Reach for Success in the Construction Zone

Collaboration with site services partners is the key to growth for North Carolina’s Portable Toilets of Fayetteville.
Reach for Success in the Construction Zone
The team at Portable Toilets of Fayetteville includes, from left, Robert Smith, John Killian, Sheila Williams, Kenny Hardin and Tommy Saylor. (Photos by Andrew Craft)

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The idea of “bundling” services is nothing new. Telecommunications companies do it all the time.

But Sheila Williams, co-owner of Portable Toilets of Fayetteville (PTF) in North Carolina, and her partners have found a way to use bundling to boost their portable restroom business — along with their other related services. Just three years after starting PTF, Williams and co-owners Kenny Hardin and John Killian bundled rentals of restrooms, construction roll-offs and trailers, much to the benefit of all involved.

That diversification, aimed squarely at the construction market, has been a great help to the bottom line. “They can call one company and take care of several issues,” says Hardin.

ENTERING THE INDUSTRY

For several years, Williams worked for a portable restroom company in North Carolina, never realizing the impact the job would later have on her life. When that company closed after a few years, it could have been disappointing or even devastating for her.

Instead, she used her seasoned know-how from years on the job in both dispatch and management to launch PTF in 2013. Williams bought eight used portable restrooms, acquired 10 more from another company and bought a 1998 Dodge 4x4 carrying a 400-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump from Lely Manufacturing.

Fast forward two years and Williams’ company now has about 300 restrooms, including red Satellite Industries units for special events as well as additional units from PolyJohn Enterprises, PolyPortables and T.S.F. Company. “Right now, we really like the Satellite units for special events. Tuff-Jon has some nice hand-wash stations. We have something we like about every company,” says Hardin. They favor deodorizing and cleaning chemicals from Satellite Industries and J & J Chemical.

They’ve added to their fleet with a 2006 Ford F-550 carrying a 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump from Lely Manufacturing; a 1995 Ford F-250 4x4 pickup; and a 12-unit hauling trailer made by Master Tow of Fayetteville.

Based on her earlier experience, Williams realized “(the business) was just something I had a knack for. I enjoyed the work. We had 12 to 13 trucks at the other company, and I managed the day-to-day activities. When the company closed, I wasn’t ready to stop.”

CONSTRUCTION SITE SYNERGY

Enter Hardin. The owner of A & T Storage Trailers (which rents construction trailers, tractor trailers, shipping containers, etc.) had considered purchasing the company Williams had worked for. So when he called Williams looking to get into the portable restroom business, they became a team. And their unique business plan has made a lot of sense — and business.

“We figured we could service the portable restrooms and kind of be a one-stop shop for construction needs,” says Hardin. Their other partner in PTF, Killian, is co-owner of AAA Hauling, which rents roll-off containers. Hardin and Killian agreed to bankroll the purchases for PTF; Williams runs the business.

While each of the companies is owned and operated independently, one phone number reaches them all. And teaming up has allowed each company to offer discounts on related services. “We reduce the prices accordingly if customers use two or three of our services,” Hardin says.

“When we brought (Williams) in, our businesses skyrocketed,” says Hardin, noting that with the addition of PTF, they were able to gain the portable restroom business for the construction jobs they served as well.

While Williams mainly runs the office for PTF, she is cross-trained and equipped to handle all of the company’s jobs. “If I’m going to tell somebody else how to do a job, I should speak from experience,” she says.

Construction makes up about 80 percent of PTF revenue. The key to keeping those customers happy? Hardin says that while the construction audience may be different from those attending special events, the bottom line is they all want quality and cleanliness.

“Give them quality service,” he says. “Give them what they pay for. Keep your units clean, be there on time. Every toilet we put on a job, we want it to be clean, whether it’s on a job site or at a wedding.”

Educating construction contractors on the advantages a portable sanitation company can provide is a challenge, Hardin says. “Ninety-nine percent of the people we deal with, it’s their job to just build a building, so we need to let them know what we need to do to better their job. It’s our job to take that burden away from them.”

Unfortunately, he says many find out the hard way, by not ordering enough units or adequate service. “Usually we try to break it down for them,” adds Williams. “If they don’t know, they’ll try to start at the lowest quantity.”

“A lot of them do know, but they’re trying to save a dollar here, a dollar there,” Hardin adds.

To better serve the construction market, Williams says they are also researching damage waivers. “We want to know how it’s going to help us,” she says.

EVENTS, MILITARY WORK

The remainder of PTF’s business is special events, and there’s no shortage of opportunities in a region with 350,000 people and located 100 miles from the ocean. The company provides 75 to 80 units in April to the annual Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, which draws 250,000 to 300,000 attendees for three days.

