Business Owner Stresses Differentiation, Diversification & Cleanliness

For North Carolina’s TES Group, cleanliness is a key to success. From squeaky-clean equipment to well-groomed service technicians, the crew takes pride in a job well done.
Business Owner Stresses Differentiation, Diversification & Cleanliness

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Emphasizing employee professionalism and clean service vehicles, amassing a huge inventory of equipment, and developing a complementary event rental business, Edwin and Terry Scott have built TES Group to thrive even in challenging economic times.

Doing business as Piedmont Portables and TCS Event Rentals, based in Burlington, N.C., the Scotts take pride in providing quality service and equipment that exceeds customer expectations. The approach is working; although the company lost $1 million in sales revenue in 2008, it recouped that loss and continued to build revenue in the ensuing years.

Edwin Scott credits the two D's — differentiation and diversification — as key factors in the companies' success.

"If you ever saw our facilities, we do not look like a restroom company or an event company," says Edwin Scott. "Anyone who knows me would tell you I have pretty high standards ... and if you can meet my standards, then you've met our customers' standards.

"Our trucks look like they did the day we bought them," he continues. "Our restrooms are neither dilapidated nor odorous. Why not? Because they're the tools that allow all of us to earn our living. You can come into our rental warehouse and pick up any piece of equipment and it's in great condition. Our tables are repaired and resanded frequently, in accordance with our consistently high standards."

TCS Event Rentals — which specializes in renting portable sanitation equipment, tables, chairs, tents, bleachers, barricades and the like — generates about 75 percent of the umbrella company's annual revenue. (About 40 percent of TCS' business comes from outside North Carolina.) Piedmont Portables, which focuses on commercial- and construction-related restroom rentals, generates the other 25 percent of overall revenue, Scott says.

Large inventory

The company owns a significant number of portable restrooms made by Satellite Industries, including Satellite Maxim 3000 units used for special events, and Satellite handicap-accessible units. It also owns ADA-compliant units made by PolyJohn Enterprises. Other equipment includes an eight-compartment shower trailer made by JAG Mobile Solutions and several restroom trailers made by JAG, Advanced Containment Systems (ACSI) and Wells Cargo.

To service restrooms, the company owns seven vacuum trucks, all with steel tanks: four 2005 International 4300s with 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater tanks, built out by Abernethy Welding & Repair; a 1996 Chevrolet 7500 with an 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater tank, also built by Abernethy; a 2008 Chevrolet 5500 with a 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tank built by Keith Huber, Inc.; and a 2010 Chevrolet 5500 with a 300-gallon slide-in tank made by Dyna-Vac Equipment Co.

For deliveries, the company relies on three semi tractors from Mack, Volvo and International; three International 26-foot box trucks; two Chevrolet 5500 flatbeds; one Isuzu 16-foot box truck; and 29 semi trailers from Great Dane, Hyundai, Fruehauf, Trailmobile, Monan Trailer and Strick. During peak spring and fall seasons, the company may lease three to four more semi tractors and 25 to 30 box trucks.

Other equipment include about 90,000 chairs, made primarily by Scholar Craft Products; 10,000 tables; 15,000 square feet of staging; and about 30 tents, made primarily by TopTec Event Tents and Anchor Industries.

Quality and quantity

The large inventory of restrooms, chairs, tables and the like play an integral role not only in serving customers, but generating rentals to other restroom operators and special-event companies. "There aren't many companies that have 90,000 chairs," Scott points out. "Our customers know we always have the quantities they need. And they know they're going to get quality equipment."

Whether it's trucks or restrooms, Scott likes to stick with one manufacturer as much as possible to minimize repair-parts inventory. And restrooms are color-coded — green with yellow tops for construction, green with white tops for special events — to make it easier to organize and identify units and enhance the company's branding efforts.

"It's a peculiarity I have," he says of the different restroom-roof colors. "It's very logical and makes it easier and more efficient to pick them out for jobs."

Also, there's no company identification on any event restrooms, aside from a small decal on the interiors. This may seem counterintuitive to effective promoting of the service, but Scott has his reasons.

"People don't want to see that at an event and the people subbing from us don't want it, either," he explains. "I think that's why people use us ... our name isn't plastered all over our equipment."

Vehicle maintenance

Scott is a stickler for well-maintained vehicles. Drivers are required to fill out a one-page checklist every day that covers the condition of components such as tires, transmission, lights and brakes. This not only gives drivers a feeling of ownership for their vehicles, it also provides proof that vehicles are well maintained, which could come into play if an accident occurs, he says.

"It doesn't mean you can't get sued, but you sure can prove a vehicle was maintained to above-reasonable standards," Scott says. In addition, he uses a third-party contractor to perform vehicle inspections, which occur every 6,000 miles.

"It's a liability issue," he says. They keep detailed records of what was done and when. "Should any regulatory issue arise that requires a maintenance review, we can print out any data needed for any of our vehicles," he explains.

In addition, drivers are required to wash trucks daily when they finish their routes.

"I think it boosts their pride," Scott says. "Our guys wear uniforms, they look sharp when they go out, and they have the respect of our customers. No one wants to see someone pull up in a nasty, dirty truck ... that's why our industry gets picked on."

Drivers are also held to high standards. They and all other employees are subjected to random drug tests — even the Scotts.

"We had issues at one time, but we don't have them any more," Scott says of the reason for drug testing. "If they get a speeding ticket, drivers get drug tested as soon as they come in. We have little to no speeding tickets any more."

Broad customer base

Scott says the companies' diverse services and customer bases can help soften the blow of economic downturns. Special-event rental revenue has held steady through leaner times, thanks to almost three-dozen local and regional universities and colleges. These customers helped cushion a decline in construction rentals.

"We've been very blessed that all our eggs aren't in one basket," Scott says. "Could we have that perfect storm (where diversity doesn't help as much)? Absolutely. But over the years, we've been able to reduce debt and increase income ... and a lot of that has to do with diversity, plus a lot of hard work from our greatest asset — our employees."

Scott says that open communication about everything from the company's financial condition to business goals helps keep employees motivated and reduces turnover. He says the only things he won't disclose are another employee's salary or things that are of a confidential nature.

"Other than that, we're an open book here – there are no secrets," he says. "It's an advantage because then there's no surprises for employees ... and they go the extra mile to do things if they know more about the business."

For example, Scott says after drivers finish a big job, they know to ask the customer where the next project might be coming up. They double as a sales force and bring in good information every day.

"And it works because they're clean-cut guys who handle themselves well and dress properly," Scott adds. "If a customer wants something extra done, they just do it. You can't put a value on that."

About more than money

In the end, Scott says he loves the business because he enjoys the challenges of getting jobs completed and exceeding customer expectations.

"It's not all about the money, though getting paid is part of it, too," he says. "It's more about, 'Can we do this?' I like to see people smile and say, 'You did a good job.'

"We recently supplied items for a fundraiser at Duke University, and I happened to attend that night," he continues. "I like to do that because it gives you a feel for what's going on. These events are not simple to pull off, so when you attend one and hear people bragging on your work, it makes you feel good about a job well done. There's a lot of satisfaction in seeing it all come together."


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