Whether It’s a Remote Oilfield or a Big-City Special Event, Alberta’s Go Services Is on the Job

Canadian family company is proud to provide clean and quick restroom service and give back to the community that helps them succeed.

Whether It’s a Remote Oilfield or a Big-City Special Event, Alberta’s Go Services Is on the Job

Dustin Cabelka, operations manager for Go Services, talks to a customer in the company office.

Dustin Cabelka admits that when his parents, Devin and Colleen Cabelka, purchased a small portable sanitation business in 2003, he was not a fan of the industry. As a teenager, it was more of a chore for him to help with the family business, pumping and cleaning restrooms. When he was old enough, he followed his father’s footsteps and headed to the oil field and worked on drilling rigs during the winter months. He returned home in the summer to help his grandfather farm and his dad with the portable restrooms.

Go Services started out small with local jobs pumping for farms and lake residences around Bentley, Alberta. “We had a small-company mentality,” Dustin Cabelka says. They set out to do what they promised: deliver services on time and do it well.

That attitude continues today, though Go Services has grown significantly, with more than 650 restrooms and covering a 500-square-mile region of Alberta. Cabelka is no longer a reluctant teenage worker. At 29, he’s a full-time operations manager, as part of a team that makes Go Services grow.

FAMILY BUSINESS

Devin Cabelka started in the portable restroom business serendipitously. He had a good job in the oil field as part of a fracking crew, and he worked for a heavy-haul trucking company that moved rigs to new locations year-round. Then he ran into an old friend who wanted to sell the portable restroom part of his business. Devin Cabelka saw the opportunity to run a family business with Colleen Cabelka, and their three sons, Dustin, Colbin, and Kellin. They started with a pickup truck and 30 PolyJohn Enterprises and Satellite Industries restrooms and kept the business pretty close to home.

Within a few years, the company grew through word-of-mouth testimonials. Companies from Red Deer and within a 50-mile radius started calling. The demand spurred the Cabelkas to start advertising through Google and to go to construction and oil field sites to hand out business cards personally, Dustin Cabelka explains. By 2011, Go Services was growing with about 70 percent of its business in the oil field and 30 percent in construction, with a few residential rentals and events.

With more work coming from the larger city, the Cabelkas moved their shop to Red Deer in 2013. As the business grew, so did the number of employees, including family members.

“We have seven family members who work here. My brother is a mechanic; an uncle heads the shop. Dad is lead for the vac truck operation. Mom handles administrative and the office. A cousin works in the Fort McMurray operation, and an aunt is casual administrative assistant,” Dustin Cabelka says. 

REMOTE-COUNTRY CHALLENGES

It’s easy to grasp the vastness of the area Go Services covers knowing that it is nearly 400 miles between the Red Deer office and Fort McMurray satellite shop. The Red Deer office covers an additional 100 miles south to include Calgary and into British Columbia and Saskatchewan — mostly for power line and pipeline crews. Add to that cold, icy winters and navigating private and backcountry oil field roads and temporary ice roads. Challenges and opportunities abound.

Though the province has few regulations for portable restroom operators, oil, industrial, and construction companies have protocol that must be followed. “Our guys always have the proper gear and tickets to get on any site and show up when they said they would,” Cabelka says.

Through the booms and busts of the oil industry, which is currently showing signs of steady rise, Go Services has managed to maintain oil field clients that make up about 30 percent of its restroom business.

Today the majority of the units, about 55 percent, go out for construction, such as big power line projects. For example: From summer 2013 through late 2015, Go Services supplied more than 150 restrooms for six different companies on a large project that spanned 200 miles. They had one service truck running six days a week to keep up with the rigorous demands of the project.

They also have regular continuous contracts with winter-only drilling operators using the temporary ice roads around Fort McMurray, supplying septic systems, portable toilets, and restroom trailers for drilling, seismic, and pipeline operators to keep crews busy. 

