What is the top motivator for you to be an entrepreneur?
In my 30’s there was a few tragic events that lead to the realization that I only have so many sunrises. After I had a very close family member pass away, I wanted to do something. That something did not include working for others. I decided to take a chance on myself because change comes from within and I didn’t want to look back and think of the things I should have done with my life, I already knew what I could do for someone else. I wanted to push myself to the point of failure because I knew I could re-build and achieve a higher level of satisfaction
What are the benefits of owning your own business? Freedom? Ability to pursue your passion? Professional Flexibility?
The benefits of owning my own business and working for myself is the satisfaction of over-seeing the project from start to finish. I am responsible for the project. I like that as a business owner I am able to help people who need it. I am able to help those who call me. I just don’t want to give them things that they do not need. I like to work with the customer to find the best solution. I don’t have to worry about upselling a customer because the boss says I have to make a quota. I am there to actually help the person when I show up on site and find the best solution for their problem. I like being able to do that.
Other freedoms I am still finding. I have passions in life but as a self employed person, the business comes first and don’t always have the time to do all of them. As a business owner, it is not a 9-5, Monday through Friday job.
How many employees do you have?
We don’t have employees. At the present time it is myself. I am the one who answers the phone and does all the work on the job sites. My wife handles all the paperwork and day to day bookkeeping. A nice family business. The kids are too young just yet but one of them would love to come to work with Dad everyday.
You’re a family owned business, what about this sets you apart form your competition?
Clearwater Leak Detection is a family owned and operated business. This gives us lots of flexibility for our business and our customers. We are a local company. When you give local businesses a chance and have them do the work for you, you get the owner of the company, not just an hourly employee. When I, the business owner, is on site, I want to make sure you are happy and I have helped you within every ability that I am able. Sometimes when I am on site, the job changes. As the business owner, I am able to adapt to these changes and go with it. I don’t have to call someone and have them make the decisions for me and my customer.
What are the numerous hats you fill on a daily basis?
Yes, as a business owner I do wear numerous hats. I answer my phone, talk to people, work on the projects, drive and navigate our Puget Sound area, make sure the vehicle is ready to go (gas in it, clean, appropriate materials in the truck for the project). When I do a line replacement I am the one who looks and bids the line, gets the materials and loads them all in the truck. I make sure the job is completed that either meets or in most cases exceeds customers expectations. Right now, I am answering these questions, while my children are using me as a jungle gym. It is all worth it. There really is too many to answer.
Why is it important to have smaller businesses in our communities?
It is very important that we have small businesses in our communities. Small businesses keep the money in the local area! The money you spend with us is the same money that we will spend with a local dentist to have our kids teeth cleaned, money that can use to support local community programs for examples. We are able to really connect with our customers and provide a level of personal customer service that large companies do not. We care about our customers and really can go the extra mile for our customers and the communities we work in. Small businesses are able to work with you on a very personal level and get to know you. We have many that we are still in contact with and have become personal friends with.
What advice can you give other inspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to start their own business?
For any entrepreneurs looking to start their own business one piece of advice I would give them would be to start a business that you are passionate about and that you really love. If you don’t you will not be able to completely enjoy your business and make it all that it is to be. When you are a small business owner it is not something that you just do Monday through Friday, 8-5, it is your life. You are always thinking about it, doing something about it, working to better it. It becomes you. However, you are so proud of it, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
LEAK DETECTION QUESTIONS:
How many years of experience do you have?
I have 25 years of experience in the water industry. I have previously worked at a municipality where I maintained the entire water system. I understand how the water system works from the source, to main lines, to the meters to the customers home. I understand the full circle of the water system for the water purveyor and customer. Not only do I have experience in the field, I also have degrees and certifications that pertain to my field I am currently in.
Where did you learn your craft?
With my previous experience maintaining water systems, our water allowable water loss was only 10% although this number sounds large for years a 30% loss was acceptable with the State. As technology progressed, it was easier to find deficiencies within the water system. I had to know when our system was losing water, where it was losing water and how to fix the loss. We did not have the quality and array of instruments I have now but it gave me a good understanding of how to find and fix water leaks.
What is the value of having an individual with decades of experience handle a leak detection call vs. someone who just graduated trade school 6 months ago?
The value of having someone like me come out to your job is my experience. I understand not only your water line but the water line coming to your house from your water company. There have been issues that I have come across that you need to understand how a water meter works and if you don’t you won’t find the leak or be able to help your customer out. With my years of experience I don’t just have one tool that I use to find or fix a leak. I have many different options and I understand my equipment much better than you would ever learn in a school. Water leaks can be tricky to find. You are trying to find something underground that you cannot see.
It is important to be able to have lots of different ways to find a leak. My years in the municipal water system really comes into play. Understanding water lines and how water systems work really does help out. There have been instances where water companies want to talk to the guy doing the leak work. Once I talk to them and they understand what I know versus some of my competitors, they are excited to have someone like me, who understands the entire water process, work on their customers lines that they always ask for lots of my cards. Some of the questions that I frequently ask a customer when they first call me may help save the customer money or even solve their problems.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
The most difficult part of my job is trying to let people know that there is no magic machine that finds water leaks. Leaks are detected through a leak survey then the information is interrupted by the operator of the equipment with the knowledge of thousands of leaks detected in the past. A judgment is made on every job. It always comes down to someone has to make a decision on the leak location. Sometimes you are able to confirm a leak location with multiple methods which is always a confidence booster other times only one method works or proves fruitful. Since I deal with the unknown and can’t always be sure of pipe depth, material, size, age or location, you only have your past experience to make a judgment where the leak is located. I don’t have a machine that can magically find water leaks. It is sometimes very difficult to find things underground, especially when they are made out of plastic (as most water lines are). The majority of people do not know where their water lines are and if they do, they know the general area. It takes time to find your water line and then find the leak in the water line. Just because the area between your water meter and where it comes in your home is a straight line does not mean that your water line is in a straight line.
