Working For Roto Rooter

411 plumb One day I received a call offering me a job at Roto Rooter from a manager that was in charge of recruiting and training new employees at the branch office that served the area I lived in. I was skeptical at first because I had dealt with the company once at another place I worked at previously, and was not very impressed by the sales techniques used. I was in a job at the time that I didn’t like, and even though I had doubts about Roto Rooter I decided to check the job offer out.

I went in and spoke with the manager and he told me about how the employees make really decent money and how he wanted to set me up to ride along with one of the guys for a day and see what working at Roto Rooter was really like. He also briefly explained how the employees work on a commission basis, and are required to supply their own work van.(This requirement varies regionally) The evening he had me come in on was the night all the guys were required to turn in their receipts for the week, and everything seemed very busy. They also had a platter out with a bunch of wrap sandwiches and it seemed pretty pleasant. By the end of our meeting I was set up to meet one of the guys at the office on Saturday morning and ride with him to see what the job was like.

On Saturday morning I met the guy I was riding with, and very quickly he was given his first call for the day. As we drove to the first call we talked to each other about each of our jobs, and how they were, he was pretty honest about working for Roto Rooter and said the amount of work he gets varies with some very busy times and also slow times but all in all he makes a decent living. We spent the day going from job to job and he certainly seemed to be quite busy that day. The job seemed to be a decent one and by what I saw that day the money made would be quite decent.

The manager called me back the next day and asked me what I thought about the job, I told him I would be interested, he then asked me to come back for a second interview with the branch manager. I went to that interview, and spoke with both of them, in this interview we talked about the job and how the job in addition to doing plumbing and drain cleaning was also about sales. I had no sales background at all but they assured me they would train me. They also explained how the employees work on a commission paid basis with the company paying the employee approximately 30% on up of the labor price on the job, depending on whether they were a drain cleaner or, higher for licensed plumbers. The employee has to supply the van, fuel for the van, maintenance on the van, insurance on the van purchased through Roto Rooter deducted each week out of his pay, and the hand tools used by the employee to do the work. Roto Rooter provides the drain cleaning machines, a cell phone, advertising, dispatching, decals on the employee’s truck, an assortment of parts to carry on the truck which are sold to the customer when needed, uniforms, and 6-12 weeks of training on selling, doing the paperwork, plumbing, and cleaning drains. They also wanted me to go ahead and take a drug test before we could go any further, which I passed, then they hired me, and gave me a start date to come work for them.

I went to the first several days of work at the office, and was in a group of about 5 guys that had just been hired. We filled out paperwork, and had sales and safety training videos to watch typical of many larger companies on the first days. We were then each assigned another employee to work with, and learn the ropes while spending ½ the day one day a week at the office for additional training. During this time we were expected to buy a work van for ourselves and make sure that we had the tools we needed to do the work. Finally after our training was completed we were ready to hit the road on our own and make that “Fat Commission!”

Unfortunately during the training period we were exposed to the other side of working for Roto Rooter, where they don’t always have work, sitting for hours on “Standby” waiting for a job, calls to the dispatcher trying to find out where you are on the standby list, and if you will be getting another job that day are usually unanswered or, answered very vaguely. This usually keeps you sitting in a parking lot somewhere far from home with the truck idling to keep the heat or, a/c going to keep comfortable. As soon as you give up and head for home, you usually will be sent right back to the area you were in to a job, usually getting the job just as you arrive at home. The call was scheduled previously for that time, but, the dispatcher couldn’t tell you they were going to send you there later in your shift.

Buying a van and tools represents a considerable investment by the employee just to work for the company with no guarantee of actual income. The employee is then dispatched to calls received by the company, with the goal of having a warm body show up at every call received, and the staffing levels are maintained at a high level where the company is reasonably assured of getting the warm body to every call, even if many of the employees spend most of the day waiting to get a job sent to them. That glory day where I rode with the guy to see what working for Roto Rooter was like, had been staged, with the dispatchers making sure that he was kept busy to make a good impression. The ugly reality is the Roto Rooter employee in most cases will be hungry for work (income), not knowing if the job he is sent on is his job for the day, and he is expected to close a sale by the company even if the problem you have cannot be solved by any service the company provides. Roto Rooter expects the employees to maintain a high close rate with an action level at about 85%, so there is pressure to close a sale on every job the employee is dispatched to.

