Underground or in the Walls, up for the challenge
C. Lee Services LLC uses trenchless repair methods to remedy tough pipeline problems
When it comes to business, Christopher Lee operates his professional life using the same principles that guide his personal life: Find solutions. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Treat others with dignity and respect. Take pride in all you do.
“I want people to know that when they call us, they know I’m going to do right by them,” says Lee, President of C. Lee Services LLC.
Since 2004, Lee’s Peninsula, Ohio, plumbing business has been serving customers in Akron, its suburbs and into the northeastern area of the state. But, for Lee, his experience as a plumber stretches back much further than that.
“I’ve been plumbing as long as I can remember,” he says. “I grew up snaking drains and putting in sewers for my dad’s business.”
The third-generation master plumber first launched his own enterprise in 1995, and 15 years ago, that entrepreneurial experience resulted in the creation of C. Lee Services.
“We’re known for drain cleaning and sewer work,” he says. “And I hate to be generic and say we do that better than anyone else; but we do that better than just about anyone else and with our customers’ best interests at heart.”
Tackling Challenges Others Won’t
Lee leads a team of nine at C. Lee Services. Three employees handle the office, while a crew of six are out in the field. The company serves all kinds of customers, but nearly 60% are residential customers. The majority of them are looking for service or system repair.
Keeping clients satisfied often requires lots of outside-the-box thinking to find solutions to problems that other plumbers either weren’t willing to take on or tried and were unsuccessful at.
“We do a lot of jobs that most other companies can’t or won’t. That’s what sets us apart,” Lee says. “The challenge is something I really enjoy.”
Finding creative solutions means being willing to invest time in problem-solving.
“The harder the challenge, the more fun it is,” Lee says.
One challenge Lee was eager to tackle was a construction project in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
His company got the call when a contractor installing the plumbing of a Menards home improvement store was unable to complete a test on the above-ground system because of a problem in the underground portion of the piping, which was keeping the system from holding pressure. Because the cement already had been poured and the heating system had been installed, the broken pipe needed to be located without tearing into the new floor.
C. Lee Services was able to isolate the crack in a fitting and employ an epoxy-coating system to repair the leak without interrupting construction or destroying the floor.
“This kept the project on schedule and the store opened on time,” Lee says. “There would have been a significant delay if the floor had to be broken up.”
Trenchless Repair: Technology Trumps Tradition
A major growth driver for C. Lee Services is trenchless pipe repair. About three years ago, Lee invested in the equipment necessary to offer cured-in-place piping (CIPP) services as a way to address aging sewer, water and other pipeline systems.
Using the method, Lee and his crew inject an epoxy-filled sleeve into a drain or sewer pipe from a remote location and leave a fully repaired pipe inside the old, busted one. “It’s putting a new pipe inside the old pipe with little to no digging,” Lee says.
That means there’s minimal or no destruction to the yard, landscaping, driveway or walls. “You don’t have to get a backhoe in the yard, tearing up your flowers,” Lee says. “We can repair piping snaps in old buildings without tearing walls apart or without ripping out your kitchen cabinets.”
The more traditional repair method uses PVC pipe and a material that is sealed with a gasket, and it has nothing to stop roots from growing through the pipeline down the road. That means at some point, you’ll likely encounter the same problem you started with.
“With the new CIPP system, there is no potential for root rejuvenation,” Lee says, noting that the method also allows plumbers to line a greater distance of the pipe instead of having to end at the sidewalk or under the basement, like excavation requires.
“It’s a more complete job,” he says. “It won’t be long till the cured-in-place method will be the preferred method for everyone.”
On occasion, C. Lee Services must go with traditional excavation if a pipe is too far deteriorated for CIPP to work. “But that is few and far between,” Lee says, adding that CIPP not only yields more complete results, but is also 10% to 15% less expensive than excavation.
The Future is Here
The CIPP portion of his business is taking off.
The first year C. Lee offered CIPP services, they accounted for $50,000 in sales. The following year that doubled, and in its third year, Lee is projecting the receipts to be between $250,000 and $300,000.
“The biggest problem is getting the word out and letting customers know that CIPP is an option,” he says. “But we’re doing it and growing, because that’s where the future is.”
Growth is important to Lee, but so is treating his employees right, making sure they feel valued and appreciated.
Two of his four children are on his team; one son works as a service plumber, while another is on the C. Lee Services trenchless crew. But though he may not be related to his other employees, the whole C. Lee team is like family, he says.
He’s created an environment that fosters camaraderie and loyalty; several employees have tenures that stretch back a decade.
“We have a close-knit group of people who all look out for one another,” Lee says.
He’s made balance a priority in his own life and wants to make sure his employees have that, too.
“You work to live, you don’t live to work,” he says, noting that his employees are encouraged to find the time to be actively involved in not only their families’ lives, but their communities as well.
Doing right by his team is just as important to Lee as doing right by his customers.
“We want to be a light for people who need us, when they need us. There’s a lot of competition out there—but when it comes to quality and someone who has the customer’s best interest at heart, that’s what sets us apart as the true professionals.”