We Have Liftoff!

Named for the Apollo space program, the Feger family’s long-time restroom business has enjoyed a decade of skyrocketing growth
We Have Liftoff!
Technician Robert Hoffman III, center, stocks paper products in restrooms set up for a University of Missouri football game.

Interested in Restrooms?

Get Restrooms articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Restrooms + Get Alerts

How does one guy manage 2,200 portable restrooms, 25 vehicles and work that includes far-flung construction sites and large-scale special events?

For Don Feger, owner of Apollo Porta Potties & Pumping Services in Mexico, Mo., it’s a hands-on approach and 70- to 90-hour work weeks for a business that has nearly tripled its portable restroom inventory the past seven years.

Feger, 50, routinely arrives at his office at 5 a.m. to plan routes. He reviews each route weekly with four route drivers and handpicks the units to be assigned to each project. He’ll also take a customer call anytime, anyplace.

“I pay very close attention to who does what, where and when,” he says. “If too many people get their hands in, things get forgotten. That’s bad for customers.”

Close attention to detail is second nature to Feger, who started driving a service truck “as soon as I got my driver’s license” nearly 35 years ago. Feger’s father, Don Sr., launched the business in 1965 after a career as a union carpenter. The elder Feger once built wooden portable restrooms for his brother’s portable sanitation business in California before returning to his family’s central Missouri home country in the late 1950s.

A Korean War veteran who was wounded in combat, Don Sr. originally named the company DAV’s Sanitary in honor of Disabled American Veterans. He changed the name to Apollo Porta Potties after the Apollo space mission put the first man on the moon in 1969.

Young Don rode along in the service trucks whenever he could and was running his own routes as a teenager. After his father passed away in 1993, Feger continued to run the business with his mother, Mae, until her death in 2006.

Because of Don Sr.’s work and connections, Apollo Porta Potties was oriented toward construction rentals. The construction industry still accounts for about two-thirds of the company’s portable sanitation business.

 

GRADUAL DIVERSIFICATION

Apollo started pumping bigger tanks in 1988 when a construction customer was looking for someone to regularly empty a graywater holding tank. To handle the job, the Fegers purchased a 1988 Mack built out by LMT Inc. of Galva, Ill. “That was a money maker from the get-go and we’ve been in septic and grease trap service ever since,” he says.

Septic system and grease trap cleaning is offered in a 50- to 60-mile radius of the company’s home base to customers that include restaurants, hospitals, college food service and commercial bakeries.

The company diversified into traffic barricades and metal storage box rentals the past year. Feger says he saw the opportunity for barricade rentals at special events where he was already supplying portable restrooms, so he bought 100 barricades from Work Zone Inc. of Kansas City in the spring of 2011.

In response to requests for storage boxes by construction customers, Feger started buying used 20-foot steel shipping containers from R & R Shipping of St. Louis and acquired a Trailerman Trailers Inc. gooseneck trailer in 2010. Pulled by a 1-ton truck, the trailer is used to move the storage boxes from site to site or to transport as many as 16 portable restrooms.

Today, about 60 percent of Apollo’s annual revenue comes from portable sanitation and 30 percent from septic and grease trap service. The other two categories are still fairly small at 5 percent each but Feger believes that could change.

 

SHOPPING FOR EQUIPMENT

After years of steady growth, Apollo Porta Potties had 600 to 700 portable restrooms by 2004. Feger then moved to take advantage of the region’s growing commercial construction market and started shopping for used equipment from other PROs across the Midwest. Apollo’s inventory of 2,200 restrooms and 100 hand-wash sinks is from PolyJohn Enterprises and Satellite Industries. About 40 transport trailers are from PolyJohn and 60 others are from a variety of sources, including fleet supply and hardware retailers.

