Taking Care of Your Team at the Front Lines Is a Key to Success at Large, Lucrative Special Events

Starting with homemade plywood restrooms in 1955, three generations of this Wisconsin family have been helping their community with portable sanitation

Taking Care of Your Team at the Front Lines Is a Key to Success at Large, Lucrative Special Events

Boel Kent (left) and Greg Johnson prepare to transport restrooms using a flatbed Ford F-550 carrying a tank from Imperial Industries, a Masport pump and a Thieman Tailgates liftgate.

When Cesspool Cleaner Co. and Portable Toilet Rentals in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, takes on a special event, Troy Dresel, owner, makes sure it’s really special — for the customer and the workers.

“With all our big events, we stay on site with our whole crew,” Dresel says. “We have campers that we house all of our employees in. We keep our whole crew there, and we service the restrooms multiple times throughout the day. We service them three times a day at most of our larger events.”

Dresel provides meals as well as housing for the workers.

“I usually do most of the cooking myself for three meals a day for my crew,” he says. “We’ve got a cube van that we use to haul around some restaurant equipment. One of my campers is a 40-footer and I do a lot of cooking in that.”

Dresel keeps the menu interesting, too.

“I’ve got a smoker. I do chicken, ribs, pork butts, pulled pork sandwiches,” he says. “I don’t just do burgers and brats. I go all out and cook people solid meals. You’ve got to do that to keep people around. You’ve got to take care of them.”

For the last event of the season, Dresel usually cooks prime rib.

It’s a winning formula for keeping a happy crew at big events. Like many PROs, Cesspool Cleaner has some trouble finding workers to do routes, but for the big events, Dresel has a regular crew of friends and relatives who come back event after event.

“They love coming to the events,” Dresel says. “They get to come and enjoy the show. They get fed, party and do a little work on the side.”


30-YEAR SERVICE

Big events have been a specialty of Cesspool Cleaner since the 1980s. The biggest one the company handles is the three-day music festival, Country Jam USA, in Eau Claire. From the camping area to the concert grounds and backstage area, Dresel’s company will have more than 400 restrooms on the site.

“This is their 30th anniversary,” Dresel says, “and we’ve been there since day one. My dad started doing it, and I’ve continued with it. We use 24 employees for the weekend for that job.”

Two other large events that have been on the Cesspool Cleaner calendar for years aren’t there this year. One of them folded, and one of them took a year off.

“We had an event that’s been going on 13-14 years, and they took a year off and turned the property into a hemp field,” Dresel says. “They thought they could have a lot less work and have something going on all year.”

Dresel expects that event, the Northwoods Rock Rally, will come back after a one-year hiatus, and he expects 2019 will be a good year for his company, despite the loss of two big events.

STARTED WITH CESSPOOLS

Big events were not the focus of the company when Troy’s grandfather, Kenny Dresel, started it in 1955. In those days, the company actually cleaned cesspools. Troy’s father, Randy, bought the company in 1981, and Troy and his wife, Tricia Dresel, bought the company in 1997.

It was in the 1980s, when a dam was under construction on the Chippewa River at Jim Falls that the company started in the portable restroom business. Troy’s grandfather started with homemade restrooms. “He framed them up. They were self-contained with a holding tank. He cut a 55-gallon drum in half. They had a plywood frame, slanted roof, tin sides and a working door,” Dresel recalls.  

His grandfather had a few of the homemade restrooms before becoming the PRO for the hydro project at Jim Falls. Once he got that contract, he built some more but then found a manufacturer and started buying units.

Now, portable restrooms are the main focus of the company. It specializes in big events: music festivals, car shows, food truck events and marathons. It also services numerous construction sites.

EQUIPMENT LIST

The equipment inventory includes more than 1,450 restrooms. For construction rentals, Dresel uses Satellite | PolyPortables Tufway units. For special events, the company uses Satellite | PolyPortables Maxim and Five Peaks Glacier units. Handicapped units and hand-wash stations are from Satellite | PolyPortables.

The company also has a number of restroom trailers, including four 15-stall Ameri-Can Engineering units, three eight-stall Advanced Containment Systems models, a five-stall Black Tie Products unit and four-stall ACSI trailer. For shower trailers, it has a 53-foot, 22-stall mobile shower trailer, a five-stall mobile shower trailer, and three-stall combo shower/restroom trailer. All shower trailers are built in-house.

Cesspool Cleaner also manufactures Johnny Mover transport trailers, and it uses a number of them, including six 20-place trailers, one 16-place trailer, three 12-place trailers and two eight-place trailers. In addition to the Johnny Mover trailers, the company uses six two-stall PolyJohn Enterprises trailers and four 53-foot semitrailers that haul 28 units each.

