For Noel Gillot, plumbing has been a passion for nearly 50 years. And as the first independent plumber to sign with Nuflow in 2004, he knows more than most how advanced composite resin CIPP relining technology has revolutionised the industry.
Business name: Nuflow Toowoomba/Action Pipecam P/L
Owner: Noel Gillot
Joined Nuflow: August 2004
Size of business: f/t owner-operator plus 2 f/t field staff plus office/admin staff
What in the plumbing industry attracted you?
At just 14 Noel Gillot decided plumbing was the game for him. He liked the idea of doing physical work and earning a living outdoors, but more importantly he liked putting his active mind to work solving the various challenging situations plumbers come up against every day.
He began his four-year apprenticeship at 16, then worked for other plumbers for a few years until starting his own business in 1981. He found the “simple” side of plumbing (installing pipes in new homes or replacing washers) relatively boring – preferring the challenge of helping clients solve difficult pipe problems underground, and in the mid-1990s formed Action Pipecam so he could specialise in drain inspections, blocked drains and (later) pipe relining. Along with wife Shirley and off-siders, Paddy and Mitchell, Gillot has built his business on honesty and integrity and says the only bad jobs are the ones that don’t pay.
“I don’t care what the job is; a pipe’s a pipe no matter what it’s connected to,” he said.
“I love problem solving, being innovative and going out to jobs where there are circumstances that might have others stumped; I guess I like the challenge, and it keeps me entertained.”
Gillot has been plumbing for nearly 50 years, doing CCTV inspections of drains for 24 and relining pipes with advanced composite resins for 15, so he’s seen plenty of changes in the industry.
“It’s nowhere near as physically demanding as it used to be,” he said.
“When I started my apprenticeship they used to drop me off in the morning and say ‘Here’s the pick, the shovel and the crowbar – start digging that drain and we’ll be back later’.
“We didn’t have all the machines they have today to get into tight places and we didn’t have relining – so you just had to dig it up yourself and fix it.”
Over the years Gillot has accumulated not only a wealth of experience, but a treasure trove of one-off, custom-designed tools and expensive, specialised equipment which now enable him and his team to deliver cost-effective drain relining solutions to clients right across the Toowoomba region. Much of their work comes via other plumbers who know using Gillot’s expertise will translate into cost savings for their own clients.
“They call us and we come on site with $100,000 in equipment and 50 years’ worth of knowledge and we work out the most cost-effective way of solving the problem,” he said.
“We use very expensive camera technology to locate and analyse the problem, clear out any blockages and, if necessary, reline any broken or damaged sections of pipe.
“And importantly, people have the reassurance of knowing that we won’t leave until we’ve got it sorted.”
Why drain & pipe relining?
Gillot said he decided to specialise in pipe relining because he could see it was the way of the future.
“It’s just such a sensible way of resolving so many issues and in most cases it’s way more cost-effective than jackhammers and destructive work,” he said.
“A lot of the time when we turn up people are traumatised because they think – or they’ve been told – they’ve got something wrong with the pipes under their house and it’s all got to be dug up and they feel like it’s going to devastate their life.
“You can’t help but feel sorry for them, and it’s always so great to be able to tell them there’s an alternative.”
Why did you choose Nuflow?
Knowing there was so much aging, underground pipe infrastructure nearing end of life in regional Australia, and having heard about new pipe repair and relining technologies being used overseas, Gillot says he’d been looking into alternatives for a few years before finding Nuflow.
“I been looking for a relining product for a while but none of them ticked all the boxes for me,” he said.
“But once I found out what Nuflow was doing I knew straight away they were exactly what I was after.
“It was achievable, do-able – and they were a local company so there was support close at hand.
“I knew my way around the whole drain and pipe repair industry pretty well by then, and I could see that both relining and Nuflow were growing and they’ve continued to change and be innovative ever since.
“That was in 2004, and I was the first one to sign with them – although I didn’t actually know that at the time – and it was just a license to use their product, which back then was just the Blueline.
“Now they’ve got the Greenline for drinking water pipes, Sumoline for heavy load-bearing pipes, the Blueline high temperature liners and ones that cope with high impact industrial use.
“They’ve even released a resin that can cure underwater now.
“I tried to get them to make it pink… but they wouldn’t have it.
“But that’s what I like about them.
“They’re innovative in the products and also in the installation equipment they come up with.
“Sometimes that’s as a result of feedback they get from the installation network and sometimes it’s just on their own – but the important thing is that over the 15 years I’ve been with them they just continue to improve their products and services.
“Not only does that mean better outcomes for clients and installers, but also it helps me stay really interested in what I’m doing and I feel like I’m still continually learning, so it’s been a great relationship.”
Other benefits, Gillot says, are the broader industry and business perspectives one can access by being part of a large company, the national banding that helps spread the company’s name, the skills and resources now available to the franchise partners through head office and the ability to share information and connect with other people doing the same sort of work as you are.
