Cast Your Line and Reel in the Big Fish

Construction is hot and heavy across the U.S. Follow these tips to land a game-changing customer.

Cast Your Line and Reel in the Big Fish

A PRO services a restroom at a Georgia coastal city construction site. (File photo)

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As summer faded away to fall, I kept hearing about the frenetic pace of construction restroom work from PROs. Just yesterday I called the owner of a small company and he picked up the phone as he was trying to keep up on his daily route.

“How’s the demand for construction units?” I ask. “Oh man,” he replies, “I don’t know where all this work is coming from.” Residential, commercial, roadwork … an economic revival was stretching him to his limits. But it was all good.

I was not surprised to hear this. Because I’d been hearing it since the snow melted in the spring here up north. And from PROs in warmer climates, I’d been hearing that the slow season has been shrinking in duration for the past several years, and now some PROs are lucky to get a holiday break from the hectic pace. 


Statistics released by Dodge Data & Analytics during the heat of the summer confirmed the trend toward more units going out on job sites. In June, for example, new construction starts climbed 11 percent overall to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of nearly $900 billion. The trend was led by nonresidential building, up 57 percent thanks in part to huge projects including a $6.5 billion uranium processing facility in Tennessee, a $1.7 billion petrochemical plant in Texas and a $1.8 billion office tower in New York.

Residential construction was called “resilient,” without the major spikes, but just enjoying steady growth despite higher building material prices and rising interest rates to finance the building. Multifamily housing starts were up the most in the New York; Miami; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Seattle metro markets. Single-family growth was up year-over-year 11 percent in the West, 5 percent in the South Atlantic, 4 percent in the South Central, 2 percent in the Northeast and 1 percent in the Midwest regions.

“The monthly pattern for construction starts will often reflect the presence or absence of very large projects, and after May received a lift from unusually large projects, it was even more true in June,” states Robert A. Murray, chief economist for Dodge.

“Several features of the first half of 2018 stand out, as shown by the construction start statistics,” Murray continues. “Nonresidential building so far this year has seen gains for manufacturing buildings, educational facilities, and amusement-related facilities, while office building starts have stayed close to last year’s pace.”

Two questions come to mind for readers of Portable Restroom Operator:

  1. Are you participating in this strong trend in construction spending?
  2. And if not, how can you muscle your way into this lucrative market?


One thing is certain about the construction side of portable sanitation: Landing a big customer can be a game-changer for your company.

Let’s say a new hospital is being built in your community next year and the restroom contractor chosen for the job will provide 100 restrooms for a period of two years, along with twice-weekly service and maybe a restroom trailer, a few office trailers, and a large order of fencing. That one customer will cover a technician’s salary, help pay for a truck and other equipment, and raise your bottom line for the foreseeable future.

Take a look at a sizable special event you serve. Now consider that hospital gig is generating revenue like your biggest outdoor festival … every month and even through the winter. I’m sure you are always on the lookout for these golden opportunities. If they have been elusive to you so far — or you’ve had a taste of one big construction project and you’re looking for more — there’s much planning to do before you kick it into high gear for 2019.

Here are a couple of things to think about as you strategize for the future:

Gear up for construction.

When you go to the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in a few months, look for equipment that will help you market specifically to construction customers large and small. To crack big, multistory building sites, look at high-rise restrooms, compact trucks that maneuver into tight spaces, specialty trailers that might be needed, fencing, and barricades. Look for safety equipment required on major work sites. Tap into OSHA regulations, and get your drivers trained on accepted safety practices. Beyond a solid bid for the work, make sure potential construction customers are aware you are focused on the training necessary to get the job done right and without accidents or injuries.

Start networking with the right people.

Don’t just wait to be asked for a request for proposal, or RFP, for future construction projects. You want to know about these big jobs before anyone else hears about them. For that, you need to spend a lot of time reaching out to local folks plugged into economic development. If you haven’t joined your local chamber of commerce, make that a goal for this winter. Pay attention to your local government economic-development efforts. Attend regional planning agency meetings, or find out if you can watch them online to keep pace on what companies are proposing building where. Contact local, state, and national homebuilding groups, and get involved. Make local business your business, and good things will happen.

Register your business with the U.S. General Services Administration.

Don’t just assume you’ll hear about that public infrastructure project coming to your town. Wade into the often complex, but often rewarding world of U.S. GSA procurement. Through the GSA, $45 billion in subcontracted work was awarded in 2016, and that would include portable sanitation for federal, state, and local construction projects. For 2018, GSA vendor subcontracting goals included 26.5 percent for small businesses, 5 percent each for small disadvantaged businesses and woman-owned small businesses, and 3 percent each for Historically Underutilized Business zone small businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

To qualify for a variety of government contracts, most small companies must show a two-year track record in business and annual revenue of at least $25,000. GSA awards 42 percent of eligible dollars to small businesses.

Becoming an approved GSA vendor can be a daunting task, but you’ll find some help in your journey. The website has hundreds of pages of information explaining the program and how small businesses like yours can benefit from becoming an approved vendor. You can also work with small-business specialists with the GSA at 22 regional U.S. offices. Your closest office for help is found on this list:

Broaden your reach for big jobs.

Most PROs give a lot of thought to their service territory. They know that venturing too far from their home base raises the cost of providing service and can cut into sometimes narrow profit margins. Excess driving time, fuel, wear and tear on equipment ­— they all tend to dampen efforts to expand. But the possibility of landing a major construction project may rightfully tempt you to take action. If you hear about a big job even 100 to 200 miles away from home, give some serious thought to placing a bid — one where the profits would justify the complications.

Polish up your company image.

Big construction contracts may come with an expectation of elevated service. You can raise the bar this winter in preparation for going after these bigger jobs. Look into rebranding your business with new colors for the trucks, change up the uniforms for technicians, pay for a new logo and show it off on an updated website. If you haven’t done so already, rid your trucks of remnants of potty humor. Get your restroom inventory in better shape by culling out the worst units and upgrading all restrooms with hand sanitizers or hand-wash sinks. Clients who will be spending big bucks with you will demand professional appearance in addition to professional service.. 


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