Issues with your business neighbors or the general public are inevitable. Follow these tips to keep problems to a minimum during the upcoming busy season.
Lately I’ve been hearing instances of PROs running afoul of the local regulations or facing complaints from neighboring property owners who don’t like certain aspects of their business operation. Often the latter can’t be helped. Even if your company is working within proper business zoning rules, some folks will never be happy living or working anywhere near — or even occasionally driving past — a portable sanitation business.
A restroom contractor I talked to recently — who will go nameless because I didn’t ask him to go on the record — said he wanted to store more restrooms on a property he owns in a fringe industrial area. Environmental officials were holding up his expansion, claiming that adding gravel to build a short driveway onto the property was considered encroaching a wetland. He sees this as a minor environmental issue but a serious impediment to his ability to grow the business on his own property. How could he get his project completed without raising the ire of environmentalists?
And a company in Whitefish, Montana — North Valley Portables — was recently facing angry neighbors who sought to squash a conditional-use permit request that would allow the company to continue to store its 360 restrooms on a rural property as it has done for a number of years. According to a news account, county officials said the company was using the property before zoning existed, so they could legally continue to do so. They also reported there are no adverse impacts to neighbors if the business expands. What is the PRO company supposed to do to satisfy the neighbors?
Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. These companies and yours provide an important service by properly disposing of human waste. By clearing waste efficiently and safely from construction sites and special events, PROs prevent the spread of pathogens in the community. They give users a respectful way to relieve themselves on remote work sites, at large outdoor concerts, and along the route of their favorite local running event. And they perform what many consider an unpleasant task with a positive customer service attitude and a smile on their faces.
Their reward is the invariable “not in my backyard” response. Portable restroom operators should be on the job, but neither seen or heard — or smelled — by the rest of us. I’d like to think the general public, and your next-door neighbors, would grow to appreciate what you do for the comfort and convenience of people and show a little more understanding. But that sometimes seems like an unrealistic expectation.
As we head into the busy season and your crews and trucks are deployed to handle the heavy workload, PROs can effectively blunt some of this criticism. Here are a few ideas:
Limit odors as much as possible.
You can make a number of equipment changes so people don’t get their noses out of joint when you show up with the vacuum truck. First, try to make service runs at times when the fewest number of people will be around. How about early mornings on the construction site, when it’s still dark? Or do your special event service work after midnight when the gates are closed for the evening. In case anyone is around when you fire up the vacuum pump, consider adding a vacuum pump exhaust filter to add a masking fragrance to cover foul odors. And if the weather turns hot, you can move up to an industrial strength deodorant tab or liquid for restroom holding tanks. When you take units out of service and return them to the shop, don’t let them sit uncleaned in your yard. Thoroughly wash them as soon as possible to reduce residual odors your neighbors could complain about.
Fences and screens make good neighbors.
As much as possible, it makes sense to store your inventory of restrooms out of sight of drivers passing your yard. But several hundred or a thousand units can be difficult to hide. And if your chosen color scheme is purple and yellow to match, for instance, the colors of the Minnesota Vikings, it’s not such an easy task to have them blend into their surroundings. If you’re in a high-traffic area and you hear complaints like North Valley Portables mentioned above, it’s a good time to remember the old saying, “fences make good neighbors.”
If local zoning allows, consider adding a fence that not only secures your units, but screens them from view. Choose an area for yard storage and build the fence as high as necessary to keep the units out of the line of sight. This shows you’re making a good faith effort to satisfy concerned neighbors. For job sites with discriminating users — for example, on golf courses or upscale outdoor venues — you may want to stock tasteful screens to corral your restrooms from view. If the customer finds your restroom color choices garish, screens should take care of the concern. Screening provides additional privacy for users and shields passers-by from seeing users coming and going.
Get out in front of potential complaints.
I once had a boss who told me workplace problems didn’t bother him as much as being surprised by them. He was trying to explain the importance of quickly and directly addressing mistakes or issues on the job with both a manager and person who’s complaining, rather than letting them fester and become bigger than they needed to be. If someone complains about looking at your units, hearing your trucks idling or something else going on in your yard, listen and try to come up with a reasonable solution. Can you move the units to another part of the yard? Is it possible to change the time of day you clean and maintain your trucks? Can you diplomatically explain that all of the work you do is allowed under local zoning? Knowing what you do for a living can result in complaints down the road, it’s a good idea to build a positive relationship with neighbors and the community before any issues arise. For example, if you contribute free restrooms to a neighboring company’s favorite local civic or charity event, they’re going to cut you some slack when you have peak traffic or a few odors are carried next door.
ONE MORE THING
That same boss who told me he didn’t like surprises shared another effective technique to deal with people that I remember and follow 20 years later: If someone is mad and approaches you with a complaint, think like a bullfighter. Do not face them head-on and argue with them. Rather, allow them to vent and charge at you, letting them get their anger out while you wave a red cape as their words pass by you. Soon enough they will grow tired of yelling and you can then have a reasonable conversation about their problems with them.