Devan Hanson Sticks to His Business Plan and Wins!

A former Texas state trooper pursues his business ownership dream through successful startup company Texan Restrooms.

Devan Hanson Sticks to His Business Plan and Wins!

Technician Justin Taylor washes a group of PolyJohn restrooms.

It may seem implausible that a Texas state trooper would suddenly steer his law-enforcement career into the portable restroom industry. But lured by the prospect of eventually owning his own business, that’s exactly what Devan Hanson did in 2010 when he quit his job with the Texas Highway Patrol to work for a restroom company in Stephenville, where he’d worked during his college years.

The deal to buy the company eventually fell through. But Hanson’s ambitions did not. The 34-year-old entrepreneur went on to establish Texan Restrooms in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.

Growth came quickly; the company now owns roughly 350 restrooms, up from 75 initially, and three service trucks, an increase from one when he first started out.

The company increased its annual gross revenue for 2018 by 60 percent over 2017. Hanson says his formula for success is relatively simple: Establish a solid business plan. Do business with a personal touch. Invest in new, productivity-enhancing equipment whenever possible. And work really, really hard.

“In the end, it all boils down to doing the work,” Hanson says. “If you want something, go do it. No one is going to do it for you. I simply will not let anyone outwork me. Period — end of story.”

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Hanson’s first foray into portable restrooms occurred while he was attending Tarleton State University in Stephenville, about 80 miles southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. His high school baseball coach’s father-in-law ran a portable restroom outfit and the coach said he could get Hanson a job there. He slowly moved up from delivering and picking up restrooms to handling customer relations, mostly with construction contractors — a skill that would come in handy later.

Hanson graduated from Tarleton in 2007 with a criminal justice degree, then turned down a job offer to work full-time for the restroom company. Instead, he went through six months of state-trooper training, followed by a 2 1/2-year-long stint as a highway patrolman, based in Austin. “I loved that job,” he says. “Aside from my current job, it was the only thing I ever did that didn’t seem like work.”

Then came the career U-turn, as the owner of the restroom company asked if he was interested in buying it. Thinking ahead about earning potential and the chance to steer his own ship, Hanson said yes and recruited two investors. “Plus, I had just starting dating a girl who I thought was going to be my wife. So I started thinking about raising a family and Stephenville is where I wanted to do that, not in Austin. Now we’re married with 4-year-old twins and I feel that it was the right move.”

As one thing led to another, the deal eventually fizzled out. Hanson nonetheless stuck around for a while longer until he was unexpectedly fired in spring 2016.

THE BUSINESS PLAN

One of the two potential investors then encouraged Hanson to start his own company. The more he thought about it, the more appealing the prospect became. So he wrote a 30-page business plan; found another investor after one of the original two dropped out; and bought 4 acres of land, 75 restrooms, and a new 2016 Dodge 3500 truck outfitted by Best Enterprises with an 800-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank and a Masport pump.

Developing a business plan is critical to success. Hanson stresses that even if an entrepreneur is thorough and “articulates everything to a T” during a face-to-face meeting with a potential investor, it’s still not as valuable as a well-written business plan.

“This may sound dumb, but writing a business plan made me iron out the numbers so they were very tight, instead of general estimates of what things might cost — items such as diesel fuel, toilet paper and so forth,” he says. “Pinning down your overhead costs is so important. … When you’re starting from scratch with zero customers, you can project your revenue all day long. But with expenses, you can determine what they’re going to be.”

In addition, developing a plan is one thing; knowing it is another. “An investor will pick it apart, so you have to be able to answer all the questions,” he says.

Hanson relied on an attorney friend for advice and also got help from a small-business administration department at Tarleton, as well as the federal government’s Small Business Administration website. He found a business-plan template on the internet. “Even if you don’t need funding from outside sources, it’s still beneficial to write up a plan,” he adds.

KEEPING IT PERSONAL

Starting out from scratch with no employees wasn’t easy. Hanson did everything by himself until he hired an old college buddy, Justin Taylor, who has been instrumental to the company’s success. “He’s such a great asset to the company,” Hanson says. “I know he’s always handling his business. He does so much for this company … if I could find another one like him, it would really be smooth sailing.”

An emphasis on developing personal relationships with construction firms has been critical to the company’s growth. About 90 percent of revenue stems from construction rentals, he says.

In fact, aside from providing a critical service, the relationships are one of the things that Hanson relishes most about his job. He counts many construction customers as personal friends and says he sees them socially. For example, he recently sponsored a table at a charitable event and invited contractors to attend the dinner with him and his wife, Sara.

