Repositioning Strategy Aims to Build Respect for Portable Sanitation Industry

Repositioning Strategy Aims to Build Respect for Portable Sanitation Industry
Karleen Kos is executive director of the Portable Sanitation Association International. She may be reached at or 952/854-8300.

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“I hate reality — but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.”

- Woody Allen

If you go to a restaurant, order a steak, and the steak is of poor quality — to whom do you complain? Someone responsible for the restaurant, right? Have you ever called the farmer who provided the cow?

I bet not.

If only that were the case in portable sanitation. As it stands, our contracting customers can make choices resulting in a poor end user experience because they are insulated from the consequences of their poor decisions. It’s like the person who got the bad steak complaining to — or about — the farmer, but giving the restaurateur who cooked and served the meal a pass on the bad experience.

In that scenario, give enough people a bad steak and they come to disrespect farmers. Meanwhile, restaurateurs never have to think about whether they should buy a better grade of beef or hire a different chef. They just use the lack of respect for farmers as an excuse to pay less for the meat next time.

Ask yourself this: How many of your contracting customers — the decision-makers who choose your company — actually use the portable restrooms you provide? Not very many I bet. Like the restaurateur in the imagined scenario, much of the time the person signing your rental agreement is highly insulated from the consequences of his or her poor decisions about portable sanitation.

Meanwhile, portable restroom operators fight an uphill battle because a PRO’s name is on the door. It’s the equivalent of knowing the name of the farmer who raised the cow but not the name of the restaurant manager who served you the bad steak.

Over my years with the PSAI I have heard many operators say, “Well, what can we do? Our name is visible — the customer’s name isn’t there. When users are unhappy, they blame us.”

Yes, they do.

And yes, they always will — unless we, as an industry, take steps to better connect the decision and the consequences in the minds of both the end users and our contracting customers.

The PSAI is hard at work on a long-range Industry Repositioning Strategy. It is aimed at moving portable sanitation from its often derided and disrespected position to one where we are viewed as the valued supplier of a service that enhances experiences at work or play.

To be sure, this repositioning is something that needs to be handled carefully. We don’t want to alienate the people who choose our companies — and we don’t want to seem as though we are avoiding responsibility. But there is a big difference between avoiding someone else’s responsibility and avoiding our own. We want to move everyone toward a more accurate view of the reality of how portable sanitation is provided and paid for — so end users get the experiences they want and deserve, and contracting customers have an incentive to make decisions based on the experience they want to provide, not merely the price they want to pay.

To sum it up, we are working toward a world in which end users both appreciate the farmer and recognize the role of the restaurateur. It will take a while to shift thinking and ways of doing business — but it can be done. As Woody Allen said “I hate reality — but it’s the best place to get a good steak.”


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