Pennsylvania Couple Works Hard to Know Customers, Other Service Contractors Who Serve the Marketplace

For D&S Portable Toilets, business networking and effective marketing and communication drive revenue growth.

Pennsylvania Couple Works Hard to Know Customers, Other Service Contractors Who Serve the Marketplace

Dennis Kline prepares to service a Satellite Suites restroom trailer using a Ford F-550 carrying a Pik Rite tank and Conde (Westmoor) pump.

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When Dennis Kline heard about the Home Builders Association of Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2009, he casually thought it would probably be a pretty good thing to join. He and his wife, Sara Kline, had just started a portable restroom company, D&S Portable Toilets, and were trying to get their name out. They joined the builders’ group their second year, and it turned out to have a huge impact on their business, providing just the breakthrough they were looking for.

The contacts they made really started opening doors. A few years later, they joined the area’s Chamber of Commerce, which was also valuable. Of course, getting in the door is only half the story. Staying there is the other half, and the Klines work hard at providing good service and delivering on promises made.

The couple operates the business out of their 8-acre property in Hamburg. They have one full-time employee. They also call upon temporary help as needed, particularly for large events. Their service territory covers three counties, or about a 40-mile radius.

SWITCHING INDUSTRIES

Prior to starting the company, Dennis Kline worked for a printing equipment manufacturer, servicing and building equipment as well as training people. But when business dropped off, he lost his job. “With the way the printing industry was going, and the internet, not many people were getting things printed any more,” he explains.

A friend of his, Rodney Loeb, owned a septic business and had a hunch the area could use a portable restroom company, so he suggested Kline buy some units and give it a try. Kline took the advice and bought eight PolyPortables, a division of Satellite, units and a Pik Rite slide-in tank. He built the truck using the chassis of a Ford F‑450. “We put a flatbed on the back of it with the tank and we were in business,” he says. He hit the pavement, and Loeb helped spread the word.

Getting up to speed in an unfamiliar industry was not overly challenging for the Klines. Sara Kline came to the table with a background in accounting and Dennis Kline had occasionally helped Loeb with septic work and also had a general knowledge of mechanics, so he knew how the trucks worked. “Rodney coached me a little bit, and then I learned as I went,” he says. They’ve also been regular attendees at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show since their first year.

MAKING CONTACT

Business started out slow and steady, and they soon bought 20 more units. But growth really picked up when they joined the Home Builders Association and connected with construction companies. Association members prefer to use the services of other members.

“And since we were the only portable restroom company in the organization, they were ecstatic,” Dennis Kline says. “It was a big deal. That grew our business a lot. As long as you get your face out there, they’ll work with you.” He attends monthly meetings and mixers and currently sits on the board of their charitable organization, the HBA Restoring Hope Foundation, which helps needy families with housing renovations.

Kline says they joined the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce because he knew other businesses in it and they found it helpful. “It’s just one more way of getting your name out,” he says. It’s also been helpful as a way to get referrals for such things as insurance. Again, attending the events is what gets you noticed, he says.

With the growth in business, the company now has 425 standard, 20 wheelchair-accessible, and four flushable restrooms; 12 large and six small hand-wash stations; and four 300-gallon holding tanks — all from Satellite Industries. Red is the favored color: “Nobody else had that color in our area and I like red,” Kline says. “It stands out — you can see them.”

The company’s service vehicles — which are housed and serviced inside a 30-by-60-foot shop on the Kline’s property — include the Pik Rite slide-in tank, now mounted on a 2017 Ford F‑550. It has a 300-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater steel tank and a Conde (Westmoor) pump. Another 2017 Ford F‑550 carries a Satellite Industries 650-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank and Masport pump.

For pickup and delivery, they use a 2016 Ford F‑550 with a Crescent Tank 650-gallon waste and 350-gallon freshwater flat steel tank and a Masport pump. It can carry six units. They also have a 1999 Ford F‑450 with a flatbed that carries four units and tows their transport trailers, a 10-unit hauler from F.M. Mfg. and a 14-unit from Pik Rite.

THE EVENT BUSINESS

While the company has a good 50-50 mix of year-round residential and commercial construction, in the summer, events account for about half their work. “We do a lot of weekend rentals — parties, festivals, carnivals, you name it,” Kline says. They also provide units at high school sports fields and parks.

One of their first events was the annual Taste of Hamburg‑er Festival. Event organizers called for only four units the first year, but now it’s grown into one of the country’s larger hamburger celebrations and in 2017 attracted 40,000 visitors to the town of 4,000. D&S Portable Toilets supplied 50 units.

Their biggest event is the World War II Weekend sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, which also brings in about 40,000 people. The three-day festival includes reenactments, 1940s-era music, first-person accounts, and rides in reconditioned WWII planes. In D&S Portable Toilets’ early years, Kline would look at that event and figure they just weren’t big enough to do it.

