Michael and James Brock own Nuflow Sydney City and manage Expert Plumbing Services. We interviewed them to find out more about this innovative new business.
Business name: Nuflow Sydney City
Owners: Michael and James Brock
Joined Nuflow: April 2019
Size of business: Two full time owner/operators
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your journey toward becoming Nuflow pipe relining specialists?
James and Michael Brock literally have plumbing in their blood. Being a third generation plumber, James says he started doing jobs alongside his father and grandfather at the ripe old age of eight. By the time he began his official apprenticeship at seventeen he knew pretty much most of what there was to know, and fifteen years, a wife and four children later, he’s still going strong.
His brother, Michael, lives in Sydney’s inner west with his girlfriend and Instafamous-dog Chloe. When not exploring the microbreweries around Sydney’s inner west he’s out on the hockey field with his Briars teammates, working off the calories. He completed an industrial design degree at the University of NSW and together they’re a formidable team, using their combined knowledge and experience to manage their parents’ Sydney plumbing business, Expert Plumbing Services.
With plenty of repeat and long-term clients the business is well established and highly successful, but over recent years they’d noticed an increasing number of enquiries about pipe relining. They were aware there were quite a few companies already doing drain relining in Sydney, but felt things could be done better. They wanted to retain their reputation for excellence, so began investigating the relining alternatives available to ensure what they offered their clients was second to none.
“We solely went into pipe relining because the market demanded it,” Michael said.
“Expert Plumbing does a lot of real estate and strata work around Sydney’s northern suburbs and people kept asking us about relining, which is where a new pipe made of advanced composite resins is formed inside leaking or broken pipes to fix them without any digging.
“That has obvious advantages for most customers so we investigated the different options available and ended up deciding that forming a new franchise business with Nuflow was the best way to go.”
Nuflow Sydney City was established in April 2019, and the brothers, who still also jointly manage the plumbing business, are equal partners.
Why did you choose Nuflow?
As managers of Expert Plumbing, Michael and James know full well what traditional plumbing techniques can offer, but they’ve also seen how well new relining technologies are performing and what can be achieved. They made the decision to join Nuflow because it aligned with their own company profile and their aspirations for future success.
“With our plumbing business we always say we can do the jobs other people can’t do,” James said.
“We don’t try to go after massive volumes of work, but we’ve got a reputation for doing really good work; professional work.
“So when there’s a plumbing problem and other people are saying things like ‘No, it’s impossible.’ or ‘We don’t know what to do with that’, well that’s our favourite line of work.
“When we started looking into Nuflow and going through their processes and how they went about things, it was clear their approach was very similar to ours.
“They were all about the quality, and like us, they operate along the lines of – when somebody else says no, we say yes.”
Michael agreed Nuflow was the obvious choice for them.
“Being able to offer clients such great warranties backed by a national company is probably the biggest selling point,” he said.
“Having warranties of up to 50 years means people can rely on the job lasting and that there will be someone there to call on if anything ever goes wrong.
“That’s different to other plumbing-pipe relining companies, who might be just a one-man band plumber or a small business who uses imported bladders and resins … they might say they offer a 50-year warranty but who knows whether they’re still going to be there in 10 years’ time for people to claim on that warranty?
“Whereas a big company like Nuflow will still be around.”
Other benefits of being part of a large national company, like having access to education, training, technical support and marketing impressed Michael, as did Nuflow’s watermark and ISO approvals and importantly the actual technology being developed.
“It was also very much about their advanced technology,” he said.
“Some of the other relining companies might be able to do one or two metre lengths, depending on how many bends are involved, but their bladders aren’t custom made for the job, they’re imported.
“This means they’re limited to the standard lengths available, so if it’s, say, a 3.5m pipe they don’t have a bladder length to suit.
“Also, they can do junctions – but again, usually only for your standard sizes (100-150mm).
“They just don’t have the capacity to customise the products or make things different – whereas Nulfow does have that capacity because they make their own bladders to suit each specific job.”
James agreed it was the clever technology Nuflow had developed and the creative, ‘can do’ way they approached each new job that impressed him from a professional point of view.
“There are plenty of reliners in Sydney, but their products just can’t do everything the Nuflow ones can do,” he said.
“If they have a job that has multiple junctions of varying sizes or changes in pipe diameter or too many bends it becomes extremely difficult.
“What they have to do is run the liner down the full length of the pipe and then use a cutting tool to cut through that new pipe where the junctions need to go and then reline the branches line into it.
“Whereas Nuflow creates the whole new lining in one piece, junctions and all, to match the job – so you can do the reline all at once with no actual cutting.
“That was a really important point of difference for us.”
Finally, James liked that Nuflow was at the cutting edge of the technology and that they were continually pushing themselves to develop new products for new situations.
“Nuflow has different products for drinking water, storm water, trade waste and sewer pipe relining,” he said.
“There’s technology Nuflow’s developed that other companies just don’t have yet – and they haven’t even hit the market yet with some of the products they’ve come up with.
“Before this technology came along if there were problems with say the water in a hotel they would have had to replace all those pipes – meaning they’d have to shut down the whole hotel or certain sections of it and cut holes in the walls.
