A Decade Later — North Carolina PRO Sherry Rodriguez Explains How She Built a Brand

Yellow restrooms, a buzzing bee logo, and full service for wedding customers keep Take A Break Portables on the grow after 10 years in business

A Decade Later — North Carolina PRO Sherry Rodriguez Explains How She Built a Brand

The Take A Break Portables team, celebrating with anniversary T-shirts from last year, includes, from left, Bethany Lowe, Hannah Anderson, Rick Goodall, Sherry Rodriguez, Mitch Anderson, Cecil Martin and Kery Morgan.

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Over the past decade, more and more bright yellow portable restrooms have dotted the picturesque mountainous areas of western North Carolina. It’s all to the credit of one hardworking “queen bee,” Sherry Rodriguez, owner of Take A Break Portables.

“Ten years ago … starting this business, pretty much on my own, I had a dream,” recalls Rodriguez, 58. “I had a goal and was very determined to make this the most successful female-owned restroom business around. … And it worked because hard work does pay off.

“Also, I have been blessed with an amazing team that is very much committed; I treat them like family,” she continues. “Three of my employees have been with me since day one. In these little towns, you have to build a relationship with them. It’s not a ‘me’ thing; it’s a ‘we’ thing.”

Rodriguez was first featured in PRO when she kicked off her business venture following her equipment-buying spree at the 2007 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo. The magazine included a profile story about her startup efforts in small-town Hayesville, North Carolina, and then followed with monthly dispatches about her progress over the first year. Today, we return to celebrate an important 10-year anniversary and recount some of the lessons she learned while building a successful small business.

PUSHING THE BRAND

While Rodriguez had no previous experience in portable sanitation, she did have a solid marketing background, although she admits, “It’s all been self-taught.” For 16 years prior to launching Take A Break Portables, Rodriguez and her ex-husband owned a marketing company, and suppliers nationwide would hire their company to provide promotional materials.

“I would oversee all the employees and the hiring. And I would attend shows, and I knew the suppliers,” says Rodriguez, whose company provided “magnets, pens, apparel … anything and everything you could put a corporate logo on. That made me see what advertising can do, especially in a startup company. … But at the end of the day … it is all about service.”

Rodriguez parlayed that marketing savvy into launching Take A Break Portables, which services about a 75-mile radius straddling North Carolina and Georgia. And with that, she soon laid out a carefully determined path of yellow Satellite Industries units (marked with her company’s trademark bee logo).

“It’s really key to get out there and make a presence,” Rodriguez said in the first PRO story — and she has done just that.

Rodriguez started with 22 restrooms, and after six months, she had an additional 120 units — all were from Hampel Corp., which was acquired by Satellite Industries. It was a strong start, and Rodriguez said at the time, “I truly believe this will be the biggest portable restroom business in the area.” Today, she has more than 900 units in her inventory, all from Satellite Industries. 

While Rodriguez has always been assertive about her marketing, she is more measured in her buying practices, purchasing additional units only on an as needed basis. “I’ve had some really close calls,” she admits, where she had only a few units left on the lot and worried about having enough.

“What’s been helpful for me … is to keep a really close eye on inventory,” she says. “As long as I have maybe 50 plus available in the yard at all times for emergency use, I’m OK.”

TRUCKLOAD BUYING

Take A Break Portables has made several separate restroom purchases, always a truckload at a time. “That’s worked out for me,” she says, adding, “I always know I have to have X amount of units available just for the month of October for many special events … one large attraction is the John C. Campbell Folk School.” The school’s fall festival brings 15,000 to 18,000 attendees over two days; Take A Break Portables supplies 40 to 45 units as well as hand-wash stations, tents and staff every year.

“That is why we do this festival and others … because people know Take A Break Portables will be here to provide excellent service … one of the biggest things that has been a huge success for us is word-of-mouth. Women, especially, appreciate our immaculate restrooms. It’s like a snowball effect,” Rodriguez says.

While that festival is one of Take A Break Portables’ largest special events, Rodriguez says her company mainly focuses on construction sites — the audience she targeted 10 years ago with a “pound the pavement” approach. She started by making cold calls to construction sites across her target area, handing out promotional brochures. That ensured she got her name into decision-makers’ hands. 

Rodriguez’s assertive approach was a very beneficial, especially in the early years. “There’s a system to my madness,” she said shortly after launching, when she estimated that about 80 percent or more of her early contacts turned into jobs. She said, “Keep asking for the business. I must admit that I’m pretty persistent … but I try to take a very soft approach to it. Then I stop and let them respond. There is a fine line, and I try not to cross it.”

