A lot has changed in the past 85 years but General Pipe Cleaners is still here

Three generations of work, 85 years of quality at GPC

March 10, 2015
One constant over the past 85 years has been the existence of General Pipe Cleaners, a manufacturer of equipment that helps easily open up clogged drains.

MCKEE ROCKS, PA. — A lot has changed in the past 85 years. There have been 15 different U.S. presidents, multiple new methods of communications via the Internet and thousands of companies which have started and saw their end.

One constant has been the existence of General Pipe Cleaners, a manufacturer of equipment that helps easily open up clogged drains. The company was founded in 1930 by Abe Silverman and is currently on its third generation of the Silverman family, with the fourth just around the corner. Products the company manufactures include the Hot Spot pipe locator, the ClubChopper cutter and the Kinetic Water Ram drain cleaner, among many others.

Marty Silverman, GPC’s vice president of marketing (and grandson of Abe), said GPC’s family atmosphere has helped the company survive times both good and bad. The company, which started just after the Great Depression, has weathered many storms via innovation, hard work and quality.

“It’s still a family business,” Silverman said. “I remember we’d talk about business around the dinner table — my cousins and I grew up next door to each other — the running joke in our place is the only arguments we get into are who gets to go to the sporting events with clients. Eighty-five years later, we still have a small family business feel. I think that’s an advantage.”

Silverman, who joined the company officially in the 1980s (the same era his brother Steve Silverman and his cousins Steve Glick and Jeff, David, Mike and Bob Silverman joined), said he still fondly remembers his early days of work with the company. After starting full-time with GPC, he was working with his father at trade shows. Now, he goes to trade shows and people tell him “You look great after all of these years!” believing he is actually his father.

This is an honest mistake, as members of the Silverman clan have longevity and have made sure GPC was successful and stood the test of time well into their twilight years. Abe Silverman worked at the company until he couldn’t walk up steps anymore. Marty Silverman’s father and company president Lee Silverman, 82, and his uncle and company CEO Art Silverman, 79, still come into work on a part-time basis.

“The business is in their blood,” Silverman said. “They don’t want to let it go. We appreciate it. They’re still mentors for the third generation.”

From the beginning

Back in 1930, Abe Silverman worked for his great uncle Frank’s business, crafting inventions such as the automatic baby rocking cradle. Abe saw his opportunity to break out on his own and took it, starting what was then known as General Wire Spring, crafting custom springs for elevators, swimming pool covers and more.

Abe Silverman

Then, after a few years, Abe Silverman started making drain cleaning snakes and decided he could do better.

“He got a patent for the very first snake where there was wire inside, making it really string and resistant to kinking or breaking,” Marty Silverman said. “We built our name on that snake. He’d take it to the rental shows and said it won’t kink. People said ‘Everyone’s snakes kink.’ They were amazed [when it worked]. It made our name in the industry. We are, even now, the preferred brand in the rental industry because our snakes are so durable.”

After this innovation, GPC had many others, almost as if they had un-clogged the drain of innovation. GPC then crafted drain cleaning machines, the first automatic feed machine (helping to cut down on the amount of weight you have to lift to grab cable), hand-held drain cleans, automatic feeders and even cameras for drain inspection. Silverman sounded especially pleased with the cameras, saying this had previously only been readily available for large municipalities.

“It equalizes the playing field,” Silverman said. “Old or new plumbers can see what’s in the pipe and where it is. If you don’t know where it is, you don’t know where to dig. It’s more accurate. It used to be only one contractor in town had a camera — now they all can.”

Throughout all these years, new tools, innovations and new family members, GPC has been located near Pittsburgh in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Silverman considers it a point of pride to stay close to home for so long while producing American-made products.

Next generation

Much like Silverman started his tenure in the family business, the fourth generation has started working summers in the plants to assemble GPC products. This is what makes his family’s company extremely special, Silverman believes.

“People say ‘Why should I buy your product?’ Well, how many do you talk to who grew up building the product before they sell it?” Silverman asked. “We’re a family-owned business. We expect it to stay a family business. We all worked summer jobs before we started working. We’re able to react faster than a large corporation and it allows us to react to the market quickly. We know the product and we’re able to come up with products that mesh with the market needs.”

Over the next few years, Silverman said they want to look to develop current products and bring new ones to the market. For example, the company’s inspection camera system just recently added Wi-Fi to its capabilities. What’s next for GPC is anyone’s guess, but Silverman said they’re always looking to move forward.

“We don’t sit back on the old stuff,” he said. “We’re always looking to improve our products.”

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