Creative Marketing, Partnership With the Kansas City Royals Bring Brand Recognition

Same-old, same-old doesn’t fit well in this Missouri company’s business strategy.
Creative Marketing, Partnership With the Kansas City Royals Bring Brand Recognition
Gary (left) and Greg Springer, partners in Outdoor Restrooms Inc., in Kansas City, pose on location at the Kansas Speedway. (Photos by Denny Medley)

When brothers Gary and Greg Springer bought Outdoor Restrooms Inc. (ORI) in 2013, the successful company didn’t seem like a logical candidate for exponential growth. After all, it’s harder to move the needle when a business is already as well established as ORI was at the time in the portable restroom market in and around Kansas City, Missouri.

The Springers apparently never got the memo. Instead, the company notched 30 to 35 percent annual revenue growth during the last several years, aided in part by a five-year contract to provide restrooms and service for two major NASCAR races and several smaller non-racing events at the Kansas Speedway. The company also renewed a four-year contract to provide restrooms for all 81 home games played by the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium, which came on the heels of a five-year contract that expired in 2016, Gary Springer says.

But large, long-term contracts alone don’t explain the company’s growth spurt. Management’s blueprint for gaining market share also includes an unyielding emphasis on customer service, embracing productivity- and profitability-enhancing technology, a focus on higher-margin products and services, and renewed marketing and branding efforts.

Springer also credits ORI’s previous owners, portable sanitation veteran Dennis Abbott (more than 30 years in the restroom industry) and his son, Jeff, for making a smooth ownership transition and educating the Springers about the business. (Jeff Abbott still works at ORI as the operations manager and also retains a minority ownership stake in the company.) He says he also learned a great deal by becoming a member of the Portable Sanitation Association International and attending the WWETT Show.

“The willingness of people in this industry to help each other and provide information is astonishing,” Springer says. “We’ve picked the brains of other operators for hours. How much do they pay employees? How do they find good employees? What are their profit margins? We asked a lot of questions.

“No one ever refused to talk to me about their business,” he continues. “And I needed a crash course — had to learn 10 years’ worth of knowledge in about 1 1/2 years. That’s why when other companies call and ask me for information, I’m always more than willing to do that and give something back.”

BUSINESS BACKGROUND

Springer also cites cooperation and respect between the company’s three owners as a key factor in their success. “Before we make any decisions, we bounce things off each other,” he says. “And if something doesn’t work, we scrap it pretty quickly.” Other family members contribute heavily, including Springer’s wife, Beth, who handles the books; their son, Tyler, the company’s assistant operations manager; and his sister-in-law (Greg Springer’s wife), Natalie Springer, a special-events coordinator.

Springer brought valuable business experience to the table after spending 23 years in the home-building and home-lending industries. As such, he takes a commonsense, dollars-and-cents approach to running ORI, which receives about half its revenue from construction rentals. Special events generate another 25 percent and long-term projects (NASCAR races and Royals games) contribute the balance.

“In the end, it’s pretty simple,” he explains. “Don’t spend more than you make and generate at least a 9 percent profit margin — I was taught that was the minimum you should make. And when it comes to pricing, you never want to be the cheapest or the most expensive. I want people to do business with us because of our service. When you’re the cheapest, everything is based on price, not service. I want it based on both.”

Springer also reinvigorated the company’s branding efforts with three simple strategies: putting extra-large stickers on restrooms, revamping the company’s logo, and choosing Kansas City Royals’ blue as the company color. (Springer is a big Royals fan and owns season tickets.) The trucks sport a blue theme and the company’s restrooms are blue.

“Our oval logo is everywhere,” he says. “It’s all about brand recognition; when people see our logo, they know right away who we are. It’s a little thing, but people underestimate the marketing value they provide.”

THE ROYALS TREATMENT

The contract to provide restrooms for Royals games also looms large in the company’s marketing efforts. Ever since the Royals made two consecutive World Series appearances (losing in 2014 and winning the championship in 2015), attendance has skyrocketed. About 2.5 million fans attended home games in 2016, a large figure for a small-market team. The bottom line: An immense number of eyeballs see the ORI logo around the stadium, Springer notes.

ORI is now in the second year of the four-year contract, and Springer says the value of such high brand visibility is incalculable. “It opened the door to things like the Speedway contract,” he says. “You just can’t buy that kind of advertising. Everyone in town loves the team and I don’t know how you’d go about putting a value on our affiliation with it.”

Of course, high visibility is a two-edged sword. If the ORI logo is emblazoned on dirty restrooms, the company’s reputation would suffer. “With that kind of visibility, we have to be as perfect as humanly possible,” Springer says. So the pressure is on at every home game, where two to six trucks and two to six employees service roughly 90 restrooms scattered around the stadium parking lots.

The number of trucks and employees required during ball games depends on whether the Royals play on weekdays or weekends. On weekdays, as many as six drivers might clean about 15 restrooms each because all their routes pass by the stadium, which makes it convenient to pop in and out on their way to service other customers. But on weekends, the company dedicates two trucks to the stadium, with each driver cleaning about 45 restrooms, Springer says.

That same standard applies to monthly construction rentals, too.

“With a company logo that’s so prominent, we have to maintain clean bathrooms 100 percent of the time, not just 95 percent of the time,” he says. While acknowledging that such a standard sets a very high bar, Springer also concedes that sometimes route drivers make mistakes. But he also believes ORI will never lose a customer if technicians resolve problems to customers’ satisfaction as quickly as possible.

