Astute Marketing, Hard Work and a Massive Auto Plant Contract Set Gotta Go Site Service Rentals on a Path to Success

Capitalizing on the germ of an idea, Mississippi’s Lauren McGraw didn’t waste any time building a highly successful portable restroom company.

Astute Marketing, Hard Work and a Massive Auto Plant Contract Set Gotta Go Site Service Rentals on a Path to Success

At the Gotta Go Site Service Rentals yard, Trainer Story loads restrooms onto a trailer from Liquid Waste Industries for delivery.

Lauren McGraw can point to several factors that spurred the growth of her portable restroom business, Gotta Go Site Service Rentals, based in Jackson, Mississippi: Service diversity. Investments in restroom trailers. An emphasis on quality and customer service. And a lucky break when Nissan selected Jackson as the site of a manufacturing plant in 2000, dramatically jacking up demand for portable restrooms.

But in the end, McGraw’s unlikely success story — a casino sales manager who took a gamble on a 180- degree career U-turn into the portable restroom industry — rests on one simple principle: Find something no one else wants to do and do it well.

“It’s really not all that complicated,” McGraw says. “It’s also about being persistent — never giving up. It’s not a big secret. You don’t have to be Bill Gates to succeed in business.”

McGraw’s aha! moment came when she was tasked with renting restrooms and other event amenities for a groundbreaking celebration for a new hotel at the Vicksburg casino where she’d been working.

“We had dignitaries coming in from out of town, so things had to look good. I didn’t want to be embarrassed,” she recalls. But despite her best efforts, she couldn’t find a contractor with restrooms suitable for such an occasion. Looking farther afield was problematic, too, as renting units from operators in distant cities was cost-prohibitive.

“This was before there was internet service and cellphones with cameras, so I took a legal pad with me to construction sites and wrote down the phone numbers I saw on restrooms,” she recalls. “I also talked to workers and couldn’t find anyone who would say good things about their suppliers.”

Eventually, McGraw rented restrooms from a vendor in New Orleans. But the experience planted a seed of an idea. After doing more research, McGraw bought 126 restrooms from PolyJohn Enterprises, a service truck from Keith Huber, and a used flatbed trailer.

“I figured if I could rent 100 units a month, I could make the (loan) payment and wouldn’t have to work for someone else anymore,” she says. “I gave the casino my two weeks’ notice about a month after that groundbreaking celebration. They said I could have my job back if it didn’t work out, which kind of poured some fuel on my fire.”

WE HAVE LIFTOFF

Fast-forward 20 years, and it’s easy to see that McGraw, who has a business degree with a minor in marketing, made the right move. The company has a large inventory of restrooms, runs nine restroom service trucks, owns 13 restroom trailers, employs 15 people and has recorded revenue increases every year. It also services special events throughout the state and offers customers complementary add-on services such as roll-off containers for hauling garbage and septic pumping.

“To be honest, I’m still amazed when I look at all the things we’ve added on and didn’t know anything about them at the time,” she says. “I compare it to upselling french fries and shakes if you’re selling burgers. You’ve got to sell those add-ons to clients. If they’re renting restrooms, you might as well tell them what else they’ll need, like holding tanks and roll-off containers.

“There’s a 50-50 chance they’ll say yes,” she adds. “The bottom line is we’re not selling restrooms, we’re selling services.”

The odds were against McGraw. She didn’t know much about the restroom business, and by the time she established the business in July 1997, the deadline for buying ads in local phone books had already passed. “I was worried because that’s where you went for advertising in those days,” she notes.

But after 30 days, she’d rented all 126 restrooms. Better yet, she made $70,000 in that first month and immediately ordered more restrooms. The catalyst for growth? Word-of-mouth referrals and new customers who noted previous poor customer service.

In addition, McGraw was conscious of marketing. She applied highly visible decals with the company phone number on all restrooms and strove to rent restrooms to construction companies working on large residential home developments in high-traffic areas. “We also tried to keep our service routes short and compact to maximize efficiency and profitability,” she adds.

ENTER NISSAN

Three years after McGraw opened Gotta Go, Nissan selected Canton, a Jackson suburb, as the site of a $950 million, 4.7 million-square-foot auto assembly plant. Gotta Go landed the restroom contract for site preparation and other excavating work, which lasted more than a year. It’s hard to underestimate the value of the contract, she says.

“I always say that Nissan made me,” she says. “I knew that if we could get a contract with the first company (general contractor) doing the dirt work, we might get the majority of rentals from subcontractors who’d be coming in from around the United States. So I made a rent-one, get-one-free deal with the dirt contractor. … Eventually we had more than 300 units on site and were billing subcontractors from all over.

“Plus, our restrooms were in photos in local newspapers and on television news reports almost every week because the project got so much media attention,” she adds.

By the time Nissan finished building the plant, Gotta Go owned more than 1,500 restrooms and had quadrupled its revenue. “Being the first restroom vendor on the job site has a lot to do with things,” McGraw explains. “It gives you instant credibility with other contractors who figure if the (general) contractor already is using us, they might as well, too.”

The contract also spurred the company to invest in holding tanks and offer pumping services, too. Why? There was no water or sewer service in what locals referred to as Nissan Trailer City, a sprawling collection of trailer homes that subcontractors used as portable offices.

Servicing the construction site’s restrooms was logistically daunting, especially when employees consistently used restrooms other than the ones their company was renting. To keep things organized for route drivers and the construction workers, McGraw put the names of the customer companies on the respective restrooms, which helped reduce some of the chaos. “To this day, I still do that on large construction sites,” she says.

