Restrooms Make A Good Addition To Party Rentals

Portable restrooms make a great addition to the party supplies, tools and other rental equipment carried by Indiana’s Burns Rent-Alls.
Restrooms Make A Good Addition To Party Rentals
Matt Plank, operations manager at Burns Rent-Alls Inc., with a row of units from PolyJohn Enterprises. The company uses orange for construction sites and hunter green for events. (Photos by Robert Franklin)

Interested in Business & Technology ?

Get Business & Technology articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Business & Technology + Get Alerts

Costumes and gasoline were the first products offered by Burns Rent-Alls Inc. back in the mid-1920s. Over the years, the Mishawaka, Indiana, company added tools, equipment and party supplies. The latest expansion was in 2002 when they brought in portable restrooms to round out their event offerings. They tagged on the name Johns To Go, but most people just think of it as Burns. The combined company has a retail storefront and four storage lots.

Matt Plank took over management of the portable restroom division about three years ago. He and his two dedicated route drivers gather each morning to discuss issues and go over the schedule. Plank is working on gradually expanding their service territory, which right now covers about a 25-mile radius. About 60 percent of their business is construction.

The company has 250 PolyJohn Enterprises units, including 15 flushable – orange for construction so they’ll stand out, hunter green for events so they won’t stand out. In 2014, they purchased their first restroom trailer, a Denali-Rainier from Forest River Inc.

It was instantly popular with bridal parties, McDonald’s (which used it several times for employees during remodeling projects) and the RV Super Show in Elkhart, Indiana. “Right off the bat the trailer’s probably about paid for itself,” Plank says.

The company likes to sponsor Little League teams and prides itself on being involved in the community. “It’s just a fun, family-oriented company to work for,” Plank says.

FIVE CHALLENGES THAT AFFECT BURNS RENT-ALLS’ PORTABLE SANITATION BUSINESS:

1. Charting The Course

One of Plank’s goals is to fine-tune the drivers’ schedules for maximum routing efficiency. “Before, they’d drive by four restrooms to go service one and then go across town to somewhere else,” he says. “We’re trying to get it all lined up so they basically make one big circle around. That’s the biggest thing that’s made it more efficient and gives us more time to get more restrooms out.” It’s also cut down on their need to pull people from the other side of the business to help out.

So far Plank has been able to do this without using truck-routing software. “I know the area well enough that I can get a general idea,” he says. But as they expand their service territory and get into unfamiliar areas he’ll be looking at software. “That’s where a routing program would be good once we start getting out into the areas I don’t know as well.”

2. Crossing The Border

Mishawaka is about 10 miles from the Michigan state line so it’s not uncommon for the company to provide services there. But they had to jump through a few regulatory hoops to do so. Unlike Indiana, Michigan requires a company to be licensed. “The license encompasses everything from being a portable restroom operator to septics,” Plank explains. “I basically had to take classes on septic systems – which we don’t need but I had to get that time in for the license.”

The company also had to obtain a license to dump waste in Michigan even though they’ve never done so. They currently dispose of their waste in South Bend and Elkhart.

3. Taking On Notre Dame

Only 7 miles away from Mishawaka looms the renowned 12,000-student University of Notre Dame. Plank would love to have an account with the school if an opportunity arises. He currently works with private companies in the area that provide parking for football games. Units are left out for the season and serviced before each game.

One contract is for a company that wants a restroom on each floor of their parking garage. This is where the company’s smaller service truck comes in handy – a 2006 Ford F‑350 with a 300-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater tank. Their larger service vehicle is a 2013 Chevrolet 3500 with a 400-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater tank and a Biffs Pathfinders disinfectant system. Both trucks carry Best Enterprises Inc. slide-in stainless steel tanks and SHURflo pumps. They move restrooms in the yard with a Mongo Mover from Deal Assoc.

4. Protecting The Assets

Like many companies, Burns occasionally runs into problems with vandalism and tip-overs. “It’s usually teenagers wanting to have fun,” Plank says. Units especially vulnerable are those out on long-term rentals where they’re not used at night.

The company has tried a few things – staking down units in certain locations, locking others at night. They briefly removed hand sanitizer dispensers in restrooms where pranksters liked to rip them out, but Plank wasn’t happy with that solution. “Basically I said I don’t think that’s a good idea because it looks bad on us,” he says. Currently they’re trying out more durable dispensers.

When all else fails the company goes to the client. “We let them know if it keeps happening we’ll have to charge a little bit more,” Plank says. In severe cases they would consider removing the units.

5. Handling The Seasonality

Winters can be severe in northern Indiana. Temperatures the last couple years have occasionally plunged to -20 degrees, but construction doesn’t stop. The company monitors the temperature to determine what actions need to be taken to prevent units from freezing. “Depending on how cold it gets we either go with just a salt mixture in the water, or if it looks like it’s going to be below zero for an extended period of time we’ll start mixing in methanol,” Plank says.

Construction does slow down in the winter and event work drops off almost completely, but rather than laying people off the company cuts hours. Plank’s two drivers go down to one or two days a week. Both have been with the company 10 to 15 years so they know the drill. “They’re fine with taking a little vacation time because the summer is so hectic,” Plank says.

In the summers the company’s trucks go nonstop, and Plank usually brings in a third driver to help with pickups and deliveries. And if needed, he can bring over people from the tool side of the business to lend a hand.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.