Happy In Indy

Ongoing industry education and good advice about customer service sets up Hoosier Portable Restrooms for a victory lap
Happy In Indy
Bret Kernodle drains a PolyPortables hand-wash station as he loads units after an event.

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All it took for Jamie Hunter to spot a business opportunity was to experience a few unclean portable restrooms.

“It sounds a little funny, but it’s true. I’d visit construction sites and the portable restrooms were always awful. I kept thinking, ‘Wow! I could do better than this,’ ” says Hunter, a former construction equipment sales representative.

So, Hunter, 50, made what turned out to be a couple of key moves along the way to establishing Hoosier Portable Restrooms, which serves special events and construction sites in central Indiana.

First, he contacted restroom manufacturers to learn as much as he could about the industry. Second, he recruited Bret Kernodle, a close friend since childhood, to join him in the venture.

“We’ve always been buddies,” Hunter says of his business partner. “I thought it would be fun to do this with somebody who enjoys work as much as I do.”

 

LEARNING THE INDUSTRY

The partners applied their respective backgrounds to the business. Hunter spent much of his career selling industrial equipment, a role that required building long-term relationships with customers. Kernodle had been a mechanic, serviced vending machines and worked in restaurant management.

“We both knew the hospitality industry. Portable restrooms are exactly that. You’re not going to succeed long term unless you provide superior, personalized service, just like you’d expect at a top restaurant or hotel,” Hunter says.

In addition to soaking up information from suppliers, Hunter participated in a workshop presented by Portable Sanitation Association International and attended his first Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International in 2003.

A few months later, Hoosier was under way with a load of 28 units from PolyPortables Inc. Its first service truck was acquired from Crescent Tank Mfg.

“Our first account was a small golf course,” Hunter says. “I just made a cold call and the guy said, ‘Sure, bring me one.’ This was before we even had any restrooms for rent.”

Hunter sings the praises of suppliers who freely offered advice on choosing products, servicing equipment and managing the business. “All of the vendors we’ve met and worked with have been wonderful,” he says. “They’re the reason I have a business today.”

 

SETTING GOALS

Hunter and Kernodle initially ran their new venture on nights and weekends while keeping their day jobs. Hunter continued his construction equipment sales position while Kernodle ran a vending machine route. Growing the business from scratch meant routinely working seven days a week.

The partners set a goal of doubling their revenues annually and agreed to finance the company’s growth from existing sales instead of taking on debt. It took about four years to reach 300 portable units, which they felt would earn them a reasonable living.

“I can’t stress how important it is to set goals and stay with them, especially when you’re starting out,” Hunter says.

Since going full-time with the business in 2005, the two have divided the workload by their respective talents. Kernodle, the mechanic and driver, handles the day-to-day route work while Hunter, the sales representative, is in charge of sales, coordinating vendor shipments and overseeing logistics.

Hoosier has a 50-50 mix between special events and construction rentals. Major annual events include an outdoor wine and food festival, golf tournaments, concerts, running races, walks, holiday festivals and activities held around the Indianapolis 500 each May.

May through October is the company’s busiest period, when seven to eight employees are brought on to help clean and maintain the portable units and trailers.

In addition to learning from industry experts, Hunter points to tactics he’s developed to save money, strengthen relationships with vendors and improve efficiency:

• Buy it now: He buys a good share of his chemical needs from his main supplier – J & J Chemical Co. – at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo each year. Transporting the products himself saves on shipping.

• Stock spare parts: Also at the Expo, Hunter looks for spare parts, such as hardware, spare restroom parts, truck parts and equipment replacement parts that he can easily bring home. It saves on shipping and means less post-show packing for vendors. Most importantly, Hunter likes not having to scramble for parts at the last minute.

• Offer something new: Hunter likes to find products or services that fit with Hoosier’s existing offerings. Two years ago, he purchased the first of two portable single shower units from PolyPortables for rental to campgrounds that serve events like weekend music festivals and motorcycle rallies. He’s also occasionally rented the shower units to wedding hosts to accommodate out-of-town visitors.

 

TOOLS FOR THE TASK

Hoosier services its units with a fleet of four trucks built out by Crescent Tank and equipped with Masport pumps. Small tanks give the service trucks a minimal footprint, which Hunter says is a selling point with special event planners.

The trucks are a 2001 Ford F-250 with a 600-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater steel tank; a 2001 Ford F-350 with a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank; a 2004 Ford F-350 with a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank; and a 1999 Chevrolet 3500 with a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank.

Any of the trucks can pull one of three transport trailers from McKee Technologies Inc./Explorer Trailers. Those trailers carry six, eight or 12 units.

Hoosier serves special events with 200 PolyPortables Integra 3 models, a Model 816 luxury trailer from Ameri-Can Engineering, two Comfort Elite 3 luxury trailers from Wells Cargo and 20 PolyPortables Tag Along sinks. Construction site rentals are covered with 100 units from TSF Company Inc. The units are kept clean with equipment from Gamajet Cleaning Systems Inc.

Hoosier’s website (www.hoosierportables.com) includes a slide show that depicts the interiors and exteriors of the portable units, luxury trailers, sinks and other equipment. Hunter says he routinely guides potential customers through the slides during phone conversations.

“A picture really is worth a thousand words. There have been many times when the website has been the perfect way to help a customer decide what they really need,” he says.

Hunter has found another way to click with prospects. In the summer months, he makes sales calls with a 1929 Ford Model A roadster that he acquired about 15 years ago. “It’s just something different to generate attention and give people something to talk about,” he says. “Just about every time I go somewhere with it, a customer or a potential customer will want to know all about it. My dad still has his first car, a 1930 Model A sedan. We love to drive our old cars and I get to use mine occasionally for work!”

 

GOOD ADVICE

Hunter has become an enthusiastic follower of Scott Hunter (no relation), an author, motivational speaker and business coach who presented his “Creating an Outrageously Successful Organization” workshop at the 2011 Pumper & Cleaner Expo.

“The guy just really struck a nerve with me in a very positive way,” he says. “I’d say the quote we’ve really picked up from Scott Hunter is, ‘Be of service.’ That has always been our philosophy and it was great to have Scott boil it down in a short phrase.”

Hoosier Portables applies Scott Hunter’s service admonition to the Indianapolis community by offering a discounted rate to nonprofit organizations. Jamie Hunter said the discount allows the company to generate goodwill by covering transportation costs while absorbing the overhead expenses.

Other Scott Hunter lessons that have entered the Hoosier Portables playbook include:

• Pay attention to people: “We’re only as good as the people we have working with us. Everybody says that, but you really have to be interested in your people,” Jamie Hunter says. “By people, that’s not just employees but all the people you come in contact with.”

• Learn to listen: “I ask a ton of questions. It’s extremely important to learn all of the details: What kind of event, expected attendance, location, dates and so on,” he says. “Customers really appreciate that you’re paying attention to their needs.”

• Stay positive: “Something that Scott said that hit home was, ‘You always attract people by the way you act around people.’ A positive attitude will attract other people who have a positive attitude. Now, even when I lose business to a lower price, I’ll at least thank (the customer) for the opportunity,” Hunter says.

 

HAPPY CAMPERS

After almost a decade as a PRO, Hunter says he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. He and Kernodle are happy they left their comfort zones to try something different.

Hoosier’s mix of construction accounts and seasonal special events is just right for the partners. Hunter expects the company will maintain its current profile/product mix for the foreseeable future.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else right now,” Hunter says. “It’s great to be excited about what you do.”



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