Fayetteville is also home to the Fort Bragg Army base, where special operations forces receive training. Early in 2015, PTF serviced 100 units daily at the base for three weeks for a training event.

“We’re very lucky to have the military in our backyard,” says Hardin. To serve those on the base, construction has been booming with many retail businesses and apartment complexes coming to the area.

“Here, we never saw a real decline in housing starts,” says Hardin. “Even though the economy has struggled, we have not seen a lot of effect on our business. Where a lot of bases are cutting back, we don’t see that at all.”

Working on government sites is often a bit more challenging than most jobs, Hardin says. “The rules are different — a lot of the areas we have to have security clearance and background checks.” Following those rules is a must to continue winning the contracts, he says. “If you want to go after the job, you have to learn to play by the rules. It’s a little more headache, a little more paperwork.”

Williams adds, “It’s all about the numbers. The military gets, most of the time, three bids. If they like your services, they usually come back to you every time. They’re pretty loyal.”

There can be a back-and-forth process of answering questions during the bid process, she says. “It can be time-consuming.”

But government contracts, she adds, are valuable because they are paid on time, helping the cash flow situation for a small company. And there is security in government work. “You know that you’re going to get paid no matter what,” Williams says.

She notes that companies serving government contracts must be listed with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and must register with System Award Management (SAM), which is a military contracting website. “If you’re not registered with that, you will not get a military contract,” says Williams.

LOOKING TO EXPAND

After attending the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show, Williams has started considering purchasing a restroom trailer. Currently, PTF partners with another company that services another area of North Carolina. Since no direct competitor offers such a trailer, it has to come from out of town, and Williams says, “We would like to capitalize on our own hometown events.”

In addition to a trailer, the company would like to triple its inventory of restrooms. While their five-year plan aims at owning 750 to 1,000 units, Hardin adds, “Ultimately, the goal is to have 3,000 units on the ground.”

That number, Hardin says, is an estimate; a company they looked into buying at one time had that many units. “Right now, we’re growing about 300 to 400 units each year,” he says.

“As the years go, we’d like to step that up 10 to 20 percent each year.”

“A lot of business comes our way from past experience,” adds Williams. “We do have a lot of repeat customers.” And Hardin, who also ran a commercial paint company for 35 years, brought PTF a lot of contacts, specifically around Fort Bragg.

“That’s a market we’re looking to capitalize on,” he says, adding that going out and getting new business should support their expansion goals. “We’re trying to hit it fast and hard.

That’s how we’re growing over time, and we’re really hitting these special events. It’s a quick turnaround, plus it’s good exposure.

For PTF, a strategy of collaboration to encourage construction companies to get all their needs from one service provider has paid off. And Williams, who previously worked in health care and restaurants, says she still loves her work in waste management.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else.”


Eye on the sky

Sheila Williams’ Portable Toilets of Fayetteville has created an interesting side benefit for customers who may want to take a breathtaking view of their job site.

Williams’ business partner, Kenny Hardin, is a private pilot who has been flying for 12 years, and he owns a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza airplane and a drone. When customers take advantage of all three services their companies offer, aerial photography is included in the deal.

“We will offer aerial views (still photo or video) of the progress (of the construction site),” Hardin says. This monthly service is offered at no additional charge.

Williams, Hardin and John Killian all co-own Portable Toilets of Fayetteville; Hardin independently owns A & T Storage Trailers, and Killian and Hardin co-own AAA Hauling (roll-off containers). Combining all services has driven business growth for all three companies.

The aerial shots are taken primarily with the drone, says Hardin. “The Federal Aviation Administration has a lot of rules and regulations on how high you can fly (a drone),” says Hardin.

“They’re really cracking down on a lot of hobbyists. I think my advantage is having a pilot’s license, knowing the rules of the FAA.”

Drones, Hardin explains, are not allowed to fly higher than 400 feet or within 3 miles of an airport.

Aerial photography has proven to be a valuable incentive for potential customers sitting on the fence, particularly relating to construction site service.

“One of our first customers was concerned about price,” Hardin says of a client considering a myriad of services from the companies. When Hardin offered to throw in aerial photography, “that sealed the deal,” he says.

“We’ve actually received, in the last months, several contracts when we offered this option to them,” Hardin adds.

Hardin says they have heard clients are ecstatic with the aerial photos.

“A lot of these contractors – probably 80 percent – are from out of state,” says Killian. The photos allow clients to show construction progress to their supervisors located in other parts of the country.



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