“Most self-employed plumbers are stand-alone units and it’s difficult to continue your education because you get isolated from the industry when you’re off doing your own thing,” he said.
“But being a part of this larger organisation is really helpful because we’re talking to each other and giving each other advice or suggestions.
“There’s also the help available through head office, so that’s good too.”
Example of a pipe relining job you’ve done so far?
Having done hundreds of relines that got people out of trouble, deciding on a stand-out isn’t easy for Gillot, but he admitted he felt a great sense of accomplishment after one recent challenge.
It was a 450mm diameter reinforced AC pipe which had been pierced by a directional bore. The bore had been drilling through the earth sideways beneath the pipe, which was buried about 2.2 metres beneath a major road. It had left a 350mm gaping hole in the bottom of the pipe, and barbs of torn reo protruded up into the pipe’s interior. Just to make things a little harder, there was only one access point available to the Nuflow Toowoomba team, and that point was 35 metres downstream of the hole.
“Normally we have at least two access points to be able to pull things into place over the damage,” he said.
“But with this drain we only had the one and it was downstream, which meant we would have to literally push the liner up into place somehow, and I’ve always said that if you have to push a liner in, it’s nearly impossible once you go over about 20 metres.
“Yet here we were, trying to go nearly twice that far.
“We also had to get rid of the steel sticking up into the pipe or it would tear the liner, so basically I had to work out how to cut the steel 35 metres down the pipe, how to push the liner that far in with only one access point, and how to make sure the liner didn’t fall into the hole once we’d got it to where the damage was.
“So I put my thinking cap on, gave them the quote and once it was accepted we set about creating a device that could help us achieve what we needed to.
“In a way that’s where being ‘old school’ helps, because when I started out in plumbing we always had to build stuff and weld things together because often we just couldn’t get the equipment we needed.
“I could have bought something that would have cut that steel off but they cost a few hundred thousand dollars, whereas mine did the job and only cost me time and a few headaches.”
Gillot said if it wasn’t for relining this would have been a major excavation and repair.
“It would have been a major job to fix that busted pipe conventionally because being concrete, well you don’t just dig it up, cut it and put a couple of joins on; they don’t even make joiners for pipes that size.
“They’d have had to close off one lane of the highway and excavate a hole about 4 metres long by 2 metres wide and then reinstate the road and everything afterwards, so it would have been very difficult and costly.
“But we went in, figured out how to make things work, and did the job with virtually no disturbance or hassle and saved them at least $10,000 – which is why I love doing the relining work so much.”
Main difficulties of running a small business like yours?
“I always try to have faith in people – that they’ll do the right thing – and mostly they do, but there is always the concern about doing work and not getting paid for it when you have a small service business like this,” he said.
“There’s a lot of trust involved, between the business owner and the client and also between a business owner and their staff.
“Trust is what relationships are built on and once it’s lost it can be almost impossible to rebuild.
“I always say when I’m interviewing someone to work for me, that if they lie to me or steal from me they’ll be out before the dust settles and I reinforce it within the first week, because you have to be able to trust the people you’re working with.
“There’s also the isolation you’ve got working in your own business, and not really having other people to connect with or do ongoing education and training with – but being with Nuflow helps with a lot of that now.”
Where do you see your business in 10 years’ time?
Whilst Gillot doesn’t see himself ever retiring from the thrill of drain inspection and repairs altogether, he admits he’s looking forward to having more free time to explore Australia’s great outdoors with wife, Shirley.
“I want the business to keep getting bigger and better, but I guess in ten years’ time I’m also hoping to have a partner or a manager or something where I could still be involved in some way but could slow down a little,” he admitted.
“I love going four-wheel driving and seeing the hard-to-get-to places away from the rat-race but I haven’t been to the Kimberleys or The Great Ocean Road or driven the Nullarbor yet, because those things take time and when you’re full on in your business it can be close to impossible.”
What’s something you try to live or work by?
By his own admission, Gillot is always sharing his wisdom with the world, “Just ask Shirley” he chuckles.
“I always tell people your life is going to be what you make it – so if you want to lie to people or steal from people or be dishonest, it’s up to you… but you will reap what you sow – because what you put energy into, grows.
“If you put energy into your business, it will grow – but if you keep putting energy into a bad relationship, it’s going to keep getting worse.
“So you should try to put your energy into good things and just focus on them.”
Some of his other favourites are:
- It’s only work if you don’t want to do it (adding that plumbing is never work until he goes over 50 hours in the one week)
- A house without plumbing is only a shed (one he loves sharing with builders), and
- You should always treat people the way you want them to treat you.
But he says his promise to his clients is what he’s built his reputation on.
“I always say to my clients, ‘I’ll treat your home the way I treat mine, and I’ll try and help you make a decision as if it was my home’, and that’s really the best I can do.”