We’re In This Together: Raise Industry Standards

Through relationship building, Idaho’s PortaPros strives to improve its business and raise the reputation of the entire portable sanitation industry.
We’re In This Together: Raise Industry Standards
The PortaPros crew includes, front row, from left, Merced Garcia, Brian Williams, Kenny Wilson, Saul Cardona-Aquino and Terrence Learch; back row, from left, Carl Arriola, Ricky Parks, Kindra Butera, Jason Christie and Marcus Hunter. (Photos by Keith Christensen)

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An analytical approach to business, coupled with a focus on three core values — employee safety, building relationships and accountability — has enabled PortaPros to grow in a competitive portable restroom rental market around Boise, Idaho.

After four years, PortaPros — based in Nampa, Idaho — employs 10 people and owns more than 1,200 restrooms, hundreds of hand-wash stations and six service vehicles. The company has a presence in the special event market, as well as the agriculture, construction and emergency response sectors, says Marcus Hunter, general manager and a co-owner of the company.

Carl Arriola, a friend and former business associate of Hunter, is the majority owner of PortaPros (two silent partners also have an ownership stake). In 2012, Arriola bought ABC Sanitation Co., which had operated in the nearby Treasure Valley area for more than 20 years, then asked Hunter to come aboard as a part owner and general manager. Arriola — whom Hunter calls “the spreadsheet guy” — did much of the preliminary groundwork that verified what the group of partners already suspected: The business offered a great opportunity.

“He did a lot of the up-front work, cost analysis and due diligence,’’ says Hunter. That included attending the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show and Portable Sanitation Association International seminars to learn more about the industry.

“We (all the partners) come from varying backgrounds, but with a common thread of business experience in and knowledge of the construction, event and rental industries,” Hunter says. “The value of taking an analytical approach is that you continually seek to understand your business in terms of cash flow and management. If you don’t understand and plan for what it takes to operate a business, it will impact you negatively in the long run.”

BUILDING THE BRAND

When the partners bought ABC Sanitation, they agreed to rebrand the special event arm of the business as PortaPros, coupled with the slogan, “Clean and reliable.” The construction and commercial end of the business still operates under the ABC Sanitation name because of its name recognition. “Eventually we’ll likely brand everything under PortaPros,” Hunter says.

Because PortaPros serves a small to midsize market that includes at least two competitors, Hunter says the company seeks to differentiate itself by carefully choosing the products it carries. They include new Satellite Industries event restrooms, Purell hand sanitizers and Georgia Pacific toilet paper. The Maxim 3000 restrooms are white with gray trim and feature hands-free flushing and a larger interior with sink, coat rack and mirror.

Hunter says the company also strives to emphasize proper care of vehicles. All vehicles undergo a daily pre-trip inspection, which includes checking things such as tire pressure, suspension, seatbelts, gauges and lights, windshields, parking brakes and horns, plus water, oil and waste tank leaks. “We basically want to be sure that all state transportation department standards are met, for the safety of our employees and the safety of the public,” he says.

When drivers return from their routes, they’re required to perform another inspection. “It’s not very time-consuming and it keeps downtime to a minimum, which enhances customer service,” Hunter notes. “They’re also responsible for washing their vehicles every day. … Portable sanitation doesn’t sound or look very clean to most people, so we always want our vehicles presentable. It’s an easy way to change the perception of our industry.”

Core values include good relationships among workers, followed by accountability.

“Everything we talk about and do is based on mutual trust, support and respect,” Hunter says. “At all levels, we all hold ourselves accountable for the product we put out in the field and the delivery of service.”

That focus on relationships also applies to customers, who receive a personal response when they call the company. “If you pick up a phone and call PortaPros, you’ll speak directly to someone,” Hunter says. “We take a lot of pride in our overall communication. Building strong customer relationships goes a long way toward sustaining success and running a great business.”