As her business expanded, so did her fleet, which started with just one truck — a 2007 Ford F-350. She currently owns a 2016 Dodge Ram 4500 with a 400-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tank, a 2000 Ford F-350 with 300-gallon waste and 240-gallon freshwater tank, and a 2008 Ford F-450 with 300-gallon freshwater tank. “When we set up at all of our events, we can take that truck and haul 10 units at a time,” Rodriguez says. “All we need is fresh water; we don’t need the pump to haul waste; it frees up our service trucks. Right now, it’s working; I don’t feel like I needed to invest in another tank right now.” All tanks are stainless steel from Best Enterprises and carry Conde pumps (Westmoor Ltd.).

She also has 12 300-gallon holding tanks from PolyPortables for commercial account projects and two 28-foot transport trailers from Porta-John Systems to haul 10 units at a time. 

WEDDING SPECIALTY

While Take A Break Portables made its niche and grew its business in the construction sector, Rodriguez soon began getting calls to serve weddings. “As a result, I always keep a certain number of restrooms just for weddings … so (the units) are immaculate,” she says.

Soon, however, that service led her to start another business about five years ago — Mountain Elegance, a wedding event-planning company that rents not only portable restrooms, but also tables, chairs, tents, decorations, linens and other party accessories.

“I never dreamed it would take off the way it has,” Rodriguez says. “No one in this area does rentals. … Little by little, I just started adding to our inventory.” That inventory includes her first restroom trailer — a 16-foot, two-stall unit from Forest River, which she purchased about a year ago.

Now, Rodriguez divides her time between the two businesses under her corporate umbrella, overseeing seven employees and two warehouses of inventory for Mountain Elegance. “It is a balancing act,” she admits, “but I love being busy. I don’t like downtime. I love my work; I love my customers; I have incredible relationships.”

That’s why, despite offers to buy her out, Rodriguez has always declined. “I started this on my own, and this is what I love. … I’m very much connected,” she says.

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

Rodriguez has weathered her share of hardships. Only one month into her launch, Take A Break Portables’ only service truck died, just past its warranty. She has also faced increasing diesel fuel costs and harsh East Coast winters in addition to some private, personal challenges, which took a toll but didn’t keep her from going on.

“It’s (the challenges) made me so much stronger and realize how much I can do,” she says.

At first, Rodriguez did get some stares and questions as a female portable restroom operator. “It was hard,” she recalls. “I wanted these guys (potential customers) to take me seriously, and I had to prove that, and I did. … I’ve never had anyone step out of line.” 

For the first three to four years of her business, Rodriguez drove a truck and serviced restrooms.

“With that, I gained respect really quickly,” she recalls. “They didn’t expect a female — let alone the owner — to come out and clean their (restrooms).”

And while she hasn’t pursued official status as a woman-owned company, she believes she’s landed some clients based on her gender, such as setting up holding tanks for a casino on a nearby Native American reservation. “I think (being a female-owned business) helped. It was basically a cold call.

“I really do think it boils down to the fact that I wanted to have a one-on-one contact; it was a bit surprising to them to see that there was a female there asking for the business. But I do think being a female-owned business does help; I don’t think it’s that common (in this industry).”

Rodriguez says hard work and good fortune were factors in the company’s successful first 10 years. And she intends to keep focusing on all the sound small-businesses practices she’s utilized along the way.

“You cannot treat this as a 9-to-5 job; I’m on call 24/7,” she says. “But we have been incredibly blessed. I don’t take any of that for granted. Don’t think for a second that all of this couldn’t go away.”


Why yellow restrooms?

Do you ever wonder what drives restroom color choices for PROs? Some like green units — presumably to blend into the surrounding woodsy landscape, while others choose purple or orange — presumably to stand out at a crowded festival or busy construction site.

Sherry Rodriguez of Take A Break Portables buys only units in a soft yellow color from Satellite Industries. Why?

She picked the color because “it represents happiness and sunshine. I didn’t want anything dark. I wanted something cheerful and happy and pleasant,” she explains.

“Everywhere you drive, you see yellow portable restrooms,” Rodriguez beams. That familiarity with the Take A Break Portables name and service has served the company well. The yellow units have become as recognizable as her buzzing bee logo.

And the public is used to seeing them. “They stand out. You can see them anywhere. That was real important to me,” she says. Rodriguez adds that a 96-year-old woman once told her, “I see your yellow daffodils all over these mountains.”



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