Expanding Our Reach

Twin Cities PRO Jimmy’s Johnnys builds its territory and adds diverse services to grow the business

Founded nearly 30 years ago, Jimmy’s Johnnys has made its mark as a homegrown, locally owned portable restroom business in and around Minnesota’s twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Owner Rich Anderson bought the company, based in North Branch, Minn., from his great uncle a decade ago, and since then it has grown by leaps and bounds. Anderson took a break from delivering and servicing the company’s 1,000 units to talk about the challenges of operating in a highly competitive market where cold weather shuts down business for nearly half the year.

Explore Five challenges that affect RICH ANDERSON’S PORTABLE SANITATION BUSINESS:

MANAGING GROWTH

These have been boom years for Anderson’s company. “When I bought it in 1999 it had about 250 units; now we’re running around 1,000.” The growth has come from aggressively pursuing new territory.

When Anderson took over the business it was based in Isanti, about 50 miles north of downtown Minneapolis. “They didn’t really go into the metro area that much.” But with the size of the competition, “we had to make that decision a long time ago.” The firm once never crossed Interstate 694, which circles the north side of Minneapolis-St. Paul. “That just didn’t work. We cover the whole Twin Cities now” — a total of 15 counties plus a bit of western Wisconsin.

Jimmy’s Johnnys relies primarily on the PolyJohn PJN3 models. The business has about 30 PolyJohn 2005 Fleet units equipped with flushing systems. He offers another 40-plus wheelchair-accessible Comfort Inn models and more than 20 We’ll Care III units that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Seven drivers and two to three office employees make things go. Jimmy’s Johnnys has a fleet consisting of WorkMate vehicles from FMI Truck Sales and Service, based on the Isuzu chassis — three with 600-gallon steel waste tanks and 175-gallon twin poly freshwater tanks (for a total of 350 gallons of freshwater), and two with 700-gallon waste/175-gallon twin freshwater tanks. Each truck can haul up to four portable restrooms and is equipped with a pressure washer. A pair of pickup and delivery flatbed trucks round out the fleet along with three 12-unit trailers.

SHORT SEASONS

Winter hits hard in Minnesota, and Anderson has to run his business with that in mind. “We have a very small, short season here that we have to make the most of our money in. One thing that really helped us was that when we first bought it we had very few units out over the winter. Widening the service territory, we have more of a base of customers that still work year-round. So we were able to grow the winter sales. Now we have one or two months that are not paying for themselves, whereas before we might have not broken even on three or four of the months.”

PROFIT THROUGH DIVERSIFICATION

The core of the business is portable restrooms, but Anderson looks to diverse clients and services to smooth out the revenue streams. “We have restroom trailers; sometimes the people who can afford to rent restroom trailers aren’t hurt by the economy as much,” he says.

Since a number of customers were special events, such as festivals and parties, Anderson says, “We bought a small table and chair rental company. When we took the phones over for that business, the first three calls were, ‘How much are your tents?’ The first call, we said, ‘We don’t have tents.’ The second call was, ‘We don’t have tents.’ The third call was, ‘Yes, we do have tents’ ” — and Anderson went out and bought some. Winter convention business from that operation “was one reason we bought it.”

GROWING ONESY-TWOSY ORDERS

As with many PROs, summer business for Jimmy’s Johnnys is the typical mix of construction projects, community festivals and recreational facilities, such as golf courses and marinas. But Anderson has also found another niche: private homeowners, especially with swimming pools. “In the last couple of years more and more people were willing to pop for the monthly charge to have a portable toilet by their pool so the neighborhood kids wouldn’t have to run in their house,” Anderson explains.

Many people don’t know they can rent portables. “They think they’re only for construction.” Party hosts call and ask, “Is there any way I can rent one of those just for the day?” Anderson’s response: “ ‘Well, yeah, it’s about 50 percent of our business.’ They think this is some new ground that they’re breaking and no one ever thought of it before.”

Anderson sometimes offers used units for sale, but for most customers, renting with regular service is cheaper, and only about 5 percent end up buying. “The only way it’s good for them to purchase or own them is where they have it up at the cabin and they only get it serviced a couple of times or once a year,” Anderson says.

FACING THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

As the economy lags, “there’s really no way to cope with it other than to watch your costs, pounding on a few more doors and making sure your service is perfect.” Anderson has added surcharges for fuel and to offset disposal fees that are four times what they were when Anderson bought the business.

As prices rise, service has never been more important to keeping customers – especially when some competitors try to win customers just by cutting prices. “If you’re raising your cost and not having good service, that’s when they start looking.”

Anderson tries to schedule his crews with no more than four days on the road a week. On a staggered schedule individual crew members spend their fifth day in the shop to help with tasks there. During holiday weeks, when employees get an extra day off, they don’t come back to work a day behind on their routes.

“I always tell everybody, ‘We’re not in the toilet business, we’re in the service business,” Anderson says. “As soon as every employee understands that and they get on board, it comes through to the customer.”



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