PRO Jeff Ruggiero Finds New Customers in Festivals Built Around Recreational Marijuana Use

Serving cannabis festivals is one of many changes Vermont’s Best Septic Service has seen as the industry evolves and grows

PRO Jeff Ruggiero Finds New Customers in Festivals Built Around Recreational Marijuana Use

Jeff Ruggiero makes a stop on a route using a Freightliner vacuum truck built out by Presvac Systems and carrying a Masport pump.

Jeff Ruggiero always wanted to start his own business with his two sons working at his side. And in 2010, Ruggiero, 54, and his wife, Lisa Ruggiero, did just that — launching Best Septic Service in Westminster, Vermont.

Ruggiero had worked in the waste management industry for 20 years, but Best Septic gave him the opportunity to be his own boss. And it’s been a good ride, with most of those formative years showing growth amid challenges.

Starting with only one vacuum truck and focusing on cleaning septic systems, Best Septic soon began performing system repairs and then added portable sanitation — mainly due to customer requests — which has developed into the largest part of the business. The company now rents 300 portable restrooms from Satellite | PolyPortables and PolyJohn Enterprises and recently purchased a Porta-Lisa trailer from JAG Mobile Solutions.

Ruggiero’s fleet has grown to include two trucks for septic work: a 2012 International with a 2,500-gallon steel Lely Tank & Waste Solutions tank and a 2002 Freightliner with a 2,300-gallon steel tank from Presvac Systems. Three newer trucks service portable restrooms: a 2016 Dodge Ram with a 500-gallon waste aluminum tank and 350-gallon freshwater aluminum tank from PortaLogix, a 2015 Ford with a 300-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater aluminum tank from Lely Tank & Waste Solutions, and a 2014 Ford with a 200-gallon waste and 100-gallon freshwater aluminum tank from Imperial Industries. All trucks carry Masport pumps.

His crew of eight employees includes sons Justin and Cris Ruggiero.

1. Coming back after illness

Just three years after starting Best Septic, Ruggiero found himself working nonstop, which was great for business but not so great for his health. In 2013, Ruggiero underwent successful triple bypass surgery, but taking it easy was something Ruggiero wasn’t used to. “I ended up back in the hospital in 2017” to have additional stents put in, he says. “I don’t run like I used to.” Now, Ruggiero focuses mostly on the administrative duties of the business.

“I don’t do the day-to-day grindstone; I oversee things,” says Ruggiero, who admits the pace is “definitely different.”

Justin largely took over his job responsibilities — things such as emergency calls, running jobs and helping with truck repairs. “Shortly after Justin took over helping with the day to day, my son Cris and his close friend Zach Rawels jumped in and they were part of Best Septic’s success,” Ruggiero says. “I’m so proud of Justin and how he stepped up and handled everything, along with worrying about me being in the hospital. Overnight he went from being an 18-year-old boy to a man running a business.”

He also credits his wife, Lisa. “She took care of me in hospital with a business to run and a house to keep. She handled everything as if she was superwoman.” And while he remains focused on Best Septic’s success, Ruggiero has now made a concerted effort to exercise more and play with his two grandkids, who are active toddlers.

2. Diversifying in a widespread rural area

Westminster is the oldest town in the state, has a population of about 3,200 and is in a lightly populated rural area. Early in his business, Ruggiero realized he wanted to offer customers a wide variety of services. “I didn’t want to have all my business eggs in one basket,” he says, noting that his company’s time is spent about 60% with portable sanitation and 40% with septic service. They also do jetting and camera work in addition to tank locating, riser installation and septic maintenance. “It’s very important; you need to be diversified; it is very hard to do one thing.”

Ruggiero notes he is “trying to get better ideas … to keep on going with the times. It’s harder to find a way to make your business expand and thrive. The hard part is finding a good crew and really growing that company; it’s just another thing you have to adapt to. But I’m in a good spot right now. We’re able to handle and make customers happy.”

3. Adjusting for a short busy season

The average winter temperature in Vermont is 22 degrees F, and snow and cold can take hold through March. That creates a short busy season for most portable restroom operators and pumpers in the Northeast. While they still run 40 hours a week — opposed to maybe 60 to 80 in summer — they usually rent out only about half of their restrooms in winter.

About two years ago, to bring in more winter work, Ruggiero says, “We started doing jetting and steaming of frozen lines. This winter has been very, very bad with the rain and the cold,” he says. The ground was solid and penetrated with cold. “A lot of people had frozen lines and started calling. … They thought their tank was full. That’s how we ended up doing inspections.”

4. Utilizing a restroom trailer

To serve a niche previously filled by faraway restroom contractors, Ruggiero added a 14-foot, two-stall Porta-Lisa trailer from JAG Mobile Solutions in 2018. “Companies were coming from Massachusetts (to supply trailers), and no one had one in this area. We purchased one and gave it a shot, and it’s worked out pretty well.” The unit includes air conditioning, Bluetooth, ceramic floors, onboard hot/cold freshwater and a 250-gallon waste tank. “I was trying to find one in the middle of the road — not too small, not too big,” Ruggiero says. “In summer, we put it out almost every weekend. So far, we’re happy with it,” he says, noting they’ve been actively contacting promoters of local events and weddings and that there have only been about five weekends it wasn’t rented.

5. Taking on cannabis festivals

While medical marijuana was legalized for use in the state in 2004, it wasn’t until July 2018 that pot was legalized for recreational usage. And immediately, Ruggiero says, marijuana festivals started popping up, featuring paraphernalia, food vendors and bands. In July, Ruggiero says the all-day events were held almost every weekend in almost every neighboring town.

Ruggiero was hesitant at first, unsure of the legality of some of the events. “I was kind of worried about it. Were they something that was really supposed to be done? I did not realize they were going to have such major events; I did not see it was coming.” But it turned out to be advantageous for Best Septic, which ended up serving several festivals with eight to 10 units at each and hand-wash stations throughout.   

“It was huge, just like a mini carnival,” he says of The Original Green Mountain Cannabis and Music Festival in July. While Ruggiero himself wasn’t on site, he noted that about 500 people attended the first-year event. “People from about 50 miles or more traveled there, and when it was planned, promoters did not think it would be that big of a turnout,” he recalls. Overall, the experience was a positive one; Ruggiero says there was no vandalism or damage to his units. 


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