Wisconsin Portable Restroom Contractor Adds Many Side Businesses

From a car wash to a bike shop, when Wisconsin PRO Wade Pennau sees a strong business opportunity, he’s not afraid to learn something new.
Wisconsin Portable Restroom Contractor Adds Many Side Businesses
Part of the Packerland Portables crew assembles to provide service at a special event. The group includes, left to right, John Wenzel, Matthew Pingle, Tammy Pennau, Christine Meyer, Mike Meyer and Wade Pennau.

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Many business owners concentrate on one niche market and focus all their attention on being the best in that particular sector. Wade Pennau, the owner of Packerland Portables in central Wisconsin, takes a decidedly different approach: He enjoys finding out how many different things he can do well.

So in addition to Wautoma-based Packerland, a successful portable restroom business he built through three acquisitions within the last 15 years, the 44-year-old serial entrepreneur also owns Maverick Pumping Service, a septic pumping/pipeline cleaning business with offices in Wautoma and nearby Waupaca; Sir Luster Car Wash in Wautoma; the Wautoma Rental Center, an equipment- and party-rental company; Division Street Storage, a ministorage warehouse; and Wadez’ Bike and Adventure Shop, also based in Wautoma. His wife, Tammy, and two sons, Cody, 24, and Casey, 23, also work in the businesses.

JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES

“I like to try new things,” Pennau says of his tendency to hop from one endeavor to the next. “We’ve tried a bunch of different businesses and most of them have worked out. I guess I get it from my mom, who’s more of a free spirit, let’s-give-it-a-shot kind of person.

“It would be hard for me to go to a job where everything’s the same every day,” he continues. “There’s always something different going on in our businesses. Even within the portable restroom business.’’ One day he’s catering to a special event, another day he’s on a construction site, yet another day he’s working on a farm.

“Plus you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket,” he says. “When portables aren’t strong, something else usually is doing better. The car wash, for example, is busy in winter and slow in summer, so that’s where equipment rentals kick in.”

Pennau also says he’s been lucky, too; the portable restroom businesses he bought were well run and the people he bought them from made the ownership transitions smooth and painless.

Pennau got into portable sanitation after establishing the car wash in 1993 and the equipment-rental businesses in 1994. In 2000, he got a call from Jerry Goldsmith, the owner of Porta-Potty Rental in Wautoma. Goldsmith suggested restrooms would provide a perfect complement to the rental center. Pennau agreed and struck a deal.

“Jerry didn’t just sell the business and disappear,” Pennau says. “He spent quite a bit of time with me, showing me all the ins and outs. He did a great job training me and showing me all the idiosyncrasies that go with the business. I got pretty lucky, buying a business from a guy like that.”

SEPTIC, DRAIN-CLEANING

Goldsmith also played a role in Pennau’s entrance into septic service. Shortly after selling to Pennau, a septic pumper approached Goldsmith and offered to sell him the business. He referred the pumper to Pennau, who bought a vacuum truck and some drain-cleaning equipment from the company. “A couple years later, we bought another septic pump truck,” Pennau notes.

The acquisitions continued in 2013 when Pennau bought Potty Express, a portable restroom division of Hyler Septic Service LLC in nearby Berlin.

“We wanted to expand into the area he was serving, so rather than compete against him, we figured we’d buy an existing business with a good customer base,” Pennau recalls. “Sometimes it makes sense to buy new restrooms and equipment and expand [an existing business], but this wasn’t one of those times. And again, we had a very good transition with the help of the owner, Ken Hyler.”

The last portable sanitation acquisition occurred early this year when Pennau bought 1st Choice Sanitation in Appleton, about an hour away. Owner Mary Beduhn had approached him. “She emailed me one day … she had a nice little well-run business and hand-picked us to carry it on for her. It was another easy transition. She still helps us out by answering questions whenever things pop up.”

Pennau says he doesn’t know why Goldsmith and Beduhn approached him. When asked if it might have something to do with establishing a good business reputation, he demurs, noting, “We try. I say what I do and do what I say. My dad always taught me to keep your word, because it’s the one thing you’ve always got.”

A VARIED INVENTORY

Packerland’s fleet of equipment has grown considerably. On the restroom side of the business, the company runs three vacuum trucks built by Imperial Industries Inc. and equipped with pumps made by Masport Inc.: a 2010 Dodge 5500 with a 575-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank; a 2006 GMC 4500 with a 775-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater aluminum tank; a 2005 Ford F-550 with a 575-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tank. Packerland also owns a 1998 Dodge 2500 with a 200-gallon waste/100-gallon slide-in steel tank with a Conde pump from Westmoor Ltd.

