It’s not every day you hear of woman-owned companies in the wastewater industry — let alone one with a workforce comprised mostly of firemen.
But PipeView Technologies has established a strong reputation for itself in the world of wastewater contracting, and positioned its brand as a regional leader in the Wilmington, North Carolina area. Owner Meredith Sullivan credits much of that success to embracing change and innovation, whether it’s investing in new technology or adding services based on demand.
Introduction to the Wastewater Industry
Sullivan spent stints in a few different career fields before deciding to pursue wastewater contracting. After earning her master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, she worked for several years in the sports industry, including a career in community relations with the Boston Celtics and as the regional sales manager for the Washington Capitals.
“I then decided to make a change and work for a family business for a few years, but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term,” Sullivan says. “I decided to break out on my own and jump on an up-and-coming trend at the time: opening a cupcake store.”
Following the successful launch of two Coastal Cupcakes shops, Sullivan was introduced to the niche contracting needs in the wastewater industry by a family friend, and she became increasingly curious about the work and its potential.
“I decided to give it a go,” Sullivan says of opening PipeView Technologies in 2011. “At first I started with just a camera system. I didn’t have an interest in cleaning, but it quickly became apparent the lines needed to be cleaned before I could do a lot of the work, and cleaning was one of the biggest requests I had.”
Growing with Inspection Technology
Sullivan set out as a one-woman team, operating a small sewer crawler on her own until one day it got stuck under a railway. It was then she started to look into other technology available on the market that would allow her to do more, expanding her inspection capabilities and opening her business to bigger jobs with larger clients.
“She reached out to us after some independent research and finding Envirosight, and we went down to demo the ROVVER X sewer inspection crawler, and she absolutely fell in love with it,” says Reed Davis, territory manager at Infrastructure Solutions Group, an Envirosight sales partner. “She started out by operating the ROVVER X out of her Yukon SUV.”
With her previous equipment, Sullivan was limited to inspecting pipes 12 in. in diameter and smaller. But she frequently received requests to inspect larger pipes, so she knew she needed a sewer crawler that offered expanded capability in a wider range of lines, she says.
“And a lot of what we’re requested to do is outfall and swampy areas because we’re on the coast, so the portability with the ROVVER X was a game changer,” Sullivan says. “I could take a little generator, put all the equipment on a utility cart or a Gator UTV and get into the woods and swampy areas.”
Envirosight’s service, training and support resources, as well as the crawler system’s ease of use and reliability, have been game changers for her growing business.
“I also love the simplicity; when we first purchased the ROVVER X, I sent one of our guys to receive repair training so that if there are any issues, we can fix it right there in the field and continue on without creating any downtime,” she says. “Our productivity has definitely increased and that’s why I continue to invest in more equipment. With this infrastructure, there’s always going to be a need and demand for it.”
Setting up for Success
Over the past few years, Sullivan has built out her inventory of sewer maintenance and camera equipment to provide video inspections, jet/vacuum services and trenchless repairs. Today, her fleet includes two Sprinter vans outfitted with ROVVER X crawlers and three jet/vac trucks.
“It’s kind of ever-evolving as the new technology comes out and the needs of our customers change,” says Sullivan of PipeView Technologies’ growth. “I thought I would just be videoing pipe. I didn’t envision I would become the one-stop-shop for not only camera work, but the cleaning, hydro-excavation and trenchless point repairs.”
The company serves mainly utility contractors, municipalities and engineering firms within a roughly 2.5-hour radius of Wilmington. This market has enabled Sullivan to successfully grow her small business year after year, and she now operates with a notable team of six crew members alongside her.
“The majority of guys on the team are actually firemen, so they work for me two to three days a week when they’re not at the fire station,” she says. “It’s a really good match because the vac trucks are very similar to fire trucks. It’s a unique dynamic and having the firemen on board, it sort of raises our level of professionalism and our customer service.”
Proving Her Place
It hasn’t always been smooth-sailing for Sullivan though, who says it was initially difficult to get her foot in the door as a woman in the wastewater contracting industry. But she quickly proved her ability in a field of seasoned professionals, and word of her business acumen spread.
Sullivan’s work ethic and drive are the reasons she has been able to achieve what she has in such a short period of time, regardless of anything else, Davis says.
“Being a woman-owned business in this industry is just rare,” Davis says. “A lot of companies may have a female as a figurehead, but she’s out there in the field getting her hands dirty. She built that company from the ground up, and she’s a hard worker with a great reputation that keeps her busy without ever having to venture far from the area. It’s just a really cool story.”