Energy Sector Customers Keep PROs Barb Rogers and Kathy Zent Pushing for Quality Service

The oil fields of North Dakota created opportunities for fast growth for MonDak Portables.

Energy Sector Customers Keep PROs Barb Rogers and Kathy Zent Pushing for Quality Service

MonDak Portables manufactures its own comfort station trailers that are used in the North Dakota oil fields. Trailers and Satellite Industries restrooms are shown waiting to be deployed.

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In 2008, when many small-business owners were struggling to survive, Barb Rogers and Kathy Zent swam against the current of the economic downturn and bought a portable restroom business in the booming oil fields of North Dakota. A decade later, the pair has grown the business from 250 restrooms and one truck to 3,500 units and 15 trucks covering western North Dakota and eastern Montana.

“At first, we thought it was just a sideline thing,” says Rogers, who was working as a dental hygienist at the time. “But then it just progressed, and we hired more people and bought more trucks. I quit my job in 2010, and my husband (Rick Rogers) who owned a construction company put his business on the sideline because we just got so busy.”

Despite challenges with competition, high wages and a downturn in the oil industry, MonDak Portables, with main offices in Epping, North Dakota, just outside of Williston, has grown steadily through it all. To continue on that path and not fall victim to the boom-and-bust reality of the oil economy, the business owners actively pursue new markets and opportunities for a more diverse portfolio of customers.

The opportunity came through Rick Rogers’ brother, Loren Rogers, who worked for the owner of the company who wanted to sell. Barb Rogers and Zent, who also owns janitorial supply and manufacturing businesses, purchased the portable restroom business with the help of other investors. They hired Loren Rogers, and he ran it for the first five months. Rick Rogers continued working at his construction business during the day and helped out in the evenings and weekends as needed.

Barb Rogers also continued working as a dental hygienist, taking care of the restroom business during her lunch hour and in the evenings. After Loren Rogers left, Rick Rogers became more involved, and he and Barb Rogers learned more about the industry by asking questions and attending seminars at the Pumper & Cleaner Expo, now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. Rick Rogers took over duties as general manager. Barb Rogers started working full time in the office, setting up routes, dispatching drivers, and handling all the bookwork and paperwork.

Her business partner, Zent, attends quarterly meetings and is involved in decision-making, but is not involved with MonDak Portables’ day-to-day operations. “(The Rogerses) bring me an issue, and I look at it with a different viewpoint. Not being there (in the middle of it) is helpful for that,” Zent says, noting she has 35 years’ of business experience, which helps with decision-making.

Within a couple of years, the women paid off their investors, and the Rogerses were working long hours and fully committed to the portable restroom business.

WORKING THE OIL FIELDS

With about a dozen competitors, the owners say they have steady customers because of the way they do business.

“We don’t sell restrooms. We sell service. Our service — we feel and have been told — is superior because of the pride we take in our company,” Rick Rogers says. That pride extends to employees. Service begins as soon as restrooms are ordered.

“We try to get the restrooms out the day they order,” Barb Rogers says, even if the site is a couple of hours away and delivering restrooms is the only reason for the trip.

“If we can’t make a place on the date scheduled for servicing, we let them know,” Zent adds. “We try to do the best servicing, cleaning and positioning of restrooms where they want them and making sure that in areas with high winds they are staked down.”

MonDak Portables adjusts services as necessary depending on what is going on at the oil field site. For example, there may be as many as 50 to 80 workers for fracking for a few days, and it doesn’t take long for seven to 10 restrooms to fill up. MonDak Portables workers provide service up to three times a week during heavy usage and cut back when the number of workers drops off on a site.

“We adapt to the customers’ needs. They don’t adapt to what we need,” Rick Rogers says. “You have to stay on top of the scheduling.” Drivers help with that by calling the office when they see restrooms need to be serviced, and office workers call the client to receive approval.

