Lumberyard Adds Portable Sanitation, Builds Customer Base

One-stop shoppers come to Wisconsin’s Stoughton Lumber for everything from plywood and rental power equipment to party tents and portable restrooms.
Lumberyard Adds Portable Sanitation, Builds Customer Base
The portable sanitation service team at Stoughton Lumber Co. includes (left to right) Paul Ripo, Sean Gerber, Michael Gerber, Raymond Wiemann and Jason Meyer.

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Lumberyards and hardware stores aren’t typically the first places you’d think of to rent portable restrooms – unless you live in Stoughton, Wis. For 89 years, Stoughton Lumber Co. has been providing services to their community, always evolving and adding different business lines to meet changing needs. About 20 years ago they created a construction and party rental division and although the owner wanted to offer portable restrooms, it wasn’t until Jason Meyer joined the company 10 years ago that he had a rental division manager willing to do it.

The triggering event was when they saw portable restrooms at the American Rental Association equipment show about nine years ago. “The owner asked me what I thought,” Meyer says. “I told him, ‘We’re delivering tents and there are other people’s units in there. We should be able to capitalize on that.’ ”

The decision was made and they wasted no time. Meyer got back from the show on a Monday and turned right around and headed out to the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show) that Thursday. “I went through all the classes, figured out how it all worked, came back, got our license and purchased the equipment we needed along with some portable restrooms.” They might have moved a little too fast, he admits. “We didn’t really have great insight into the business. It was like reinventing the wheel, unfortunately. We learned the hard way.”

But they quickly figured it out and soon grew their original inventory of 26 Five Peaks Aspens to 200 units (all with hand sanitizer) – orange for construction, gray for events, green for their deluxe flushable units – along with a few ADA-compliant units and hand-wash stations, all from Five Peaks. They picked up a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater aluminum vacuum tank with a Jurop pump from Imperial Industries Inc. The slide-in unit can be used with any of their vehicles and currently is on a 2006 International. For deliveries they use their lumber flatbed trucks and even semis with flatbeds. Their service territory is about a 50-mile radius around Stoughton.

EXPLORE FIVE ISSUES THAT AFFECT STOUGHTON LUMBER COMPANY’S PORTABLE SANITATION BUSINESS:

Meeting Stringent State Requirements

Companies in Wisconsin must be licensed to rent portable restrooms. There also has to be a master operator in charge who has gone through training and testing. Meyer’s frustration with the licensing setup is that the state combines septic and portable restroom service under one license, which ends up being overkill for him.

“The unfortunate thing for the industry is that you basically have to qualify yourself to be a septic hauler along with having to know the ins and outs of the septic system to be able to go in there and repair it and all that kind of stuff,” he says. He tried reasoning with state officials, explaining he wasn’t in the septic business, but basically got a “rules are rules” response.

Meyer took the master operator course and then proceeded to fulfill the 1,600-hour experience requirement. “The state does not license new companies so we ended up having to go under another company’s master to do it – a guy in town who does septic.” After six months he was finally able to take the exam.

In addition, every year Meyer completes 18 continuing education credits plus three hours on compliance. And he says they found out the hard way their license does not allow them to go into other states – which is frustrating because they’re only about 40 miles north of the Illinois border.

Cultivating a Same-Day Service Niche

A lot of party venues such as outdoor wedding chapels or county parks require vendors to deliver and pick up the same day. Often it’s because there’s another event scheduled for the next day.

“We have a lot of that,” Meyer says. “For a lot of these parks, you get the park for the day but when they close down at 10 you’ve got to be out and all your stuff has to be out. A lot of companies will shy away from work like that because it’s a late night pickup.”

Stoughton Lumber took a different approach and decided to make a specialty niche out of doing same-day pickups. That gives them a marketing edge and makes them the go-to company for those situations.

Breaking Into Events

Although the company has a lock on a good portion of the construction and private party market, they’ve had less luck picking up large events such as parades, carnivals and fairs. For one thing, they’re going up against strong competition. For another, their core business just doesn’t give them the same natural feed-in to that market as it does the parties and construction.

“Trying to get some of these guys to go away from who they’ve been with, even though they’re maybe complaining about the service they’re getting – they just don’t seem to want to change,” Meyer says. He’s even tried offering to service an event for free as a way to get an event organizer to try them out but so far no one’s taken him up on it. “I just haven’t figured out how to get in there yet,” he says. But he’s working on it.

Working the Winters

While the winter outdoors party scene in Wisconsin is almost nil with the exception of a few Christmas events, construction never stops, Meyer says. The company is about 25 miles from Madison, the state capital, and residential construction is booming in many of the towns around the area. “It slows down a little before deer hunting and Thanksgiving and Christmas but besides that it’s all year round,” he says.

When winter sets in, the company starts reminding construction workers not to plow snow around their units, and they mix up batches of salt brine to prevent holding tanks from freezing. Meyer describes his recipe: “If you can imagine a big 150-gallon cow tank, and inside that you put a plastic 55-gallon drum, and inside that you put 300 pounds of salt. You put a little water pump inside the cow tank, fill the tank with water and pump the water into the drum which pushes the water through the salt and basically melts the salt into the water. You can put up to two pounds of salt per gallon of water, taking the freezing point of water from 32 to 0 degrees.”

That handles 95 percent of the winter weather, he says. But when the temperature plunges even further, they add methanol in addition to the salt, which takes it to 40 below. There’s a cost, he says. “You’re going from raw water which costs us nothing to adding salt which is $30 for 300 pounds to adding methanol which probably adds on another $100 a load.”

Synergy Among Services

Adding portable restrooms to the company’s lineup has helped make Stoughton a one-stop shop for party planners and construction companies, who no longer have to go elsewhere to get their restrooms. “We’re a multifaceted company,” Meyer says. “We’ve got a big hardware store, a big lumberyard, a rental division, and a big power center where we sell and repair power equipment.” And product and service offering is complementary, he says.

“It’s funny how the ebb and flow of everything really works well,’’ he says. “It doesn’t always work out perfectly, depending on weather and that kind of stuff, but usually when you see one thing going down, something else picks up.”

More Information

Five Peaks - 866/293-1502 - www.fivepeaks.net

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

Jurop - www.jurop.it.eng



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