How to Expand Services to Complement Your Pumping Business

Experts in the septic industry share their stories about expanding service offerings

How to Expand Services to Complement Your Pumping Business
Mark Vice, right, owner of Fayette Drain & Sewer, watches as Jeff Goree and Josh Jackson snake a drain at a local business in Fayette, Alabama. (Photography By Jeff and Meggan Haller)

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If you’re one of the hardworking owners who landed on his or her feet since your humble beginnings in the septic industry, chances are you’ve either expanded service offerings or are considering it. But how do you know when it’s the right time to grow your company?

Pumper magazine has talked to hundreds of business owners over the years, and many have shared unique stories or tips for expanding their companies to offer drain cleaning, portable restrooms, hydroexcavation and other services.

Justin and Arthur Breault of ADB Construction & Septic in Manchester, Connecticut, say they added drain cleaning to their menu of services back in 2011. It was a natural fit because, often enough, clogged lines are the cause of customers’ septic system problems. Drain cleaning also created opportunities to sell other services, Justin Breault says.

“Drain cleaning is essentially a loss leader that leads to larger repairs, and it gets us in the door with customers,” he says. “In some situations, we might clean lines and find a system needs to be replaced, but the customer can’t afford $15,000 to $20,000 for a new system. The short-term solution is more frequent pumping. So we get the pumping business, and when the customer has enough money, we get the installation business, too.”

In 2016, ADB Construction & Septic invested in a Nu Flow Technologies pipe lining system, adding yet another complementary service to its core offerings. After noticing the growing need for replacing aging water and sewer infrastructure, the Breaults started looking at pipe lining systems at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. In addition, trenchless pipe lining is an attractive solution for customers who want to avoid tearing up driveways, sidewalks, patios and the like in order to replace sewer lines, Justin Breault says.

Diversification not only allows the company to better serve customers, but also stabilizes the business. If one segment hits a cyclical lull — think tank pumpouts in winter, for instance — other segments keep contributing to cash flow. Employees stay busy, averting seasonal layoffs.

“When the economy got bad (in 2008 and 2009), companies with all their eggs in one basket got hurt,” Arthur Breault says. “We flourished on one side even if another dried up. People might put off septic pumping for a year. But if their toilet isn’t working because a sewer line goes bad, they have no choice but to get it fixed.”

Don’t turn away business

In the past, when Cindy Tiemann and daughter Breanna Vaillancourt of Fiedler’s Your Pumping Specialists in Royalton, Minnesota, got requests for jetting, they always referred those jobs to other companies. After a while, they looked into what it would take to get a jetter on one of the trucks.

“With the minimal cost to purchase and operate one, we opted to do so,” Vaillancourt says. “Why turn away business you can do yourself? We are often slower in the winter months, so this also helped to keep staff busy and customers happy.”

Right after they purchased the jetter, they experienced a rough winter of little snowfall and freezing temps. “Due to the lack of insulation, almost all residential systems froze, which kept us busy from February until almost May,” Vaillancourt says.

The Fiedler’s Your Pumping Specialists owners are pleased with the growth in just six years. Tiemann notes that they aren’t interested in expanding geographically but want to get more customers on a regular maintenance schedule and provide more services to existing customers in their five-county area.

A good winter prospect

A & C Septic Service owners Jon and Cheri Errico decided to expand their two-truck pumping business (based out of Cape May, New Jersey) by adding portable restrooms. The couple had looked over all the restroom choices at the WWETT Show and decided they would be a good fit.

For the portable restroom operation, the Erricos invested in a 1998 Chevy dually pickup equipped with a 300-gallon waste and 125-gallon freshwater KeeVac Industries slide-in vacuum tank and Conde pump (Westmoor Ltd.). For the delivery of portable restrooms, the company uses an F.M. Mfg. Deuce unit that slides into a receiver hitch and carries two units.

Jon Errico says the portable restrooms have boosted revenues and helped bolster the traditionally slow period from late January through March. “It gets us over the winter. When things get slow, the portables are still out there. Each year during those two stalled months, there’s been a steady increase in business, thanks to them.”

Because of a strong response to portable sanitation offerings, Errico says he is aggressive about keeping his supply large enough to meet demand. “When they all go out, then I buy more,” he says.

Early demand for restrooms came from the construction industry. Builders still drive growth, but the Erricos also keep some in the inventory for special occasion rentals, as well as for seasonal customers.

“We have a couple of farmers markets locally, and we’ve got a lady with a gallery who is a good client,” Errico says, who handles restroom placement and cleaning chores.

Complementary services

Septic service contractors who doubt whether expanded drain cleaning services can mesh well with their existing pumping operations would do well to consider the experience of Mark Vice, the owner of Fayette Drain & Sewer, based in Fayette, Alabama.

Vice started his company in 2000 by primarily focusing on unclogging drains. But a few years later, he started pumping out septic tanks and grease traps for several reasons. First, he was familiar with pumping septic tanks from a previous job. Second, there was only one other competitor in the area at the time. Third, the profit margins were good. And last but not least, he wanted to diversify his business base and stay busy. 

“Fayette is a small town, so to survive, you have to do a little bit of everything,” says Vice, who co-owns the company with his wife, Melissa. “So if it has water running through it, we go after it. The thought of calling someone else to do something that I can provide to our customers is awful.”

Today, Fayette Drain & Sewer receives about 35 percent of its revenue from septic system and grease trap related services (including septic system installations), about 35 percent from drainline work, and the rest from plumbing services. And thanks to its diversified customer base, the company has grown steadily since its inception.

Find the ideal company size

When Canessco Services of Edmonton, Alberta, was founded, it focused primarily on sewer cleaning. But services have expanded drastically, especially during the last decade, according to operations manager Nathan Gagnier.

In addition to sewer and industrial cleaning, the company now tackles septic and grease trap cleaning, pipeline inspections, and hydroexcavating.

“When I started here 10 years ago, we had two combination sewer (vacuum) trucks and one truck-mounted jetter,” Gagnier says. “Since then, the whole fleet has changed. 

“Basically, we got busier and busier and needed more equipment,” he says. “As we obtained more customers, we had to keep them happy by providing better service. Certain customers came along and said they’d hire someone else if we didn’t have all the equipment we needed. And with more equipment, we can offer more services and serve customers faster.”

Looking ahead, Gagnier says the company has reached a comfortable size. He expects work to remain steady because, unlike some other local industrial cleaners, Canessco Services doesn’t serve the oil and gas markets. “We’re pretty much recession-proof,” he says. “There’s always sewage and infrastructure to be cleaned. We’ve established a nice market niche.”

Gagnier does not see significant growth ahead, but that’s by design, not for lack of opportunity.

“We don’t want to get too big,” he says. “We don’t want to employ 50 people and run 20 trucks. We’re pretty happy where we are. We seem to do a little better each year revenuewise, but we don’t want to get so big that we can no longer provide quality service.”


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