Contractor’s Success Is Thanks to His Employees

Mr. Rooter Plumbing operator applies 25 years of corporate experience and builds his business around quality staff.

Contractor’s Success Is Thanks to His Employees

Carrig watches the monitor of the Spartan SparVision 200 sewer video camera as Glen Ethridge, excavation tech, feeds it down into a residential sewer system.

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When Bob Gallup purchased the greater Indianapolis and central Indiana Mr. Rooter territory, his business background helped him understand the importance of planning, perseverance and procedures.

Gallup first learned about the franchise through a business broker. The owner wanted to sell the territory in the metropolitan area and continue doing business in an outlying region where he would maintain the office and facilities. So, Gallup needed to hire personnel and establish a new office. He purchased new computers, vehicles and fundamental pieces of equipment, including a jetter that has turned out to be the company’s workhorse.

“This also required brand-new marketing, new signage, new phone numbers,” he says. “But particularly new technology.”

The business was in full swing by August 2012.

PERILS AND PARALLELS

Gallup had spent several years in the home security business and saw similarities with his new business, both of which involve technicians going to people’s homes to perform a service.

“To me, this was a good fit with what I was familiar with,” he says.

Gallop learned early on that he needed someone on hand to troubleshoot and be a technical leader for service technicians.

“This was the first time I had invested personally in a business,” he says. “In a situation like mine, they say it will take twice as long to reach your goals if you are in a new industry, and there is truth in that. Initially, we did not have that strong support out in the field for our service people. Had I known how important this was, I would have probably saved time and money, but fortunately my problem was solved when Robert Wilhelm walked into my office.”

Wilhelm had a strong background in the industry, and Gallup considers him a godsend. Whilhelm knew the Mr. Rooter system and told Gallup he would help develop the business.

“In the world I come from, they say that before someone earns a key role, they are probably doing that role,” Gallup says. “One day I realized that I needed to understand what Robert was doing for me. That he was my senior plumbing specialist. The other guys are going to him with problems. He is the go-to guy. I thought about that, and we formalized his role in the company. He is now my field manager. That means he goes around and helps the plumbers with price quotes, scope of work, estimates and communication with customers. And he will show up to do the physical work and interact with local inspectors. All is based on demand. He will install a waterline, do sewer repair, lay concrete, repipe a home and help me put together a complex bid.”

Another key member of the developing management team was a client turned associate, John Leighty, who brought a totally new — but important — skill to the firm. Leighty is responsible for bathroom remodels and other work that requires artistic design or tile work. The two men are a strong team, and together, they have helped the company grow by reaching a new market.

SKILL SET

Several of Gallup’s technicians work as apprentices in a four-year program offered by Mechanical Skills in Indianapolis.

“The finest in management cannot perform without talented technicians to send into the field,” Gallup says. “I believe in helping my associates gain further education. It is important because whatever happens in the economy, the smarter you are, the more you know about your business and the more you contribute to your family, your employer and yourself. My goal is for my employees to be the best trained to contribute to our team. I want them to have the best in accomplishment and financial rewards — to gain confidence and credentials.”

After the interview process, Gallup has a candidate go on a ride-along for two days with designated technician Travis Karch, a good listener and trainer who gives an evaluation. Then, each new hire is given a 90-day provisionary period.

RAMPING UP

The addition of pipe bursting gave the company the ability to provide the latest in technology and a trenchless option for clients who don’t want to tear up landscaping or a driveway to replace a sewer line. While the concept is not universally understood in the region, Gallup has kept the HammerHead Trenchless PB30G2 system busy on both residential and commercial jobs.

“The typical client does not understand what goes on underground or how the home connects to the city sewer,” he says. “We take them through the fundamentals and why in their situation this is a good solution. We will explain why the pipe is separated and why there are roots. HammerHead has videos that are helpful. We can give our clients referrals. They learn the advantages — that in the end we will fuse 10- or 20-foot lengths of pipe together. The fusing makes a strong connection similar to a broken bone that heals and is very strong, and thus we can give a good warranty.”

Gallup says local residential jobs are usually about 80 feet long, 10 to 12 feet deep and typically go under a sidewalk, front walkway or driveway.

“When you do that, you cross utility lines, gas lines, waterlines and electric lines,” he says. “With pipe bursting, you minimize the chances of hitting those utilities.”

