Surround Yourself With Family Members When You Want to Get the Job Done Right

A trustworthy team, women-owned business status and major airport construction contract jump-started the growth process for New Jersey’s Potty Pros.

Surround Yourself With Family Members When You Want to Get the Job Done Right

What started out as a lighthearted joke has morphed into a serious business for Nicole Murray. During the last six years, she has parlayed prior business experience, a strong work ethic and her status as a certified woman-owned company into a successful portable sanitation firm, Potty Pros, based in Jackson, New Jersey.

Other key factors in her success: support from numerous family members, many of whom work for the company, and a strong emphasis on customer service. “We’re not a huge company, so I personally speak to almost all my customers,” she explains. “When someone calls, they talk to either me or Elaine (mother-in-law Elaine Murray). A lot of customers appreciate the personal attention.”

Nicole Murray’s deep dive into the world of portable sanitation started innocuously enough in early fall of 2011 when a fax arrived at the office of a business run by Elaine Murray. It contained a list of trades that the state of New Jersey had designated as good opportunities for women’s business enterprises, or WBEs. Included on the list: portable restroom operators. Elaine Murray relayed the information to her daughter-in-law.

“Elaine and I joked about it,” Nicole Murray says. “But then I started to research it. And the more I learned, the more intrigued I got. I had worked for my father’s insurance company for about 10 years, but I stopped working when I had kids. But I was bored — needed to spread my wings a bit.”

While getting establishing in a field she knew nothing about was daunting, Murray certainly wasn’t a business neophyte. She had a front-row seat for business education 101 during the 10-year stint working with her father, Kenneth Dadd Sr. “I saw what starting a business is all about — logistics and customer service,” she says.

In addition, her mother-in-law ran a WBE and provided critical guidance. “Running a business was the norm for me, thanks to my father and mother-in-law,” she says.

In fact, the business has become a complete family affair. Murray’s husband, Joseph Murray Jr., handles sales and project management; her father-in-law, Joseph Murray Sr., serves as shop manager; and Elaine Murray manages customer service. About 70 percent of the company’s revenue comes from construction-related and long-term rentals, with special events generating the balance, she says.

“I’ve always worked with family members and found it’s a huge positive,” Nicole Murray says when asked about the pros and cons of working with family. “It works as long as you have boundaries between business and family — everyone has to be on the same page. I trust my family more than anyone else, so that’s who I want by my side. It’s a comfort-level thing for me.

“That’s not to say that we don’t all have our moments,” she adds. “But you just have to keep things professional. … If you’re mad about something, you have to put it aside and deal with it later. But overall, working with family isn’t as bad as people might think.”

WBE BENEFITS

While Murray brought business chops to the table, it was the WBE certifications — one for the state of New Jersey, obtained in 2013, and another for New York, granted in 2016 — that really jump-started her business. (In 2015, she also obtained WBE certification from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.) “That definitely was big,” she says of the WBE certifications. “A lot of big companies have to hire a certain percentage of minority-owned businesses. And as far as I know, I’m the only WBE in New Jersey that rents portable restrooms. So that gave us a leg up, for sure.”

Murray describes the process of obtaining WBE certification as very intense and time-consuming. “The application is very thick,” she explains. “You really have to do your homework.” Applicants also must undergo background checks and allow various government officials to examine their companies’ books to prove that they have operational control of the business.

Business owners apply for WBE certification after a business is established, not vice versa. Furthermore, they must prove they own, control and operate 51 percent of a company. WBE certification makes companies eligible to bid on corporate contracts as a minority business, while Women-Owned Small Business certification is required to bid on federal contracts. (Visit www.sba.gov/contracting/government-contracting-programs/women-owned-small-businesses for details).

Any advice for PROs who might be considering becoming a certified WBE? Talk to as many WBE owners as possible, Murray says. “And don’t go into it full force,” she suggests. “Take things slow. The process can be intimidating and overwhelming.” Websites such as www.wbenc.org are a great resource, she adds.