Truthfully you can sometimes make a decent living, and other times it gets tough. When you are 3 days into the work week, and you have been on standby most of that time with the “Qualified Sales Leads” you were given being not so qualified, the stress is on! Driving 45 minutes or, an hour to a call and discovering the customers “Plumbing Problem” is a leaking roof, leaking fire sprinkler system that the company is not licensed to work on or, some other problem that a plumber does not fix, can get very expensive for the employee. This could be avoided if the company paid the customer service representatives a decent wage, hiring some with some level of plumbing experience, where they asked a few questions, and turned away calls that obviously did not involve plumbing. Instead they are actually paid bonuses when they have a high enough percentage of calls where they “Book a Customer” to have a plumber go to the call. A roof leak 100′ away from the nearest plumbing pipe in a large store is just a little bit ridiculous for a plumber to drive that far to, and even more ridiculous when they try to send you to the same call 3 weeks later after you have already been there, and the closed out job in the customer work history with a “No Revenue” listed as being a roof leak, and not a plumbing problem.

The company policy is to provide free estimates for the work a customer wants done. Of course many of these are people that have gone through the phone book calling 6 or, more companies to get estimates from, having no intention of having the work done that day, but the information you are given in the dispatch page usually says something like the customer has 3 faucets they bought and want installed right away. You figure out you have been duped when you are 15 minutes away and the customer is wanting an estimated time of arrival because they are either worried about the next plumber’s appointment overlapping or, they are in a rush to go out as soon as they get your estimate. Every job you are given will sound like they want the work done on the spot, even though the customer service representative knows full well it is only an estimate, and no thought is given to how close the employee is to the customer or, if another employee is closer but would require the customer to be more accommodating on the scheduling of the call. I had one customer that I had given no less than 6 estimates to, without ever getting a job from her.

These policies can cost the Roto Rooter employee considerable amounts of money in travel expenses going to “Jobs” that far away and really is avoidable with the technology the company uses in their phones. In each phone issued to a Roto Rooter employee there is a GPS system that shows the location of every employee on a map the dispatcher can view, each call also appears on this same map. Ideally the dispatcher would use this information to schedule the calls where the closest technicians could handle them, and if an area that has an unusually high call volume could shift employees from an area close by to assist with several of the calls. Frequently what the dispatchers do is when an area has a high call volume is send numerous employees to that area, often driving long distances of even an hour or, more, telling them there are multiple calls and they will be going down there for as many as 3 of them. The first one they want you to take care of is a toilet auger which is usually a fast, and minimally priced call. You are done in about 20 minutes after arriving and ready for your next call, but all those other calls have been taken because everyone and his brother was sent to the area and the one call you received, will barely cover the gas you burned to get there. What the dispatchers do is stick to the rigid appointment time based dispatching where the service employees wave to each other on the highway as I drive and hour to a call that is where the other guy was, and he is driving an hour to where I just was. With todays gasoline prices driving vans that average about 10 miles per gallon this is ridiculous that the technology the company has is not used to help the employees make more money.

As I mentioned earlier the company expects you to maintain a high closing rate of 85% and takes action when you go lower. Unfortunately this close rate also includes calls where you are sent on someone else’s callback to fix a job where they didn’t do the initial job correctly. This often works against the better plumbers that are sent to the botched jobs of others to make things right as you are charging no additional money. In addition the better plumbers are also sent to larger jobs to give estimates where the close rate would be lower on a bathroom remodeling job vs. replacing a faucet. One of the actions the company takes when your close rate is low is to actually send you more of the known “Unqualified Sales Leads” and use you to clean up the board with all the calls that other employees have turned down. Yes! That is right! Some employees are allowed to turn down a call that they can tell is bogus! I once had a call that had been turned down by 3 other employees before I was stuck with it! There is an ethnic group that has some traditional cultural differences in how they negotiate a business transaction, with the Roto Rooter “Flat Rate” being very tough to sell in this situation. This group comprises about ½ of 1% of the population in our area, and when you receive 3 calls in one day to give a member of this group an estimate, you can be certain the fix is in! When you fall into the “Low Closer Action Level” they will do their best to bury you even if you got there by unwittingly being the “Good Guy” patching up too many of the “Botched Up Callback Jobs.” At Roto Rooter there is no I or, me in team, there is only the company and nothing else!

