Woman-Owned Portable Toilet Business Thrives In Texas

Retooled for efficiency and with a valuable woman-owned business designation on the way, Texas portable sanitation contractor Tammy Kennedy is poised to continue growing along with an improving economy.
Woman-Owned Portable Toilet Business Thrives In Texas
Tanks Alot owner Tammy Kennedy is pursuing a woman-owned business designation to help in procuring government contracts. Here she is shown with a Tanks Alot delivery truck loaded with PolyJohn PJN3 restrooms.

As Tammy Kennedy knows all too well, a lot can happen in 29 years. And while some of her paths have diverted in ways she never dreamed, a new course – both in business and her personal life – is projecting success for the next 29 years.

After the recent economic downturn and a divorce a few years ago, Kennedy, 50, is looking ahead with enthusiasm in growing her business, Tanks Alot/Conroe Chem Can in Tomball, Texas. She is buying more units and fleet vehicles to meet growing demand, and is pursuing certification as a woman-owned business – an advantage that could bring more business, including coveted government contracts, her way.

A FAMILY COMPANY

Kennedy and her ex-husband, Henry Kennedy Jr., started the company 29 years ago, providing septic and portable restroom services. “We started mainly in the septic; once the name got out there, it just took off,” she recalls.

Tanks Alot covers Tomball, Texas, metropolitan Houston and the surrounding area (Harris and Waller counties); Conroe Chem Can covers Conroe, Texas and the surrounding area (Montgomery County). When the Kennedys incorporated the company, the name Tanks Alot wasn’t available, so they incorporated under Conroe Chem Can; their DBA (doing business as) name is Tanks Alot.

And while their trucks carry both names and they have separate phone numbers, the numbers ring at the same phone. That affords them a benefit, since customers can call numbers that look more familiar to their area code/region. “It kind of gives us an advantage,” Kennedy says.

After she and her husband divorced, Kennedy bought him out, ready to forge ahead. “I know how the business runs. I knew that with time, saving and smart planning, I’d build it back up.”

With two kids together, the couple had an amicable divorce, and they even continue to work together. “We worked through it. We have a great relationship,” Kennedy says. “He still works for me part time while starting his new special-events-only portable restroom company.”

Keeping up the family ties, Kennedy’s father, Albert Gantz, also works with her, doing all her delivery and pickup of units, as well as most maintenance. Kennedy also plans on bringing her daughter, Kayla, 23, in as an eventual partner. And her son, Cody, a business student at the University of Texas in Austin, “will be a great asset when I need business advice.”

Two Tanks Alot drivers, Clifford Taylor and Craig Ainsworth, have been with the company for more than 15 years.

WOMAN-OWNED DESIGNATION

Kennedy began the woman-owned business certification process a few years ago when a female friend, who owns a construction company, recommended she apply; the friend received the certification, and, in turn, quite a few additional contracts.

“We had talked about it last year,” she says, noting she has been working with her accountant on filling out the necessary and costly (about $500 per application fee) paperwork. “It could possibly do a lot for me in terms of getting the government jobs. It will get my name out there and get me in front of people.

“It’s kind of a lengthy process … filling out the application and submitting it,” Kennedy says. “Once it’s submitted, they’ll come out and do an interview to ensure that I am the one running it; they’ll look at property, office, financials and duties. They want to make sure I’m hands-on.”

To receive the certification in Texas, a woman must own at least 51 percent of the business; Kennedy is the sole owner.

Kennedy notes the process could take several months to a year to complete, but she definitely would promote the woman-owned business status upon completion. “Hopefully, it will bring me bigger commercial accounts.” One such job she would hope to compete for is a toll road project slated for her territory.

“Sometimes these government jobs look at that certification,” she says. “Sometimes they do hire a company that is minority owned.”

Kennedy is confident she’ll get the certification and encourages other women entrepreneurs and owners to consider it as well, despite the tedious application process.

“I think it will help; I support more women jumping out there,” she says. “I want women to know they can get out there and do stuff that is male-dominated.”

GETTING THE JOB DONE

Tanks Alot serves a 50-mile radius around Houston with 400 portable restrooms from PolyJohn Enterprises and Satellite Industries, with 50 PolyJohn Enterprises units reserved for special events. It also has 20 holding tanks, 10 portable sinks and five handicap units, all from PolyJohn Enterprises.