For commercial clients, pipe bursting offers extensive advantages. Gallup bid on a job to repair a 550-foot line at an apartment complex and negotiated through a long bid process with the owner, a regular customer.

“The previous owner of the building had done some spot repairs, and what they had was 500 feet with a mix of PVC and clay tile — all different lengths and never backfilled. Never had any of this been inspected. There were seven lateral lines, and one had never been connected to the sewer main.

“It was a challenging job in a tight workspace — about 15 feet wide and 8 feet deep with a 1% fall. Utility locates continued to change. We found pipes 3 inches in diameter perpendicular to the trench, and nobody had any record as to what was in those pipes. The job was in a hole. We had to come up with a way to do it. Wilhelm’s leadership helped devise a solution.”

Gallup says they did about half the job using excavation, but it became so difficult they had to tell the client they couldn’t honor the contract. One of Mr. Rooter’s key values is that you must inform all parties involved as soon you discover you cannot honor a contract.

The client found the situation difficult to process, and Gallup had to bring in the right resources and explain the problems at every stage.

“The client shook my hand and said that, as we had been forthwith and honest at every turn in the past, they would proceed with the project even though the cost had doubled,” Gallup says. “This was validation for us. HammerHead was also available to help us throughout the process.”

FITTING OUT

Clay tile is the predominant sewer lateral material in their region. Most sewers are gravity fed, and 75% of the homes have a basement, so lines tend to be deep. 

The fleet consists of eight Chevrolet 2500 Express vans, a 2005 Ford diesel dump truck and a 2007 Isuzu box truck used to stock inventory for sewer repair jobs, including pipe bursting. Gallup has a John Deere mini-excavator, plus other sales vehicles.

Critical equipment includes four RIDGID electric jetters, two RIDGID pushrod cameras and two more from Spartan Tool. Gallup also has a John Bean commercial jetter (2,000 psi/18 gpm) that has been adjusted for residential use.

BUILDING WITH THE BEST

Early on, Gallup realized how important having a skilled professional answer the phone and make initial contact was in building a long-term relationship. He says he enjoys nurturing those relationships and taking care of his customer base.

“With our 17 employees, eight technicians and support staff, I believe we have formed a good foundation,” he says. “I stepped out of the corporate world, and now I can put my head on my own pillow every night, and one of the best unintended consequences is that my son Adam is working with me. He is in the business. In the course of things, he has an opportunity to figure out what he wants to do with his life. But he has learned this business.

“The first year we spent building our technical core. As that is established, we are bringing in younger people and teaching them the Mr. Rooter way. Showing how they can be the best and deliver on the Mr. Rooter brand promise. We see it as a mix of the tried and true, young and new.”


Taking it to the streets

Starting or relaunching a business typically requires capital investments and a cash flow infusion, and it was no different for Bob Gallup, owner of Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Indianapolis and central Indiana.

“The result is our revenue has grown in a few months by 69%, and part of that is also the adjustments we have made, particularly because we have walked away from all-print Yellow Pages, which represented half of our marketing dollars. It was just not effective,” he says.

Gallup says that as a small business in a new market with existing larger competitors, he had to find smart ways to get the company in front of the consumer. So, he used what he calls “guerrilla tactics” — signs on street corners, fliers delivered in conjunction with other service providers and posts on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Angie’s List.

He partnered with a heating and cooling company to create fliers promoting both businesses, which allowed him to share expenses. The two companies also leveraged each other, promoting in unconventional ways that set them apart to the homeowner.

“One thing we are excited about is that we have a company building a Mr. Rooter of central Indiana app for us,” Gallup says. “If a customer wants to become an Advantage Plan member, which offers a family of discounts such as preferred scheduling and pricing, they can go to the app store, select the app at no cost and download by putting in a membership number. We can communicate with the customer if they allow us to do that. Although this is not a huge percentage of where we get leads, it is growing every month. We plan to maximize that.”

While Gallup’s enthusiasm for the business grows, he says he gets mixed comments from his acquaintances in other industries. They wonder: “Why plumbing?” He explains that this is a business that in many ways is slow to change. There is little chance someone in Asia will be putting him out of business, and owning his own business was on his bucket list.

“Some people love flying on airplanes going from place to place, and all that it involves,” he says. “With Mr. Rooter and this industry, I enjoy the certainty of the technology today. Being in this industry gives me a high level of comfort and satisfaction.”



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