“I love the connection with the builders. I don’t ever want to get so big that I don’t know customers personally,” Hanson says. “I didn’t start this business because I wanted to get rich — I wanted to serve customers. I started this business with the premise that if all I do is worry about customers’ needs, enough money will follow.”

When Hanson calls on new customers, he tries to make it a face-to-face meeting and always tells them he’ll take them out to lunch. “Some of them think I’m just blowing smoke, but I do it,” he says. “It’s all about taking care of relationships and fostering new ones. I want to build such a strong connection with builders that it never crosses their mind to switch to another company.”

Maintaining a work ethic is key. Hanson says he’s usually at work by 5:30 a.m., and if someone calls at 4:30 p.m. and needs a restroom right away, he’ll get in his truck and deliver it. “That’s my game,” he says. “We all offer the same basic product with four plastic walls, so one of the only ways to differentiate is through customer service — how fast you can get someone a restroom when they really need it.

“I also constantly have my head on a swivel, looking for new business,” he adds. “If I see a new pad being built, I do a 180-turn and go talk to somebody. If you don’t at least try talking to someone about becoming their restroom provider, the answer always is no.”

EQUIPMENT INVESTMENT

The company’s roughly 350 restrooms (about 300 for construction and 50 for special events) are made by PolyJohn. Other equipment includes 10 two-sided hand-wash stations and 10 hand-sanitizing stations; 15 handicapped-accessible restrooms; and 10 250-gallon holding tanks (for construction office trailers), all from PolyJohn.

The hand-wash and hand-sanitizing stations are a good investment because they provide a chance to generate more revenue by upselling to customers. Moreover, a county ordinance requires some kind of hand-washing capability for any event where food is present.

“More and more construction companies are starting to rent them, too,” Hanson says. “In my mind, you want to be able to offer customers everything available in the sanitation world — provide every piece of that puzzle so there’s no need for customers to call anyone else.” As such, Hanson says he plans to invest in a restroom trailer in 2019.

The company also owns six trailer-mounted single PolyJohn units; they’re rented by customers that need to frequently move units between job sites. The company charges a nominal fee for the trailers. The company also owns a trailer made by McKee Technologies - Explorer Trailers that carries up to 12 restrooms and a 16-foot flatbed trailer built by Texas Bragg Trailers to carry handicap units.

Along with the 2016 Dodge 5500 service truck, the company owns a 2012 Dodge 3500 with a 400-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater stainless steel slide-in tank from Best Enterprises and equipped with a Conde pump (Westmoor). Another Dodge 2018 5500 truck from Best Enterprises is on the way.

GET TO 500

Looking ahead, Hanson’s goal is to own 500 restrooms, then stop. Expanding farther geographically to the east, past the Interstate 35 corridor leading into Fort Worth, doesn’t make sense because he would have to charge so much more for extra fuel and labor costs that he’d be unable to compete with larger firms in the Fort Worth area.

So instead, he envisions buying another small restroom-rental company located in the opposite direction, or establishing a branch facility in a strategic location. “My goal is to do that two or three times, with no more than 500 restrooms at each location,” he says. Is that goal pretty ambitious for a 2-year-old company? Not really, he says.

“You’ve got to have goals. And if you have motivation and drive, you can achieve whatever you want in the world,” he concludes. “I know that sounds cliché, but I truly believe it.”


Pricing transparency

Some restroom-rental operators resist revealing prices upfront. Devan Hanson, the owner of Texan Restrooms in Stephenville, Texas, is not one of those operators.

Instead, Hanson believes that transparency is critical in order to attract customers and make renting restrooms as easy as shopping for other items on the internet. That’s especially important in light of what he calls the Amazonization of today’s consumers, who demand purchasing ease and convenience.

As such, the Texan Restrooms website offers a detailed spreadsheet outlining the costs of its products, right down to volume discounts, delivery fees and total costs with taxes included. “No one wants to have to call somebody to figure out how much something costs,” he says. “That’s just the world we live in today.”

But isn’t Hanson concerned about competitors knowing his prices in such detail? Not really, he says, because they can always find out by calling themselves and posing as a customer, which he believes is a common practice in the industry anyway. “I’d rather save customers the trouble and hassle,” he says.

Speaking of prices, Hanson says he rarely lowers his rates if customers ask him to match a competitor’s lower price. But he makes exceptions in certain instances where route density and volume make it a profitable venture. For example, he might cut a rental rate by $5 per unit per month if a construction company wants to rent 15 or 20 restrooms, with most of them located on the same street or in the same neighborhood.

“In that kind of situation, the profit margins might be even higher, even though the rental rates are lower, because the labor and fuel costs for servicing that many restrooms are so much lower,” he explains. “I’m not interested in engaging in price wars. But if it makes sense for the right customer, I’ll consider lower rates.”



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