Sewer Duck Enjoys Success In South Dakota

For South Dakota’s Sewer Duck, careful service, restroom upgrades and small, maneuverable service rigs help compete with low-ball contractors.
Sewer Duck Enjoys Success In South Dakota
Owner Jeff Goldade is shown in the Sewer Duck garage with the company’s 2011 Hino service truck built out by Satellite Industries.

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Offering customers a wide variety of services has keyed growth at Sewer Duck Inc., a company that rents and services portable restrooms, cleans out drainlines and pumps septic tanks in about a 100-mile radius around Aberdeen, S.D.

In 1996, Jeff Goldade bought the company from his father, who eight years earlier had started Sewer Duck as a drain cleaning company. Goldade was just 19 years old, and two years later he entered the portable sanitation industry by buying three portable restrooms from Satellite Industries Inc. Why? There was only one competitor at the time, and Goldade saw an opportunity to fill a niche market.

As Goldade puts it, three restrooms soon turned into six, and six became nine. Then he started ordering 10 or 12 at a time. The company currently owns about 150 Satellite Industries restrooms, including five handicapped-accessible units; 12 VIP units (equipped with solar lights and hand-wash stations from Satellite); and 14 standard units with solar lights, plus seven freestanding Satellite hand-wash stations. Monthly rentals (mostly for construction sites) generate about 70 percent of the gross restroom revenues and special events contribute the rest.

The company’s business volume is split just about evenly between restrooms, drain cleaning and septic pumping, and their seasonal cycles dovetail well, which helps keep cash flow more consistent year-round.

1. CULTIVATING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS

“Everyone says they provide great customer service these days,” Goldade says. “But just providing clean restrooms is not good enough anymore. You’ve got to provide exceptional, amazing and outstanding service.”

One aspect of that entails being organized and efficient, and establishing a great relationship with customers, including clear communication about things like drop-off and pick-up times. “Chances are that if we’re organized and efficient, we’ll come across a problem ourselves and fix it before the customer notices,” he says. “That’s the ideal situation … to address a problem before it becomes a bigger problem.”

Then there’s sweating the details, like always having someone answer the phone, emailing price quotes to customers within minutes of their call and allowing customers to pay with credit cards and PayPal accounts.

“Most operators don’t use credit cards because there’s a small fee [2 or 3 percent] and it requires a little extra work,” he says. “But it’s very convenient for customers. Our customers can even pay online by going to our website. And we’re outfitting our drivers with hand-held credit card swipers that connect to their cellphones. Whatever is most convenient for our customers gives us an advantage.”

2. VANDALISM AND OVERUSE

To deal with graffiti and general abuse of restrooms on construction sites, Goldade says he first sends a letter with the monthly bill, putting the contractor on notice that additional charges will be applied if abuses continue. To substantiate the abuse, drivers take photos with their cellphones.

“The best way I’ve seen contractors deal with graffiti is to have the foreman threaten to make all workers take turns cleaning it whenever it occurs,” Goldade notes. “That usually stops it pretty quickly.”

As for contractors who try to skimp on restrooms, Goldade makes the point that renting an additional unit or scheduling an additional cleaning every week is more cost-effective than the alternative. “It’s going to cost more in the long run for us to make special trips,” he says. “If they schedule additional service, then we don’t have to stop everything and go out of our way just because they ran out of toilet paper two days earlier than expected or their restroom is overflowing.” he says.

3. GOOD TRUCKS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES

For portable sanitation, Goldade owns a 2006 International with a 1,250-gallon wastewater/250-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport Inc. pump built out by Imperial Industries Inc., and a 2012 Chevrolet 1-ton pickup with a 600-gallon wastewater/250-gallon freshwater slide-in steel tank with a Conde pump (Westmoor Ltd.) from Satellite Industries. The company also runs a larger 2011 Hino built out by Satellite Industries with a Masport pump, used occasionally for portable sanitation but mainly for septic service.

Goldade says he prefers smaller service vehicles even though the mostly rural area Sewer Duck services is quite sprawling. That’s because the Aberdeen municipal waste treatment plant is only a mile from the company’s shop. “It’s all very convenient,” he notes. “Plus, if my trucks exceed 26,000 pounds, my drivers need a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Then it’s harder to find guys capable of driving them, plus you need a bigger garage or shop to store the larger trucks.”

Moreover, Goldade says current business volume doesn’t justify the cost of larger tanks and trucks. “If I get a bigger truck, I could service restrooms all week long without dumping, but my gas mileage would drop by half and I’d be hauling around larger loads, which isn’t the right thing to do. My trucks can service everything we need in any direction in one day. And they’re more maneuverable in tight spaces on construction sites.”

4. RESTROOM UPGRADES ARE A GOOD THING

Goldade believes in investing in new products that enable him to charge a higher rental rate and differentiate his business from competitors. A good example is restrooms with hand-wash stations and solar-powered lights, which he rents for a 20 to 30 percent higher rate than standard units. He either orders new Satellite restrooms equipped with one or both of those features, or retrofits older restrooms; a Satellite retrofit kit for both the light and a hand-wash station costs about $400 but pays for itself fairly quickly at the higher rental rate.

“Sometimes I’ll give a customer a one-time upgrade for just a 10 percent higher rate, just to get the restrooms out in the public eye,” he notes. “The lights are very popular at special events, which usually go into the night. People love that they can see inside the restroom even if it’s dark outside.’’

5. TAKING ON LOW-BALL COMPETITORS

Despite a saturated restroom rental market, Goldade says he can charge about twice as much as low-balling competitors by emphasizing his service advantages. He says operators who don’t charge enough to be profitable hurt the industry as a whole.

“If you provide good service, people will pay for it,” he says. “But if you’re charging half or two-thirds of what you should be charging, well, it’s not good enough to just break even, last time I checked. But that’s what a lot of guys do and they’re just getting by.

“Sometimes they don’t understand that if they have, say, 800 units, and they increase prices by 25 to 30 percent and lose 25 to 30 percent of their business, they’ve still reduced their overhead considerably while maintaining the same cash flow,” he adds. “And if you’re really good at what you do and provide good service and don’t lose any customers, then you’ve increased cash flow by 25 or 30 percent.’’


“Take 5” is a feature in which one PRO or industry leader shares unique business challenges with the entire portable sanitation community. It’s a chance for service providers to meet over the back fence – and across the country – to learn more about each other and promote industry excellence. If you know a PRO who would be an interesting subject for “Take 5,” send their contact information to editor@promonthly.com.



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