Kenneth Belknap has a couple of theories about how to grow a successful plumbing business. And so far, every single one of them has worked.
Belknap Plumbing Systems Inc. in Houston, TX, has become a premier plumbing company under the direction of Belknap, company president. But the family-owned business hasn’t been without its hardships.
When Belknap’s parents were killed in an automobile accident in 1990, only four months after he started working for their company full-time, Belknap Plumbing Systems was forced to go out of business. But a few years later, Belknap came back stronger than ever.
With some solid business planning and proper equipment, he has been able to grow his family’s company.
“One thing I try to do to separate our company from everyone else is to be well diversified,” he said. “I want to do more than what everybody else does so that customers will come to us.”
Starting From Scratch
In the beginning, when Belknap was trying to re-establish his parents’ company, he started out small and ran only one service truck.
As he learned the ropes of the business, he hired more employees and expanded to four service trucks. At that point, Belknap decided it was time that he no longer work out in the field, and instead, concentrate more on the business’ growth.
Today, Belknap Plumbing Systems has approximately 70 employees and 45 service trucks.
The plumbing company performs both residential and commercial work — everything from installing water taps and meters to replacing sewer lines.
In order to satisfy customers’ demands, Belknap has seven service trucks devoted only to 24-hour emergency service.
Another group of Belknap’s plumbing crews is dedicated to new construction plumbing projects, which have increased as more people have moved to Texas.
In fulfilling his goal of offering a diverse list of services, Belknap recently added a concrete cutting division to his company.
“We were hiring out our concrete work so much that we decided to start our own business,” Belknap said.
The company also offers pipe bursting for replacing sewer lines and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) for installing water pipes.
“We try to stay on top of the technology. We try to have an upper-edge,” he said.
Investing for Future Growth
As the company began expanding and taking on larger jobs, Belknap knew he would need to invest in equipment that could handle projects both small and large.
One of those investments was a compact excavator. After having problems with his other backhoes and mini-excavators, Belknap realized he needed a machine he could count on.
He said he chose the 40-hp Bobcat 331 compact excavator because he felt it could grow with his company.
“We’re always growing, so I didn’t want a compact excavator that was undersized,” he said. “I would rather have more horsepower and not work the machine so hard, so it will last longer.”
The compact excavator is typically used to dig trenches for larger jobs, such as installing storm sewer pipes and water mains.
“When we have to dig a trench two and a half to three feet wide and a few feet deep, that’s the kind of job we use it for,” Belknap said. “Or even when installing a water main where we have a lot of linear footage of pipe to install.”
For example, Belknap recently used the compact excavator to install 300 ft. (91 m) of storm sewer pipelines for a commercial warehouse/office space being built in Houston.
Belknap Plumbing Systems was hired by Hager Labs in Houston to install a 15-in. (38 cm) concrete and a 15-in. (38 cm) plastic storm sewer pipe.
The weeklong project required running the pipes from the storm sewer drains in the building’s parking lot to the city’s storm sewer system, where they were then connected to the system.
No matter what the job, Belknap said he likes that the compact excavator is powerful, but quiet.
“It doesn’t struggle a bit and you can tell,” he said.
He also likes several features on the machine, including its rubber tracks, independent boom swing, and keyless ignition system.
After one of Belknap’s rental loaders was stolen from a job site, Belknap made sure his 331 compact excavator was equipped with an optional keyless ignition system, which utilizes three assignable, four-digit user codes to prevent theft.
Belknap’s crews working in residential areas also like the machine’s independent boom swing, which permits offset digging around obstacles and beside structures, and it reduces repositioning time since the tracks remain parallel to the trench.
“The beauty of the machine is you can get into pretty tight spots and reach into different angles with the boom to get the job done.”
Belknap also likes the rubber tracks on the compact excavator because they distribute the machine’s weight over a greater area, thus minimizing the disturbance to his customers’ lawns.
The rubber tracks also improve the traction of the compact excavator, allowing Belknap’s crews to work in the muddiest conditions. And the more days Belknap’s crews can work, the more jobs they can complete.
As with any growing business, Belknap said he has faced workforce and other general business issues.
But his sound business theories have helped him overcome many of these obstacles.
Another one of Belknap’s theories that has proven to be successful has to do with the size of jobs he tackles. He said he only accepts jobs up to $250,000 so his crews can complete a higher volume of jobs.
“We try to keep them where we get in and get out, and then we move on to the next job,” he said.
And, Belknap said the equipment he has invested in will help him do just that.
“I know this new compact excavator is going to help us do our jobs better and faster,” he said. “It’s a good match for what we do. It’s a workhorse and it’s compact.”
(Tara Deering is a technical writer of Two Rivers Marketing.)
(This story appears courtesy of Bobcat Company.) CEG