Choose Sidelines That Feed Revenue Into Your Primary Business Service

Wisconsin’s JackPot Portables builds on targeted marketing and surprising synergies with a sister landscaping company.
Choose Sidelines That Feed Revenue Into Your Primary Business Service
Joe Geiger, owner of JackPot Portables in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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During a summer landscaping job at age 18, Joe Geiger discovered a passion for work that focused a career path. He established GroGreen Lawn Care & Landscaping in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1994 and soon expanded to provide snow removal services in the winter. Then, a chance encounter with a construction client in 2003 convinced him that expanding into portable restrooms made good business sense.

Geiger was working on a landscaping project at a construction site and decided to visit a portable restroom while waiting to talk to the construction company owner.

“I walked in and walked out,” says Geiger. “It was the worst thing I’d ever seen, and the unit was painted with a paint roller. I brought it to the owner’s attention and he asked me why I didn’t go into the portable restroom business so he could hire me.”

Geiger soon received an offer he couldn’t refuse. A restroom contractor offered him 40 Satellite Industries units at half price after using them for a single event.

“I bought a vacuum tank from Satellite, and one of my first contracts came from the construction client who encouraged me,” says Geiger, now 44. “Our company name came to me while I was attending a get-together in Las Vegas and hearing the word ‘jackpot.’”

Today, JackPot Portables employs Geiger’s brother, Kevin Vizenor, full time, and he’s assisted by a part-time employee. The company fields about 175 restroom units from Satellite and Five Peaks. Ten of the units are wheelchair accessible. The company also offers 24 stand-alone sinks and six hand-sanitizer stations from Satellite. JackPot has a Bobcat wheeled skid-steer to move inventory in the yard.

Service is handled by a 2012 Ford F-450 and a 2012 GMC 2500, each fitted out with a 270-gallon (140 waste/130 fresh) Satellite steel tank and Conde pump (Westmoor Ltd.). A 2013 GMC 2500 and a 2010 GMC flatbed truck with a lift provide delivery support.

JackPot serves a wide variety of customers, from construction contracts to weddings, church festivals and other special events.

Geiger made a stop at the 2015 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in Indianapolis to check out the latest tools of his trade. “I’m not looking for any equipment right now,” he says. “But when I’m ready I want to know what’s state of the art.”

EXPLORE FIVE ISSUES THAT IMPACT JOE’S PORTABLE SANITATION BUSINESS:

1. Pay As You Go

JackPot continues to grow at a steady pace as Geiger routinely orders slightly more units than he retires from the inventory. “In landscaping, you have to put yourself out there with a lot of equipment before you can even begin to bid on work,” he says. “I’m financing JackPot differently and will never back expansion by going into debt. I’m not going to buy more portables and then go after the contracts I need to support that purchase. If I make a certain amount of profit and see an opportunity to grow, I’ll buy 18 or 20 units with cash on hand.”

2. Keeping It Local

JackPot works contracts inside a 20-mile radius of the Kenosha office, including Racine, Wisconsin, a few miles to the north. The cities – located between major Chicago and Milwaukee markets on Lake Michigan – each have populations of about 80,000. “I like the idea of finding more business opportunities locally,” says Geiger. “That allows me to offer free delivery and concentrate on service instead of logistics.”

Zoning regulations limited JackPot to one of three locations inside city boundaries where property is relatively expensive. “Outside of town you can locate a portable restroom business pretty much anywhere,” says Geiger. “I’m not offering the lowest bid against companies providing the least desirable units located on inexpensive properties 40 miles from here.”

3. A Targeted Approach To Marketing

Geiger spends marketing dollars where he thinks they have the most impact. “I haven’t advertised or sent out direct mail in 15 years,” he says. “We go directly to customers we want to work with. I’d rather talk to the right person directly and invest the money by taking them to lunch.”

Geiger recently sent surveys to 1,900 customers of both businesses to determine how his customers search for contractors. About half responded and the results surprised him. “Fewer than 10 percent had a phone book,” he says. “Not one found me by looking there or by using a telephone book app. As a result of that survey, I’m dropping my telephone book advertising.”

How are people finding JackPot? Word-of-mouth and the Web. About 60 percent used Google, while 35 percent used Yahoo and 5 percent used Bing. As Geiger expands his Web presence, he’ll target search engine optimization in that order.

He’s also preparing a number of promotions, setting aside specially identified units — one each for the sheriff’s department, fire department and police department — and donating part of the proceeds to related causes, such as the police department’s canine unit. Red, white and blue units support the Wounded Warrior Project.

“We’re also doing social networking promotions in which people can win prizes, including $250 scholarships, baskets of local produce and free restroom rentals, by taking their photos alongside our units and tagging them on Facebook,” says Geiger. “These promotions are giving us more mileage than traditional advertising.”

4. Seizing On Synergies

Operating two businesses under the same roof can be a challenge. Currently, JackPot takes about 20 percent of Geiger’s time and contributes roughly 10 percent of revenue. However, natural synergies benefit both businesses.

“My landscaping clients have been with me a long time, and we count a lot of them as JackPot customers, particularly construction companies,” says Geiger. “We even use JackPot portables on our own job sites. If I need one of my landscaping workers to grab a truck and fill in on a restroom delivery on Monday or Friday, they’re available for that.”

Equipment also performs double duty. Landscaping skid-steers are used to load and unload portables, for example. “We’ve even used the freshwater tanks on our vacuum trucks to water plants during drought season,” says Geiger.

5. Evolving To Events

Geiger is happy to serve JackPot’s construction clients, but the company has been edging toward special events as the mainstay of the business.

“Construction contracts keep us busy through the week, but the profit margin is much better on weekend events,” says Geiger. “We’re primarily doing weddings, concerts and church festivals, and we keep two distinct sets of units, about half for construction and half for special events.”

Geiger says JackPot dominates the church festival market in the Kenosha area, serving 14 festivals last year alone. “We take a little less money for church events, but they’re a great opportunity for self-promotion and for showing a wide range of people what we offer,” he says.

Geiger is considering the purchase of his first upscale trailer for weddings, balancing the increased rental costs of the unit against local demand. “I’ll likely buy just one to start,” he says. “We may just need to get one out to prime the market for them.” 



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