The plumber who built a $25m empire

Bundaberg plumber Warren Ballantyne was told he would never make money from his fledgling gutter cleaning business.

A quarter of a century later, Mr. Ballantyne’s Gutter Vac business is a $ 25 million franchisee business in every state in Australia and with branches in the United States.

Mr Ballantyne said Gutter-Vac was born after a discussion at a family barbecue about a better way to deal with the difficult and sometimes dangerous job of cleaning gutters.

“It was usually done by hand by a plumber or the kid next door who faced spiders, snakes and all sorts of trash,” he said. The solution Mr. Ballantyne found was a proprietary vacuum cleaner system that could do the job from the floor.

What began as a “sideline” to Mr. Ballantyne’s plumbing business in Bundaberg soon grew into a larger operation.

“We had to clean the gutters in our plumbing business and that became more and more a part of our job,” he said.

“We searched and found some vacuums and literally started the business a month after we thought about it. Around that time my brother Trevor had lost his job and he came on board to help with the running.”

Gutter-Vac now has 90 franchisees across the country.

“We grew 26 percent last year and plan to expand to approximately 130 franchisees over the next five years,” said Ballantyne, who runs the business with Ms. Anne.

About five years ago, Gutter-Vac expanded into the United States and the company now operates in the Atlanta area.

Mr Ballantyne said in the early days that people were unwilling to pay to clean the gutter and the couple was told “we would never make a living from business”.

“When we started charging $ 80 to clean gutters, people laughed at me. Today the same service would cost $ 400,” he said.

Nowadays, people have become more aware of the dangers of gutters from clogging, including water damage to the interior of a house and fire. “If you look at the houses that burned down during the Canberra bushfires, they all had clogged gutters,” Ballantyne said.

Clogged gutters also attracted cockroaches and insects, which in turn attracted rats and snakes.

“Once we extracted 25 meters of the root system of one fig tree that was blocking another’s gutter,” Ballantyne said.

In 2000, he sold his first franchise for about $ 90,000 including equipment. The franchises are popular with young and mature people who are looking for flexibility in their working lives.

“We now have multi-territory franchisees and they can step up their holdings as their circumstances change,” Ballantyne said.

Although the couple moved to Brisbane more than a decade ago, the pendants and tools for the business are still made in Bundaberg.

“Bundaberg was very good to us and we want to support the city,” said Ballantyne.

The Ballantynes ​​have been married for 46 years and have adjoining offices in their Northgate headquarters. Ms. Ballantyne will manage the accounts and other administrative tasks. Mr. Ballantyne takes care of sales and strategy.

Approximately 65 percent of Gutter-Vac’s business is non-residential, including schools, defenses, commercial real estate, and corporations.

“This is a bad debt business and our franchisees know they get paid,” Ballantyne said.

“It’s a bit different from being in the plumbing industry in the early days when you could install a hot water system and sometimes have to wait a long time to get paid.”

Originally published as The Plumber Who Built a $ 25 Million Empire

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