New Jersey’s Dustin Lovenberg prides himself on a do-it-all work ethic, but he’s looking for a more corporate structure to manage the load of a growing business.
For Dustin Lovenberg, “work smarter, not harder” is more than the latest business efficiency catchphrase. It’s the guiding principle he’s using to effectively merge three portable sanitation operations into one thriving revenue machine.
The owner of D. Lovenberg’s Portable Toilet Co. in Andover, N.J., says proper integration of disparate companies takes planning and follow-through. “There’s only so much time in the day. There’s only so much you can do without structure,” he says.
So he’s doing all that he can to make it a success.
After acquiring two portable sanitation companies in the last four years, Lovenberg knows proactive handling of change and growth becomes a necessity. “We’re too big right now, and we’re still growing,” he says.
FATHER AND SON
The family’s portable restroom business was purchased by his father, Bob, in 1995 and added to an existing commercial and residential garbage collection business. When Lovenberg finished high school three years later, his father offered to sell him the portable restroom business. “I went through all the necessary steps to get my hauler’s license and bought the company in January 1998,” he says.
Lovenberg says that from the outset he had no doubts about taking over the family restroom business rather than going to college. “I was always a hands-on, working type of guy,” he notes.
His father kept the garbage collection business, but eventually gave up trash collection and transformed it into a roll-off container company. “It got to be too much,” says Lovenberg. “He was at that point where he needed structure. That’s what we learned from the past, and what we need to change now, to make the company more successful.”
Lovenberg started with one truck and 75 portable restrooms and experienced steady, comfortable growth of 5 to 10 percent until 2008 when he bought out a competitor. “He was one of my biggest competitors, though we did work together. I rented from him and he rented from me when we got in a bind and needed some extra units. He was looking to get out of the business, so it was an opportunity.”
Suddenly, Lovenberg’s company had doubled in size from five employees and 1,000 units to 12 employees and 2,000 units. Then he bought out a smaller company a year later. Today, D. Lovenberg’s Portable Toilet Co. has 15 employees and 2,200 restrooms and serves 11 counties in central and northern New Jersey and two counties in New York.
His inventory is something of a mixed bag, partly because of the acquisitions. Equipment includes 100 deluxe flush, 400 handicapped-accessible, 50 wedding models and four high rise units. The inventory is rounded out with basic units — 250 units from Satellite Industries, 1,100 from PolyPortables Inc., 150 from Armal — and three restroom trailers from Olympia Fiberglass Industries, two trailers from Ameri-Can Engineering, and 18 hand-wash stations from PolyPortables.
The company has 16 vacuum trucks with steel and aluminum tanks ranging in size from 950 to 2,000 gallons, six delivery trucks and four pickups. While he has a variety of delivery and vacuum trucks, the four he purchased are from Satellite Industries and three are from Abernethy Welding. All others he inherited in the acquisition of the other companies. About 90 percent of the vacuum trucks are outfitted with Masport pumps.
Citing economic concerns, Lovenberg says he’s not ready for more equipment right now. “If I were to buy anything right now, it would be to replace some older equipment.”
But his words don’t quite match the plan. “My father and I are in the process of combining the companies,” he says. “We’re going to do everything under my name.” That includes adding four trucks and 150 roll-off containers from Cooperative Disposal to his already-busy company.
The roll-off business has the typical mix of 90 percent construction jobs and 10 percent residential, and will probably lead to growth in portable restroom rentals. “They work hand-in-hand,” he says. “We learned that a long time ago; if there is a roll-off unit at a construction site, there’s probably going to be a portable restroom as well. We’ve always advertised one another, but there are a lot of customers (the elder Lovenberg) has that I don’t have, and a lot more customers I have that he doesn’t have.”
The portable sanitation business is about 40 percent construction, 30 percent municipal contracts, and 30 percent special events, though events account for 60 percent of revenue. “If I could be a 100 percent special event company, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he says. “The pricing is much different so you make a lot more money. It’s a lot easier to just drop them off and pick them up. You don’t have to worry about getting there every week and bidding. I like the logistics end of it and it gives me a challenge. That makes it fun for me.”
While the Lovenberg brand is becoming more and more of a corporate entity, it still has deep family connections. “My father has two brothers working for him and I have three uncles who work for me,” says Lovenberg.
He actually looks back fondly at his “mom and pop” days and says there are a lot of advantages to being small. “With growth, you have overhead. If I could be back to a 500-toilet company … I personally made more money when I had 500 units.”
As he continues to grow, he’s hoping to find another sweet spot where size makes up for the increase in overhead and improves the margin. “I don’t know if there’s that next hump. Will it be better if I have 2,500 units? I don’t know. Maybe that’s why some companies grow to tens of thousands of units. Growth is very difficult. Hopefully I’ll be able to change that.”
Bringing on people to manage the work and organize crews will help, Lovenberg says. “We need some managerial positions. I do a lot of stuff right now and stretch myself really thin. It will be better for everyone.”
He admits spreading around the management responsibilities should have been done a long time ago. “I’m a control freak in many ways and like things done a certain way,” he says. While it might be hard to let go, he’s ready for the change, and hopes to have more time to devote to strategic planning challenges, such as controlling costs.
One thing he has already done is buy a 3,500-gallon septic hauler to go along with his 4,000-gallon roll-off storage tank for holding waste. The 1999 Freightliner FLD120 helps him save money in disposal costs.
“I run it three or four times a week,” he explains. “I was paying a guy to transport my loads and it was just getting out of control. It was cheaper to buy a truck.” That is despite the 100-mile round trip to Newark, N.J., where he pays 2 cents per gallon for disposal at a wastewater treatment plant compared to the 6 cents he would pay locally. The price difference more than makes up for the time and fuel costs, he says.
Having more time away from the day-to-day operations will give him more time to find other opportunities to streamline the company and cut costs. “I technically have an operations manager, but he does everything right now. He’s an all-around guy. If someone can’t work, he’ll do a route. And he does pickups and deliveries.”
Lovenberg doesn’t want it to be like that, but admits it’s his own fault for not giving up the duties an operations manager would handle. What he wants to institute is a series of management positions: president, vice president, operations manager, route manager, officer manager, etc. “I don’t think I’ll ever get out of the field,” he says. “But am I ready to make that change? I think so, not having to worry about the day-to-day operations, making sure everyone is doing their job.”
He is looking forward to being able to put more effort into bringing down his costs. “I’ll be able to do it on a bigger scale, sitting down with ten guys instead of two to find ways to save money with things like fuel or tires,” Lovenberg says. “There are a lot of things in my mind where I could save money, but I just don’t have the time to do it now.”
It might even give him a chance to make sales calls. “I’ve never gone out and done a sale,” he says. His jobs come mainly from repeat customers, some advertising in the Yellow Pages and local flyers. A lot of work comes from community donations to events, which results in repeat business.
While he’s ready to give up most of the field work, he also realizes that it is in his blood. “I was probably in diapers when I first got on a truck,” he says. “It’s something I’ve always loved to do, spending that time with my father.”
Just like he learned the business from his father, he’d like to pass on a strong work ethic and an interest in the industry to his family. Lovenberg and his wife, Jocelyn, have two boys, Dustin Jr., 5, and Dolce, 4. “Every weekend, they’re here with me at the shop, washing toilets or doing whatever they can do,” he says.
Maybe they’ll follow in his footsteps and become the third generation of Lovenbergs to run the company. “I hope so,’’ he says. “That would nice if it happened.”