Growing Wisconsin Business Adopts Effective Marketing Techniques Amidst Changing Conditions

The owners of Wisconsin’s Arnold’s Environmental Services went all in on a bid to build the business and it paid off big.
Growing Wisconsin Business Adopts Effective Marketing Techniques Amidst Changing Conditions
The Arnold’s technicians are shown in the company yard. They are, left to right, Bob Edwards, Chris Rach, Chuck Guenther, Glen Moody, Brian Crass, Darren Devine, Erik Barber, Zach Keefe and Luke Switalski.

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When Tammy Thompson-Oreskovic and her husband, Pat Oreskovic, bought Arnold’s Septic Service in 1992, the Saukville, Wis.-based company owned 15 portable restrooms and one pump truck, employed one worker and relied almost completely on revenue from pumping local septic tanks. The couple ran the business from their home and started out with a plastic milk crate full of customer records in file folders.

What a difference 22 years – and effective, integrated marketing efforts – can make. Today, there’s still an “Arnold” in the name, reflecting the brand equity built up by the company’s founder, Arnold Egerer. But everything else has changed substantially.

By 2006, the restroom rental business had grown to the point that it made sense to create two separate companies: a portable restroom rental company called Arnold’s Environmental Services Inc. (owned by Tammy as a Women’s Business Enterprise; she’s the chief executive officer and president) and a septic tank pumping company called Arnold’s Sanitation Technologies Ltd. (half owned by Pat, who is the company’s president).

ON THE GROW

In addition, Arnold’s Environmental now employs 20 workers and services all of southeastern Wisconsin. Moreover, Arnold’s Environmental now owns about 1,700 single restrooms, made mostly by PolyJohn Enterprises, Five Peaks Technology and Satellite Industries; and 10 restroom trailers, made by JAG Mobile Solutions Inc., NuConcepts, Black Tie Event Services and McKee Technologies Inc. The company uses Walex deodorant products in the restrooms.

The company also owns several restroom service trucks built out by Imperial Industries Inc.: a 2003 International with a 1,100-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank; two 2004 Internationals with 850-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater stainless steel tanks; and a 2005 International with a 1,100-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank. They all use pumps made by Masport Inc.

Other service trucks include three Mitsubishis with 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tanks, built by Arnold’s; a 2007 Ford F-750 with a 1,200-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tank, built by Imperial; and a 2007 Ford F-550 with a 500-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tank, built by Imperial. All five of these trucks use Masport pumps. Two Ford F-550 flatbeds and a 2004 Ford F-350 pickup round out the fleet.

The family’s septic service business runs: a 1997 Mack CL with a 5,700-gallon steel tank and Wallenstein pump from Elmira Machine Industries Inc.; a 1999 Mack CL with a 5,700-gallon stainless steel tank and Battioni pump from National Vacuum Equipment; a 2004 Mack Granite with a 5,700-gallon stainless steel tank and Battioni pump; a 2004 Mack Granite with a 5,100-gallon aluminum tank and Wallenstein pump; and a 1999 GMC service van. Imperial Industries provided all the tanks.

The results have been gratifying for the pair, who left successful careers to dedicate themselves to Arnold’s. She worked in graphic arts, while he left a position with the railroad. They’ve utilized savvy marketing skills, great customer service and the ability to change with the times to build the company.

“Looking back, it was kind of crazy for us to just quit our jobs,” Thompson-Oreskovic says. “I was doing what I went to school for [she earned a commercial-art degree in college] and loved my career. But it made sense for both of us to jump in and do it 100 percent. There definitely was enough work to keep both of us busy.”

NO POTTY HUMOR

The couple was intrigued by the area’s rapid residential growth, which translated into growing need for septic and restroom services. “The previous owners had done it for 17 years and were at a point where they wanted to do something different even though business was growing … without any real marketing,’’ she recalls. “I felt I could help in that regard.”

The couple faced a host of tasks, including developing a formal business plan, computerizing the business, setting up basic office and accounting procedures, establishing standards for customer service and designing a company logo.

Thompson-Oreskovic had another priority, too: Remove the potty-humor slogans from the company’s trucks. From a marketing standpoint, Thompson-Oreskovic – a staunch advocate for industry-wide professionalism – didn’t feel the humor reflected well on the business.

“The slogans were funny, but not professional,” she says. “They are memorable, but it depends on what you want to be remembered for. If you want people to respect what you do, you have to act respectable. People aren’t going to pay more money for something they don’t feel is professional.

