Women-Owned Company Takes Unique Approach to Growing Business

Adding personal touches helps sewer-line rehab company reach new heights and keeps customer satisfaction high

Women-Owned Company Takes Unique Approach to Growing Business

Sewer Experts’ operator Jose Luna Pacheco (left) and pipelayer Kirino Luna Pacheco set up the pipe bursting equipment on the job site (HammerHead Trenchless).

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By several measures, Marisa Beaver is an outlier in the world of trenchless sewer line replacement and repair.

For starters, the co-owner of Sewer Experts is a woman in an industry that’s almost completely dominated by men, not exactly an easy path to tread.

“Many times I answer calls from people who ask me to transfer their call to someone who can help them with their sewer line,” she says. “I’ve even had a customer say, ‘I need to speak to a man.’

“We (Beaver and her business partner Kara Wasserburger) definitely have to hide behind our crew most times, especially when it comes to marketing. It’s strange and uncomfortable to deal with the discrimination we get when we meet some clients on site,” she continues. “They expect to see someone more plumber-ish. We’ve lost work and some contracts because of our looks.”

Furthermore, Beaver entered the field of sewer-line rehab without a lot of specific experience, although she had worked in construction demolition and other kinds of sewer work.

Then there were the financial challenges that come with starting a business with no deep-pocketed financial backer.

In short, what could possibly go right? As it turns out, quite a bit.

RAPID GROWTH

For starters, the company generated more than $2 million in revenue in 2020, just three years after she and a silent partner established it in Commerce City, a northern suburb of Denver. Moreover, that’s about 10 times more than the company’s revenue in 2019, she says.

Then there’s the high level of customer satisfaction. Sewer Experts consistently gets five-star ratings on platforms like Google, Yelp and Angie’s List. Between that and word-of-mouth referrals, the company doesn’t need to spend a lot of money on marketing, she says.

“The main reason I’m in business is word-of-mouth referrals and our customer service,” she says. “I’m on my phone 24/7. I’m always accessible and available to explain things to customers. And I go to every single job site in person and meet customers face to face. It’s all about building relationships.”

Beaver, age 38, is convinced that this personal touch differentiates Sewer Experts from the area’s many competitors. She knows this because before she established the company, the entrepreneur did her own bit of market research by calling 30-some companies for a quote on replacing a residential sewer line. All she got were automated responses or requests to submit an email, she says.

“Not one person was interested in carrying on any kind of conversation,” she recalls. “Therefore, I felt we had to take a different approach.”

Another key to success: Beaver has carefully built a team of motivated field workers who share her values when it comes to customer service and doing quality work.

GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN

What’s the secret sauce for achieving all this? It’s a contrarian approach to running a business, for one. “We’re not like anyone else,” she notes. “We do things differently.”

Other success factors include the company’s strategy for hiring employees and an emphasis on plowing profits back into the company in the form of productivity-enhancing equipment. That not only increases profit margins, it also makes work easier for employees and serves as a retention tool.

And last but not least, there’s that large chip on her shoulder, the result of shoddy treatment by some previous employers, she says.

“That’s a huge motivator,” she explains. “I’ve eaten dirt and then some to get where I’m at. I love to prove people wrong when they say I can’t do something.

“A former colleague once told me I’d never get a demolition license,” she adds. “Now I’m the only woman with a demolition license in Colorado and the only woman with 27 different drain-layer’s licenses.”

BUILDING EXPERIENCE

Beaver took a roundabout path to her current career. She actually intended to become a school teacher, but changed her mind just a semester away from earning an early-childhood education degree, she says.

After that, she got a job as a project coordinator for an architectural firm in Denver and then worked in the architecture department for a large national restaurant chain. There she learned about the design and construction process, from blueprints to completed buildings.

From there, Beaver became a project coordinator for a giant global civil-construction company, followed by stints with a women-owned engineering firm and then a demolition company. Tired of not getting credit for her accomplishments, she eventually struck out on her own, forming a demolition-oriented company called Mustard Seed Construction.

“I was tired of helping others build their empires, so I decided to invest in myself and build my own,” Beaver says. “My husband said I’d better have the faith of a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed in the world and grows into an enormous tree. So that’s how the company got its name.”

BOOTS-ON-THE-GROUND LEARNING

Within three months, Beaver says the company landed a contract to handle sewer and water disconnects and some demolition work on a $1.2 billion project to enlarge a section of I-70 on the northeast side of Denver.