The service truck fleet includes two recently purchased (via lease to own) service trucks, a 2012 Ford F-550 with a 900-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater KeeVac Industries aluminum tank, a 2014 F-550 vacuum truck with a 680-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater Imperial Industries steel tank, a 2006 Ford F-550 with a 550-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater steel tank from Triple C Industries, and a 2007 Ford F-750 with a 1,250-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater Lely Manufacturing steel tank. All have Masport pumps. A 1997 International with a 2,100-gallon tank from Specialty B Sales is used to haul waste for disposal.

The fleet also includes 2006 and 2013 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD delivery/pickup trucks, both with Tommy Gate hydraulic lifts. She has a 2000 McKee Technologies trailer (10-unit hauler) and a 2000 flatbed trailer. She also plans on adding up to 50 more restroom units.

LASER FOCUS ON PORTABLES

The company no longer provides septic service. “We started the septic when things were slower with restrooms,” says Kennedy. “We started with bigger trucks so we could pump the septic as well as the restrooms, but when restrooms took off [about five years later], we just jumped into that full steam. We were just so busy.”

Now Tanks Alot relies heavily on its reputation for providing portable sanitation. Fortunately, Kennedy says, “I have customers who have been with me since day one … and all you can offer in this industry is service. They like that small customer-service feel.”

Maintaining that feel, along with impeccable units (she puts aside more than 50 newer restrooms for special events), was especially important when the recession hit in 2008. Unlike when they started the business and construction was booming, home starts dropped off dramatically by 2008 and Tanks Alot’s revenue was cut in half.

With the downturn, Kennedy did not cut staff or reduce pay, but rather she switched to a four-day work week, with employees working longer-hour days, rotating being on standby on Fridays. That schedule ran for about two years.

She also considered other efficiencies, reconfiguring service routes to reduce fuel costs. Instead of driving back to the yard more frequently, drivers stayed in their regions and serviced more clients, as well as doing deliveries and pickups while on the route.

While Kennedy did not cut her employees’ pay, she raised her restroom rental charge by about 10 percent per unit. “I had fewer restrooms in the area,” she says. “So I had to raise the rate to cover it.”

Kennedy credits loyal employees with being accepting and adaptable and helping keep the business afloat by improving efficiencies.

“Everybody just kind of pulled together,” she says. “You just cut corners where you can, but you can’t cut corners on service.”

“Good service is showing up once a week,” she says, using good deodorants and keeping the units clean. “You’ve got to have service when they call and need it; you have to be quick and reliable.”

FIGHTING LOW-PRICE COMPETITION

Kennedy says she shopped around for better prices on supplies such as paper and cleaners.

“I am also looking for a new efficient routing program to route my service trucks,” she says. “With business growth and more routes being added weekly, this is a must.

“That’s where my weakness is,” Kennedy admits. “I need something pretty simple. I know there is a better way to do it. That’s really one thing I’d love some input on. I want to be as efficient as possible.”

Kennedy didn’t lower her prices, something she remains confident about. “I probably charge a little more than most in my area,” she says. With competitors entering the service area, Kennedy resisted lowering prices. “It got pretty cutthroat out there. I never fell into that low-balling … I have to make a profit to take care of my employees and keep market share up.”

Some customers left for lower prices, but most have returned for service, Kennedy says. So it’s no surprise that revenues have increased as the economy improved over the past few years, leaving Kennedy with optimism for the future. Construction is up – and special-events business is strong, including Boy Scout and Girl Scout events. A new Exxon corporate headquarters facility nearby is buoying hopes.

“It’s bringing in a lot of activity,” she says. “The town that I live in [Tomball], it’s just grown so much; there are a lot of new subdivisions and a lot of business growth in the area.”

PERSONAL SERVICE WINS

While the economy is looking up and Tanks Alot continues to make moves to promote quality service and build profits, Kennedy isn’t losing sight of the personal customer-service orientation that stimulates business.

“I’ve been putting money up each month and save for growth,” she says. “I want to grow, but I want to stay small and maintain that small customer-service feel. Things are looking really good.”

MORE INFORMATION

Imperial Industries, Inc. - 800/558-2945 - www.imperialind.com

KeeVac Industries, Inc. - 866/789-9440 - www.keevac.com

Lely Manufacturing, Inc. - 800/334-2763 - www.lelyus.com

Masport, Inc. - 800/228-4510 - www.masportpump.com

McKee Technologies - Explorer Trailers - 866/457-5425 - www.explorertrailers.com

PolyJohn Enterprises - 800/292-1305 - www.polyjohn.com

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

Specialty B Sales - 800/364-7307

Tommy Gate Company - 800/543-8428 - www.tommygate.com



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