A Late Bloomer In the Portable Restroom Business and Loving It

When executive Jan Bentley transitioned from medical management to portable sanitation, she took her retired husband, Jeff, along for the fun and profitable ride.
A Late Bloomer In the Portable Restroom Business and Loving It
The Portable Services Inc. team includes (first row, from left) Kevin Tolbert, Tim Godbee, Jeff Bentley, Jan Bentley, Amanda Hogan and Myron Godbee; (back row) Anthony Eunice, Robert Johnson, Willie Burns, Nate Gardenhire, Rodney White and Alex Keip. In the background are vacuum trucks built out by Engine & Accessory with Masport pumps.

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Afunny thing happened to Jeff Bentley on his way to retirement from the South Carolina Department of Corrections. It was related to a funny thing that happened to his wife a few years earlier when she was looking for a job in the medical industry. After a two-hour talk with a headhunter, both their plans went out the window. Jan switched careers and went to work for Portable Services Inc., an 18-year-old Augusta, Georgia, portable restroom company. And no sooner had Jeff turned in his badge than Jan’s employer retired and the couple bought the business.

The learning curve was steep. Jan admits she had previously been completely oblivious to this type of business. “It just had never dawned on me – this industry,” she admits. “I had never really paid attention to it.” Jeff was equally unfamiliar. For five months he worked a route so he could learn the business. “I figured if I was going to learn I needed to learn it from the bottom up,” he says.

Through hard work, determination and on-the-job training, as well as help from the previous owner, their employees and trade organizations, the couple overcame their lack of industry experience and not only figured out how to run the business, but after only two years had grown it to such an extent they had to move to a larger facility.

A COURSE CHANGE

The founder of the business was Fred Stitt, who started renting portable restrooms out of his home in 1989. Meanwhile, Jan was busy working for a neurosurgical practice in Columbia, South Carolina, moved to Augusta after a divorce, then worked for the son of the inventor of a medical device. When the owner sold the business, she decided to move on.

She started interviewing with medical facilities when out of the blue she got a phone call from an executive recruiter who tried to convince her to consider working for Stitt as a controller. “After talking to him, I was really impressed with the company,” she says. She was even more impressed after meeting Stitt. “He was a wonderful person. He and I just clicked.” She took the bait and began a new career.

As Stitt began to think about retirement, Jan was ready to step in. “I told Fred, ‘If you ever decide to sell, please give me an opportunity to buy it,’” she says. That chance came in 2012, a busy year for the Bentleys – they got married in April, Jeff retired in May and in December they bought the business. They got lots of help from Stitt, who continues to be a valued friend and resource, as well as from attending the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show and the Portable Sanitation Association International Convention. “Both of them are so beneficial,” Jan says.

INVESTING IN THE STAFF

The Bentleys have relied heavily on their staff and attribute much of their success to them. “Some of these guys have worked here a lot longer than me,” Jan says. “We’ve got the best group of employees you could ever hope for.” The Bentleys are quick to nurture those relationships and provide rewards.

They currently have two office personnel, seven drivers and one prep and maintenance technician. Everyone is considered family. “We all just lean on each other,” Jeff says. “We really don’t let go of employees. I tell them when you hire on here, it’s for life.” A number of employees are related to each other. “That makes us feel good,” Jan says. “If you feel good enough about where you work that you get your brother or cousin to send in an application, that says something.”

Benefits are generous. The company pays 80 percent of an employee’s health insurance; 100 percent of their dental, life insurance, and long- and short-term disability; a 3 percent IRA match; and vacation and sick pay. Perhaps most generous, they share the wealth. “I told them, ‘If you stick with us, if we make money you’re going to make money,’” Jan says. “Last year we were more excited than anybody to hand out bonuses. They’ve got a piece of this company, too.”

Jeff says quarterly staff meetings are supplemented with one-on-one conferences as they learn how to work with each individual. “Every driver has a different personality, works in a different area and has different issues.” The Bentleys have also had to learn how to work with each other. To avoid a little too much closeness, they drive to work separately, keep different hours and work on different floors. “Otherwise we’d kill each other,” Jan laughs.

INVESTING IN EQUIPMENT

The Bentleys are equally adamant about looking after the needs of their customers and believe good customer service starts at the top. “We are so hands-on,” Jan says. “We answer our phone 24/7.”