It helps to plan ahead, too. In Murray’s case, for example, she knew she’d also want to do business in the state of New York. So she also obtained WBE certification from New York. “Get as many certificates as you can so when you want to expand, you’re ready,” she advises. “It’s better to get everything in order ahead of time.”

Contractors typically find WBEs by using online directories of certified contractors. In addition, Murray says she pays about $800 a month to a local bid-service company that tracks all the low bids on construction projects in her market. “So I can reach out to contractors and ask them if they’re looking for portable restroom quotes for their projects,” she explains. “To stay in front of contractors and remind them that we are a WBE, we also market heavily through ads in contractors’ trade magazines and cold-calling and emailing, using names from our bid-lead service.”

A FOOT IN THE DOOR

As a note of caution, Murray points out that construction contractors must make only a “good-faith effort” to find WBEs. If contractors can’t find WBEs, the WBEs aren’t qualified, or the WBE quotes are higher than other quotes, they don’t have to use a WBE. “And if we provide poor service, our WBE certificate won’t save us from being fired, either,” she adds. “People think WBE certifications are a meal ticket, but they’re really not.

“We are not guaranteed work,” she continues. “We still have to be competitive and provide great service. It just provides more of an opportunity to bid on projects. … But it still has to be a competitive environment.” To keep contractors honest, contractors are required to maintain a list of all the WBEs they contacted for bids. That way, if contractors’ percentage of required minority businesses fall short and they face a fine, they can defend themselves by showing they made a good-faith effort, she says.

WBEs also should expect more time-consuming paperwork. For instance, some government agencies require WBEs to report the monthly income generated on a certain project. “This can take a few hours a month, depending on how many projects you have going at one time,” Murray says. “The agencies do this because they want to be sure you’re getting paid and also to be sure the contractors actually are using our service, not just saying they do on paper.”

The system of checks and balances works, Murray notes, citing an instance where a restroom bid for a six-month project was awarded by a small contractor — but the contractor never actually asked for any restrooms to be delivered.

“I would get an email once a month from the contractor, showing how much money the company paid us, which always was zero because it never placed an order. So I kept reporting to the (governing) agency that we weren’t involved with the project. I guess the agency finally realized the contractor was lying about using us because the contractor eventually gave us a frantic phone call, asking us to deliver restrooms.”

 Along with the bidding opportunities, Murray also relies on social media to market her company, as well as tried-and-true promotional staples such as putting decals on restrooms. “The rest all came from word-of-mouth referrals,” she says. “People either heard our name or saw our trucks. Plus our technicians wear company-branded shirts and sweatshirts. On the backs it says, ‘That’s how I roll,’ with a graphic of a toilet-paper roll.”

HUGE CONTRACT PAYS OFF

A critical turning point for Potty Pros occurred in 2016, when Murray bid on and won a six-year contract to provide 150 restrooms and 50 hand-wash stations for a construction company doing work at LaGuardia Airport in the New York City borough of Queens. That forced Murray to ramp up the company’s resources, including the purchase of three new pump trucks and hiring five new employees who are dedicated just to the work at LaGuardia Airport, six days a week.

Murray used word-of-mouth referrals and social media to recruit new drivers. For example, she sometimes asks her drivers to post job openings on their Facebook pages, to maximize exposure.

Taking on the LaGuardia Airport project was a big risk, especially considering the significant capital investment for new trucks, for which the company took out loans. “My reaction to getting the contract? ‘Holy crap!’” Murray says with a laugh. “It was scary and still is scary — we’re still learning. But we go with the flow, take each day as it comes and handle problems as they arise.”

For example, bitterly cold temperatures last January froze the waste tanks’ contents solid. “When it gets crazy cold like that, it still freezes, even with brine water,” she says. “It was a tough situation. We had to wait for Mother Nature to work her magic.”

It takes about an hour to drive to LaGuardia Airport. Traffic congestion is a problem, especially during summer. To avoid the heavier traffic congestion, drivers often leave around 4:30 a.m. to start their routes, which include about 50 restrooms for each driver to pump and clean, she says.