But because demolition/construction work is cyclical and volatile, Beaver eventually decided to focus on pipeline repair and rehab, and formed Sewer Experts as a division of Mustard Seed. The company’s main focus is replacing and rehabbing commercial and residential lateral lines.

How did she learn the ropes in the sewer-repair business? Literally from the ground up, she says.

“I had to learn my craft literally from the field all the way to the office,” she recalls. “I got up at 6 a.m. every day to work as a laborer.

“I had to learn how to do it all so that I could tell clients exactly what’s going on. It took about six months before it all started to click — how to put pipes and gaskets together and so on.”

Beaver didn’t find the prospect of learning an entirely new business daunting. In fact, she enjoyed it and still loves to periodically put on work boots and work in the field. “When you’re truly passionate about something, you just want to learn how to do everything,” she says.

DIFFERENTIATION IS KEY

So just how does Sewer Experts operate differently than many similar companies? For starters, it hires a subcontractor, Certified Sewer Inspections, to handle sewer-line cleaning and inspections. Why? Beaver believes that customers feel more confident about paying for expensive sewer repairs if they first receive an objective, third-party analysis of their problem.

“We hear from a lot of customers that call for a routine (line) jetting and then are told they need a $20,000 or $30,000 repair that isn’t really necessary,” she explains. “So we made an executive decision to refer all line cleaning and inspections to a company that we trust. So if we’re quoting the cost of a new line to a customer, we know that an expert verified the line is broken.

“This adds integrity and credibility to the process,” she continues. “At the end of the day, customers see we’re being honest and not just trying to upsell them something. It also helps us provide more accurate quotes.

“It’s huge for our customers and they’re thankful that we save them a lot of headaches and are completely honest from the get-go.”

Sewer Experts pays $160 for each inspection and eats the cost, which comes to about $3,000 to $5,000 a month. “But one job more than pays for that,” she notes.

The inspection includes a line cleaning, a camera inspection, a soil-density test, a survey, pipe locating and a final report. But she only provides the report to customers if they pay for it because too many customers use the report to get quotes from other line-repair companies, she says.

INTEGRITY BUILDS RELATIONSHIPS

In the past, Sewer Experts had hired salespeople to sell repair jobs, but they all wanted commission-based pay, which creates an incentive to sell jobs that weren’t really necessary.

“Everyone we hired was trained to upsell,” Beaver says. “You can try to teach them to sell the right way, but we just didn’t have the time and the resources to do that.

“We had one guy who sold an unneeded full pipe replacement job and I told him that’s not how we operate,” she continues. “He told me we’d never succeed operating that way — that in this industry, you have to sell, sell, sell. But I told him we’re going to be different.”

Beaver believes customers appreciate the honesty and says it’s reflected in the company’s consistent five-star ratings on social-media platforms. “It just proves that honesty always is the best policy,” she says.

To do pipe bursting, Sewer Experts relies on a PortaBurst PB30G2 system built by HammerHead Trenchless. Powered by a PortaPower 13 generator, also made by Hammerhead, the unit offers 30 tons of pulling force to replace 2- to 6-inch-diameter pipes. In conjunction with the PB30G2, the company also uses a Pit Bull pipe-fusion machine made by McElroy Mfg.

The company does not line entire pipes, but does perform sectional point-repairs, using PipePatch technology from Source One Environmental. The company also invested in two RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline-inspection cameras, a Caterpillar backhoe, a Bobcat mini-excavator, a Ford dump truck and various kinds of trailers made by Load King, Diamond Cargo Trailer and Doolittle Trailer Mfg.

A LOOK AHEAD

When asked about the future, Beaver says she doesn’t anticipate rapid, exponential growth, which too often comes at the expense of quality control and customer satisfaction.

And while she’ll have to hire more people in order to handle a three-year, $1.5 million contract to provide sewer and drainline cleaning services for 400 housing units owned by the Denver Housing Authority, she doesn’t want many more employees at this point, either.

 “At one point, I was managing 17 employees and it was very, very hard,” she notes.

Beaver also wants to keep building a great reputation for honesty, which leads to word-of-mouth referrals. “We’re not going to pad our pockets,” she says. “We’re here to help people. We built this business on relationships and I plan to keep doing that.” 



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