The company also owns 600 restrooms, most of them manufactured by PolyPortables, with some from Satellite Industries Inc. and T.S.F. Company Inc. That includes 16 handicapped-accessible units and four ADA-compliant units from T.S.F. In addition, Packerland offers 20 hand-wash stations from T.S.F. and PolyPortables.

In a perfect world, Pennau says there’s definitely an advantage – in terms of branding and carrying spare repair parts – to having a more uniform inventory of restrooms brands, noting that one of the companies he acquired owned seven or eight different brands of restrooms. “It would be nice to just sell everything and buy just one type,” he says. “We’d get more brand recognition by having just one style and one color. But that’s just not practical.”

Pennau uses Tuff-Jon units from T.S.F. primarily for contractors and farmers. Packerland provides service to more than 50 area farmers required to supply restrooms for employees in the fields.

RESTROOM TRAILER A GOOD FIT

Packerland also owns one restroom trailer (with three urinals and one stall for men and three stalls for women), manufactured by Ameri-Can Engineering.

“We bought the restroom trailer about four years ago to take care of a market that was looking for it. We use it for weddings and some festivals. It’s been a good investment,’’ Pennau says. “I initially thought restroom trailers were too expensive. But I figured we’ll give it a try. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try. As it turns out, the trailer paid for itself in three years. Now we’re looking at buying another one.”

For hauling restrooms, Packerland also owns five trailers; one is an Explorer model built by McKee Technologies and the other four were fabricated in-house.

For septic service, Packerland runs five vacuum trucks. Three were built by Imperial with steel tanks and Masport pumps: a 2003 Mack Granite with a 5,000-gallon steel tank, a 2006 Peterbilt with a 3,600-gallon tank and a 2000 Sterling truck with a 2,300-gallon tank. The company also owns a 1999 International with a 3,200-gallon steel tank and a 1997 Mack 713 with a 5,700-gallon tank.

The company also owns a 2005 Chevrolet box truck that carries a pallet-mounted water jetter made by Spartan Tool LLC (3,000 psi at 12 gpm); a portable water jetter made by Electric Eel Mfg.; two RIDGID and three Spartan portable cable drain-cleaning machines; three Crust Busters made by Schmitz Brothers LLC; and a Power Booster made by Pressure Lift Corp. (used to increase vacuum power while cleaning deep lift stations).

HEALTHY COMPETITION

While it may sound like Pennau has effectively removed his competitors, that’s not the case; he says competitors remain in the region he serves. But again, good fortune prevails, as he notes that he competes against good business owners who provide “healthy” competition.

“There’s not one company going around low-balling everyone else,” he says. “All of them are interested in providing good service, not just the cheapest price. It’s very difficult to provide good service and cheap prices at the same time.”

Speaking of prices, Pennau does something that not many restroom operators do: He posts his rental rates online. He says it’s a matter of putting customer convenience over competitive secrecy, which usually isn’t all that secretive anyway.

“If you don’t list your prices, someone will call and find out anyway,” he explains. “And if we put prices online, the customer doesn’t have to take time to make a phone call. I know we put out a good product at a competitive price, so I don’t have a problem with posting prices.”

Looking ahead, Pennau doesn’t rule out more growth. But he’s more interested in making what he has better rather than just getting bigger. “We need to do things like optimize our routes … take a close look at our logistics and costs,” he says, noting the company uses operations-management software from Clear Computing. “We’re basically aiming to keep costs down and income up.”

MORE INFORMATION

Ameri-Can Engineering - 574/892-5151 - www.ameri-can.com

Clear Computing - 888/332-5327 - www.clearcomputing.com

Crust Busters/Schmitz Brothers, LLC - 888/878-2296 - www.crustbusters.com

Electric Eel Mfg. - 800/833-1212 - www.electriceel.com

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

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

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

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

Pressure Lift Corporation - 972/355-0550 - www.pressurelift.com

RIDGID - 800/769-7743 - www.ridgid.com

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

Spartan Tool, LLC - 800/435-3866 - www.spartantool.com

T.S.F. Company, Inc. - 800/843-9286 - www.tuff-jon.com

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



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