Triple the Fun

Adding two established companies to his own mom and pop pumping business was a lot of hard work, but Virginia’s Bruce Hines says he would do it all over again.
Triple the Fun
Shown in the company yard, the B. Ray Hines crew includes (from left) Chris Ellis, James Wheeler, John Brink, Armand Dufresne, Griffin Winferd, Karen Hines, Allison Malpass and Bruce Hines.

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He probably changes hats more often than a NASCAR driver in victory lane. On any given day, Bruce Hines may be on the road representing his own B. Ray Hines Septic Service, or one of the two firms he purchased from a competitor two years ago, or he could be doing work for a competing company owned by his father.

The fallout from recent expansion moves can get a bit complicated at times, but Hines says he would do it all again, though he would do things a bit more carefully. "I don't think you can do too much research when you're buying a business," he says.

It used to be just Hines and his wife, Karen, running B. Ray Hines Septic Service from their home in Chesapeake, Va. Today, they employ seven others and run the other two companies from a shared shop 20 minutes to the north.


The Hines' have owned B. Ray Hines since 2003. That was two years after Bruce left C.S. Hines Inc., a septic service, installation, and septic tank manufacturing company owned by his father, Clyde, and started by his grandfather in 1940. He had worked there since graduating from high school in 1979 and just thought it was time to branch out from the family business.

"I got a job servicing heavy construction equipment out in the field," Hines says. After two years, his father helped him buy his own vacuum truck. The elder Hines also helped his son establish his new venture by turning over the majority of his weekend pumping calls — which continues to this day.

"Every Friday, they forward their phones to me," says Hines, who considers weekend emergency work a niche part of his business. "About half the calls I get, they're in distress and they can't get anyone else. It's hard to get someone out on the weekend."

Hines says he can get five or six calls on a weekend; nice money, but very inconvenient. "There are times when I get frustrated," Hines says. "I work a lot of weekends and that's time away from my family. But they understand."


The phone rang one day in 2010. On the other end was the owner of Brown Plumbing and Septic and Budget Septic Systems, who Hines had known for several years. Hines was asked if he wanted to buy the other two companies. Caught off guard by the offer, he nonetheless quickly agreed. "And that's how it started."

After about three months, everything was in order for Hines to purchase Brown and Budget. Not only did Hines now own three pumping companies, he also had added residential and commercial plumbing to his repertoire.

He found the entire transition to be difficult. "It was very hectic," Hines says of incorporating the new companies and employees into his business. "It still is sometimes. It can be quite challenging. They're used to doing things their way, and I have my own methods of pumping septic tanks, repair work, and even billing."

But, his new venture turned a profit in its first year, certainly a big accomplishment. It helped that the former owner took on some of the financing, and Hines got some financial help from his father.


Bruce and Karen ran the small B. Ray Hines business while caring for two grandchildren. "I would hire a friend of mine who is real good with pumps on an as-needed basis," he says. "I also had a helper I would use as needed. But I did a lot of it by myself."

The couple still run B. Ray Hines out of their home, but Brown and Budget operate out of a shared shop. Karen does the bookkeeping, now for three businesses, and manages two part-time employees who staff the Brown/Budget office. And she answers phones, especially on weekends when all calls come to her, along with those from C.S. Hines. The staff now includes two full-time septic service technicians, two full-time plumbers and another full-time worker who handles marketing and helps out elsewhere.

Hines also finds himself with a lot more equipment to care for. His two B. Ray Hines vacuum trucks were purchased from Abernethy Welding and Repair. Both are Internationals (1995 and 2001) with 2,500-gallon steel tanks, Masport pumps and jetters.

With the purchase of Brown Plumbing and Septic, he added a 2001 International vacuum truck with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and 300 cfm Fruitland Manufacturing pump and a Myers high pressure pump. The truck was built by Glen Evans of Evans Liquid Waste in Kenly, N.C. The Budget Septic Systems truck is a 1998 International with a 3,000-gallon steel tank from Evans. Since buying it, Hines has replaced the vacuum pump with a Masport 400 cfm vacuum and plans to add a jetter.

Last January, he purchased a used 2007 Mack truck with a 4,000-gallon steel tank, carrying a 500 cfm vacuum pump from National Vacuum Equipment. He likes the automatic transmission on his newest truck. "It's easy to drive," Hines says. He likes the way the power takeoff and safety systems are built into the vehicle.

He also has a Takeuchi mini-excavator purchased in 2005 and a Terex backhoe and trailer received in the Brown purchase. The fleet is rounded out by two plumbing trucks and a service truck for hauling parts and equipment.


While having three companies causes complications, Hines says there are no plans to combine the businesses into one entity at a single location. He allows, though, that it might make sense to have Brown absorb the Budget name since they share the same building. "I'm trying to keep them somewhat separate," he says.

Doing so does create some complexities in things like billing; the three companies have their own books. Disposal permits also are issued separately.

While he might reconsider this strategy in the future, for now Hines believes having three identities diversifies the company, giving him a competitive edge since most people don't realize they are all under the same ownership.

"In most cases, they don't care as long as the job gets done and they get a fair price," Hines says. When one company gets backed up, customers are sent to one of the others — and sometimes customers are referred to his father's company.

Hines wants to take advantage of the Brown name and reputation. That company has been in operation since 1945, almost as long as the elder Hines' company, so both are well known in the community. "Brown has a slogan, 'If it don't go down, call Brown,' and that carries a lot of weight," Hines says.

It gets complex at times.

"You have to say the right thing at the right time on the right phone," he jokes. With caller ID, they even have to be careful which phones they use to call customers to limit confusion. And the ward-robe changes ...

"I might have Brown attire on, then on a minute's notice have to change into B. Ray Hines attire," Hines explains.

Marketing for the companies is mostly word-of-mouth and phone book advertising. "We are looking at getting websites for Brown and B. Ray Hines," he adds.


Hines would now like to expand waterjetting services and get into septic and drainfield repair. He also wants to expand his offering of restoration products from Cape Cod Biochemical Co. for grease traps and sewer and drain lines. "We've had some really good success with that product and it can save the homeowner a substantial amount of money."

The one thing he wants to be careful about is getting too big. "That's easier said than done," he notes. His workload already has grown a lot in the last two years, and he still wants to replace some of the equipment he inherited in the purchase without taking on too much debt. "It's all about just taking baby steps."


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