Duo Reaps Education Benefits, Sees Latest Industry Products at the WWETT Show

A firefighting father and son build a successful Rhode Island restroom company on reliable employees, clean equipment and VIP trailers.
Duo Reaps Education Benefits, Sees Latest Industry Products at the WWETT Show
The staff of Hallman’s Portable Toilets. Front row, from left, Mary Ellen Bernard, Donna Hallman, Scott Hallman, Kyle DeSouza, Matthew Randall, Frank Miranda, Michael Bernard, Marc Kelleher. Back row, John Toppa, Dave Connor, Kevin Kosinski, Dylan Moniz, Nicholas Wolfe, Brett Simao, along with Scott Hallman’s dog, Polly. (Photos by Sean D. Elliot)

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When Scott Hallman looks for part-time workers to supplement the full-time staff at his portable restroom and septic company during busy weekends and summers, he taps a familiar source — the local fire department. That’s where he spent the first 20 years of his working life after graduating from college. His father, Dave Hallman, had also been a firefighter and, in fact, stepped aside from the job in 1992 when Hallman’s number came up. “My father retired to make my spot,” Hallman says, “which was actually kind of cool.”

In 1997, Dave started a new career when he created Hallman’s Portable Toilets. Scott worked with his dad on his days off. Despite their lack of experience in the portable sanitation industry, the Hallmans thought they could learn everything they needed to know on the job. It took a few years to realize that wasn’t really the best approach. When they finally took advantage of trade resources their professionalism went up, as did profits, and now Scott Hallman is an enthusiastic advocate of trade shows, networking and educational seminars.

Hallman went full time with the company in 2013 when he retired as a captain at 42. One year later his father passed away, once again, in a sense, stepping aside to give his job to his son. Today, he and his mother Donna are co-owners. Donna works in the office along with Hallman’s niece Mary Ellen Bernard, office manager. A crew of 10 full-time and four part-time employees round out the staff. Their service territory covers Rhode Island and southeast Massachusetts — “but I’d say a long ride for us is an hour,” Hallman notes.

The company operates out of a 10,000-square-foot garage/office building on 2 acres in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, on Aquidneck Island, with an additional 1-acre storage facility and 20,000-square-foot garage 20 minutes away in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Revenue comes from three sources, each contributing about one-third — portable restrooms, restroom trailers and septic pumping — and all employees are cross-trained.

A NEW VENTURE

In 1986, Dave Hallman decided to buy a septic truck to pump his own septic tank. He picked up what Scott Hallman describes as “an old piece of junk that needed jumper cables and a can of ether to get it going.” He also used it to help out friends. A few years after his retirement from the fire department, the elder Hallman stopped giving away his services and started making a living at it, also adding portable restrooms.

Hallman’s not sure how his father got the idea to provide portable sanitation, but when it happened, the son quickly got on board. “After the family stopped giggling, I started doing research,” he says. “I called every manufacturer I could think of.” The two men chipped in their money and bought 10 PolyJohn Enterprises units and the company was born, and by year’s end they were up to 70 units. They officially incorporated a few years later and hired their first employee.

To service restrooms, they bought a used Best Enterprises 300-gallon slide-in tank and put it in an old dump truck. Their first marketing efforts were to construction sites. “I literally walked down the street and when I saw somebody building a house I went up to them,” Hallman says.

LEARNING THE HARD WAY

When they started out, father and son operated the business seat-of-the-pants style, not thinking there was much they couldn’t figure out on their own, although they did rely heavily on vendors for information. But in hindsight, Hallman says it was a mistake to think they didn’t need more training than that.

They didn’t go to their first trade show (Portable Sanitation Association International) until a few years after getting started, and it wasn’t until 2004 that they attended the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show) despite their vendors urging them to do so.

Hallman admits in those days his negative impressions of the industry kept him away. But when he did finally go he quickly saw he couldn’t have been more wrong. He hasn’t missed one since and now takes great pride in the industry, telling anyone getting into the business to go to the WWETT Show sooner than later.

“It was a major mistake, us not going the first few years,” he says. “It was unbelievably eye-opening. And if you look at what happened to our sales after that, it was amazing. It’s a motivating thing.”

SAVING THE DAY

In 2004, the company bought its first restroom trailer, a 14-foot unit from Ameri-Can, mainly for its wedding business. “We were doing flush units for weddings and it just was time for the upgrade,” Hallman says. It was such an immediate hit that within a week they ordered a second one.

Hallman says it’s a good thing, because in 2006 and 2007, when the economy started to tank and construction went south, the wedding business was still booming. “If you think about it, when somebody gets married the economy doesn’t matter. You’re doing it once and you’re going to do it right.” Hallman says if they hadn’t had that source of revenue to rely on, they would have been hurting. “It truly saved us when we went into the recession. It really did.”

Today they’ve got 20 trailers from Ameri-Can, one from JAG Mobile Solutions and five from Black Tie Products. They rent them out statewide and as far as upstate New York, six hours away. At bigger events they often provide attendants who use a John Deere Gator utility vehicle to make rounds keeping units stocked and cleaned.