“But when they called me three years ago asking if we could help them out, I just said, ‘OK, what do you need?’ We scavenged and scrounged and got what we needed,” he says. In 2017 the company supplied 100 portable restrooms, 10 hand-wash stations, three holding tanks and a restroom trailer. They brought in all their vacuum trucks and enough part-timers to ensure cleaning was done quickly and trucks could maneuver safely through the attendees — 1,700 reenactors and 200 old military jeeps and tanks.

“Safety is definitely key when you’re servicing in the middle of an event like that,” Sara Kline says. “You have to be very conscious of your surroundings to make sure everyone is safe. Many of the attendees just have no idea. They’re not doing it to be malicious, but they’re sometimes just oblivious to you driving the truck.” The team stayed on site during the entire festival to make sure units were serviced and stocked — and to enjoy the event and check out some of the behind-the-scenes action. Trips were made, as needed, to the local wastewater treatment plant.

In 2017 the company invested in a three-stall Satellite Suites restroom trailer. Before the year was out, they bought two more. “We bought one and it went over really well so we decided to buy a second one in the spring,” Dennis Kline explains. “And then the first one got rented out for six to eight months for a BMW dealer doing renovations so we had to buy a third one to make up for it.” He says he wasn’t planning on the BMW job, but the contractor doing the renovation recommended him. The trailers are mostly used for growing outdoor wedding business, as are their flushable units.

CLIENT RETENTION

Good service was the Klines’ going-in mantra — without that, you’re going nowhere, Dennis Kline says. His business philosophy is pretty straightforward: “Show up every week and keep your units clean. If you keep them happy, they’re going to talk. Then the next person is happy and they’re going to talk.”

To help with cleaning units, the company has 12‑volt pressure washers from Cat Pumps on the service trucks. “They’re plumbed in on the trucks and we have hose reels with pressure washer guns,” Kline says. All units are pressure-washed on site every week. Back at the shop, they have a 3,200 psi Simpson/Delco pressure washer for hosing down equipment between deployments. They use Satellite Industries QuickScents deodorizer packets.

Construction units are kept separate from those used for events. “When we get a new unit, for the first couple years it’s for events only,” Kline says. “When it’s not looking brand new anymore, it goes to construction.” Units are numbered and have ID tags so it’s easy to track when each unit was purchased.

Employees are supplied with shirts, hats, jackets and sweatshirts. “I want everybody who works for me wearing something that says D&S on it,” Kline says.

IN THE OFFICE

Sara Kline left her accounting job in March 2018 to work full time for the company. “She had been doing the books at night and on weekends,” Dennis Kline says. “But the business grew and it got to be too much to do on the side. Add a child into the mix and it just doesn’t work anymore.” Son Deric is 2 years old.

In addition to the accounting, Sara Kline handles administrative and employee matters, finance, phones, scheduling, website maintenance and marketing. She’s also not afraid to jump into a truck and deliver or clean units.

As far as social media, she does a little bit on Instagram, but primarily focuses on Facebook, which is especially important in pursuing the wedding business. Barn weddings have become popular in their area.

Her latest challenge is implementing RouteOptix software, which they plan to use for billing, route scheduling and route profitability. Drivers will link with it and get route information through Samsung tablets. “We researched and were able to find what other companies were using it to maximize their profits,” she says. “We’re very new in it but I think it will be very good — but it takes time.”

STAY THE COURSE

Dennis Kline says his plans for the future are to “keep doing what we’re doing and keep growing.” They’re planning on hiring another full-time person before year’s end. And with Sara Kline now a full-time member of the team, they’ve got all the bases covered. It’s been great being self-employed, Dennis Kline says. “I’m someplace different every day. I’m not sitting in an office.” 


Using the website to full advantage

When Dennis and Sara Kline started their business, D&S Portable Toilets, in 2009, they knew it was important to have a website right away. They hired a developer who did a very basic design, but it wasn’t long before Sara Kline took over management of the site. It’s now vastly improved and much more sophisticated.

Kline puts up new photos regularly and makes sure descriptions are updated as they add new service offerings such as restroom trailers. She also considers the testimonial page an important element and doesn’t just sit back and hope they show up. She calls clients and asks for them and switches them out regularly. “We try to get a wide variety,” she says. “I don’t want to just have all construction people on there. We get people who are relatively new and people we’ve dealt with since the beginning.”

The Quote Request feature has been helpful. “We get a lot off of that, especially weddings and weekend rentals,” Kline explains. It can be accessed through mobile device, making it convenient for customers who are always on the go.

For the Klines, a website is not just something you throw all your information on and call it good. It’s got to be kept fresh and up to date. “The website is key,” Sara Kline says, “And you have to make sure it’s always current.”




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