THE BIG FLEET

As the company expanded, so did its roster of vehicles and equipment. For restroom service, the company relies on two 2017 Isuzu NPRs outfitted by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks with a 900-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank; two Dodge Ram 5500s that each carry a 900-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater and 200-gallon auxiliary stainless steel tank made by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks; a 2016 Chevrolet 4500 with a 300-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater aluminum slide-in tank made by TankTec; a 2007 Freightliner M2 with a self-fabricated 300-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater steel slide-in tank; a 2006 Ford F-450 with a 600-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank built by Satellite Industries; a 2004 Isuzu with a 800-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank manufactured by FMI Truck Sales & Service; a 2004 Kenworth T300 with a 1,100-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater steel tank made by Keith Huber; and a 2003 Ford F-250 and a 2011 Ford F-350 used for pickups and deliveries. All the vacuum trucks feature Masport pumps.

In addition, the company owns 1,400 standard restrooms, manufactured primarily by PolyJohn, Satellite Industries, and PolyPortables, a division of Satellite; about 50 handicapped-accessible units, mostly from PolyJohn; roughly 100 hand-wash stations from PolyJohn; about 25 VIP restrooms with sinks and flush toilets, built by PolyJohn; 35 office-trailer system setups from PolyJohn; and one two-stall restroom trailer from Black Tie Products. Workers also use a Toro TX 425 compact utility loader to move restrooms in the yard.

To improve efficiency, the company invested in route management software called The Service Program, developed and sold by Westrom Software. It’s compatible with QuickBooks software from Intuit. “Before that, pretty much everything was handwritten — even invoices. It’s crazy how much has changed over time,” Murray says. “All our (drivers) have Samsung tablets that we use to communicate with them.”

To increase cash flow, Potty Pros bills customers every four weeks instead of every calendar month. Murray has always done billing that way because it provides an extra billing cycle annually. “I know it’s the same amount of revenue either way, but I feel it’s just easier to do it this way,” she explains.

WORKING WITH COMPETITORS

One thing surprised Murray about the industry: Competitors in New Jersey typically are willing to work together. For example, in fall 2017, a client needed a restroom trailer and the unit Potty Pros owns was already booked. So she called a competitor and rented a restroom trailer from the company. “It was very last-minute and they gave us a good deal on the trailer,” she says. “It was very cool. It’s so different in the insurance business, where everyone is trying to beat each other’s prices in order to get a customer’s business.

“But here, sometimes I need a competitor’s services and sometimes they need ours, too,” she continues. “It’s good (to partner up). … We have a lot of mutual respect for each other.”

So far, Murray says she has no regrets about her decision to enter the portable restroom industry. “The ride so far has been bumpy at times, but also fun,” she says. “Like with any business, there are a lot of ebbs and flows and ups and downs.”

Potty Pros has doubled its revenue every year since its inception. Murray is very pleased about that and has no qualms about maintaining that pace — as long as it doesn’t impair the company’s ability to provide good customer service. “We remain gung-ho, but I have no problem pulling in the reins if need be,” she says. “At this point, I’m just going to see where it all takes me.”


Bold and blue

For a one-two punch of marketing and productivity at Potty Pros in Jackson, New Jersey, it’s tough to beat the company’s three new service trucks, says owner Nicole Murray.

The marketing muscle comes from the trucks’ distinctive baby-blue color, which helps them get noticed by potential customers and differentiates them from competitors’ vehicles. Murray says she got the idea from her mother-in-law, Elaine Murray, who had the trucks used for her landscaping business painted a bright pink. “I thought it would be cool to mirror those with baby-blue trucks,” she says. “They’re very eye-catching. People actually stop and tell our drivers how cool they look.”

Do the trucks generate sales? “Oh my gosh, yes,” she emphasizes. “Especially when we use them at special events.”

For productivity, Murray cites the Isuzu cab-over design, which makes them very maneuverable in tight spots. That’s important because all three trucks are used to service restrooms rented for construction workers at LaGuardia Airport in Queens and throughout New York City.



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