BREAKING INTO EVENTS

The remainder of the company’s business comes from events, which Go Services started to pursue in 2015.

“When the oil industry slowed down, we wondered how to manage the trickle effect that would result with construction slowing down,” Cabelka recalls. “We decided to turn some of our focus to larger events. We have a very well-trained and capable staff that has managed large industrial contracts, and we put the same detailed service mentality into events.”

One of those events is the midsummer rodeo festival, the Ponoka Stampede, which requires 80 restrooms and twice-daily service and pumping holding tanks for 1,500 campers parked at the event. “That was our first big event, and we started picking more up. Now we do all the major events in the Red Deer area,” Cabelka says.

Go Services also handles many other events in the region, including providing portable restrooms and services at the famous Calgary Stampede.

With the additional event work and specific needs of oil field and construction sites, the Cabelkas have invested in a variety of restrooms and specialty units — 550 PJN3 restrooms from PolyJohn Enterprises, 50 Maxim restrooms from Satellite Industries, a five-station restroom trailer by Rich Specialty Trailers, six three-station restroom trailers by Wells Cargo, and 50 heated portable restrooms and 20 two-stall restroom units custom built by a local contractor. Go Services also has 30 Bravo hand-wash stations and six 250-gallon plastic holding tanks from PolyJohn Enterprises, as well as 35 233-gallon septic bladder containment bags from Winkler Canvas.

“We also have partnerships with companies. They get us to supply toilets for industrial jobs and the oil fields,” Cabelka says. In turn, Go Services leases equipment from them such as generators, light stands and office trailers. That allows Go Services to provide specialty items their customers need without investing in equipment that would take time to pay for itself.

MAKING TRACKS

Go Services employees all have class 3 licenses to operate all the trucks in the fleet.

“The Dodge 5500 is the smallest truck we have,” Cabelka says. Jobs for a driver can vary from oil field sites to construction sites to a wedding on a daily route. Dodge trucks work well in the cold and rugged country, along with Kenworth and Peterbilt vacuum trucks. It’s important to have units that can haul up to six portable restrooms and service 50 restrooms at a time. Plus, Go Services has 10 20-foot deck-over trailers from PJ Trailers.

The fleet includes a 2014 4WD Kenworth T400 with an 800-gallon waste and 350-gallon heated freshwater and 100-gallon winter solution tank built by Vacutrux with an Elmira Machine Industries / Wallenstein Vacuum pump; two 2018 Dodge 5500 trucks with Routetrux 516-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tanks from Vacutrux with Wallenstein pumps, heated toolboxes, tank, and valves; a 2017 Dodge 5500 with custom deck from Teamworks Fabricating and a slide-in Vacutrux 250-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater tank and Wallenstein pump; and a 2006 Dodge 3500 with a custom deck from Teamworks Fabricating and slide-in 200-gallon waste and 100-gallon freshwater tank from Vacutrux and a Wallenstein pump. All tanks are steel.

For septic and specialty services, Go Services has two 2016 Peterbilt trucks, one built by Vacutrux with a steel 3,000-gallon tank and Wallenstein pump and one built by Camex Equipment with a steel 3,200-gallon potable water tank. A 2004 Mack built by Custom Vac Services has a 3,000-gallon steel tank, hoist, and vibrator; and a 2015 Peterbilt with a Universal Handling Equipment roll-off rig comes in handy for trash containers.

Three other Dodge trucks — a 2011 5500 flatbed truck, a 2008 3500 dually and a 2010 3500 with a Tommy Gate liftgate — come in handy for a variety of tasks.

“The bigger the tank the better,” Cabelka says, considering technicians often make 250-mile round trips to service restrooms and return to dump them at disposal locations.

“Hauling is an issue because there are very few dump locations, and there is no land spreading,” he notes.

He would like to see Alberta set up the types of programs for land spreading that he hears about from U.S. pumpers at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. Adding regulations would help stop illegal and environmentally harmful dumping that occurs occasionally, and they would create a more even playing field for businesses in the industry, he says.

