A Louisiana Homebuilder Spins Off A Successful Restroom Service Company

Louisiana home builders spin off a restroom company to serve their own construction site needs, then grow to offer units to industrial and event customers.
A Louisiana Homebuilder Spins Off A Successful Restroom Service Company
The crew at Gotta Go Services includes, from left, Scott Speer, Blake Lyons, DeLaine Bernard, Wade Bernard, Carla Wilson and Brandon Wilson. They’re shown with the company’s newest rig, a 2014 Peterbilt from TankTec. (Photos by Jason Merrill)

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In eight years, Gotta Go Services in central Louisiana has grown its restroom inventory tenfold and expanded its vacuum truck fleet from one to three, building a part-time business into an enterprise producing $400,000 in annual sales. How do owners Wade and DeLaine Bernard explain the expansion, much of it coming during an economic slowdown? Service, service and more service.

“We started this as a little side business, and it turned into a real job,” says Wade. It also connects well with his primary business, JAAD Builders LLC. As a general residential contractor, his subcontractors are among Gotta Go Services’ best customers.

ON-THE-JOB TRAINING

Wade had watched other portable restroom companies service the restrooms his contractors rented. He noticed the drivers were in and out in a short time, and he figured he could do a better job. He was pleasantly surprised when he mentioned the idea to DeLaine.

“I said, ‘Well sure, what do I have to do?’” DeLaine recalls. She was already doing the bookwork for JAAD Builders, and having grown up on a farm she wasn’t afraid of physical labor. The fact that she had owned horses and pulled trailers was a bonus skill.

The couple purchased 32 restrooms and installed a new slide-in TankTec 370-gallon waste/180-gallon freshwater aluminum tank and a Masport pump on a used flatbed truck.

Evenings and weekends they serviced restrooms together, mostly for their subcontractors and other construction businesses.

It didn’t take long before the second oldest of the couple’s five children, Amber, came along to help. DeLaine recalls a specific service call with her daughter that took the business in a new direction. After they pulled onto the job site, Wade started visiting with the contractor. Instead of standing around waiting for him to finish, the ladies got busy.

“I said to my daughter, ‘We can do this,’” DeLaine recalls. And they did. Over the years, all the Bernard kids helped service restrooms to earn spending money.

“They enjoyed it, believe it or not. Then their friends came and found out it wasn’t bad at all.”

Wade’s construction company kept him busy, and as the good word about Gotta Go spread and demand for services increased, DeLaine took the lead on servicing portable restrooms. She hired a friend, Lynette Moore, to help during the busiest times, and the women built a reputation.

“We were known as the Gotta Go Girls,” DeLaine laughs. “There have been lots of people blown away by us, because they’ve never seen women do this.”

MRS. CLEAN REPUTATION

One thing the Gotta Go Girls were known for was how they cleaned the restrooms.

“We both had the same cleaning ideas,” DeLaine says. They approached cleaning restrooms as if they were bathrooms in their homes. In addition to using J & J Chemical Company’s Truex Elite Liquid for odor control, they used products from their bathroom cupboards: Fabuloso cleaner to disinfect and leave a fresh scent, and CLR calcium, lime and rust remover to clean the urinals.

They also utilize Air Works mulberry scent discs from PolyPortables LLC to keep units smelling fresh.

Besides smelling great, the Bernards keep the portable restrooms looking great, which isn’t always easy in an area were restroom graffiti is common at construction sites. “If they write on the walls, we take it off that week. If you don’t take it off, they will add more (graffiti),” Wade explains. Washdown pumps on the trucks, scrub brushes and Art Blaster by J & J Chemical Company (and an occasional Mr. Clean Magic Eraser) are used to keep the walls clean.
Customers — and potential customers — appreciate clean, DeLaine says.

FAST GROWTH

“This was supposed to be part time, and it took off like wildfire,” DeLaine says. Within a year it became apparent that Gotta Go needed to hire employees. People were calling DeLaine, despite minimal marketing in phone book ads and a Gotta Go logo (a toilet bowl with legs and a smile), initially drawn by Amber, the Bernards’ daughter.

Customers, such as the Fort Polk U.S. Army base near Leesville, Louisiana, provide steady income.