“In our industry, you never want a customer to call you about service,” he says. “We want to be off their radar — out of sight, out of mind. But if they do call about a service problem, you’re graded on how fast you respond.” To ensure quick response times to customer complaints, ORI gives one driver a lighter-than-usual afternoon workload. That driver then has the flexibility to respond as needed, Springer says.

Drivers also know that if they miss a restroom on their route, they’re required to go back and clean it — even if it’s late in the day. That gives them extra motivation to avoid mistakes. Of course, there are times when drivers that service construction sites, for example, can’t access restrooms for various reasons, such as freshly poured concrete. That’s when the company’s missed-service protocol kicks in.

Drivers must immediately call the job site supervisor to tell them why they couldn’t get to a particular restroom, even though they’re usually not available immediately by phone. If that’s the case, drivers are required to take a photo of the restroom in question with a tablet device, then email it to the office. “Then if a site supervisor calls about a restroom that was missed, we can show them a photo that shows why,” Springer explains. “And even if it’s the customer’s fault, we’ll go back and clean the restroom, usually for free.”

That brings up another of Springer’s core philosophies: The customer is always right — even when they’re not. “If we can’t get to a unit, you still have to find a way (to satisfy customers),” he says. “Customers are the ones who write a check every month, so that makes them right.”

EQUIPMENT INVESTMENTS

ORI invests heavily in equipment. After the company earned the Speedway contract last year, for example, it bought 600 new restrooms and two vacuum trucks, and hired five new employees — moves that Springer calls “manageable and calculated risks” with a relatively fast return on investment. It was a big investment for what essentially involves two weekends a year, but like with the Royals contract, the free publicity also makes it worthwhile. “More than 100,000 people see our logo each weekend,” he says.

The company currently owns about 2,200 restrooms, mostly made by Satellite Industries; seven restroom trailers (two from Rich Specialty Trailers, one from Satellite, two made by Ameri-Can Engineering and two built by NuConcepts); and about 85 hand-wash stations made by PolyJohn Enterprises Corp. and PolyPortables.

The company has also invested in six vacuum trucks, featuring Hino and International chassis, aluminum tanks and Masport pumps. FlowMark built out four of the trucks and Progress Tank outfitted the other two. All of the tanks except one hold 1,500 gallons waste/500 gallons freshwater; the other tank has a capacity of 1,200 gallons waste/700 gallons freshwater.
ORI also invested in software developed by RouteOptix that optimizes dispatching/routing, handles billing procedures and creates a customer database. The system is updated in real time every four minutes. “We believe it will make us even more efficient,” Springer says. “Even if we increase efficiency by only 1 percent, that’s huge.”

The software has a number of features aimed at boosting productivity and profitability. For example, it can calculate the profitability of routes and track drivers as they go from job to job. “All they have to do is hit a button on their tablets that tells the dispatcher the job is completed,” he explains. “That way if customers call about their service, we can tell them our guy was just there.” The software also pinpoints the location of each restroom, which is a boon for drivers who service restrooms in residential subdivisions that are under construction and, as such, have streets with no names.

Springer says it took some time for drivers to get in the habit of using the tablets. “It was a major shift in how we operate. … Getting people to make changes is one of the hardest things about buying a new company,” he says. “But it’s well worth it. This software makes me a smarter guy. I believe in new technology. If you do nothing and you’re standing still, then everyone else is passing you by.”

GROWTH OUTLOOK

Springer says he thoroughly enjoys his job. “I’m having a ball,” he says. “And we try to push that attitude down throughout the company. Happy employees lead to happy customers.”

Looking ahead, Springer anticipates the company’s growth spurt will continue. In fact, management’s goal is to double the firm’s revenue within the next five years, aided by a continued emphasis on marketing and customer service.

While business strategies, brand-recognition campaigns and investments in advanced technology all play an important role, Springer doesn’t ever want to lose sight of the one simple thing that truly drives ORI’s success: great customer service.

“The bottom line is that we clean, rent and pump restrooms for a living,” he says. “The only thing we have to do to become the best company in town is do those things a little different than everyone else.”


Staggered schedules boost productivity

By utilizing an unusual scheduling strategy, Outdoor Restrooms Inc. (ORI) in Kansas City, Missouri, effectively runs eight service routes a week with only six trucks. That might sound like fuzzy math, but co-owner Gary Springer says the results are concrete when it comes to serving more customers per week and reducing labor and capital expenses.

Here’s how it works: The company’s eight route drivers work four 10-hour-long days a week, in staggered shifts. In other words, some drivers might work Monday through Thursday, others from Tuesday through Friday and so forth. In addition, two drivers work a second shift on their four days of work.

That allows the company to pump out and service restrooms from roughly 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. In effect, by using the staggered workdays and different shifts, the company roughly increases the number of service calls it makes per week by about 25 percent, but does so with fewer trucks than otherwise would be required to do the same amount of work in a normal 40-hour workweek.

“This schedule helps us ‘create’ extra trucks,” Springer explains. “If we did a normal five-day-a-week schedule with eight-hour days and six trucks, we’d always have two drivers without trucks. But with four-day workweeks and guys having different days off, we essentially create an extra truck each day. That allows me to put a fresh guy in a truck (at around 1 p.m.) and keep running routes later in the day.”

This scheduling system minimizes overtime pay and dramatically reduces capital costs (compared to the company owning eight service trucks to keep all eight drivers on the road for 40 hours a week). “We like to think out of the box here,” he says.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.