Canada's Room To Go Finds Its Niche In High-End Restroom Trailer Service

No matter if it’s altering the business plan or working through ownership succession, Canada’s Room To Go has found the path to success.
Canada's Room To Go Finds Its Niche In High-End Restroom Trailer Service
The Room To Go crew, shown with a vintage 1953 Dodge truck, includes, left to right (top), Keri Ross, Taylor House, Brett House, Julia Naccarato and Harold Ross, and (kneeling) Gordon Latour, Chris Montgomery and Mark Roberts.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but reinvention has been the key to success for Room To Go, a portable restroom service company that has served construction sites, stars and statesmen from its home base in Millgrove, Ontario, Canada, located about 40 miles southwest of Toronto.

Even now as company president Harold Ross passes the baton to a new generation, the company is transitioning from a business that was once entirely family owned to a new team of owners made up of both family and valued employees.

Room To Go was incorporated in 1991 as an offshoot of a manufacturing business that built office trailers, including those outfitted with washrooms. The company expanded its scope to portable washroom manufacturing on a commitment by the Ontario provincial government to require all portable restrooms on construction sites to be connected to a water main and sewer line and to provide hot-water washing and flush capability.

“We developed the capacity to build washroom units to be compliant with those legislative requirements with a model called the Room To Go self-contained washroom,” Harold explains. “However, the regulations that were supposed to kick off imminently just didn’t happen. We sold some units, but when we realized that we didn’t have a market that would sustain us in sales, we decided to see if we could rent them instead.”

THE RENTAL MARKET

Harold hit the rental market in 1992 with a combination of NuConcepts restrooms and Room To Go units, which supplied a porcelain toilet and urinal, heat, running water, hot water, soap and a recirculating air system in single- or double-lavatory configurations.

“As an extension of our manufacturing company, we were strictly in the rental supply business and subcontracted all of the restroom service to other companies who specialized in it,” says Harold.

A lucky break saw Pat’s Party Rentals, a local event supply company, recommend Room To Go to the location manager for the William Shatner television series, TekWar, which was filming in the nearby Glen Eden ski resort in 1993. “They were sold right there and then on our restroom units,” Harold recalls. “The location manager had two assistants who began to use us after the TekWar series wrapped.”

The company further tweaked the design of the units for remote film locations, adding batteries and a solar-power feature, allowing them to be fully functional off the electric grid and away from sewers. The company was soon routinely offering 14 units, eight of them double lavatories.

More movie and television contracts followed, including The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson and Fly Away Home with Jeff Daniels.

HIRING A PUMPER NETWORK

“In order to supplement the rentals with top service, we had to develop a network of local service providers we could count on,” says Harold. “On The Long Kiss Goodnight, for example, we used Nature’s Call from Concord, and on Fly Away Home we used Mike Redmond Septic Services Ltd. out of Lindsay.”

That service-provider network has currently grown to about 35 trusted contractors, many of them smaller businesses that provide solid communication and offer the attention to detail Room To Go demands for its rental clients.

Harold had been operating the business primarily with the assistance of his wife, Carol, until 1997, when the company roster expanded to include Chris Montgomery, who was hired on as a delivery driver and is now a partner and fleet manager. Daughter Keri, currently a partner and director of marketing, joined the team in 1999.

“I started out part-time and became full-time in 2001,” says Keri. “I was doing anything from accounting to building washrooms to delivering restrooms to job sites. The variety of work kept things interesting, and the movie business just exploded that year.”

That same year the company bought its first vacuum truck, a 2001 International 4400 with a 600-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater galvanized steel tank and pump from Vacutrux Limited.

“We needed the truck primarily to service the Toronto movie business,” says Harold. “Keri and Chris would be driving units from one movie location to another and servicing them at a central point in Toronto between deliveries. We were often providing units for three or four productions simultaneously.”

Brett House joined the team in 2002. He’s now a partner and production manager in charge of building units, purchasing and equipment maintenance records.