“Whereas with this new type of no dig plumbing we can easily reline the pipes level by level so the building can keep going.”
Can you give us an example of a pipe relining job you’ve done so far?
A few jobs stick out in James’ mind, including one they did for an apartment building at Potts Point.
“We do a lot of strata work and soon after we started with Nuflow there was a job in Potts Point that was looking like it was going to cost management close to $100,000 because they were going to have to rip out all the walls in the bathrooms to replace the sewer stack pipe,” he said.
“Potts Point is quite an exclusive area of Sydney so there were some pretty expensive bathrooms in there, including one that had tiles on the walls worth $300 each.
“That owner was also telling management they weren’t allowed to touch their bathroom.
“With Nuflow we were able to do a CCTV pipe inspection from the roof to identify the problems.
“Then we used Nuflow’s Blueline to install the junctions on each level and relined the whole pipe without having to touch anything in any of the bathrooms.
“We were the only ones able to offer them a 50-year warranty because we did the whole thing from top to bottom and we did it all in one go.
“All up they saved around $60,000 and their problems were fixed quickly, so they were stoked.
“They’ve since asked for quotes from us to do all the other lines in the building as preventative maintenance to avoid similar problems in the future.
“So that was all pretty cool.”
Nuflow Sydney City has recently been given the go-ahead on another large job opposite Bondi Beach where a sewer line from a block of units has collapsed beneath busy Bondi Road, and are awaiting approval on a number of other quotes they have submitted.
Tell us about the business structure and the training you had to go through?
Michael and James are equal partners, while sub-contractor, Brendan Seidel, works with them on a regular basis.
“With the relining side of things, depending on how big the job is, Brendan will go out and quote it and then either James or I will do the job with him,” Michael said.
“If a third person is required, we take someone from the plumbing company as a sub-contractor, so it all works really well.”
Brendan, James and Michael all did their training through Nuflow and Michael says that gave them invaluable insights into the realities of the job.
“The training is 100 per cent useful if you want to get into relining,” he said.
“It was basic, clear and absolutely necessary – and we got accreditation through TAFE as well.
“I like to learn from other people’s experiences, and I wanted to learn those types of things from the trainers rather than get out there and made those mistakes ourselves.
“The training was so practical with examples of what people had done successfully and not so successfully in the past, so it actually saved us so much time knowing all that before we started.
“Of course we’re still learning more about how to get the best out of the products and the best ways to install them in different circumstances, but they’re easy to work with and even with some small things that have gone wrong it wasn’t a big deal to fix things.”
What are some of the main difficulties of running a small business like yours?
Michael said human resource management was a big challenge for small businesses like theirs.
“Managing your staff properly is always a concern,” he said.
“Just making sure you’re using your resources properly, I guess, so that the employees are happy. But it’s balancing out in terms of costs for the business as well.
“For instance with relining, you have to remember that if for some reason a bladder went in later than anticipated, your staff will still have to wait at the job until it’s cured and they can take it out.
“That means a job you thought would be done by 3pm has to go into overtime, but you might not have factored that into your quote – so it’s knowing things like that and managing expectations.
“I know those things will come with experience; the more we do the job the more we will understand it, so we’ll get better.”
Where would you like to see your business in ten years’ time?
Michael says that like Nuflow, he and James have big plans for the future.
“We definitely want to grow with Nuflow,” he said.
“With Nuflow having this franchise model they’re going to be able to build their brand to become more recognised as a complete relining service rather than just a manufacturer of relining supplies.
“We want to be part of the process that builds that brand, so that Nuflow will be the ‘go to’ people if someone thinks relining.
“I guess I have a vision that Nuflow Australia will become the Eski of relining – like when people think relining they’ll think Nuflow just like when they think about coolers these days they think Eski.
“And we genuinely believe that’s where Nuflow can be.
“They’ve got all the right products and technology for it, they just need to get the word out there about the success they are having with their pipe relining solutions and that they’re the only fully Australian company doing it.
“By moving to a franchise model, that brand recognition will come and we want to be part of that.
“So I guess basically in 10 years’ time we want to have grown the way we believe Nuflow will grow.”
What’s something you try to live or work by?
James loves taking his family camping in the great outdoors to relax and enjoy time just being together, but when he heads back to work he has to regularly deal with clients who are in all sorts of bother as a result of plumbing work that has been poorly done.
Because of that, he feels very strongly about providing high-quality services.
“On the back of our shirts is the slogan, ‘Leave plumbing to the experts’,” he said.
“I really do believe in that slogan because I know how seriously we take our jobs and what can go wrong if things aren’t done properly.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve always done high quality plumbing work, and with Nuflow I know we’ll now be doing high quality relining as well.”
Michael agrees the emphasis on exceptional work is what sets them apart from other plumbing and relining companies, but says his personal ethos is about commitment and having a good work ethic.
“Don’t just say you’ll do something or sit there and think about doing it,” he said, “just do it.”
“I mean you don’t jump into things without thinking things through, but also don’t sit there and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll get to that tomorrow’ if you know it really needs to be done today.
“For me, it’s more ‘I’ll do it today because it needs to be done’ – that’s how I work, and that’s how I want Nuflow Sydney City to work, because it helps our clients know they can rely on what we do.”