Reviving A Portable Toilet Business In Tennessee

When a bank peddled the assets of a failed portable sanitation operation, Tennessee construction contractor Benny McVay jumped at the opportunity and is building a successful new brand.
Reviving A Portable Toilet Business In Tennessee
Benny McVay, owner of The Outhouse Portable Toilets and Septic Service, in Dyer, Tenn.

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Three years ago, entrepreneur Benny McVay walked into a local bank in Dyer, Tenn., and was approached by the manager with a deal. The bank had acquired a 152-unit portable restroom business that had fallen on hard times and was trying to move it.

McVay, 65, already had his hands full as a construction contractor with 11 employees (not to mention preaching in church on Sundays), but couldn’t resist the offer.

“It was well worth the money, based on the assets,” says McVay. “But the business had left behind some bad feelings. It was a dying dog that I would have to nurse back to health.”

McVay rechristened the business The Outhouse Portable Toilets and Septic Service and emphasized service and reliability as he worked to rehabilitate its reputation. He hired Allen Strickland as general manager and the company now employs five people.

The original stock of Satellite Industries restrooms has been augmented with 28 units from PolyPortables. The vacuum truck fleet includes a 2001 International 4700 with an 800-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater tank and Condé pump (Westmoor Ltd.); a 1993 International 4700 with a 450-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater tank with Jurop pump; and a 1993 Peterbilt pumper with a 3,000-gallon tank and Wallenstein pump. The 1996 Chevy 3500 flatbed often carries a 2013 slide-in vacuum unit with a 325-gallon waste/175-gallon freshwater tank and Jurop pump. All the truck tanks are steel, except the slide-in tank which is stainless steel.

The Outhouse now services a diverse clientele in northwestern Tennessee, ranging from construction and agricultural customers to weddings, parties, auctions, air shows, county fairs and motorcycle rallies.

“My son, Micah, is taking over the construction business,” says McVay. “This business is going to be my retirement project. I attended the [Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport] show and I was just in awe of the technology. I should have gotten involved in this business 40 years ago because I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

EXPLORE FIVE ISSUES THAT AFFECT BENNY’S PORTABLE SANITATION BUSINESS:

Rebuilding a Reputation

While changing the name of the business made it easier to approach new customers, McVay had to overcome its underwhelming reputation.

“They hadn’t been billing, hadn’t been paying suppliers and hadn’t been servicing some units for months – it took us two years to find all the inventory,” he says. “We went around to customers and explained that we had not only changed the name of the company, but that we were going to be doing things differently. Some of them had switched to other vendors and we knew that we would have to win them back.”

The company emphasizes cleanliness and prompt service. “I want those restrooms to where my wife and mama and daughter wouldn’t be ashamed to use them,” says McVay. “We also present clean trucks to the community.” All units are delivered the day of the order or the following day. Complaints are handled immediately. “Recently, a 40-mile-an-hour wind knocked down one of our units,” says Strickland. “We could have cleaned it out and set it back up, but instead we changed it out. They deserve a new unit.”

McVay also schedules service at the same time each day. “It shows them that we’re in control of the business, and they appreciate the predictability,” he says. “It helps us do a better job too.”

The Outhouse is also planning to provide polo-shirt uniforms to its staff to help emphasize professionalism and improve brand recognition.

Knowing When to Step Back

“As an owner, I can’t be involved in every aspect of the business,” says McVay. “I have to let people do their jobs. Sometimes, when people aren’t doing something the way I would do it, I have to bite my tongue and resist the urge to get in there and do it myself. The buck stops with me, but I can’t micromanage.”

McVay hired Strickland early in the game to handle the marketing and day-to-day operations. “A good advertising and sales person can make a business, and Allen is that person,” says McVay. “He’s easily made back his wages.”

Finding Efficiencies Across Businesses

Recognizing the seasonal nature of portable sanitation, the company ramps up septic service operation in fall and winter. “In the off-season we probably do as much dollar value in septic tank pumping as we do portable restrooms in the summer,” says McVay.

The construction shop handles vehicle maintenance for both businesses. When septic pumping picks up, the mechanic does double duty, covering extra septic contracts.

A customer recently requested a shower trailer for a bike ride event, but all of the available units in the area had been rented. McVay took advantage of the contracting side of the business by having the construction crew build a four-room portable restroom unit outfitted with the type of fiberglass shower stalls found in recreational vehicles.

Marketing the Company Effectively

Strickland uses the U.S. Postal Service to promote the septic side of the business. The company prints full-color fliers on card stock for 10 cents each, then sends them out in bulk using the Postal Servic’s Every Door Direct Mail program.

“It takes a learning curve and a little paperwork at the post office, but we’re mailing to everyone in the area for 26 cents per contact, including the cost of the card,” says Strickland. “Last Thanksgiving we sent out a mailing and in the rural area we targeted, we went from getting three or four septic calls per month to three to four per day.”

The company website is also becoming an increasingly important marketing tool. “The website has replaced the Yellow Pages,” says McVay. “When construction contractors come in from Florida, Texas and North Carolina, they already know we’re here.”

Beating the Bushes for Business

The Outhouse’s entire staff remains on the alert for possible leads. A recent tip by the company’s secretary regarding a new manufacturing plant resulted in a seven-unit rental.

Strickland keeps his ear to the ground for local events.

“I call on the communities in the area about upcoming special events as well,” he says. “At one point, we became aware of an auction and supplied them with some rentals. I then approached other auctioneers telling them what a great feature this would be for their customers. We now dominate the auction business in this area.”

McVay also uses his construction connections to nose out news of potential project customers. “After 40 years, I know everyone in the business,” he says. “Sometimes I rent portable restrooms to my own construction competitors.”

MORE INFORMATION

Elmira Machine Industries/Wallenstein Vacuum - 800/801-6663 - www.wallenstein.com

Jurop - www.jurop.it/eng

PolyPortables, LLC - 800/241-7951 - www.polyportables.com

Satellite Industries - 800/328-3332 - www.satelliteindustries.com

Westmoor Ltd. - 800/367-0972 - www.westmoorltd.com



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