Family Juggles Successful Sanitation Company With Full-Time Careers

JC’s Johns Portable Sanitation Services is embarking on an aggressive plan to triple in size as it caters to Iowa special events and construction contracts.
Family Juggles Successful Sanitation Company With Full-Time Careers
Cole Waite puts the final touches on a restroom to be used at a special event.

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For Jason Waite, of JC’s Johns Portable Sanitation Services in Oskaloosa, Iowa, selling his wife Cherlynn Waite on starting a portable restroom business to be operated in their spare time looked like an uphill battle.

Both are employed full time, he as a National Guard mechanic, and she as a chiropractic assistant. Jason Waite says he became intrigued by the idea when a co-worker and his brother-in-law returned from a trip to the 2008 Pumper & Cleaner Expo.

“My friend Dennis Heldenbrand introduced me to his brother-in-law, Jerry Lansing, owner of AAA Septic Service Inc. of Marshalltown, about an hour’s drive away,” he says. “Jerry told me that the business was friendly and low key and that our market area was underserved. He went through the math with us, to show us how we could start with the best bang for our buck.”

The couple started business that summer with 30 units from PolyJohn Enterprises.

Service was provided using a Ring-O-Matic vacuum trailer purchased secondhand from AAA. The unit offers a 500-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump. When the trailer proved tough to maneuver in Iowa winters, they added a GMC pickup with 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater slide-in unit from Imperial Industries Inc., also using a Masport pump.

They currently carry 115 restrooms. Jason Waite will be retiring from the National Guard later this fall to devote all his time to the business.

Explore five issues that affect Jason and Cherlynn's portable sanitation business:

Finding the Time

While pursuing two full-time careers, the owners squeeze every spare minute out of each day. Jason Waite often starts work hours before his regular job begins, prepping restroom units for delivery.

Cherlynn Waite takes a two-hour lunch at the home office, during which she can answer phones and prepare the company books. Her employer doesn’t mind if she takes occasional orders by phone.

“We talk a lot about our schedule at night,” she says. “But a lot of our discussions go on from behind the windshield of our pickup, because when Jason is on the road, I’m often with him.”

The entire family helps out nights and weekends, with sons Cole, 13, and Jaxon, who is 8, pitching in. “Cole often goes with me and helps clean and set the toilets up,” says Jason Waite. “Through the summer, he works for us a couple of days per week.”

The company also employs his father-in-law, Fred Northway, who started with them part time in late 2011. He became a full-time employee earlier this year. “I make up a list for Fred so he can handle cleaning and deliveries that I can’t handle while working,” says Jason Waite. “If it can wait until evening, it’s on my list.”

Promoting Cleanliness

Cherlynn Waite says her prior impressions of the portable restroom business were based on a few unpleasant experiences. The company is working hard to ensure that those memories are permanently erased.

“Some of the portable restrooms I’ve seen were pretty nasty,” she says. “Before I agreed to get into this business, we visited Jerry at AAA Septic, and he put my mind at ease by showing me just how cleanly the business can be operated.”

Each unit offered by JC’s is fitted with PolyJohn hand sanitizers, treated with air fresheners and supplied with two-ply paper. The company also offers four stand-alone hand-wash stations from PolyJohn. Deodorant products are from Satellite Industries.

“If you keep a clean unit, people respect it more when they use it,” she says. “We’re pretty equally divided between construction contracts and special events, such as sporting events and weddings. Our commitment is that every customer deserves the same level of service. Every unit we rent out to a construction site could be presented at a wedding – the only difference is that wedding rentals are equipped with a welcome mat.”

Pinching Pennies for the Bottom Line

JC’s won’t skimp on spending money when it results in better customer service, but being good at saving a dollar has served the company well.

“When we bought our first 30 units from PolyJohn, we asked for them to be delivered disassembled, because we didn’t have the storage area and it was cheaper for us to assemble them as we needed them,” says Jason Waite. “We had a family assembly line going in the garage.”

He often doubles up his daily commute to work in Des Moines, about 70 miles away, with restroom deliveries, allowing him to get more bang for his transportation buck.

Getting the Word Out

The Waites rely largely on word-of-mouth and admit they’ve been too busy to follow up on such marketing tasks as collecting testimonials to feature in advertising. “We service a flea market where the vendors actually cheer us when we arrive and tell us they won’t use any other service,” says Jason Waite. “We need to start recording these testimonials and make sure we have permission to use them in future promotions.”

And while the company’s current Web page is serviceable as an Internet business card, the Waites plan to devote more resources to expanding offerings.

They’ve attended every Pumper & Cleaner Expo since 2009 and take advantage of Expo Education Day classes, particularly those involving business coaching, training, advertising and marketing. “Once I leave the National Guard, I’d like to attend a local college to get a degree in marketing and business management,” says Jason Waite. “These are skills we could definitely use in-house.”

Finding the Right Growth Opportunities

“Every year since 2008 we’ve added something, but at a slow and steady rate,” says Jason Waite. An additional 10 units were purchased in 2010. In 2011, the company purchased several high-rise units for a multiyear construction contract. The Waites also encountered an opportunity to buy 15 additional Satellite restrooms from a local septic tank contractor.

“We now give him all of our septic service referrals and he gives us all of his restroom referrals,” says Jason Waite. “That works to grow both our businesses.” JC’s purchased 28 additional restrooms and upgraded the old pickup to a Ford F-450 in 2012. This year, the company ordered another 28 units. “Over the years we’ve also bought four wheelchair-accessible Satellite units on an as needed basis,” says Jason Waite. “When I get an order, I can have it delivered inside a week.”

When Jason Waite retires from the National Guard, he plans to devote all his working time to the family restroom business. He’s also eyeing a vacuum truck purchase in the next two to three years. “Our ultimate goal is 300 to 350 restroom units,” he says. “This is an industry where I can use all my skills in sales, marketing, public relations, mechanics and fabrication, while experimenting with new ideas for growth.”



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