Unfortunately many of the best employees Roto Rooter has ever had, have left the company because it is hard to make a decent living there honestly. The “Churn and Burn” of their employees should have been evident when you went to that first day of work as part of a group of 5 new employees. To have such a large group at once in a shop that has a staffing of 35 – 40 employees on the road signals a high turnover rate and it is indeed about 33%. Once you have driven the wheels off your van and your travel expenses have risen to a point where they are the largest portion of your weekly income, (remember you pay for the gas and repairs on the van out of your pocket) you will be forced the survival choice of moving on. You’ll be leaving with a worn out high mileage van and a depleted bank account if you are lucky. Would I advise working for Roto Rooter? No!

Posted in Roto Rooter, Sewer & Drain Tagged with: , ,
4 comments on “Working For Roto Rooter
  1. john doe says:

    I worked for “Mr. Rooter” for about a year. Everything you said sounds basically the same, except that every employee had a work van and gas was paid for by the company. But as far as getting calls it was the same. If you had a bad close rate, then you wouldn’t get hardly any calls. The dispatchers got a bonus for booked calls… Licensed or not, everyone got 18%. With materials taken out… The prices in the book were so high, it was about impossible to raise it anymore just to make a paycheck… The Mr. Rooter that I worked at “N ATL” was apparently running their business quite a bit more different than the “standards” of the Mr Rooter way. Really crappy to their employees… Employees had to pay for everything including cell phone, which we weren’t allowed to use our personal phone… and their garbage phone was $15 a week, next were uniforms that were 7 bucks a week, and then the over priced insurance. After a while they took away the hours worth of paperwork, I think to cover their butt… But we would be on standby or working around 70-80 hrs a week, with no overtime. I lost my job because I failed the Journeyman Plumber License test by 5 pts… But the boss put some other BS down on my termination sheet. One time I did a re-pipe that failed inspection because I didn’t put shutoffs on the hose bibs, you have to understand I learned all my plumbing in NC, and always thought it was just a luxury to have those shutoffs, it wasn’t code there… Well my boss went to look at my job, and for some reason thought it was a shotty job… I know it wasn’t, hell I did new construction for 5 yrs in NC, and water re-pipes is nothing less than a piece of cake… But after my boss saw that, he only gave me drain calls, I was lucky if I had 2 calls a week… Then after that test… IDK… What it comes out to is that if you want to work for Mr Rooter, don’t go to the Roswell location, oh yea, the accountant screwed up every paycheck every week, I think that’s why they did away with paperwork….. My question is do you have to buy a van? Or can you use a truck… Thanx

    • Redwood says:

      Hi John,
      I think most of the companies with the last name “Rooter” tend to follow the same business model of gouging their customers and employees. I believe the “White Van” was the requirement. Not all branches had the same policy, some would provide the van and pay a lower commission rate, while others had you buy the van. One thing I can say for sure is that if any company with “Rooter” for a last name ever called me to offer me a job I would laugh hysterically then hang up the phone.
      Lesson Learned!

  2. Michael says:

    Wow, I read your summary and you almost exactly described a cable installer subcontractor. We have to supply our own vehicle, tools, and all that good stuff too. Dispatch telling you where to go, the “veteran” guys who get all of the cushy jobs and are used as an example for new hires. Yea, you can make $2,000 gross a week, if we cherry pick a perfect job route for you. In reality, we get a mismatch of disconnect orders, reconnect at pole only, or ‘upgrades’ where you just add a cable box or modem. An average route might earn you $800 gross. And that’s before your huge gasoline bill and vehicle maintenance. The good money is with new installs in the new neighborhoods, and its the same veteran guys who almost get exclusivity of those. Not to mention the charge-backs for incomplete or failed jobs. Fail QC, you will lose all money from that job. You also pay a 20 dollar fee as a punishment for not arriving on time to an appointment. They say they will waive it when you are overloaded, or you pick up a job from someone who was running late. But when you get your paycheck, (which is 2 weeks behind so they can withhold money you might and will owe) those late fees are still taken off your check, because the dispatcher didn’t put notes that you picked up the job or whatever. And since it is 2 weeks after the fact, no one can remember that you shouldn’t be charged back for it.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Michael,
      Unfortunately there are a lot of predatory employers today that dangle the unattainable carrot while they “Churn & Burn” through an endless supply of new employees, with employee turnover as high as 30% every year. They have managed to exploit every possible labor law loophole in their favor, and still resort to doing illegal things that result in class action lawsuits by employees and customers. In the case of Roto-Rooter they have several class action lawsuits against them currently for things like sending unlicensed employees to do work requiring a license, and selling unnecessary work to enhance their profits.

      It’s not bad enough that they manage to do everything that makes you say, “Hey there ought to be a law against that.”
      They still have to take it one stuff further and break the laws. A sign of the times.

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