Savvy Software: Opportunity, Technology, and Pricing Sustain Pit Stop Sanitation Services’ Success

Technology upgrades, a fit fleet and a focus on splendid service spell long-term success for Atlanta’s Pit Stop Sanitation Services.
Savvy Software: Opportunity, Technology, and Pricing Sustain Pit Stop Sanitation Services’ Success
Jeff and Terri Wigley’s portable sanitation company serves clients in a busy 40-mile radius of Atlanta. (Photos by Kaylinn Gilstrap)

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It’s not often that an entrepreneur can credit a summer Olympic games for kick-starting the fortunes of a new business. But that’s exactly what happened to Jeff Wigley, who sprinted into the portable sanitation industry by forming Pit Stop Sanitation Services Inc. in Marietta, Ga., in Greater Atlanta in 1995 ­– about nine months before the city hosted the 1996 Olympics.

For Jeff, the move represented a career switch of Olympic proportions; he had just taken early retirement from a job as a business analyst for IBM and was looking for a new challenge. It put him and wife Terri in a risky position, too, because in order to handle restroom demand for the Olympics, they invested heavily in 250 restrooms and equipment – a large inventory for a fledgling company.

Overall, however, it worked out for the best. Today, Pit Stop thrives with 14 employees, more than 2,000 restrooms and a large fleet of service vehicles and restroom trailers. Aided by the acquisition of two competitors in 1999 and 2006, the company’s current annual gross revenue exceeds $1.5 million, with its business volume split about 50/50 between special events and monthly rentals.

Terri, who left a job with IBM to join Pit Stop full time in 1998, is now the majority owner, which gives the company minority-ownership status. Jeff is active in the industry; he’s the past president of the Portable Sanitation Association International.

GOING FOR THE GOLD

The couple says the Olympics played a huge role in boosting the company’s stature in its early days.

“We were really busy for about six weeks [the Olympics were immediately followed by the Paralympic Games],” Jeff says. “It was pretty intense. But since we were hired late in the game – most of the contracts had already been set ­– a lot of our units ended up at hospitality and VIP areas, rather than the various sports venues.

“That actually worked out very well because we ended up with a fairly large customer base, as opposed to plopping down all 200 units at, say, the archery range,” he notes. “It provided us with a lot of business contacts.”

It’s not as though the couple had no post-Olympics plan in mind, however. In 1995, Jeff spent a week with another operator, Clyde Sansom, in Missouri, to “learn the ropes,” he says. The company also joined the Southeastern Portable Sanitation Association and PSAI, both of which he says provided an excellent base of operating knowledge.

It also helped that Atlanta was experiencing a building boom at the time, so construction rentals were plentiful. Still, Jeff says it took about three years – when the company owned about 600 restrooms – before the couple felt they were truly well established.

“At the same time, we definitely wanted to carve out a market for special events, because the rentals are more lucrative,” Jeff explains. “It’s more lucrative to rent out a unit for four weekends every month than to have it sit on a construction site all month long.

EQUIPMENT CORNER

The company’s inventory of equipment expanded as it grew. Satellite Industries made most of the company’s 2,000 restrooms; the balance came from PolyPortables Inc., including about 75 handicapped-accessible and ADA-compliant units. The company also owns 75 300-gallon holding tanks made by T.S.F. Company Inc.; 40 hand-wash stations manufactured by TSF and PolyPortables; and four restroom trailers made by Ameri-Can Engineering, Comforts of Home Services Inc., JAG Mobile Solutions Inc. and NuConcepts.

Pit Stop runs a variety of service vehicles: A 2001 Isuzu NQR built out by FleetCare Isuzu with a 450-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater stainless steel slide-in Best Enterprises Inc. tank; 2002 and 2004 Isuzu NPR flatbed trucks; a 2005 Isuzu NQR flatbed truck with a 300-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater stainless steel slide-in Best Enterprises tank; a 2006 Isuzu NRR built by Satellite with a 900-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater aluminum Progress tank; a 2006 Isuzu NQR flatbed with a 550-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater stainless steel Crescent Tank Mfg. tank; a 2007 Isuzu NRR built by FleetCare Isuzu with a 900-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank; a 2007 Isuzu NRR built by Satellite with a 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank; a 2008 Isuzu NRR from Satellite with a 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank; and a 2002 International 4300 with a 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater steel tank built by Keith Huber Inc.

The company used to own larger trucks, but started buying Isuzus because they’re more maneuverable in the congested metro-Atlanta area, easy to maintain and get better gas mileage. The Wigleys lean toward lighter aluminum tanks, which are almost as big as the steel tanks the company owned before, but can be carried by the smaller, more maneuverable Isuzus.

“Tank size is important to us because the main disposal facility we use in Atlanta charges by the load, not by the gallonage,” Terri says. “We pay $100 whether the tank is full or not, so it’s to our advantage to carry as much as possible. Additionally, we want our drivers to have enough capacity to complete a route without stopping to make a disposal run to empty the truck.”

TECH TALK

Pit Stop uses technology to increase productivity and efficiency. Terri says one of the company’s most valuable tools is customer-management and routing software from RouteOptix Inc. The software handles things such as billing and invoices, contact management (for business leads and follow-ups) and inventory management.

“It’s a very powerful tool,” Terri says, noting that the software also integrates with the company’s GPS system, another productivity enhancer. “It saves us so much time by making billing customers more efficient … it does all the calculations for us – no more manual operations.”

The company just invested in GPS units made by Garmin and NexTraq fleet tracking equipment. Terri says it’s too early to evaluate the performance of the new tech additions, but says she’s “optimistic they’re going to be awesome.”

Before the recession hit, Pit Stop had about 40 competitors. Now there are about half that, still a significant number, and to differentiate Pit Stop from the crowd, Jeff says professionalism and offering top-notch customer service is critical.

To promote a sense of professionalism, drivers wear company-logoed T-shirts in summer and logoed button-down shirts, hats and fleece jackets in the winter. Terri’s philosophy regarding uniforms is simple: If a company is in the cleaning business, employees should look neat and clean.

“It also makes employees feel more professional, as well as makes them feel like they’re part of a team,” Jeff adds.

To Terri, providing great customer service requires concentrating on little things, such as guaranteeing service on the same day each week, which is a great convenience for customers; being available for service calls 24/7; and always having someone available to answer a phone so customers don’t get an answering machine. “It gives people a sense of reassurance if they know they can always reach someone if a situation arises at, say, a large festival,” she says.

Pit Stop also adds value for customers by buying restrooms with larger-capacity waste tanks. While most standard tanks hold 55 or 60 gallons, Pit Stop pays more for standard units with 80-gallon capacities. “The units aren’t that much more expensive, but provide 22 percent more capacity,” Terri explains.

NO LOW-BALL PRICING

Providing great service also allows the company to charge rates that reflect the value they add for customers. Jeff says that when the recession hit, price-cutting was common. Pit Stop resisted, knowing that the road to ruin is paved with operators who charge low-ball rates that don’t cover expenses.

“We always tell people that we’re not the cheapest and not the most expensive provider,” Jeff explains. “As the economy rebounds, we hope it takes price-cutting off the table around here.”

The Wigleys remain optimistic about future growth as the economy continues to rebound, as evidenced by an uptick in construction business so far this year in the Atlanta area. One thing is for sure, though: The company no longer needs a boost from a summer Olympics to remain in the game.



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