Apollo’s first factory-built portable restroom service truck arrived in 1999 when the company purchased a rig built out by Keith Huber Inc. on an Isuzu chassis with a Masport pump and a 450-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank. The rig is still in use. Meanwhile, the rest of Apollo’s 13 restroom service trucks have a considerably larger capacity of 1,100-gallon waste and 400- or 500-gallon freshwater tanks. “What happened was, our routes were doubling in size and we’d quickly run out of room,” Feger says.

The larger rigs in Apollo’s service fleet are built out on Dodge or Ford chassis by Progress Tank or Satellite Industries. Four rigs have aluminum tanks and nine have steel tanks. All have Masport pumps. Feger’s preferred powertrain combination matches Cummins diesel engines and Allison automatic transmissions.

The company’s septic service trucks are a 2007 International 7800 built out by Progress Tank with a 3,600-gallon aluminum tank and a Challenger pump from National Vacuum Equipment Inc., and a 2000 International 4900 built out by LMT Inc. with a 2,000-gallon steel tank and Challenger pump.

Feger makes sure the equipment looks good and keeps running. He’s instituted a uniform, white color scheme. “It makes a big difference when you show up at a jobsite every week with a clean, nice-looking truck,” he says. Feger adds that keeping meticulous maintenance records and consistently working with a reliable, local mechanic has meant fewer headaches over the years.

“Nothing is worse than to lose a truck for a day,” he says. “Taking care of your equipment pays off in the long run.”

 

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Customer loyalty runs deep for Apollo. Feger points out that two local construction customers have been with the company since the beginning.

“It’s really cool in this day and age to have that kind of loyalty,” he says. “It’s also been fun for me to run into a lot of old-timers who remember me from riding with my dad as a kid.”

Feger believes paying attention to detail has helped Apollo gain – and keep – business sought by large, regional competitors. For example, his team puts in long hours to service about 150 portable restrooms for the entire season of University of Missouri home football games.

“Nobody wants to put up with a smelly restroom all week,” he says of the job that involves servicing, cleaning and restocking portable units scattered across the stadium parking lots. “As soon as the football crowds leave for home, we get in there and go to work. It takes until about 11 p.m. to get it all done. We take everybody out to dinner when the work’s done.”

In addition to this high-profile venue, Feger serves weekend special events within a 100-mile radius of his base and maintains units at dozens of construction jobs, including a power plant project that required 150 units in the summer of 2011.

He says that the July 4 weekend of 2011 was his busiest ever with 155 units out at special events. He also fielded a personal record of 117 calls on July 1. “I just hate to have anybody get the answering machine. So, I’ll have calls forwarded to my cell phone. I’ll take a call anytime, anywhere,” he says.

Feger encourages his portable restroom route drivers to stay on top of things as well. He gives them digital cameras to photograph the units before and after servicing. This practice helps prevent customer complaints, he says. “In this business, you should never be afraid to get dirty or wet,” he says. “You also have to have a good, picky yard guy. Fortunately, I have one.”

A 4,500-psi Honda pressure washer is used to clean the units in the yard.

 

SMOOTH RUNNING

Feger says the company’s 46-year track record helps the phone ring, but he still spends about $20,000 to $40,000 annually on advertising in phone books, local newspapers, shoppers and radio.

Apollo runs four portable restroom service routes each weekday plus covering special events as needed. Grease trap cleaning and commercial holding tanks take up two to three days a week. Septic pumping is done on a per-call basis.

Apollo’s operations base is an office, shop and yard built in 2008. Feger says the shop building holds all 17 trucks. The headquarters includes a break room, showers and a tool room. Feger hopes to add a wash building for his portable units in the future.

Employee turnover is low with the longest-term route driver at 10 years. “I think I’ve got the best crew I’ve ever had. We all work very closely together,” he says.

After more than 30 years in the industry, Feger hints at perhaps retiring – or at least shifting gears – when he reaches age 55. At that point, he’s thinking of keeping the septic pumping/grease hauling part of the business and buying a loader/backhoe to offer trenching work in the area.

“If things go right, I’ll get out and maybe have time to ride my motorcycle a whole lot more,” he says.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.