They also picked up a Black Tie shower trailer when the local Navy base needed one for a long-term rental during a gym renovation. Hallman says it doesn’t go out a lot but when it does it’s usually long term.

NEW AND IMPROVED STAFF

Hallman says employee management was another school-of-hard-knocks learning experience — “And, boy, have we kissed some frogs along the way,” he says. In the beginning they hired anyone who needed a job. Now they consider the employee-employer fit more carefully. Driving record is huge, he says, and drug testing.

“Today our employees are smarter, brighter and more mechanically inclined,” Hallman says. “For a lot of them, this is their career and they treat it as such.” He admits their beautiful conference room doesn’t get used for staff meetings nearly as much as it should when they get busy. He’s also guilty of thinking he can’t have a meeting unless everyone is present, which he acknowledges is not really practical.

Hallman plugs into his network of firefighters for his part-time help because it’s a group of people he knows are responsible and have good work habits. “And they know how to drive big trucks, they’re looking for part-time work and they already have their benefits,” he says. “It’s a great catch.”

In the winter the part-time crew bows out, to return the following spring. Meanwhile the full timers keep busy with maintenance, cleaning and repair work. “Like everyone in the business, over the year there’s a collection of broken toilets that ends up in the backyard, and then in the wintertime you pull them into the heated garage one at a time and repair them — fix doors, fix springs, new seats, whatever it needs.”

TALL SHIPS AND OCEAN RACES

The company has about 1,200 units and 50 hand-wash stations, mostly from PolyPortables. All are tan — “We thought it was ‘beachy’ looking,” Hallman says. Beaches are plentiful in his area and are the site of a lot of their events. The company also provides service to the mainland as well as other islands. Most of the islands are accessible by road but occasionally they’re asked to put their equipment on a ferry and head over to smaller isolated islands for weddings or other private parties.

The company does numerous sailing-related functions. Nearby Newport, host city of the America’s Cup from 1930 to 1983, has been called the sailing capital of the world. One of the perks of owning a portable restroom business is being able to attend fun events, Hallman says. He especially enjoys the Tall Ships Festival that comes through every couple years. It’s always an impressive site to see the majestic wooden schooners sail into the harbor with their dozen or so square sails billowing in the wind.

In 2015, Volvo Ocean Races, a 39,000-nautical-mile around-the-world sailboat race, made its only North American stop in Newport. The two-week stopover gave sailors a chance to rest and make repairs while the general public enjoyed a festival of demonstrations, tours and entertainment.

“Rhode Island is a nautical place, there’s no doubt about it,” Hallman says. “The sailing industry has been very good to us.” He adds construction has also been good and accounts for about 60 percent of their business, continuing even through harsh winters and the occasional hurricane.

SERVICE FLEET

The company’s portable restroom fleet includes seven vacuum trucks, 2006-2016 Fords, Isuzus and the newest, a Freightliner, with 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks and Masport pumps, three built out by Progress Tank, the newer ones by FlowMark. On the septic side they’ve got two Freightliners (2007, 2010) with 4,800-gallon and 5,000-gallon aluminum tanks and Masport pumps built out by Progress Tank, and one 2014 9,000-gallon tanker from Longhorn Tank & Trailer, pulled by a Freightliner semi-truck.

They keep track of the fleet with software from US Fleet Tracking. “Some people think the only reason to have it is to complain about one of your drivers who missed a stop or something,” Hallman says. “That’s not why we have it.” He says it’s more for those “I need something right away” moments. “I can open my laptop and in two seconds find out where all my pump trucks are.” The company uses deodorants from Walex Products and disposes of waste at nearby treatment plants.

IT’S BEEN A PLEASURE

Hallman says he still misses his dad every day. “His loss is acutely felt by the whole company,” he says. “He was quite the character.” And although his career at the fire department was very fulfilling and he wouldn’t trade it for anything, Hallman loves the business his father created. “I like the people, I like all the different places we go, the events we do. Even the septic end, you meet a lot of people.” He says he has no regrets getting into it. “It’s been a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.”


Meet our furry mascot

When Scott Hallman, owner of Hallman’s Portable Toilets in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, became the proud owner of a puppy 12 years ago, he hit upon the perfect name for someone in his line of work — Polly. “She was named after PolyPortables,” he says, the company that provides their portable restrooms. He might have also been influenced by the yellow lab’s color. “She’s tan, just like the toilets,” he says. Polly seemed happy with her new name — “She liked it when we said it,” he recalls.

Polly turned out to be a friendly dog, the kind everyone loves. She would occasionally brighten their day by hanging out at the office and soon became the company mascot. That’s a little tougher these days, Hallman says, now that she’s getting older. “She does her quality couch time now,” he says.

Hallman knows everyone thinks their dog is particularly wonderful, and he’s no exception, but insists she really is just one of those good dogs. “Everybody’s into the dog,” he says. “She’s a doll.”



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