“Nine times out of 10, the company agrees with what we say. They know we know how to do our business and are not just trying to get an extra service on them,” Rogers says, noting they have occasionally ended contracts when the customer wasn’t willing to pay for enough services to meet MonDak Portables’ standards. “Our reputation is on the line. If you’re not proficient in your service, you’re not going to make it. That’s how we’ve been able to grow so fast.”

Adapting to customers’ needs led to MonDak Portables building its own comfort station units, beginning in 2014. Oil field managers recruiting workers want to attract and keep employees longer, and quality-of-life issues — like good restrooms — make a difference. They didn’t want all the frills (or cost) of manufactured units, just basic amenities.

MonDak Portables set up a shop in Fairmount, Indiana, where four employees build insulated steel two- and four-unit comfort stations. They have electric heat and air conditioning, wash stations, and restroom tanks. MonDak Portables builds them for their own customers and has started selling them to others.

“We also hold back newer ones for special events such as concerts and fairs,” he adds.

KEEPING EMPLOYEES LOYAL

Maintaining a good reputation requires keeping good employees, which can be a challenge when oil companies are constantly recruiting workers.

“Our biggest challenge is the high wages. We have to pay 50 percent higher than the national average (for restroom technicians),” he says. Barb Rogers adds, “We pay 100 percent health insurance for them and their families, including dental and life. We have to do it or they’ll go somewhere else.”

Because housing is a big expense for workers, the company purchased 10 single-wide mobile homes and subsidizes housing costs (charging 70 percent less than typical rents in nearby Williston) and created their own worker camp to accommodate up to 20 people. Employees have access to a gym in the nearby MonDak Portables shop.

The setup works well for out-of-state employees who prefer to work for two or three months and then go home for a month. MonDak Portables schedules accordingly to accommodate employees’ desire to work long hours to make money while in North Dakota and then having a long time off to spend quality time with their families.

Though none of their employees moved to North Dakota with the plan to work for a portable restroom company, word-of-mouth about the job and benefits led them to MonDak Portables.

“We haven’t lost an employee in four years,” Rick Rogers adds. “We treat them how we want to be treated, and it’s more of a mom and pop business atmosphere. They show us the loyalty back.”

MonDak Portables provides employees with clothing and coveralls carrying the company’s logo so that customers know who they are.

EQUIPMENT FOR THE LONG HAUL

With long service routes, MonDak Portables sends out five trucks each day, including one truck from a satellite shop 135 miles away in Minot. Another driver at the Epping shop is available to deliver restrooms and handle emergency calls.

“We have big enough tanks that allows us to service everything we have during the day and come back and dump,” he notes, adding the Minot driver ends his route in Epping to dump his load. MonDak Portables began 100 percent land application in 2012 when it was difficult to find waste facilities to take its loads. Drivers unload into tanks, and septage is spread on neighboring farm fields.

Though only part of the fleet is used daily, MonDak Portables has reasons to keep so many trucks. When work in the oil fields was ramping up, they needed more. But now the trucks come in handy for each driver to have a backup truck or for when additional opportunities turn up. Also, when over-the-road weight restrictions are in place during the spring thaw, only the smaller trucks can be used.

The seven largest trucks have 1,100-gallon waste and 300- or 350-gallon freshwater steel tanks. Four are 2012 and 2015 Hino 268 and 268A models with Conde pumps from Satellite Industries. Two are 2011 Ford F-750s with Conde pumps (Westmoor) from Satellite Industries. And one is a 2008 Sterling Acterra with a Masport pump built by Crescent Tank.

Other trucks include a 2015 Hino 268A with a Conde pump made by Satellite Industries and a 2011 Ford F-550 with a Masport pump made by Crescent Tank that each have 850-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tanks. Five 2011 Ford F-550s were added to the fleet when oil field work was ramping up. From Satellite Industries, they have steel tanks from 500 to 650 gallons for waste and 300 to 350 gallons for freshwater and Conde or Masport pumps. MonDak Portables also has two older trucks: a 2007 Ford F-550 with a 600-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tank and Conde pump and a 1990 International with a 300-gallon waste and 100-gallon freshwater steel Satellite Industries slide-in unit. For occasional septic pumping for some customers and for land application, MonDak Portables has a 2012 Peterbilt 348 with a 4,000-gallon steel tank from Satellite Industries. A 1997 John Deere tractor pulls the 2013 Nuhn Industries sprayer that has a 12,500-gallon tank for land application.