What is the most interesting call you’ve had?
Most interesting call?
What are some of the more frequent service calls you receive?
Frequently people start out the call saying “My water bill is larger than usual” or “my water company told me I have a leak”. They don’t know what to ask. I may ask a lot of questions but that is only to try and help the customer.”The book of answers” is how it feels when customers call with their questions sometimes. On occasion while a customer is describing their leak problems, I already know the location of their leak. I could keep all this information bottled up in side and just look like Houdini when I arrive and be collecting a check within five minutes but I don’t. Most people are quite grateful when you provide them answer to problems over the phone for no charge.
What is your favorite piece of equipment to use on a job and why? Radar?
My favorite piece of equipment is the Geophone. The device was created to find enemies underground during time of war. As with all devices they soon found other uses for it and one of the uses was for leak detection. The device is unamplified so it only yields a pure earth sound. It gives a sense of direction for the operator because both ears are listening to two different points on the ground. Since the device is unamplified the geophone is perfect for leak detection with areas of background noise (airplanes, dogs, traffic, weed eaters, etc.). I like it because there are no electronic pieces to break.
Why leak detection? Why did you choose this niche?
I was always good at finding the leaks at my previous employer. I was looking at managing another municipal water system and after talking to a friend/mentor, he saw my potential and I started the business. That was 8 years ago and haven’t looked back since.
WHO IS CLEARWATER LEAK DETECTION:
What sets your business apart from your competitors?
Why am I different than my competitors? I have a long and extensive background in the water field. I have worked for a municipality in the water department for many years. I also have many degrees and certifications (some as high as you can get in that area of expertise). Since I have installed these water lines, I can understand proper installation methods and understand how someone would have installed a water line in the most efficient manner. Since I have installed water lines, I understand where some of the fittings should be, how a line should be installed, and pipe material. I have also found and fixed over 3000 water line leaks so it helps me understand water line leaks. It helps me interpret the information I am hearing above ground then put it together with what is actually happening below ground. It’s more beneficial to me because I can see it after I have found it. It helps me in the future because if and when I come across this noise again, I will be able to find it and actually be able to tell the customer what is going on with their water line and what the best option will be to repair and or replace their line. I have an advantage because of what I hear under the ground, if it doesn’t sound normal or correct, I am normally the guy digging it up and getting to see why. I have the materials on my truck to be able to do whatever the customer needs. For example, if I am on site detecting a leak and the customer wants to repair the line themselves, I am able to sell them the quality parts they will need and be able to teach and show them how to make the repair themselves. If I am on site doing finding a leak and the customer wants me to repair it, sometimes I can do it right there while I am on site. There have been times when I have been on site finding a leak and a customer’s water line leak is so bad that they need to run a temporary service water line above ground from the water meter to their home; I am able to do that for them instead of them calling another company and waiting for someone else to arrive. I am able to take care of it all right on the spot.
I also am the only person I know of in the area that can offer all the services and perform them personally (leak detection, swimming pools leaks, fix water lines, smoke testing, replace water lines, find indoor water leaks). One day I will be finding a leak in a service line and the next day I might be swimming in a pool finding a leak under water.
What are some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way Clearwater does business? Or how you work?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned while on site is that I am able to help people. I know that sounds strange however you never know what is going on until you are on site and see their situation and listen to them. I am able to do what I want as a business owner that I am able to help those that need it. That has been a big change for me and humbling at the same time. I also have to treat Clearwater Leak Detection as a business not a hobby. That has been a change for me from the beginning. I am running my own business however I am able to help those in need.
What was your beginning mission or goal when you first started Clearwater?
Was to provide an honest service for people who could depend on and trust the words I was speaking.
Is Clearwater involved in any community organizations, efforts, or charities?
We have been discussing starting a food drive. I would like to at the end of every project be able to give my customer a bag with a note attached that I am collecting food for our local food bank. It is important to give to our community when we are able and help during the entire year, not just during the holidays when people commonly think of food banks. We have not been able to participate a lot in community groups because we are such a small company. It is just me and my wife. I am out in the field all day working and my wife is doing the books and taking care of our two young children at home. It does not leave a lot of time right now for community groups.
Does Clearwater sponsor any teams or organizations?
We have been sponsoring teams for our local community. I think it is important if you are able to give children an outlet for sports, arts, music and be able to help our communities do so. We also are involved in our local PTA. We as parents and community members need to understand what is going on with our children and help them have a voice to make a change for the better.
How many years has Clearwater been operating?
We have been in business since April, 2007. Our status as a contractor has changed from a specialty contractor to a general contractor because we are able to do so many more things as our company has grown that the State of Washington has required our license to change.
Does Clearwater offer any type of “satisfaction guarantee” or a policy for commitment to a job that might be different than other businesses?
We always strive to go over and beyond our customers expectations. We want to leave our customers with a result that can fix their problem. If we are replacing a water line, we want to try and leave the location if not how we found it, better than we found it.