It was also a battle to convince contractors to not only rent a sufficient number of restrooms to handle the number of on-site employees, but to have them cleaned often enough, too. “You can make recommendations, but they don’t always go for it,” she points out. “So you have to let them do it their way and let the point prove itself. After a while, they tend to realize they need more restrooms and more frequent cleanings.”

LUXURY SERVICE

Investments in restroom trailers also played a critical role in Gotta Go’s growth, particularly in the niche market for special events, which now account for about 30 percent of the company’s restroom-rental revenue. At a Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International show (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport — or WWETT — Show) in 1997, McGraw bought a trailer made by Ameri-Can Engineering.

“No one else in our area had them,” she explains. “I thought it was a cool idea and figured it would rent, which it did. I gave customers discounts just to try one out. After a while, I bought several more used trailers.

“Since then, our special event business took off,” she continues. “After we decided to market them more, demand exploded. When customers try a trailer, they love it.” While Gotta Go rents most trailers for special events, McGraw says she also periodically obtains long-term rentals for commercial-grade restroom trailers used during bathroom-remodeling projects in office buildings or gas stations, for example.

Today the company has restrooms from Satellite Industries, Poly Portables, T.S.F., and Five Peaks; hand-wash stations from Satellite Industries and T.S.F.; and 13 restroom trailers, all from Satellite Industries except single units from Rich Specialty Trailers and JAG Mobile Solutions. In addition, the company owns nine restroom service trucks. Four of the vehicles are Ford F-550s equipped with 1,000-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tanks made by Keith Huber. The remaining vehicles are Ford F-250s that each carry a 300-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater stainless steel slide-in tank made by Progress Tank. All nine trucks are equipped with Masport pumps.

The company also relies on a Ford F-350 and two Ford F-250 delivery trucks, as well as trailers made by FGM, Liquid Waste Industries and Texas Bragg Trailer. In addition, the company uses plastic holding tanks (usually 440-gallon capacity) made by Kentucky Tank or T.S.F. McGraw says she buys larger holding tanks because it costs the same amount of money to deliver them, whether big or small, and customers inevitably need more capacity than they anticipate.

In late 2013, Gotta Go entered the market for roll-off containers. The premise was simple: Wherever there’s construction, there’s also debris. To service customers, the company owns a 2015 Western Star with a Stellar Industries hoist system and a 2010 Mack with a Galbreath hoist and about 150 containers, mostly made by Plum Creek Environmental Technologies, plus some made by Wastequip and Containers Inc.

IMPORTANT LESSONS

Looking back, McGraw says sheer determination also was critical to the company’s success. “I wasn’t going to fail — just wasn’t going to happen,” she says. “I just had a son born in 1996, so I knew it was going to have to work.”

As for the future, McGraw says she plans to continue the company’s intense focus on the principles that helped it grow so dramatically over the last 20 years: Find underserved niche markets. Lead in quality service, not the lowest price. Be humble. And always be grateful for every customer — not just the big ones.

“I know customers have a choice — they don’t have to use us,” she explains. “And if they’ve chosen to use us and trust us, that means a lot to me. Small customers are just as important to me as the big ones.

“In fact, we won’t take large jobs — like disaster assistance or one-time big construction jobs — if they’ll prevent us from providing great service for our smaller customers,” she notes. “Those big one-time jobs come and go, but it’s the small customers that are there all the time.”


Tragedy spurs McGraw to fight for DUI parental notifications

After the suicide of her 20-year-old son Rivers following his 2016 arrest for driving under the influence, Lauren McGraw was determined to advocate for legislation that would have prevented his death.

Before Mississippi state legislators passed new legislation in mid-2017, police weren’t required to notify parents if their children, ages 18 to 21, had been arrested for DUI. Because of that loophole, McGraw was unaware that Rivers — who had been cited for DUI two years earlier and went through rehab — had been arrested. He was released from jail after a friend posted the bond.

“He was in college going for a construction-management degree,” McGraw says. “He was eventually going to take over the business, which he grew up in.

“He fell off the wagon and got a second DUI and I knew nothing about it,” she continues. “He got scared and panicked. … And within three hours of being released by the police, he went out and used drugs, then shot himself. I know he would be alive today if they had contacted me. My child and most children that old are still on their parents’ dime … parents are paying for the cars they’re driving and the car insurance, so they should have the right to know when something like a DUI arrest occurs.”

Under the so-called Rivers’ Law, nonjuvenile minors arrested for drug use or DUI in Mississippi now must be held for up to eight hours until a parent is contacted. “I just know that all parents would want to know about an arrest so they can get help for their children,” McGraw says. “If your child had cancer, you’d want to know so you could get treatment.”

It wasn’t easy for McGraw to find time to testify on behalf of the bill, which was opposed by law-enforcement officials. “It was hard — I’d just lost my child,” she says. “But I felt that if the face of the mother who lost the child wasn’t there, it would be a lot easier for legislators to vote against it. So I ran down there (to the state capital building in Jackson) every time it was brought up for discussion.”

It also was difficult because Rivers had been a well-known football player at a top-ranked local prep school. “People were surprised that I spoke out — stepped out and said this was a problem,” she says. “Too often parents are too embarrassed to say anything. … But we need to have an open discussion about things like addiction.

“I should’ve been called,” she adds. “But I don’t blame anyone. I just didn’t want it to happen to another parent. Let’s be sure parents know so they can get their children into rehab and try to save them.”




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