Going Mobile

PROs Teri and Ken Pahon move their upscale restroom trailer business from Ohio to North Carolina and market their products and services nationwide
Going Mobile
Ken and Teri Pahon (right) with employee Jacob Pilkerton showing two of their six restroom trailers on location in Lake Wylie, S.C. At left is a Wells Cargo unit that has served President Barack Obama. At right is a trailer from Rich Specialty Traile

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Teri and Ken Pahon have operated a number of businesses over the years, most recently a trucking company and a retail swimming pool store. Those companies were heavily dependent on the local economy – mostly steel and automotive – and when the recession hit a few years ago, they knew they needed to get into something that had a broader reach.

One idea in the back of their minds was portable restroom trailers after having seen one at a horse show. That idea congealed for them after they attended the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo in 2007. “We talked to so many great people there, so many family-owned businesses that had grown up over the years,” Teri Pahon says. “We really liked the way everybody worked together. There’s a lot of sharing of information, whether they could be considered competitors or not.”

Convinced that restroom trailers had great growth potential, they took the plunge and bought a Comfort Elite III and a Comfort Elite ADA-Compliant trailer from Wells Cargo COG, and started a new company, Portable Restroom Trailers LLC.

Pahon says they didn’t have to wait long to get their first job. “We just had the trailer lettered up and were bringing it back to our yard. We stopped to get something to eat and a patron of the restaurant came over and said they were having a wedding in three weeks and that this looked exactly like what they needed.” Judging from the wedding photos, the trailer was the hit of the party, she says.

Later that summer they bought their third trailer, a Porta Lisa from JAG Mobile Solutions Inc. and over the next couple years grew their territory by changing locations, marketing online, and creating a networking-driven model of doing business. By January 2009, they were able to close their other companies.

Ken Pahon takes care of accounting, oversees the office, and manages delivery logistics. Teri Pahon handles sales, marketing, coordination with vendors, and networking.

 

CHANGES IN LATITUDE, CHANGES IN ATTITUDE

At the end of 2010, after having lived in Ohio all their lives, the Pahons moved to Belmont, N.C., outside of Charlotte. They were attracted to the location, the weather, and the fact that it’s a growing area.

Employee Arlene Griffis still maintains an office in Poland, Ohio, and a storage yard in nearby North Lima.

The company has done business in numerous states in the Midwest and eastern part of the country. The new location helps extend their reach into the South. The Pahons even booked an event in Las Vegas at a hotel on the Strip after the event coordinator found them online.

 

CYBER MARKETING

“Our business is basically all done online,” Pahon says. That was a decision they made from the beginning. The Pahons originally worked with a small website developer, then hooked up with a larger company that provides a full range of Web development and business services. The move greatly improved the visibility of their site and gave them better search engine optimization results, commonly referred to as SEO.

They are now revamping the website, which will extend their line of education-based content and videos for companies and event planners.

“We’re trying to make it easier for the public,” Pahon says. “When you say ‘trailers,’ most people nod their head like they know, but when they see a photo they are just amazed and get very excited.” The videos show details of the trailers and give event planners ideas on what they can offer, how they can solve problems they might be running into, or how they can grow their business. “If the facilities aren’t correct, you’ll never get your event to grow,” Pahon says.

 

TWITTER, BLOG, CHAT

The Pahons attended several business conferences last winter and came away convinced that social media is becoming a critical marketing fact-of-life. Pahon says you can’t necessarily prove increased sales from it just yet, but the growth in that area is explosive and they want to be a part of it from the beginning. “People just expect it nowadays. It’s becoming a major part of our lives,” she says.

Their new website will be interactive, with a live chat feature. Clicking on a chat icon immediately connects the viewer to a company representative for an instant messaging conversation. These representatives, working out of their homes, are individuals the Pahons have employed in the past to staff trade show booths and fairs, so they are very familiar with the company and its products. In the beginning they will be available 12 hours a day, and paid a flat monthly fee for monitoring the site.

The Pahons also are working with a social media marketing company to set up and maintain Facebook, Twitter and blogging accounts. Costs and details about who does what are still being ironed out. But in the beginning, Pahon plans to come up with the content – anything from what’s new with the company to relevant news stories for caterers or something of interest to event planners – and then rely on the marketing company to put it in a concise, professional, easy-to-read format, and post it on the appropriate social media.

“This will be a major part of our marketing,” Pahon says. “Sometimes it’s easier to catch people on social media. And we can also see what’s going on with them a little bit easier, and develop that conversation of how things are going and how we can make it better. We want contacting us to be barrier-free.”

 

A PARTNERING MODEL

The company’s inventory today includes three Comfort Elite IIIs, including one ADA-compliant unit, each with three self-contained restrooms and a 430-gallon holding tank, as well as a Royal 6 from Rich Specialty Trailers that has three women’s rooms, one men’s and two urinals. The star of the fleet is the Royal 7, one stool larger, that features a fireplace in the women’s room, which Pahon says has provided a “wow factor’’ with customers.

“This has transformed a lot of our business. We’ve been able to provide very beautiful, upscale facilities for everything from weddings to public events,” Pahon says of the upscale trailers. If an event is particularly elegant, they’ll add designer features such as Berber carpet, baskets with complimentary soaps, lotions and hairspray, flowers, potpourri, and LED candles.

The company also has one four-stall shower/restroom combo trailer from Ameri-Can Engineering.

The company gets more requests than they can handle with this limited inventory, which is how they got the idea to sublease units from other sources, as needed. In fact, more than half their business is now done this way.

The Pahons own two trucks, a Ford F-350 pickup, and a Ford Excursion. They occasionally deliver trailers themselves, particularly for events they enjoy going to. “There’s a fundraiser in Louisville featuring top bands from Nashville, and we’ll be the attendants every time because we get to sit out under the stars, next to the river and enjoy the entertainment,” Pahon says. But they often contract with drivers to deliver and set them up. The drivers use their own vehicles.

The company does not have a vacuum truck, so it hires local companies to provide pumping services, as well as supplemental portable restrooms if the event calls for it, or an on-site attendant. Pahon usually gets her contacts from referrals or from Portable Sanitation Association International members. “But if nothing else, I’ll go to (the phone book advertising website) and see who’s in the area, and talk to a couple of different companies. We always find someone who’s looking to partner up and has been around a while.”

Networking works both ways. If a portable restroom company needs trailers for an event, they sometimes lease them from the Pahons rather than invest in a new trailer themselves or turn down the work.

By working with other companies this way, the company essentially has an unlimited service territory. It’s been a game changer, Pahon says. “And it’s made for some great relationships. We’ve met so many incredible companies around the country by doing this.”

 

GIVING BACK

The Pahons also like to develop relationships and get involved in their community. One way they do this is by providing trailers at charitable events without charge. “We’re really trying to give back as much as possible because we’ve been so blessed over the years. If a trailer’s not already booked and we have something available and it’s truly a charity event, that’s what we’re looking to do,” Pahon says.

They also enjoy helping others who are considering getting into the business. “We’ve been asked often to talk to new people coming in, to relay our experiences, and what we feel about the business and possibilities, the growth.” Pahon believes there is plenty of business for everyone, so she is not threatened by the possible competitive nature of the relationship. “There are so many avenues. Someone can concentrate on an area that may not be provided for.”

 

LOVES THE INDUSTRY

The Pahons couldn’t be happier about getting into the business.

“I just think this is an incredible industry,” Pahon says. “I really like the friendliness, the family, the relationships that we’ve been able to have with everyone from the manufacturers, all the way down to very small companies. Everybody works together. I don’t think a lot of companies realize how lucky they are to be in an industry that still has those values.”



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