two US Jetting 4025 water jetters (4,000 psi at 25 gpm). The older of the two is truck-mounted and the other is enclosed inside an insulated, heated 14-foot box body, made by Supreme Corp. and mounted on a 2007 Sterling Acterra truck chassis. The truck also carries a 600-gallon water tank, and an onboard heater powered by the truck’s diesel engine keeps the hoses thawed and ready to work in Colorado’s brutal winters.

The company also owns a self-fabricated trailer jetter, made from a Harben Inc. pump (4,000 psi at 8 gpm) and paired with a 180-gallon water tank. “We use it for general drain cleaning,” Bill notes. “It offers us more versatility because it can be towed behind any of our general vehicles – it doesn’t require a dedicated vehicle.” For effective jetting, the Tatros prefer Warthog rotating nozzles made by StoneAge Inc.

In addition, Snowbridge owns a pipe relining system made by LMK Technologies; a 40-ton pipe bursting machine made by Pipe Genie Manufacturing Inc.; a Pipe Patch line repair system made by Source 1 Environmental; a propane-powered Brute cart jetter (4,000 psi at 6 1/2 gpm) manufactured by JETTERS NORTHWEST, a division of Seattle Pump & Equipment Co.; a Spartan Tool 717 electric mini-jetter; and a lightweight hand-held Blue Clean jetter made by A.R. North America Inc. (1,900 psi at 1.9 gpm).

“The hand-held jetter is great because it weighs only 42 pounds, so we can carry it with one hand and carry tools and a bucket in the other hand,” Chris explains. “We use it a lot in hotels where we can’t park close to a building, or when we need to be out by 8 a.m. … It’s also nice because we don’t have any hoses strung throughout a busy building. We do a lot of sink lines with it.”

On the septic side of the business, the company owns a 1992 Mack truck with a 3,000-gallon steel tank made by Cusco Fabricators Inc. (a Wastequip company) and equipped with a 400 cfm Masport pump, a full-opening rear hydraulic door and a vibrator unit; and a 2000 International 4900, equipped with a 2,000-gallon steel tank and a 400 cfm pump made by Jurop s.p.a. Tatro says that owning one smaller truck was a necessity because many remote customers are accessible only via narrow roads and entry points.

Ready for challenges

While preventive maintenance is a staple service, Chris says his crews thrive on unusually challenging jobs, like the time Snowbridge employees discovered about 300 feet of a hotel’s sewer mainline clogged by 1-inch gravel, courtesy of a construction error.

“They brought the hotel online and quickly found one of their mechanical rooms filled with water,” Bill recalls. “We got the line open enough so it would drain. Then we did confined-space entry into a manhole on the downstream end of the mainline and jetted out the gravel. We must’ve pulled out 20 or 25 5-gallon buckets filled with gravel.”

Adds Chris: “That’s the kind of drain-cleaning work we really like to do, the sort of jobs people give up on or no one thinks you can do, or that no one else is even willing to try. We have a lot of big equipment to get things done. At 4,000 psi, our two US Jetting jetters can run 25 gpm.

“We carry all our own water – 600 gallons per truck – so we can do remote work and not require hookups to a water source,” he continues. “With our Warthog nozzles combined with our high-pressure, high-flow jetters, we can do some serious pipe cleaning in some pretty big pipes.”



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.