Sewer and drain cleaning is something that Eduardo Quintero quite literally wears with pride – just look at the 1065 tattooed on his knuckles and the Spartan Tools logo on his forearm.
For Quintero, owner of King Rooter in Pasadena, California, this profession is a passion, and one that he has cultivated since he was 18 years old. At that time, he was working for an uncle doing construction work and he enjoyed getting his hands dirty.
“He was a carpenter and a handyman who did a little bit of plumbing work. I did a little bit of everything with him,” Quintero recalls. “My other uncle did sewer work and he told me that sewer [work] is better than plumbing.”
Though he was skeptical of his uncle’s claim, Quintero was willing to give it a try. One of his uncle’s employees quit, opening a spot for Quintero to try his hand at sewer work. He seized the opportunity to make the switch and take his uncle up on the offer for training.
“The first day we went, and we were unclogging drains and I liked it. I liked it more than anything else, and I’ve stuck with it. I got so into it that I made it my career,” he says. “I got so good at it, that it became a natural talent.”
While working for his uncle and helping to manage his business, Quintero hit a point where he realized he wanted to go out on his own. “I felt comfortable going out on my own when I saw that I could manage the finances of his company and operate the business. I knew then that I could run my own business.”
The uncle guided him through everything in this industry from buying equipment to advertising his business, which eventually sparked Quintero to start King Rooter. Rooted in Pasadena, California, King Rooter covers about a half-hour radius servicing the 31 municipalities within the San Gabriel Valley.
Working with his cousin and his uncle, the company
offers drain and sewer cleaning and inspection services, locating, hydro jetting and repairs in the form of pipe bursting, spot repairs and full-length lining. Clients include residential and commercial work. The latter in the form of bars, restaurants and office complexes, many of which are on quarterly cleaning and inspection programs.
Starting a business is never easy, no matter how prepared a person thinks they are. A fact Quintero learned early in his tenure as a business owner. One of the first hurdles he faced was getting business. He recalls having zero calls and sitting there, thinking to himself, that it could not be possible that there is a good plumber just sitting at home.
“I asked myself, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ and that’s when I got a penny saver in the mail,” he says. “I was sitting on my steps when the mailman came. I opened it up and saw a column of plumbers, so I called and placed an ad.”
That still did not work, which prompted Quintero to dive back into the penny saver and see what the competition was doing. “I saw these plumbers were charging $75 or $85 for drain cleaning. I knew what I had to do,” he says. “I placed a new ad and it said ‘$35 drain cleaning. Any day, any time, 24/7,’ and then boom that’s when it started happening.”
It started with one call, and then another and he built his clientele based on referrals. He was able to add new equipment and services, he also had a revelation. “I realized that there were two kinds of owners. There are guys who want to charge a lot of money and then there are guys like me. I charge something reasonable and get a lot more work,” he says.
The company has grown to include an arsenal of cable machines, jetters, diagnostic tools and trenchless equipment.
“All of my drum machines and jetters come from Spartan Tool, all the diagnostic equipment is RIDGID,” Quintero says. “The pipe bursting equipment I use is from TRIC Tools. I use Source One Environmental for spot repairs and Perma-Liner for longer lining.”
While working for his uncle, Quintero became familiar with the Spartan Tool drum machines and he knew the quality in the products. Unfortunately, when he started the business, he was “flat broke.” He knew he wanted to use Spartan Tools, but that was not in the cards at that time. He did some research, got some less expensive machines.
“When I first started, I bought a 3/8-in. drum machine for kitchen drains…but the machine sucked. Every time I would hit a blockage the cable would bind up,” he recalls. “I struggled with that for a while. I bought another machine [from another manufacturer] and I couldn’t unclog a mainline. I called my uncle and he showed up with a [Spartan] 1065. When I had enough money, I bought a used Spartan drum machine, and now I can buy brand new equipment. Spartan has the best drain cleaning equipment in my opinion.”
As for the other equipment, unlike his uncle’s use of Spartan Tool products, Quintero was on his own as he added services to King Rooter. His uncle was an old school drain cleaner – with a drum machine and a camera. If a pipe needed repair, it was digging a trench and replacing it.
As Quintero’s business grew, he was able to add a camera, so he could see why the drain was clogged. Once he knew why there was a clog, the natural progression was to offer pipe repair services. Like his uncle, it was dig and replace…at first.
“One day [about eight years ago] I had to replace 80 ft of pipe because it was filled with roots. The customer didn’t want his driveway broken up,” Quintero says. “I had heard about pipe bursting but didn’t know much about it. I started calling other plumbers who I met and who I thought might be familiar with it. And a lot of them weren’t.”
