Portable Toilet Operator Puts Unique Spin on Cliché Concept of ‘Good Service’

Texan Nita Bailey bucks the conventional approach to marketing portable sanitation services and builds a business for growth.
Portable Toilet Operator Puts Unique Spin on Cliché Concept of ‘Good Service’
The RS Waste Services’ mode crew sets up the company’s Alpha Mobile Solutions trailer for an event. Flowers and plants are often used to create a special presentation for the restroom trailer.

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In an industry where conformity is common, Nita Bailey wants to stand out like a color picture in a black-and-white photo exhibit. Not only is she a woman in a male-dominated field, Bailey relishes taking unorthodox approaches to running RS Waste Services Inc., the portable-restroom business she co-owns in Houston.

How unorthodox? Think vinyl-wrapped bride and groom restrooms for weddings. Restrooms that resemble British phone booths. Advertising on LED billboards. Placing palm trees and other temporary landscaping outside restroom trailers. A fully integrated branding strategy that visually unifies everything from the company website to restroom decals to email signatures for company employees. And structuring the company like a corporation.

In short, Bailey believes no detail is too small when it comes to differentiating RS Services from numerous competitors. And if pursuing those details involves taking the road less traveled in the portable-restroom industry, all the better.

“To me, you should always be changing,” says Bailey, who’s the majority owner of the company; her partner is Roger Harp, the vice president of operations. “If you stay the same, you should expect the same thing year after year.’’

Bailey’s formula has worked well since she and her husband, Jay, started the business in 1999 (he retired in 2008; Harp joined the business in 2000). Since then, the company has grown to 12 employees from four, and annual gross revenue has increased substantially, including annual growth of about 20 percent for the last several years.

EQUIPPED FOR SUCCESS

The company’s stable of equipment has grown, too. In 1999, RS Waste Services owned 28 restrooms and one vacuum truck. Today, it maintains 700 restrooms, mostly made by PolyPortables Inc. That total includes about a dozen handicapped-accessible and ADA-compliant units, 20 units from Piccadilly Concepts that look like English phone booths, and 12 High Tech II units from Satellite Industries Inc. that feature flush toilets, sinks and solar lighting.

To service restrooms, the company now owns four trucks: a 2011 Isuzu NQR with a 700-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank built by RS Waste Services; a 2007 Isuzu with a 600-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank built by Best Enterprises Inc.; a 2012 Ford F-550 with a 900-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank built by Tank Technologies and Supply Co.; and a 2012 Isuzu NPR flatbed truck. The Isuzu vacuum trucks use Conde pumps, made by Westmoor Ltd., and the F-550 is equipped with a Masport pump. In what amounts to side-by-side testing, Bailey says the company is using three different kinds of tank material to see which one holds up best.

In addition, RS Waste Service owns about two dozen hand-wash stations made by PolyPortables Inc., Satellite Industries Inc, and PolyJohn Enterprises; a 12-foot restroom trailer from Alpha Mobile Solutions; and 45 plastic holding tanks made by PolyPortables (most hold 250 gallons except for three that hold 310 gallons). The company uses the tanks to capture graywater from restroom trailers rented for construction sites until sewer systems are installed, Bailey says.

CAREER SWITCH

It should come as no surprise that Bailey bucked conventional wisdom and left a great, long-term job – vice president of North American sales for a manufacturer of above-ground storage tank covers – in 2010 to focus full-time on the portable sanitation company.

“I’m a little bit of a workaholic and wanted to do both jobs,” she says. “People thought I was crazy to walk away from a good job, but I felt like the time was right to do it.”

One of the first things she did was use her prior experience to restructure the company as a corporation and rebrand it to reflect a more professional image, all of which she felt would position it better for growth. She also started the process of obtaining certification as a woman-owned business.

“Before, business just sort of came our way,” she recalls. “But when the economy started changing, we realized we couldn’t keep operating the same way we had for the last 10 years. We needed to come up with a game plan. I didn’t want the market to dictate how we did … I wanted to ride the market whether it was up or down – be prepared for it.”

SHARPEN THE FOCUS

To restructure, Bailey split the company into two divisions: Rest Stop Portable Toilets, concentrating on construction rentals, which accounted for 95 percent of the company’s gross revenue in 2012; and ’mode (a trademarked name, it’s a play on the word “commode” and by definition means “appearance and style”), which caters to special-event rentals.

Bailey saw more growth opportunities in a niche within the special-events market, which would offer higher profit margins and decrease the company’s dependence on construction.

“Everyone jumped on the luxury restroom-trailer trend, but that’s really high end,” she adds. “But there’s a market segment ignored between high-end luxury trailers and construction units.’’ That’s why she ordered the flushing Picadilly Concepts units, which she considers a step up from standard restrooms. To further differentiate, Bailey also puts plants like shrubs and palm trees – maybe even poinsettias during the Christmas season – around the skirting of the company’s restroom trailer or around clusters of event restrooms. Inside, she adds fresh flowers, specialty soaps and hand lotions.

She started doing this after hearing at an event service tradeshow that if women won’t use a portable restroom, they go home sooner, and the group sponsoring the event loses revenue. The challenge is to attract and keep patrons at an event, and get them to come back again – and construction restrooms won’t do the trick, Bailey says.

Bailey’s penchant for trying something new extends to marketing, where she advertises along with seven other companies on an LED billboard along I-45. For a monthly fee, RS Waste Services receives nine seconds of exposure per cycle.

“People probably think I’m crazy for doing that, too,” she says, noting she already placed some of the Picadilly units at a busy intersection along I-45 and received a lot of inquiries about them. “But no one can say if it’ll work or not, because no one has ever done it around here. The cost of that billboard for a month is a lot less than having 1,000 postcards designed, printed and mailed.”

LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT

To Bailey, effective marketing means sweating the details. For instance, when she or employees send out an email, the recipient will see a uniform signature graphic with a professional look. It shows job title, contact information and the logos for Rest Stop and ’mode.

“It’s a very simple way to change and improve your image for a minimal cost,” she points out. “These are all things that need to be addressed when you’re thinking about the image of your company.”

Another example are company decals on restrooms. She doesn’t believe in plastering large decals on all four sides of an event unit; instead, she prefers a smaller, more discreet and attractive decal placed on the interior of a restroom. If people are paying to rent the unit, she feels they’d rather see something other than company decals on the sides – like bride and groom vinyl wraps that adorn a pair of the company’s High Tech II restrooms.

Bailey says the pair of restrooms is a great alternative for a cost-conscious bride and groom who can’t afford a luxury restroom trailer. She’s open to the idea of wrapping restrooms to fit a themed event; the cost ranges from $150 to $300 per unit, depending on the image. If the theme is universal enough that the company can reuse it, RS Services covers the cost.

For Bailey, differentiation through new ideas is as critical as simply promoting quality service. “Everyone says they have good service, so it’s an old buzzword that’s lost its meaning,” she says. “If you think that good service is just part of being in business, which I do, then you need to think of other ways to stand apart.”

Part of that equation is showing pride in the service you provide. In other words, stop thinking of portable sanitation as a “crappy job,” she says.

“I believe everyone has the right to clean, sanitary conditions,” she says. “We need to embrace the industry we’re in – be proud that we provide a wonderful service for people. The more we believe in what we do, the better the industry’s image can become.”



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