While the entertainment business provided significant and steady work for many years, it began to dial back around 2009. “We used to be 90 percent movies and 10 percent other,” says Harold. “Today, it’s the reverse.”

CONSTRUCTION EMPHASIS

The company has made up the shortfall by shifting its services to the construction market – currently half the business – along with weddings, high-end parties, special events and backstage work at concerts. Construction clients include Enbridge, which offers frequent restroom contracts for pipeline maintenance work.

The service fleet includes five Chevrolets: a 2013 1/2-ton, a 2012 1-ton, a 2010 3/4-ton, a 2007 3/4-ton and a 2005 3/4-ton with a tailgate loader and low-profile tank from Crescent Tank Manufacturing with a Masport Inc. pump. The portable Crescent tank is moved from one truck to the other as needed, while the other four are used for deliveries. The 2001 International is still pulling duty, assisted by a new 2014 Dodge 5500 purchased at the 2014 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show). The Dodge features heated valves, heated hose compartments, a pump and 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater/180-gallon brine galvanized steel tank from Vacutrux.

“We’re currently in the process of ordering a new truck from Vacutrux,” says Keri. “It will be a 2015 Hino, but we still have to work out the details on the tank.”

Today, the company rents more than 55 self-contained restroom trailers. About half are self-manufactured units on trailers built by local company Doyle Manufacturing. The others are a mixture of units including trailer-mounted NuConcepts restrooms and models from Advanced Containment Systems Inc. and Rich Specialty Trailers.

ADDING RESTROOMS

Room To Go supplements its restroom trailers with a few Fleet units from PolyJohn Canada. Two dozen hand-wash stations, also from PolyJohn, come in handy at events involving food vendors, who each require their own station.

“The new restroom stock is generally used for weddings and special events and then slowly recycled into construction rentals,” says Keri. “Ontario now requires construction rentals to have flush capacity, so it’s a seamless transition.”

Most of the units are white, off-white or gray because high-end clients want their restroom rentals to blend in to the surroundings, not stand out.

For monthly contracts, the company will deliver as far as Petawawa, 250 miles northeast, and to Windsor, about 150 miles to the southwest. About one-third of the restrooms are serviced in-house.

“We’re a small company with a large service area, so it makes economic sense for us to contract out service,” says Keri. “We handle the complex jobs that require extra care and subcontract the easier ones. We pay a fair price for service, and with our network of quality subcontractors we get the service we pay for.”

However, even when serviced by other contractors, all units are sent out fully supplied with soaps and deodorants provided by Ontario-based Action Sanitation Supply. For long-term rentals, subcontractors are responsible for restocking the units.

“If the client wants to handle the servicing, which happens occasionally, we make sure to stock the unit with a case of one-ply [bathroom tissue], just to encourage them not to use something that will make service difficult,” says Keri.

Room To Go specializes in jobs with difficult placement challenges. The company has a Palfinger crane mounted on the 2001 International to lift smaller units into place, but at times larger cranes have been utilized to lift trailers into difficult-to-access yards. A recent event on the fourth floor of a downtown Toronto parking garage required Harold to call in the lower Crescent Tank truck to negotiate under low ceilings.

Most of the company’s business is generated through its professionally designed and maintained website. “We’ve been up and running on the Internet for 10 years,” says Keri. “That and word of mouth are our best advertisements.”

PASSING THE TORCH

Harold is currently working on a five-year plan toward retirement.

“At age 70, I’m tapering off the heavy work schedule,” he says. “Brett, Chris and Keri each already own 10 percent of the company, and at the end of five years I hope to see all three partners exercise their options to become full one-third partners in the business.

“Whenever I’m out of the office, I’m delighted to see four young, talented people, including administrator Julia Naccarato, run the business as a fantastic team, just as though I’m still here,’’ Harold continues. “We’ve always run the place as a family business, and it will be great to see a new family taking over.”



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