When Something Goes Wrong, Chris Hoppe and His Crew Become Problem-Solvers

Rural Wisconsin outdoor music festival for millennials offers many fun and exciting challenges for Powers Liquid Waste Management.

When Something Goes Wrong, Chris Hoppe and His Crew Become Problem-Solvers

Temporary worker Ethan Lamirande washes a bank of Satellite Industries restrooms at the music festival.

THE TEAM

Chris Hoppe and his wife, Shannon, are the owners of Powers Liquid Waste Management in New Richmond, Wisconsin. It’s primarily a septic pumping company, but about 25 percent of their work is portable restrooms. They have one full-time employee, Zac Parfitt, but for three days twice a year, they bring in an additional 20 or so people to help out at two large music festivals, mostly family and friends including daughter Ashley Vanasse and her husband, Steve; veteran helpers Gary Utecht and Craig Thomas; and brother-in-law Roger Rineck, who’s been a key player in the portable restroom side of the business. Ethan Lamirande came on board early to help with setup.

COMPANY HISTORY

Hoppe’s grandfather, Calvin Bud Powers, started the business in 1953 pumping septic systems. At one time, he also built portable restrooms to rent out. Different parts of the company were eventually taken over by his sons, with septic going to Hoppe’s aunt and uncle Daren and Tammy Powers in the 1980s. Hoppe worked for them until 2006 when he and his wife purchased the business. He added portable restrooms when he bought out a cousin in 2011, then a competitor a few years later, and eventually 50 units from Satellite Industries. The current inventory is about 210 units.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

While working for his uncle, Hoppe occasionally picked up additional income doing security work at the Somerset Amphitheater. One music festival in the mid-1990s got out of control, and the company providing portable restrooms refused to go in and clean them even though halfway through the multiday event the units were full. “The owner at the time knew what I did,” Hoppe says, “So they paid me to take my septic truck in and pump them out.” Over the next few years, he occasionally provided a similar service.

In 2011, a new owner came in and built permanent restrooms and campgrounds. He used his own portable restrooms for events and had Hoppe service them, but as more units were needed, Hoppe got into the portable restroom business and started providing them.

THE MAIN EVENT

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival took place the weekend of Aug. 11‑13, 2017 at the 160‑acre Somerset Amphitheater in Somerset. Main activities for the millennial crowd were electronic dance music on multiple stages; camping; tubing down the Apple River; and, of course, eating and drinking. The event usually attracts about 20,000 people, but it was about half that in 2017 due to logistical issues affecting the promoter.

THE JOB

The company was tasked with providing and servicing portable restrooms, a restroom trailer, hand-wash stations, and holding tanks. They also serviced facility-owned units, restroom and shower trailers brought in by another vendor, and on-site permanent restrooms and showers. In addition, they pumped out RVs.

BY THE NUMBERS

Hoppe brought in 100 standard Satellite Industries Tufways to supplement the facility’s 60 units and eight Satellite Industries Liberty wheelchair-accessible units. For food vending areas, he supplied six PolyPortables hand-wash stations, six hand sanitizer stands (built by a friend), and six 250- and 500-gallon holding tanks. He also brought in one six-stall restroom trailer and one 1,500-gallon waste tank for the VIP Campground shower.

Units were set up in six groups of eight in the South Campground and one group of eight and three groups of five in the North Campground. The rest were sprinkled throughout the facility in production and backstage areas, security check‑in, box office, parking lots, vendor areas, medical and police, front of house and the artist compound.

A map helped the team keep track of everything, but Hoppe says a lot of it was just familiarity. “All I can tell you is we have a plan of action that consists of starting here and finishing there,” he says. A spotter hired by the production company circulated through the facility checking restrooms. Any problems and Hoppe would have been called immediately. “But our goal,” he says, “and my guarantee is that they don’t have to call us. We promise our service to be that good.”

LET’S ROLL

Parfitt and Lamirande started delivering equipment a week before the event using a Ford F‑550 vacuum truck, a Ford F‑450 flatbed, 8- and 16-place hauling trailers, as well as a flatbed car trailer for the wheelchair-accessible units and hand-wash stations. Before opening day, units were pressure washed, sanitized with lemon sanitizer from Supply Solutions, and freshened with coconilla-scented deodorizer from J&J Chemical.

KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN

By Friday, all temporary help was on board, and the company started servicing everything three times a day. The first round began at 8 a.m., starting with the campgrounds. They used a 2012 Ford F‑550 built out by Lely Tank & Waste Solutions with a 750-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank and a 2006 Sterling built out by Presvac Systems with a 5,000-gallon aluminum tank, both with National Vacuum Equipment pumps.

At 9 a.m., the team assigned to the permanent restrooms started cleaning and stocking — first the artists’ facilities, and then VIP camping, then the four buildings containing 30 toilets each. Working in shifts, they continually rotated through the facility until midnight.

By 10 a.m., the concert site opened and the team got a chance to head out to the Sportsmans Bar and Grill for breakfast. “All my guys go in and eat whenever they’re hungry,” Hoppe says. “We run a tab, and at the end of the concert, I go in and pay.” Another favorite spot was General Sam’s Bar and Grill. “Happy employees are hardworking employees,” Hoppe notes. After returning to the venue, they checked everything and started in on RVs.

The 3 p.m. service went faster because not all units needed servicing. Two people in each truck facilitated movement through crowds, but generally people were appreciative and happy to get out of the way, Hoppe reports. During the afternoon break, team members either went home or headed over to Hoppe’s house for socializing or a snooze on the lawn. Then, they returned and checked everything. The last service was at 9 p.m., in time for the midnight after-parties. The company had a key to the local treatment plant and made one or two trips each day.

GO WITH THE FLOW

Hoppe’s philosophy for servicing events that can sometimes be a bit chaotic is to have a laser focus on doing the job and not getting concerned about anything else going on around them. “We’re able to shut all that off,” he says. “My people’s jobs are to keep the toilets clean so that the people that hire us — their customer — are happy. That’s what we worry about.” If something comes up that affects them, they love the challenge of figuring out how to deal with it on the fly. If somebody else needs help, they’re on it.

Two unplanned situations in 2017 that impacted them were the appearance of unscheduled pop-up stages at random locations, causing an increase in portable restroom usage in unexpected areas, and the overuse of a bank of units in the handicap camping area when tubing companies chose to pick up their customers. Those are the types of things Hoppe will discuss with the facility manager in preparation for next year’s festival, along with any changes the producers plan to make.

“It’s controlled chaos,” Hoppe says. “That’s what I like. When there’s a problem and you can solve it quickly — especially if it’s outside your scope of work — that’s even better.” He also enjoys the camaraderie. “You have your tense moments when everybody’s tired, but you also have your funny moments.”



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