Order in the Courtyard

PROs share strategies for staying on top of portable restroom inventory

Staying profitable in the portable restroom industry is always a fine juggling act. You want to have enough units on hand to fill unexpected orders, but you don’t want to tie up capital in unused inventory and storage. Sure, there’s a certain amount of seasonality to most regions that helps you anticipate demand. And if you’ve been around a while, you may even have a pretty good handle on local construction cycles and special event schedules.

But what about those just starting out in the industry, who don’t have a track record? And what about those PROs whose longtime contractor base is eroding under the onslaught of the construction bust — how will they adjust their ordering? Learn here what a few of your colleagues do to anticipate demand and make sure they’re ready to rock when the calls come in.

For more than a decade, Superior Sanitation has been pumping septic tanks, cleaning drains and providing portable restrooms, sinks and other accessories to building contractors and special events in the scenic Black Hills region. Superior fields 500 units. With demanding customers, such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the State Fire School, effective inventory control is key to the success and profitability of this PRO.

“I probably stay two months ahead of expected orders when I can,” says owner Tom Nelson. “We have lots of return customers. What would prompt a new order (for more units) would be a new large event or a forest fire,” as well as servicing firefighters on the lines under government contracts, he explains.

It’s more critical for Nelson to keep a tight rein on inventory than many companies, because the company’s busy season for portables is only about four months long. Keeping that equilibrium between deployed units and a ready-to-go fleet is a delicate balancing act. The one situation that will throw Nelson’s system out of whack is if there’s a major fire during another large event like the biker rally. “And it has happened,” he says. “The rally takes up every portable restroom available anywhere around here, so if a fire happens, any control goes out the window. They have to have those units, and we do what it takes to get them here.”

During such scenarios, Superior works closely with far-flung PROs to gather any other available units. “You’ve got to maintain a collegial relationship with your competitors in a place like this, but that’s good anyway,” he says. “I also stay on good terms with my vendors so I can get what I need when I need it. I make it a point to check in before fire season to remind them I may need to make an emergency call, and make sure that they’ll be able to respond with what we need.”

“We’re about half and half between septic pumping and portables in our business,” reports Julie Heffern, owner the family business. Half of those portables are used for special events, with the rest serving building contractors. “I know that we have about 50 units available to come and go every weekend,” Heffern says. “Really, I just keep track of them in my mind, but we do have a board that displays all our deliveries for the whole year. By the end of May, I can look at it to know whether, come the Fourth of July, we’ll have enough to rent out or not.”

The tipping point for Heffern to place an order for more units would be a large new contract for more units than she knows they have available.

Gordon Plumbing Inc. serves metro Indianapolis with septic pumping, drain and grease trap cleaning, and portable restrooms. The company fields 1,200 portable units. It’s also in the process of acquiring two special events trailers.

With large contracts, such as the new deal they just closed to service the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the company must stay ahead on its inventory. Even the potential of not having enough units to deploy at a moment’s notice is out of the question for the large firm, says account manager Kevin Ailes. “We usually try to order new ones up to six months ahead of any given season.” This lead time allows for proper budgeting, scheduling, and any potential delays in delivery, without endangering any given job.


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