WELL-MAINTAINED EQUIPMENT

Modern, well-maintained equipment also factors into the customer-service equation. The company currently owns about 1,200 restrooms, mostly made by Satellite and PolyJohn Enterprises; a two-stall restroom trailer made by Ameri-Can; 80 Satellite hand-wash stations; about 70 single- and double-unit restroom trailers for agricultural customers; two 20- and one 12-restroom transport trailers and two hot water hand-wash trailers from McKee Technologies; three Dodge pickup trucks outfitted with triple restroom racks fabricated in-house; and event barricades from Signature Systems Group.

PortaPros also relies on six vacuum trucks, all built by FMI Truck Sales & Service. Five are Isuzu trucks featuring FMI’s WorkMate tank systems and Conde (Westmoor Ltd.) pumps. Tanks are steel; three are configured to carry 750 gallons of waste/350 gallons of freshwater and two are slide-in units that carry 300 gallons of waste/225 gallons of freshwater. The sixth truck is built on a Chevrolet chassis with a 400-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater aluminum Progress tank and Conde pump.

To increase the efficiency of service runs, PortaPros invested in RouteOptix software, which handles everything from daily service routes to managing the company’s customer database. “We used to use a route book, with route cards that showed each driver his stops for the day in sequence,’’ Hunter says. “Someone had to manually figure out those routes, which was time-consuming and sometimes not very accurate. Now we have a route supervisor who inputs the stops, and software figures out the best routes. It also manages the number of units per route.”

All service technicians are trained to follow PSAI standards and Hunter says membership in the organization has been invaluable. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve been in the industry for 20 or 30 years. … It’s a great thing to have access to,” he explains. “We take note of all the things that they do right. It goes back again to relationships and accountability. … If you do those things well, you’re setting a good example and being professional at what you do.”

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Treating employees with trust, support and respect also plays a role in customer service. “We’re always coaching up our guys — trying to find ways to do things better,” Hunter notes.

“We also try to create a close-knit family atmosphere so that our people want to come to work. As a management team, we believe that our role is to clear their path and make it a productive and fun environment, because our people are critical to our service, customer relationships and reputation.

“When they leave for the day (to make service calls), our guys have all the information and tools they need for a particular task — the right gear, such as hard hats and safety vests — and vehicles that are in great operating condition,” he adds. “When they come in and start their day, they’re ready to go without any immediate stresses. That’s critical because if your employees aren’t happy coming to work, the quality of your product out in the field goes down.”

In the next three to five years, Hunter envisions PortaPros building a stronger presence in the construction and special event sectors. “Our goal is to be the premier provider — be the first and only phone call for customers,” he says. “We’re striving to increase the standard of service and professionalism within the industry. We accept the fact that we can always do something better.”


Get along with competitors

Some portable restroom operators have cutthroat relationships with their competitors. Others operate as friendly adversaries. PortaPros in Nampa, Idaho, falls in the latter camp, says Marcus Hunter, the company’s general manager.

Hunter’s reasoning: You never know when you may need help. For example, some special events may be too large for one company to handle, and if you’ve established a good relationship with a competitor, he or she may be open to forming a temporary partnership. In other instances, a customer may call and ask for service in an area outside your usual territory.

“In cases like that, we might ask a customer if it’s okay for us to call a competitor to handle the work,” he says. “We know what the cost will be for us to do the job and we will share that information with the customer. But a competitor might be able to do the job for a fraction of the cost. At the end of the day, it’s all about that relationship with customers.”

But don’t you run the risk of losing that customer permanently after the handoff to a competitor? Not if you’re providing great service, Hunter replies. “Customers will recognize you’re trying to help them out. … If we lose the business, it’s because we weren’t doing our job — providing them with what they needed in the first place. People might look at you a little strange (for offering business to competitors), but the ultimate goal is to provide great service and a great product to customers. And if you’re doing the right thing, 99.9 percent of the time, things work out good.”

Hunter also believes in helping out competitors in other ways. For example, there are times when PortaPros drivers spot competitors’ restrooms tipped over because of heavy winds or vandalism. When that happens, they call the competitors to let them know.

Why?

“It’s all about the public’s perception (of the industry),” Hunter explains. “We’re all in the same business together … you want everyone to be happy. Whether you’re best friends or not, it’s the courteous thing to do to reach out and let them know.”



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