He found one plumber who knew of the method and had subcontracted out some work to a trenchless contractor. Quintero got in touch with that local trenchless contractor to chat with them about options for this 80-ft project.
The contractor talked to him about pipe bursting and lining. After weighing the decisions and talking with his customer, the decision was made to bring this contractor in for the pipe bursting.
“I got hooked. I watched these guys replace nearly 100 ft of drain in one hour,” Quintero says. “I used that company multiple times for pipe bursting, spot repairs and lining.” Quintero likens this period as paid training, so one day King Rooter could offer trenchless services on its own.
Through that experience and attending The Flow Expo, Quintero learned about TRIC Tools, Source One Environmental and Perma-Liner. After five years of watching and getting his “on-the-job training,” he bought his first piece of trenchless equipment. That was three years ago, and business has grown.
“All of this equipment works as it’s supposed to. I am glad to give [the customers] a warranty over 20 years with this equipment,” Quintero says. “Now I have almost everything and am a full-blown trenchless company.”
He is so onboard that in the three years since King Rooter bought its first piece of trenchless equipment, Quintero has not trenched a hole for a project that is more than 10 ft long. Customers like the trenchless aspect because Quintero shows them upfront the cost benefits and lack of disruption associated with these low-dig solutions.
Also, in this time, he has found that a lot of people, both fellow plumbers, and customers are more aware of trenchless repairs. Eight years ago, he was hard-pressed to find a plumber who knew about pipe bursting. Today, there is a desire for trenchless, because there is a cost savings to the customers and there is less labor involved for the contractor. This is important in an industry that is seeing more people retire, than join its ranks.
Path to Growth
While condensing Quintero’s story into four pages makes his company’s growth seem quick, it took time and building a loyal customer base. That is something Quintero was able to do by offering an honest service and a focus on helping people over making money.
“Obviously, we have to make money,” he says. “I have a lot of tools, and I always use the tool that I feel is best for a customer’s situation. Some projects call for jetting, others call for a rooter. There are situations where you can’t do a pipe burst, so you do a liner. Or there are times when the line is good and it’s just a transition that needs to be patched.”
Every project – save for his quarterly program work – starts the same way with a call for a clogged drain or sewer. Based on his 14 years of experience, Quintero knows to ask first about the system – has it been improved, how long has the business or home owner been there, etc. From there, he will know what might lurk behind the walls or underground.
Given King Rooter’s service area, 96 percent of what Quintero sees is clay pipe that is cracked and clogged with roots or cast-iron pipes that have rotted out over time. “I can show up to a job, look at it and right away and my mind becomes an x-ray,” he says. “I can see the piping in the walls and in the ground.”
His x-ray-like mind might be spot on, but rarely will that satiate a customer’s desire for factually data on their problem, so Quintero deploys his RIDGID camera, so he can see the problem and show the customer.
Once they know what the problem is, Quintero will dip into his toolbox for the best options for the customer. Does the pipe need a rooter? Does it need to be descaled? Does it need jetted? Maybe the pipe is damaged and needs a complete relining or a pipe burst, and sometimes it’s a small section or a transition and needs a spot repair.
“That’s why it’s so important for me to have all of these tools,” he says. “I want my customers to know what is going on. I stand by my word. To this day, it is rare when I get a callback. Your word, your guarantee, is the most important part of the business.”
Quintero estimates that King Rooter averages about four or five calls a day, cleaning approximately 500 ft and completing about 40 ft of trenchless work each day.
Staying on Top
Since he started in the industry when he was 18, Quintero, now 32, has seen the equipment improve across the board, especially on the diagnostic side. He remembers starting out using a black and white camera. Today he has a full-HD camera with pitch detection, and he can share it with a customer immediately.
As equipment evolves and to keep ahead of his competitors and continue to give his customers the best product, Quintero has found it important to invest in new equipment and the best equipment. He invests his money in equipment and stocks parts for the equipment, so he is never stuck on a job. He learned another valuable lesson early on: Maintain the equipment to keep it like new and learn to repair what you can on your own.
“I’ve been in situations where I’m in the middle of a job and the equipment breaks down,” he says. “When I started out, I had nothing. I know what’s it like to be in the worst scenarios. I have backups for all of my equipment, because if I am not working, I’m not making money.”
Having an expansive toolbox and the best equipment is one important aspect of growing a successful drain and sewer cleaning business, but it’s not the key thing.
“You have to be passionate about it. You have to focus on this,’” Quintero says. “You need to do it every day and become a master. If you want to be successful in this business, there is no 9-5. I love doing this. I am obsessed with it.”