Here Comes the Bride

Wedding service in tony Cape Cod provides a profitable niche for former special event planner.

Planning a wedding can be stressful for everyone involved. But Eliza Kendall aims to alleviate some of the worry. And she often does just that by offering a “difference in presence,” with high-end amenity-filled portable restrooms.

“I understand what people want,” says Kendall, owner of Eliza J. in Harwich, Mass. “It’s not necessarily a red carpet. It’s understated elegance. It’s simple; it’s clean.”

Weddings have become Kendall’s niche; they account for 95 percent of Eliza J.’s business, she estimates.

In the busy season, May through October, Eliza J. services about 10 weddings each weekend, bringing at least two units to each event. With an inventory of 40 PolyJohn Enterprises Corp. units, the company also services luxury events, such as fundraisers, golf outings, clam bakes and higher-end sporting events.

Having such a focused target audience has paid off for the company, which Kendall founded in 1997. She reports annual sales of around $150,000. “Over the past five years, we’ve averaged a 25-percent growth in sales per year,” she adds.

“It’s been really unpredictable,” she says, “but we just kind of stay in the same numbers. June was really quiet last year, but September provided the biggest September blast we’ve had.”

Top clients

Kendall’s keen eye for enhancing ambience comes from her years as an event planner on Cape Cod, where she served an upper echelon of clients, including General Motors, IBM, Microsoft and the Kennedy family.

While she found event planning fulfilling, in 1990, Kendall found herself raising two small children, as well as training horses. When she fell off a horse and broke a vertebra, she became housebound and thought about finding a new outlet for her talents, as well as a new business investment. “I was stuck with little children in the house. I’m not one of those people who can sit around,” she says.

Serendipitously, Kendall happened upon a company looking to sell its portable restroom business … and an idea clicked — market restrooms by a woman, for a woman. “Bathrooms are, 99 percent of the time, much more important to us (women),” she says. So she focused on creating “restrooms where a woman can go in without wincing.”

“I just knew that there was a void there, and most people didn’t have the ‘in’ that I did,” Kendall says. That “in” was her years of experience in event planning. Being a self-described “walking Rolodex,” able to reach a broad scope of customers and vendors, didn’t hurt either.

Kendall financed the venture on her own and completely reworked the business — customizing units to create what she calls a “difference in presence.” She draws the comparison to the hotel business — offering what she refers to as “Ritz-Carlton” service and amenities. “I noticed there was nothing ‘in between.’ We’re allowing the masses to have really nice toilets for their events,” she says. “I think that’s where we stand out.”

Other than her focus on providing impeccably clean restrooms, Kendall ensures her amenities are top-of-the-line as well, such as brand name luxury soaps and sewing kits offered in Nantucket baskets, fresh flowers, air fresheners, mirrors, purse hooks, boxes of tissues, tulle swags and even optional outside décor, including greenery and latticework.

Sophisticated service

“I’ll ask the bride what the colors might be so I can incorporate that,” Kendall says. “Each person’s wedding is their wedding, and it’s important to them.

“I’ve had more compliments. People are often so freaked out by restrooms. I have rarely had any kind of negative response.”

When Kendall first told her husband, Ron, about her decision to purchase a portable restroom business, he teased her. He was working in his family’s asphalt paving business, and he told her if she could make more money than he did, he’d quit his job and join her.

She took the dare, and today Ron is in charge of all driving and maintenance for Eliza J. “I think that he’s humbled, but if I want something, I work really hard for it, so I think he’s not surprised,” Kendall says.

Her husband is joined by seven part-time workers servicing the units during their 20-week busy spring/summer and other events throughout the year. They commandeer a 2001 Ford F-250 and a 2001 Ford F-150 — both with 300-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater stainless steel Westmoor Ltd. tanks and Conde Super 6 pumps. Waste is transported to a nearby septic treatment plant, usually once a week.

Quality, cleanliness and all the amenities Eliza J. offers don’t come cheap. But while the company charges a bit more than its competitors, Kendall says it hasn’t really been an issue. “We’re not looking at an amazing price gap,” she admits. But she adds that since wedding clientele are known for spending lots of money on music, flowers, cakes and other amenities for that one special day, they don’t mind paying a little more for the restrooms. “If it’s nice, they want it,” she says.

Wedding trends

“There’s a significant trend in the wedding industry right now,” Kendall says. “Couples are widening their scope of wedding sites. Outdoor weddings and receptions are on the rise. Clients are opting for individual restroom units at their events because of the affordable cost, our caliber of product and service in addition to all the bells and whistles we provide,” she adds.

“Brides have big wedding dreams,” she says. “They want to invite 500 guests to a classy outdoor reception and be able to keep everyone comfortable and happy.”

Much of her marketing, as expected, comes word-of-mouth from satisfied clients. And while a bride and groom themselves might not provide “repeat” business, they often have friends and family members who might seek out Eliza J.

That leads to a diverse clientele in a fairly affluent area. But despite the affluence, Kendall realizes that her product and her customer service remain the same, no matter the client or the size of their bank account. “Why can’t we have a product that I can be proud to put out for a senator or a CEO or for Sally Jones’ wedding?” Kendall asks. “Everybody should get the best equipment for their weddings.”

Right background for the job

An elaborate Web site also touts her business. But it goes beyond listing products, services and testimonials. Eliza J.’s site embraces the look of an online magazine, offering tips on planning weddings and fundraisers and guidelines for being a perfect party host.

Kendall now looks back on her days as an event planner as creating the foundation for her portable restroom business. Her creative ideas led Women’s Business Boston magazine to name her to its Women’s Business Hall of Fame in 2003 as best startup/ small business.

Running a successful and relatively seasonal business — and one that makes money — does not surprise Kendall. But doing it in portable sanitation is not something she would have envisioned.

“When I was a teenager, I went to my father who was a CFO of a major corporation. I told him I was going to marry a garbage man,” she says. “You would be a very lucky woman,” he told her. “They make a very good living.”

“Now I’m in sewage,” she laughs.


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