The truck fleet includes 12 vacuum trucks that vary in size from 600 to 6,000 gallons and two cube vans for tool and supply trucks. “We build most of our own trucks in-house, but we have purchased some from Satellite Vacuum Trucks, Imperial Industries and PortaLogix,” Dresel says. He orders custom tanks from Imperial Industries for the trucks built in-house. The trucks are outfitted with Masport HXL4 pumps. Cesspool Cleaner also has three recreational vehicles to house employees at special events, a Cat forklift and a Bobcat Toolcat for loading and unloading restroom units in the yard.

GROWING BIGGER

One of the reasons Dresel grew the company so large was so it could support him working as a manager and not a day-to-day driver. At 48, he has had health problems that led to three back surgeries and two neck surgeries.

“It was a decision to make me go big, because I was not able to do the work myself,” he says. He still drives the company’s big waste-hauler occasionally because he has a CDL, and he does the cooking at special events. “I don’t just sit at a desk and bark orders,” he says. “I’m 100% involved in my business.”

The economy in northwestern Wisconsin has been booming recently, but that has both good and bad effects on Cesspool Cleaner. It means considerable demand for portable restrooms at construction sites, both commercial and residential.

But the booming economy also makes it difficult for Dresel to find workers, especially drivers. The surge in mining of sand for fracking in the energy sector is one of the reasons for the economic boom, but that business employs a lot of the available truck drivers in the region. Dresel says he can’t compete with the wages and benefits that the frac sand industry offers.

“It’s hard to find anyone for any kind of driving business, like routes,” Dresel says. “You definitely cannot find anyone with a CDL. Therefore, I have to make sure I keep all my equipment under CDL size (26,000 pounds or below). I’m the only one with a CDL. Anytime we haul with our quad-axle, I have to run it.

“It’s a struggle trying to find help these days,” he continues. “We’ve been struggling the last four years here. In 2017, I hired 14 people during the summer season, and only one of them worked out and is still with me. There’s room for growth in this business, but you just can’t find enough people to support it.”

GOING DOWN … AND COMING BACK

Despite the challenges brought by a hot economy, working them out is better than facing the problems brought by lean times. Like many in the industry, the company had a rough time of it from 2008 to 2013.

“When the economy turned, it turned bad here,” Dresel says. “Our business was cut in half. If it had gone on any longer, I might not have survived. Everything I could sell, everything I had at that point in my life, went back into this business to keep it alive. Because of the special events we do, we have a lot of inventory. It’s Wisconsin, so we have five months when we are using equipment and six or seven months when we’re not. In our area, there was nothing going on. I had just a skeleton crew at that time.”

Although Dresel also has some other businesses, such as a used car and truck business and the Johnny Mover manufacturing, they all suffered at the same time. He had owned Cesspool Cleaner only about 10 years when the recession hit, which meant he still had a lot of debt. “I dropped down to interest-only payments,” he recalls. “I was thankful I had a bank that would work with me.”

Thankfully, the tough times seem like a long time ago. In 2018, the company outgrew its facilities and moved into a significantly larger building.

“It came back, and it came back strong,” he says. “It’s been getting better and better each year since 2013. The last three years really were good. Last year was a record year for us. This year we hope is level with last year, and it should be. We’re down a few festivals, but we’re up a few smaller events.”


Marketing issues, strategies

The name Cesspool Cleaner Co. has survived into the third generation, even though the company no longer pursues septic pumping work. That part of the business was sold a few years ago.

The name no longer accurately describes what the company does, but it is familiar to the locals.

“That’s what my grandpa named it when he started this business back in 1955,” Dresel says. “My dad kept it when he bought it, and I’ve kept it. Do I like the name? No. Does it fit? No, but it’s well known.” And “Portable Toilet Rentals” was added to the name in 1981 by Dresel’s father.

The company is so well established that marketing isn’t much of a problem. The company has a website and does some social media marketing, and Dresel thinks he should probably do more of that, but the crew is busy without doing a lot of advertising.

Some of its marketing takes the form of sponsoring events run by nonprofit organizations. Cesspool Cleaner also belongs to several business and trade organizations and participates in their events.

The Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association has a Parade of Homes event every June with 20 to 30 homes on display. “It runs for 10 days, and I take my special event toilets and put one at each parade home so people have one to use if they need to. That’s my sponsorship. My name is advertised there,” Dresel explains.

The company also sponsors the kickoff event for the Parade of Homes, which is a big cookout. Dresel sends six restrooms to that event. “I get a lot of advertising out of it,” he says. This helps solidify his relationship with the local homebuilders, who like to work with fellow members of the association when they can.

Dresel also participates in a trade show sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association in March. “This year I took one of our restroom trailers and put it on display,” Dresel says. “The general public goes through. It’s putting my name out there.”

And, even though special events are the more glamorous part of the business, construction site work is vital to the business.  

“Our monthly rentals are our bread and butter,” Dresel says. “That’s what we depend on.”



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