Wisconsin Company Finds Profits in Providing Nationwide Portable Shower Trailers

An enterprising Wisconsin family company broadens its territory to the Lower 48 by offering a fleet of popular shower trailers.
Wisconsin Company Finds Profits in Providing Nationwide Portable Shower Trailers
Richard and Peggy Dean are shown in the Dean Enterprises yard with one of their International semi tractors used to move shower trailers for long-haul service across the country. (Photos by John Ehlke)

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When Peggy and Richard Dean got into the portable sanitation business in 1994 they didn’t imagine a big source of future revenue would come from shower trailers, or that showers would eventually extend their service territory to the 48 contiguous states. But the Deans have had an appetite for calculated risks and have been open to opportunities over the years. Chance remarks and unusual requests have led them to some unexpected places.

Dean Enterprises is the umbrella organization under which the Deans operate three lines of business – Dean’s Septic, Pit-Stop Portables and Pit-Stop Event Services. “Event services includes all our shower trailers, restroom trailers, freshwater services, camper pumping – all the other stuff that falls into an events category,” Peggy explains. They work out of a 3.5-acre yard and 12,000-square-foot building in Fond Du Lac, Wis.

Family Affair

In general, Richard focuses on the septic business while Peggy handles the rest of it. The Deans have had a handy source of labor to draw from over the years. Their four sons grew up in the business and have now moved into management roles. Tony is the route manager, Tom the equipment manager, Brad the shop manager and Mike (the youngest at 18) is the yard manager.

No one gets left out as the family grows. Tony’s wife, Kim, handles accounts receivable and human resources. Tom’s girlfriend, Bethany Warner, works on routing, dispatch and shower operations. The youngsters in the group – Tony and Kim’s children, Hayden, 6, and Taylor, 5 – love to tag along and help out. And the “oldsters” play a big role, as well. Peggy’s mother Gail Wiese is now semiretired from the business but still helps out when needed in the office or on special events. As does her partner, Frank Hope, who is a large part of the summer help team.

The staff also includes an office assistant, a yard person and three route drivers. In the summer they bring in 15 to 20 seasonal workers – about 10 full-time, the rest as needed, usually high school students or others looking for weekend work.

In 1994 Richard decided to make the leap to self-employment and got into the septic business by buying out the contractor he’d been working for. Shortly thereafter, when a golf course owner hinted the Deans should offer portable restrooms, he considered the idea and purchased six units. When that led to further requests he bought six more. Growth was explosive when the Deans bought out a company in 1998, adding 600 units and two restroom trailers to their inventory, followed a couple years later by another acquisition adding 250 more.

Built For Events

Today their inventory stands at 1,600 units (about 75 percent from PolyJohn Enterprises, the rest Satellite Industries and PolyPortables), 50 PolyJohn and PolyPortables ADA-compliant units, 70 PolyPortables hand-wash stations, 13 Ameri-Can Engineering restroom trailers and 12 shower trailers. Units are mostly royal blue (white tops for events, yellow for other customers), but because they do a lot of golf tournaments – including the 2004 PGA Championship, the 2007 Men’s Open at Whistling Straits, and in 2012 the Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in nearby Sheboygan – they also have a large selection of tournament-required forest green units. The company’s eight transport trailers, ranging from eight-unit haulers to 20, were built locally by Emerich Manufacturing Inc.

Their septic business also grew and they’re now up to four vacuum trucks – a 1988 Mack with a 4,200-gallon T-Line Equipment Inc. steel tank, a 1995 International with a 5,000-gallon Imperial Industries Inc. steel tank, a 1999 Mack with a 4,200-gallon U.S. Tank steel tank, and a 2009 Peterbilt with a 6,000-gallon T-Line stainless steel tank. Pumps are from Masport Inc. and National Vacuum Equipment Inc.

In 2000 when Country USA, their largest event (now at over 150,000 attendees), requested a shower trailer, the Deans agreed to provide one. They found a company in Illinois from whom they could rent a six-stall unit and continued to do that for Country USA for the next three years. But in 2004 when the event needed two shower trailers and the rental company’s rates went up the Deans reconsidered their plan.

“We thought at that rate we could buy a couple and have them when needed,” Peggy recalls. They bought two Ameri-Can eight-stall units. The Country USA event continued to grow and then promoters also added Rock USA to their lineup. “As the event grew, so did our shower inventory,” Peggy says. They bought two more in 2006 and another two the following year.

They’re now up to 12 shower trailers. “We have anywhere from a four-stall shower/toilet combo all the way up to 22 stalls,” Peggy says. The majority are from Ameri-Can, two were built by the company and one was purchased from Kohler Co. after it was placed for two years at the World Trade Center. “It was a learning curve,” Peggy says. “When we first got in we were just looking for something compact that we could run a bunch of people through for events. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re doing bigger venues where the client is asking for something a little bit larger and a little bit nicer that’s more pleasing to their customer.”

On The Road Again

The company’s website now says they will take their shower trailers to any of the 48 contiguous states – but that wasn’t the original plan. They assumed rentals would be local but then they started getting out-of-state requests. In 2005 they got a call from their former Illinois supplier needing a trailer for Hurricane Katrina. “I had never anticipated using our shower trailers for disaster relief when we purchased them,” Peggy admits. That project lasted eight months.

They soon received another call from a youth camp in Texas that found them through an Internet search. “Shower trailers were few and far between in those days,” Peggy says, explaining why they would have gotten a call from so far away. Since the company’s two trailers were already spoken for they decided to get two more. The Texas job, which they still serve, worked out especially well because the event takes place in the off-season.

The out-of-state work really expanded when another shower company went out of business and failed to inform its customers. When they didn’t show up for an event, the Deans were contacted. “We got called at the last minute and that’s when it really took off because there was a lot of word of mouth. Next thing you know they’re all calling us,” Peggy explains.

By 2008 the Deans committed to offering their services throughout the country and began marketing through flyers and on their website – and event planners took them up on it. “We’ve gone as far east as Maine and as far west as Las Vegas and everywhere in between,” she says.

Good Fortune

The company uses two 2005 International semi trucks and four 2011-2012 Ford F-350 and F-450 duallys to haul the shower trailers. They contract with local portable restroom or septic companies to service the trailers unless direct sewer hookup is available. Up to this point a family member has done the transporting. But being gone for extended periods takes its toll personally and on the business, Peggy says, so they are going to hire additional support staff for that purpose.

Trips can be anything from a quick there-and-back to drop off a unit to lengthy stays requiring on-site attendants and maintenance personnel. “It depends on what the customer wants,” Peggy says. “If they want staff on site we book hotel rooms or take a camper and stay with the equipment.” Occasionally a venue will buy a trailer, particularly if it’s needed for an extended period of time. “Sometimes people will be looking for a used one and if we don’t have it committed for events we’ll sell it to them and just purchase another one,” she explains.

Although they’ve done other disaster relief work – hurricanes Gustav and Ike, for instance – most of their rentals are for events. The upside to the long-distance travel is it takes them to many fun and interesting functions – music festivals, summer camps, NASCAR races, charity mud runs – “Any large gathering where people are going to stay on site for a few days,” she says. “Shower trailers are still a rare commodity.”

The Deans are as surprised as anybody that they ended up in the shower business but it’s worked out well for them. “It was fate, I guess,” Peggy says. “It just all fell together.”


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