Pro Baseball and Portable Sanitation Both Require Self-Confidence and Drive to Succeed

Retired slugger Doug Gredvig covers all the bases while growing a restroom business from startup to big success.
Pro Baseball and Portable Sanitation Both Require Self-Confidence and Drive to Succeed
The Area Restroom Solutions team includes, front row, from left, Mike Lytell, Kevin Holiday, Patrick Mondina, Jesus Guerra, Melissa Setzer, Edine Mondina, Brad Chambers, Felice Acevedo and Miguel Martinez; back row, Lydell Flake, Rodrick Johnson, Ryan Brooks, Doug Gredvig, Dustin Miller, Adam Manseau and Edward Bowens. (Photos by Leslie Sterling)

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For years, Doug Gredvig made a living wearing a baseball jersey and cleats, playing first base for minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles. Today, he still competes every day, but he wears a uniform for a different squad: the team at Area Restroom Solutions, the portable restroom outfit he founded in Sacramento, California.

The jump from curve balls and umpires to vacuum trucks and portable restrooms may seem like an unusual career move. But it made perfect sense to Gredvig, who has parlayed good business sense, a passion for customer service and an eagerness to learn into a portable restroom company with impressive growth since its founding.

Since 2006, gross revenue has increased by roughly 1,400 percent. In addition, the company now employs 17 people; runs nine vacuum trucks; has invested significantly in vehicles, restrooms and other equipment; and has diversified its business base by branching out into temporary fencing. In baseball parlance, Gredvig came through in the clutch and hit a career home run.

“All the characteristics of being a good baseball player – strong self-confidence, mental toughness, a good work ethic and a drive to succeed – are required to succeed in business,” Gredvig says. “It also helps to be a lifelong learner. I never assume I know it all.”

Today, about 70 percent of Area Restroom Solutions’ restroom business comes from monthly rentals and the balance from special events. Portable restrooms generate about 85 percent of the business volume, and temporary fencing contributes the rest.

PLAY BALL

Gredvig grew up near Sacramento and wanted to play professional baseball for as far back as he can remember. That dream came true in 2000 when the Orioles drafted him in the fifth round after he finished playing ball at Sacramento City College, where he’d earned an associate degree in business. The first baseman made it up to Triple-A ball, the highest rung on the minor league ladder.

“I had a really successful career,” he says. “I was a top prospect for many years and moved up the ranks quickly. But toward the end of my career, I had two back surgeries.

By then I was bouncing around the minor leagues (he spent his last year with a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate). I had a newborn child at home with my wife, Brittnee, so decided to hang ’em up.

“I knew it was time,” he continues. “I put myself in a good position to play in the big leagues, but it just wasn’t meant to be. But I was OK with that.”

Eddie Ford, a now-retired PRO in Maryland, triggered Gredvig’s interest in the portable sanitation industry. “I use to always see his restrooms (at the baseball field) and wanted to learn more about the business,” he says. “I would help him out in the offseasons. He really helped me out in the beginning. … Anytime you can learn about what worked for other operators, that’s huge.”

What intrigued Gredvig about portable restrooms? “I saw something that everyone else thinks is disgusting,” he explains. “But if you do it the right way, you can really make a difference – supply nice, clean portable restrooms. If you do it right, people don’t complain and look down on the profession. And besides, competing is something that I do. I’m always up for the challenge of taking on a new venture and trying new things.”

LEARNING CURVE

After some market research, Gredvig determined a niche existed for a midsize operation in Sacramento, which offered the added benefit of nice weather year-round, eliminating seasonal business ups and downs. Still, he’d compete with roughly half a dozen PROs in the region.

Starting out was difficult. “I was surprised to learn how much was involved,” he recalls. “I was a true one-man band, making sales calls, answering phones, writing up orders, and delivering and servicing units. I leaned on my suppliers and asked questions. They really helped me with advice.”

In those early years, Gredvig says he often relied on sheer determination. He recalls buying a vacuum truck and receiving his first load of restrooms, then wondering how he would get enough units set out to make the first monthly payment.

“One of my restroom reps said, ‘Just tell people your story,’ so that’s what I did,” he says. “I dropped off a lot of business cards and did a lot of networking, particularly with other similar businesses like garbage haulers and temporary fencing and portable office contractors. We’d go to lunch and share leads and sometimes we’d group services together.

“But above all, I was patient and persistent,” he adds. “There were days that I loaded up restrooms in the back of my truck and vowed not to come back until they all were rented out somewhere. That’s the attitude you have to have. Eddie once told me that every portable restroom I put out is kind of like hitting a home run. I’d emphasize to contractors that I have really good equipment and I can respond quickly to any problems they might have.”