REACHING CUSTOMERS

“We got rid of print ads a couple of years ago, and we just have a regular listing in phone books,” Cabelka notes. But because of their generous in-kind contributions to a wide variety of local events, Go Services is mentioned often in local newspaper articles.

“We feel that the community we’re in has provided us a way to employ people, and we should give back to the community,” he says. Go Services typically provides free or half-price services for dozens of fundraisers, including runs and sporting events, Habitat for Humanity, and muscular dystrophy and breast cancer events.

To reach new customers, Go Services hires a social media company to take care of Facebook and other social media and to do targeted advertising to event planners, for example. The company also has a comprehensive website to showcase the variety of equipment and services they offer. Customers can read about the company’s leaders, their values and who they support with charitable donations.

To maintain employee satisfaction and retain workers, Go Services pays about 40 percent more than similar companies and cover additional health benefits, Cabelka says. They host Christmas parties and have a staffer who plans year-round incentives for employees. But the biggest thing Go Services may do for its full-time and part-time employees is take the time to train them well.

Though the province of Alberta doesn’t require special training, Go Services does.

“We have our own safety training,” Cabelka says. New employees spend a couple weeks training before they get in a truck, then spend another week or two with a trainer driving the routes. Then they spend another couple weeks learning site-specific protocol for the different oil and construction companies they service.

Colleen Cabelka oversees the safety program; assists with sales, marketing, and dispatching; and handles the accounting, utilizing QuickBooks. Drivers use smartphones and Google Maps to set up their routes because the company hasn’t found tracking software that fits the needs of their remote area, which includes many private roads.

SUNNY OUTLOOK

“The biggest thing (we deal with) is the oil recession,” Dustin Cabelka says. Competition couldn’t compete with services so they slashed prices, and Go Services had to cut prices as well. Though oil field production is on the rise, it’s difficult to raise rates, and margins are tight. To combat that, Go Services recently created a new position for Kent Milgate, for business development, to add new customers and expand the business.

“He’s basically a salesman. It was getting to be too much for me to handle,” Cabelka says. “He opens new doors and finds new work.”

Some of that work is for the septic service side of the business with commercial construction. There are plenty of opportunities for working with new plant sites for petrochemical and oil upgraders where oil is refined into diesel.

“We want to do all the waste management,” Cabelka says. So, Go Services added trash container services recently in addition to fencing, office trailers and other equipment they have available for rent.

Located about 1 1/2 hours from population centers Edmonton to the north and Calgary to the south, Go Services is in a good location for growth, Cabelka explains. With well-trained workers and the company’s family values, he says Go Services is in a good position to compete for business.


Smart regulations wanted

While some portable restroom operators and septic pumpers complain about regulation and paperwork, Dustin Cabelka at Go Services would like the Canadian province of Alberta to set more standards.

“Anyone can get in the business, and there are so many vac trucks out there because of the oil fields,” Cabelka says. With no regulations to control new service providers, he sees a couple of major problems.

First, customers are not educated about septic tank pumping, how tanks and cisterns work, and how to take care of them. Some pumpers come in and don’t do a thorough job, and the tanks have to be pumped again in a relatively short time. Go Services stresses training its employees so they understand how to pump correctly and educate customers.

Secondly, though land spreading is illegal, some operators do it anyway. That is a huge environmental issue, especially when oil and garbage is part of the septage spread from shop sumps.

“Land spreading is good if done right with soil testing,” Cabelka says, adding that land application would make a lot of sense in Alberta, where there are few wastewater treatment plants and large distances between them.

Cabelka has learned a lot about wastewater regulations in the U.S. while attending the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in Indianapolis. He would like to see some reasonable measures taken in Canada that would allow for land spreading and wants to participate in discussions concerning those regulations.

“There is a local wastewater group, and I’d like to talk with them and see if it’s something we can look at,” Cabelka says.



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