Part of providing good service is having good equipment, and they work hard to keep their trucks and units new, fresh and clean. They’re doing the same with their website, revamping it to make it more informative and easy to use.

They keep their 180 event units – Satellite Industries Maxim 3000s – separate from the 1,200 Satellite units earmarked for construction. Green is their signature color, but they do have a number of tan units leftover from an old Army contract. “We use them here and there,” Jeff says. “But I’m funny about that – I won’t mix them on a site.”

They have five Comforts of Home Services restroom trailers in various sizes. “In the past few years we’ve replaced every one of our trailers,” Jan says. “We don’t have anything older than 2014.”

The company also has four 16-station Satellite Standing Room Only urinal rooms (very popular at big events), four pink-and-blue baby-changing units (used occasionally) and a number of Satellite portable sinks and PolyPortables 250-gallon holding tanks.

The company’s seven vacuum trucks were built out by Engine & Accessory. Two are 2014 Hino 238s with 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks. The other five are 2003-07 Isuzu NQRs with 900-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks, some of which have been refurbished by Fleetcare Commercial Trucks. They use Masport pumps on all their trucks. “I just found that when you get something that works, it’s best to stay with it,” Jeff says. “Then you’ve got common parts.”

For pickup and delivery, they have two Pace American hauling trailers (a 12-unit and a 16-unit) and two Isuzu NPR flatbed trucks (2006 and 2011) which are also set up to pump units from 325-gallon waste/125-gallon freshwater slide-in tanks from Progress Tank. “It’s kind of a special-order-make that we’ve developed over time,” Jeff says. “The tank is on the flatbed against the cab, then the pump is mounted on a trace down along the frame rail.”

Units are moved with a Toyota forklift. And they’ve got a Kubota tractor for miscellaneous tasks. “A guy just needs a tractor, you know?” Jeff explains.

REGIONAL EVENTS

About 30 percent of the company’s business is special events. Because of the heat, summer is a slow season. “Then September and October are just rocking and rolling,” Jeff says. They do a lot of weddings, concerts, festivals and county fairs, but some of their biggest events involve sports.

There’s a number of cycling and running functions, including one of the largest Ironman competitions for which they provide 120 units. Their biggest event – 130 units and three trailers – is the Aiken County steeplechase held in the spring and fall. They also do a lot of polo matches. Perhaps most challenging is the Masters Golf Tournament and related parties, concerts and receptions. Traffic is one of the biggest headaches. “It about quadruples,” Jeff says. “Trying to get around town is just crazy.” He says they’re always glad to see the tournament come – and glad to see it go. “It’s almost like getting a physical – if I survive Masters week, that means I’m pretty healthy.”

GROWING PAINS

Through word-of-mouth, hardworking employees, good relationships with tent rental and roll-off companies – and an improving economy, Jan admits – the Bentleys experienced explosive growth and after two years started looking for a larger location.

They wanted something nearby because they were ideally situated between their two largest service territories – Augusta and Aiken County, South Carolina. “I’m a five-iron from the South Carolina state line where we’re sitting right now,” Jeff describes. They finally found a 6.5-acre site with a 10,000-square-foot warehouse/office building. A bonus feature is an 80,000-square-foot concrete slab leftover from an old warehouse. “That was one of the biggest draws for me,” Jeff says. “We can operate everything as far as the units off of that, and that’s going to be great.”

After the July 2015 closing, the Bentleys began to retrofit the facility to suit their needs, including building out a two-bay wash area, setting up a fill station, building a shed to house restroom trailers, and installing roll-up doors on each side of the warehouse so a truck can pull in, restock and drive out the other side.
They’re also considering an on-site dump station where waste would go directly into the municipal sewer system, eliminating trips to the wastewater treatment facility. A bottling plant was previously housed on the site, so Jeff says the infrastructure is there. “It’s just a question of getting it approved by the powers that be.”

RETIREMENT ON THE BACK BURNER

Jeff hasn’t forgotten about retirement. “I was retired for three months, something like that,” he muses. “I was kind of starting to get the hang of it.” He adds that although he’s too young to take up the rocking chair, it is in the back of his mind. And when he runs into Stitt he can’t help but notice the smile on his face.

“Sometimes he just laughs.”

As for Jan – “She’ll be here until she’s 100,” Jeff says. Jan concurs. “I don’t have any hobbies. I never did. I was too busy trying to support my kids and myself. I enjoy doing what I’m doing, I really do.”



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