Over the years, MonDak Portables has purchased 3,500 Satellite Industries restrooms. About 95 percent are Tufways and the remaining are Maxims. In 2018, the company purchased 150 Satellite Industries Liberty ADA-compliant units. Often restrooms are transported on the large service trucks, but when several are needed for events, MonDak Portables uses eight-unit trailers from PJ Trailers.

DAKOTA CHALLENGES

In 2011, the partners had a 14,800-square-foot shop built in Epping with a 50-by-80-square-foot wash bay to keep restrooms and trucks clean. Other spaces are used for repairs, winter truck storage, supplies, a kitchen and a gym for employees who live in the mobile homes. 

With oil field companies constantly on the move, technology is important for keeping the business on track. Summit Software (Ritam Technologies) helps with bookkeeping. For routing, customers know to give MonDak Portables the GPS location so drivers can find them through GPS. StreetEagle (Insight Mobile Data) software allows office managers and dispatchers to set up routes and know where drivers are at all times.

Safety is key in the remote area where temperatures can dip to 30 degrees below zero or more and blizzards cause hazardous whiteouts. Only the worst weather stops MonDak Portables from providing service, so every morning the driver manager has a safety briefing before the crew heads out. The topic might relate to the weather, stopping distances or reminders about how to use tools.

“Sometimes a driver has problems, so we interloop routes in case one breaks down. They all work together, and they don’t come in until they call every driver in their area to see if they need help,” he says.

Drivers also meet weekly with shop workers and mechanics to talk about concerns with trucks and equipment.

FUTURE GROWTH

Currently, about 60 percent of MonDak Portables’ customers are oil-related, with another 20 percent in construction and events. The other 20 percent of business is with government contracts — a new market for MonDak Portables that the partners hope will provide stability through the ups and downs of the oil field economy.

Barb Rogers says she and Rick Rogers plan to continue to learn and put in more bids for government contracts that can last one to five years.

The company seeks to add as much customer diversity as it can, including construction, events and government contracts. Barb Rogers and Zent are also open to adding other services such as waterjetting to meet customers’ needs.

“Rick is good at keeping abreast of the industry and people. So, he’s been a step ahead of upswings and downturns,” Zent says.

“If something catches our eye, we’re not afraid to go anywhere if we have restrooms available,” Barb Rogers adds.


Going after government contracts

Being a woman-owned business is generally seen as an asset to get special accommodations. But, Kathy Zent notes it’s not that big a deal in North Dakota, where she started working for a business 35 years ago and eventually purchased it.

“I don’t believe being a woman (business owner) in North Dakota is a disadvantage. It never seemed to be an issue,” Zent says, nor has she applied for women-owned status to take advantage of it.

As part of MonDak Portables, she and her business partner, Barb Rogers, have not yet used the status to gain work. But they have taken steps and filled out the necessary paperwork to earn woman-owned business certification as well as small-business certification. Both could be important as the company adds government contracts.

They got started when Rogers received an email from the Small Business Administration about a seminar for federal procurements in Fargo last year. She and her husband, Rick Rogers, attended the seminar and met with the SBA program manager for individual guidance.

The free seminar helped them to learn how to read a contract, understand all the associated abbreviations and acronyms, and become aware of the many programs available through HUBZone grants to businesses with minority and other statuses. The program manager assisted them in filling out a contract and submitting an invoice, registered them with the federal government, and set them up to receive daily emails from the Bid Match system that lists opportunities for city, state and federal bids.

MonDak Portables was awarded one of three contract bids it made, based on its small-business certification. This year, they set up a site to service restrooms near Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The company will continue to bid on appropriate contracts.

“We’re just looking for other directions to go. Being a small business and woman-owned is a plus,” Barb Rogers says.




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