Be the Solution, Not the Problem

Forty years ago, Roman Albert owned a jewelry store in downtown Tulsa, but one meeting with mall managers who were complaining about how poor their sweeping service was, altered their path.

After researching the market, Albert got into the sweeping business by opening Lot Maintenance and quickly grew his market share to include the city of Tulsa. Part of that sweeping contract with Tulsa required them to clean the catch basins. “They give you certain catch basins and we had to make sure the material was cleaned out,” says Albert. “We needed a VACTOR-type combo machine because you have to vacuum out the material and if it’s plugged, you need a jetter to dislodge it. At that time, we had a Vac Haul.”

Cleaning Pipes

Because he lived up to his mantra “be the solution, not the problem,” Tulsa officials asked Albert if he would be interested in cleaning the city pipes. “When you work for the city, they have to prequalify you. The problem was that our bonding wasn’t high enough. So, we kept our noses clean, built up our reserves and improved our balance sheet. It took us two years to get our bonding up, and we used that time to research the market. Once you get into that line of work, it changes the classification of your insurance and some insurance companies won’t write it.

“After we got the contract, we bought three used combo machines. Because it was a good-sized job where you couldn’t be broke down for two to three weeks, we needed back up equipment. And, when we got the bid the following year, we bought two more trucks to bring us to five units so that we would solve their problems, not be another problem.

“It takes 10 years to build up a reputation and relationships, but only 10 minutes to tear it all down. You’ve really got to protect yourself to ensure your success. We’re working in emergency situations with overflows and backups so when they call, we need to take care of it right away.”

Lot Maintenance cleans pipes all over the state, as well as in neighboring states, just like with their other service areas—sweeping, mowing, landscaping, and snow, ice and tree removal. “Most of our work is within a 50-mile radius, but we’ll travel further for bigger contracts. It just has to make financial sense. But, we are out every week in some small town cleaning.

“We went to Arkansas for Tyson Foods. The EPA thought that they were contaminating the local streams and were about to shut them down. We took a cleaning truck down there and cleaned the pipes under their floors. We ran a camera down there and were able to record and prove to the EPA that there were no broken lines.”

Take a Picture

Lot Maintenance also does a lot of camera work for construction companies. “There are lots of lines under roads and the construction companies want to know what the lines look like before they start,” says Albert. “So, we do a lot of pre and post TV work for them. It’s a big deal if you have to repair a line under a highway.

“We’ve started running Cobra cameras. It’s a user-friendly system and superior to what we’ve been using. On a general job, we get paid by the foot or mile so we’re an efficient contractor. We don’t get paid if we don’t get anything done.”

However, Albert says that they will go out on an hourly rate for special problems or investigative work—especially for engineering firms.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Part of pipe cleaning and inspection is cutting those pesky roots that can worm their way into the pipes. “We run the jetter through the pipe and those nozzles come with anywhere from 30 to 60 orifices to allow tiny high-pressure areas. That high pressure will cut through the roots and your finger if you aren’t careful. We’ve taken hydraulic motors and converted them to run a jetter or a special corkscrew type saw that will go in there when we’ve gotten a root ball. The biggest we’ve seen is an 18″, but that’s rare. Tulsa cleans every 3-4 years as a part of preventive maintenance so they never get real bad. They learned that it’s cheaper to do that than to have a highway cave in.”

The crews at Lot Maintenance like to use a variety of nozzles. “We go to different trade shows and buy from a variety of suppliers. We like to see the videos and see them in action.”

Finding Solutions

“We have a lot of 20-year employees that are talented,” says Albert. “So, we’ve looked at bidding on big jobs in neighboring states to give them an opportunity to be promoted and set up a satellite office. However, you need to have enough contracts to set up the operation. If you get a big contract, then you look at pulling in those smaller contracts that will make that venture make financial sense so that we can continue being the solution, not the problem.”

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Resources

For more information:

■ Lot Maintenance, www.lotmaintenance.com
■ Cobra Technologies, www.cobratec.com
■ VACTOR, www.vactor.com

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