“I felt we wouldn’t be able to go after bigger accounts … that demand explicit professionalism,” she adds. “When you move to different arenas, the game changes.”

BRING THE MESSAGE

To get the word out about expanded services, the company invested heavily in phone book advertising across four counties, with listings under several different headings: septic, grease traps, portable restroom rentals and special-event rentals. In addition, she talked to local newspaper editors to generate stories that provided free exposure, and set up booths at area home shows. And last but not least, the company ran ads on a local radio station via a trade arrangement.

Radio advertising is uncommon for portable restroom and septic pumping operators, but Thompson-Oreskovic felt the station’s audience demographics provided a good marketing fit. During a Sunday morning shopping show, listeners would bid for services. If a winning bid for septic tank pumping was, say, $100 (which went to the radio station’s coffers), then Arnold’s received $100 worth of advertising from the station.

“We’d run ads for eight weeks or so in the spring and fall,” she says. “Back in 1992, $100 got us a lot of advertising. Today, not so much.”

Thompson-Oreskovic knew she was hitting a marketing sweet spot because the services the company auctioned off “sold like hotcakes,” she recalls. “It worked really well for us because as people bid for your service, they’re saying your name repeatedly on the radio from 6 to 9 a.m.”

Today, Arnold’s – which used to invest as much as $40,000 annually in phone book ads – doesn’t go that route. Almost all of Thompson-Oreskovic’s marketing efforts now focus on social media and building a robust website that makes the most of search engine optimization, coupled with some direct-mail campaigns. The company also runs ads in a bridal magazine.

“People’s attention spans are so much shorter and everyone has smartphones,” she observes. “Things have changed 360 degrees, so now the challenge is to stay ahead – or just keep up with – how fast things are changing. You must keep up with how customers expect to find you. If they no longer look for you in the phone book, where are they looking?”

ATTENTION TO DETAILS

Thompson-Oreskovic also capitalizes on small but valuable opportunities to promote the company’s services to prospective customers. For example, if people call and get put on hold momentarily, they hear taped promotions for Arnold’s services.

“Hopefully, customers aren’t on hold for a long time, but you should give them a message while they wait,” she explains. “We change our recordings seasonally. It’s a really inexpensive way to promote your services, and it keeps sending that underlying message that we’re a really serious business that provides different services for people.”

Aside from marketing, Thompson-Oreskovic says Arnold’s differentiates itself by paying attention to details and providing top customer service. Even after 21 years, company reps still do in-person sales calls and follow-ups, and post-special event analysis is a regular part of operations.

“We do things like analyze how units were used,” she says. “Were there too many restrooms or not enough? Do we need to pick them up earlier next time, or later? Did we have too many trucks and employees, or not enough? We want to know what went well and what we could improve on next year.

“Then we send a report and meet with the customers … It impresses them because it also makes their job easier,” she adds. “It also helps us bid more efficiently the next time around because we’re determining whether our performance meets our pre-bid analysis.”

SHIFT ON THE FLY

Looking ahead, Thompson-Oreskovic says one of the company’s biggest challenges is remaining flexible to adjust to changing market conditions. “You can’t get too set in your ways,” she notes. “You need to realize that things continue to change and evolve.”

For example, Arnold’s started buying restroom trailers in the last 10 years as construction business declined – it used to generate about 80 percent of the company’s restroom rentals – higher-margin, special-event rentals seemed like a logical place to focus its attention.

“We still rent restrooms for construction, but we raised our prices and only do projects that are profitable for us,” explains Thompson-Oreskovic. “Raising prices was tough … You have to be able to walk away from business. But when the economy changed, we did route analysis, and it became obvious which routes were profitable and which ones weren’t.”

Another example: Faced with higher fuel costs over the last several years, company officials decided to cluster restrooms closer together on job sites so that technicians would have to make just one or two stops instead of three or four. This results in both fuel and time savings because technicians only turn on the pump once or twice and take less time to service restrooms.

“There’s nothing like skyrocketing costs to make you review your expenses,” she notes. “When bills are twice as high as they used to be and your profit margins keep decreasing, the only thing you can do is become more efficient.”

To be sure the company effectively adapts to changing market conditions, Thompson-Oreskovic says she devotes a fair amount of time in the off-season to strategic planning with her staff, discussing everything from new software and phone systems to new trucks and labor needs.

“You can never stop and say everything’s fine,” she says. “You can always improve.”



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