“There’s always construction going on over there, and we have 30-40 units there,” Wade says. Drivers are required to have a pass to get on the base, and Gotta Go services the contractors who build facilities on the base.

Other steady work comes from Cleco Corp., an electrical power plant. For about three months in the spring and the fall during scheduled maintenance outages, the plant requires 10-20 restrooms that require daily service.

Besides construction, Gotta Go handles many area events. In Louisiana, April is the busiest month for weekend events, DeLaine says.

EQUIPMENT CORNER

To keep up with the growth, the Bernards purchased 350 PolyPortables restrooms over six years. “We keep some of the new ones for special events like weddings and weekend events,” Wade says, while others are deployed to many construction customers. They also carry PolyPortables Tag Along hand-wash stations.

A fleet of three trucks covers the service routes. They moved the tank and pump from the original used truck to a 2008 F-350 crew cab Ford with a flatbed. A 2011 Dodge 3500 4 x 4 crew cab flatbed has a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater aluminum KeeVac slide-in tank and a Conde pump (Westmoor Ltd.).

Recently, the Bernards invested in a 2014 Peterbilt with a 1,500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater aluminum tank with Masport pump built out by TankTec.

“The slide-in units each hold a route a day,” Wade says. “The big truck holds more and can handle the two big jobs (Cleco and Fort Polk).”

The trucks save time and fuel transporting the waste to the only wastewater treatment plant in nearby Pineville, Louisiana. Gotta Go used to dump in various towns within the seven parishes they cover in about a 50-mile radius. Heightened regulations and required paperwork through the state Department of Environmental Quality have led to most townships refusing to take the waste anymore.

The Bernards also have a 3,000-gallon holding tank for after hours or when it isn’t convenient to dump at the treatment plant. When it’s full, they hire a pumper with a bigger truck to pump it out and take it to the plant.

HUMAN RESOURCES

With the growth of the business and increased office work, DeLaine drives less these days. She trains new drivers, fills in when necessary and helps with selected special events. Joining DeLaine and Wade on the crew are two full-time and five part-time workers.

“Right now I’m driving about one day a week. I like to get out to hear if there are any complaints,” she says. This way she can ensure continued positive customer service.

DeLaine conducts daily meetings with drivers to review routes and service protocols, then keeps in contact during the day to adjust routes as needed to respond to customer calls.

The Bernards say they compensate employees with a good wage. Wade notes that initially he paid them per restroom service, then switched to paying by the hour. He is considering going back to paying employees per restroom they service to improve efficiency.

ON-SITE CHALLENGES

Gotta Go drivers don’t have to worry about ice and snow, but rain can make construction site roads soft and impassable, necessitating changing service schedules. DeLaine is comfortable driving the truck (and pulling a trailer) in most places, but notes there are a few areas where she prefers not to go. For example, some oil companies may be located back in the woods, and it’s necessary to drive on wood pallets to access them. Other sites are at the end of a long, winding road and there’s no turnaround, so the truck has to be backed out the entire way.

About 30 percent of the jobs are residential. Most of the rest are commercial including pumping RVs and occasional work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during hurricanes or flooding. Gotta Go restrooms will be set up for FEMA workers in a deployment area.

The biggest event they service is the Louisiana Pecan Festival in Colfax, Louisiana. The November weekend festival attracts 70,000 visitors. Gotta Go provides 40-50 restrooms for the event and services them at night using flashlights to avoid disturbing overnight campers.

WHAT’S NEXT?

When Wade first talked to DeLaine about starting the business, she had no idea how much it would grow, especially with minimal advertising. Their best advertising comes from frequent give-away T-shirts sporting the company logo.

Diversifying into the portable restroom business fits well with Wade’s construction business. Gotta Go requires most of DeLaine’s time, taking calls, sending bids and quotes, scheduling workers/jobs, paperwork and occasionally driving. She fits in the JAAD Builders paperwork whenever she can.

Earlier this year, Gotta Go added 60 portable restrooms when the Bernards bought out a small company. The business was located in their service area, and the units were quickly incorporated into the regular Gotta Go routes.

“The way it looks we will continue to grow. There is still potential, and I’m getting new customers all the time,” DeLaine says. “We have an older son, Joel, in the Navy, and he says we should hang on until he retires. I would stay on to help as long as he needed me to.”



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