Take Him Home, Country Roads

Small, family-run portable restroom business allows an Ohio PRO to make a living in economically scarred Appalachia.
Take Him Home, Country Roads
Tom Zuspan gets ready to service a bank of PolyJohn Enterprises restrooms at a special event.

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Despite having a degree in mining engineering, Todd Zuspan was forced to look for other options when the West Virginia coal mine he was working for closed. An opportunity came along, and the 23-year-old took all his money, made a leap of faith and in 1993 bought a portable restroom business in Pomeroy, Ohio, later partnering with his father,
Frank Zuspan.

They soon expanded into trash hauling, which became so successful that in 1999 Waste Management offered to buy the trash division. At the same time, they made Zuspan a job offer he couldn't refuse. So, while his dad continued to operate the portable restroom business, Todd began a new career. "I did everything," he says. "Mechanic, truck driver, management, the guy on the back of the truck throwing the trash into the truck."

Ten years later when Zuspan was laid off due to the recession he got back in the game and bought the restroom business from his dad, who was ready to retire. Again he took all his money, bought four acres in an industrial park in McArthur, Ohio, constructed a building, added septic pumping service, and gave it the name A2Z Sanitation.

Today he has one employee, Mike Riffle, about 180 PolyJohn Enterprises PJN3s and two service vehicles – a 1996 International with a 900-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank built out by Prime Industries and a 1998 International put together by the Zuspans and a local welder, with a 1,500-gallon steel tank from LMT and a 200-gallon freshwater plastic tank from Kentucky Tank. Both vehicles have Battioni pumps.

EXPLORE FIVE ISSUES THAT AFFECT TODD'S PORTABLE Sanitation BUSINESS:

FAMILY DYNAMICS

Zuspan has always involved his family in the business, including his children. Brittany, 19, goes to college but helps with deliveries in the summers and knows her way around a service truck. Jake, 18, is eager to venture out in the world, but is familiar with all aspects of the business and helps out in the meantime. And Brett, 15, "does anything and everything," Zuspan says, "but he especially likes doing special events because he gets to go see things." Zuspan's wife, Julie, holds down a part-time job with the county health department but still spends a lot of time on the business, filling in any gaps that arise – office work, riding in the truck, running errands. "She does everything, and I'm not lying," Zuspan says. Working with family is enjoyable, he adds. "I just want them to grow up to be better at everything than I was."

CUSTOMER DIVERSITY

One of Zuspan's customers is located in the middle of the Ohio River. Three portable restrooms sit on an O-Kan Marine Repair anchored service barge. Once a week Zuspan drives his vacuum truck onto the barge via a connecting ramp. Another customer – the dynamite factory – is in a large compound that Zuspan describes as being nearly as secure as a prison. Anyone entering must have security clearance and be escorted to each location. Test buildings – which are not plumbed and therefore need portable restrooms – are widely scattered to avoid a chain reaction disaster in the event of an accident. One of the biggest events for the Zuspans is the Meigs County Fair, looking forward to its 150th anniversary in 2013. The company provides restrooms and RV pumping services. This is such an important event for the company that Julie Zuspan takes a vacation from her county job to help.

DIFFICULT DISPOSAL

Although several counties in the area have new sewer plants, they will not take outside waste, even from septic systems pumped out in those counties. "They say they're not set up for it," Zuspan says. That leaves him with two options. One is the small plant in McArthur. But the most practical is a new facility in Chillicothe, 40 miles away. "It affects everything – drive time, wear and tear on the truck, fuel mileage," he says. It's a system he feels is a hardship on him and unfair to the counties that do take the waste. "If you go to a county and pump a septic tank or clean a toilet, you should be able to dump in the same county," he says.

I CAN DRIVE FOR MILES AND MILES

McArthur is in Vinton County – the poorest county in Ohio, Zuspan says. "It's tough to get customers, but the ones I've got have been very loyal. We support one another, and that's the way we get through." Those customers include the county airport, the high school, Austin Powder, the Wild Turkey Festival and convenience store owner Rick Hensler. To get enough customers to pay the bills, Zuspan has to service six other counties. That eats into his time and fuel budget. "You just have to manage it properly," he says. "When a toilet needs delivering, you deliver it right now. But if it needs to be picked up, you wait until you're near it." He sometimes adds fuel surcharges and has raised prices modestly. "You try not to gouge them, but my outlook on life is you give them a good service and they'll stick with you through thick and thin."

FRIENDLY COMPETITION

To further increase business, Zuspan discovered he comes out ahead if he works with his competition rather than against them. "I try to work with the bigger ones because I'm so small." He gets referrals from Rent-A-John in Columbus, Ohio, for work outside the large company's service territory, and works with Portable Restroom Trailers in Charlotte, N.C., to pump and clean the trailers they rent out anywhere within two hours of him. He and Ron Brooker of Ron's Porta Jons, 75 miles away in Marietta, Ohio, share trucks and portable restrooms, and do out-of-area trades. It's worked out very well for him and is a win-win for everyone, he says.



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