One important lesson: Whether renting one or 1,000 restrooms at a time, the same formula applies – know your costs. “A lot of operators are geared toward putting out as many units as possible, no matter what the price,” he explains. “I’ve always taken a slower approach. I know it sounds like I grew quickly, but I always knew my costs. It wasn’t about the number of restrooms I was putting out, but what my profit margin was for renting them out.”

EQUIPMENT MATTERS

Area Restroom Solutions owns nine restroom service trucks, all equipped with Masport or Conde (Westmoor Ltd.) pumps: a 2015 Ford F-550 4x4 with a 900-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater aluminum tank built by Satellite Industries; a 2015 Ford F-550 4x4 with a 750-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater steel tank built by Crescent Tank Mfg.; a 2013 Ford F-650 with a 1,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater aluminum tank built by Satellite; a 2011 Dodge 5500 with a 650-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank built by Satellite; a 2007 GMC 5500 with a 900-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater steel tank; a 2004 Isuzu NPR with a 325-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel slide-in tank built by FMI Truck Sales & Service; a 2002 Ford F-450 with a 500-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater steel tank built by FMI Truck; a 2000 Isuzu NRR with a 650-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank built by Satellite; and a 1995 Isuzu NPR with a 500-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank. In addition, the company owns four trucks for pickups and deliveries and hauling temporary fencing: a 2006 Dodge 2500 flatbed, a 2004 Ford F-150, a 2003 Isuzu NRR flatbed and a 2003 Ford F-250.

The company also owns 1,500 Satellite restrooms, two restroom trailers built by Wells Cargo and four trailer-mounted VIP solar-powered single units from NuConcepts. Restrooms are transported using Explorer trailers from McKee Technologies.

In addition, Area Restroom Solutions owns 75 300-gallon plastic holding tanks made by Satellite used to store waste from office-trailer bathrooms, as well as 500 Satellite hand-wash stations. The hand-wash stations pose some operational challenges, as the freshwater tanks on the company’s trucks don’t always hold enough water to clean restrooms and fill the stations. But since state laws require all construction sites to have hand-wash stations, rental volume is high; as such, drivers must be strategic about planning routes with water stops along the way.

“We can get water from our customers, if they allow it,” Gredvig says. “Or we can get water from fire hydrants by paying certain water utilities a monthly flat fee, plus a per-gallon charge.”

ACQUIRE AND DIVERSIFY

Acquisitions also spurred the company’s growth. In 2011, Gredvig bought the restroom portion of a local septic service operation. And in October 2013, he purchased a company from a retiring operator; that firm also provided temporary fencing. The acquisitions underscore the importance of good relationships with other operators.

“I’m a friendly competitor,” Gredvig says. “I share equipment if guys run short on a weekend, for instance, and they usually return the favor. When you know other operators, it’s easier for them to approach you if they want to get out of the business. Both acquisitions came about that way. It’s never easy for a competitor to ask someone to buy them out, but it’s a lot easier if you already have good relationships.”

Gredvig had not considered offering temporary fencing before the acquisition, but admits he should have because it provides consistent cash flow and meshes well with his core service and customers. The company now owns about 70,000 feet of steel fencing – most of it in the form of 6-foot-high by 12-foot-long panels – and most of it is always rented out, he says.

But acquisitions aren’t the only way to improve profitability; Gredvig also relies on new technology to build efficiency. For example, he recently started putting tracking devices from NexTraq on trailers that hold either one or two single units rented by agricultural customers. Because the restrooms frequently get moved around in fields, route drivers usually have to stop and ask the customer for a map that shows where the restrooms are on that particular day – and even then the units aren’t always where the customer thinks they’re located.

“Without the trackers, it would easily take a full day for a driver to service 20 of those trailers out in fields,” he points out. “Now we can locate the trailers’ locations via GPS and send a route to the driver’s GPS unit. We’re cutting a full day of work in half.” The company also uses NexTraq to monitor service truck movement.

Following that time-is-money philosophy, Gredvig also notes that hiring a full-time mechanic in 2013 was a significant improvement. “It greatly reduces downtime, and we can more easily stay on top of routine maintenance,” he says. “We can repair our trucks and equipment in a very timely manner without relying on a repair shop’s schedule.”

THE NEXT PITCH

When it comes to looking ahead, Gredvig takes the same measured, one-game-at-a-time philosophy so frequently espoused by professional athletes. He envisions steady growth, but never so fast that it impairs customer service.

“I don’t know how big I want to get,” he says. “I certainly don’t want to take over the world of portable restrooms. You don’t have to be the biggest company to be the most successful one.”



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