A Women-Owned Business Makes Its Mark With a Supersized Restroom Order in an Industrial Setting

Louisiana’s DEF Rentals jump-starts into business with a major petrochemical plant expansion contract.

A Women-Owned Business Makes Its Mark With a Supersized Restroom Order in an Industrial Setting

The DEF Rentals crew includes (from left, standing) Michael Duplichan, Shaun Fontenot, Caleb Farque, Hayden Gotreaux, Michael Fitkin, Jacobie Jackson, DeWayne Hardman, Phillip Meno, Leonard Hagger, Angel Vega and Matt Baker; and (sitting) Darian Brooks and Josh Havens. The trailer is from JAG Mobile Solutions. (Photos by John Balance)

In the world of portable sanitation, growing from about 70 restrooms to roughly 900, from two service trucks to eight, and from two employees to 45 in a span of just several months might sound like the business equivalent of a fisherman’s tall tale.

But in a classic “when opportunity knocks, open the door” moment, that’s exactly what DEF Rentals in Westlake, Louisiana, accomplished in three to four months in summer 2018. The opportunity emerged when a contract to supply 70 restrooms for a massive, $12.9 billion expansion project at a local petrochemical plant unexpectedly mushroomed into a chance to service the entire project, requiring more than 800 restrooms used daily by more than 8,000 construction workers.

To make the story even more improbable, the company was barely a year old at the time, recalls Michael Duplichan, a founder of DEF Rentals and now its sales manager.

“We were a little scared,” he says. “But we decided to roll the dice. It was an all-or-nothing offer. … If we didn’t take it, we probably would’ve eventually lost the work we already had there because the plant eventually wanted to use just one provider. So we jumped right in.”

The sudden turn of events spurred a flurry of activity at the young company. In just three months, the business had to hire dozens of employees, procure hundreds of restrooms and buy a half-dozen service vehicles. But the company’s business partners, including Danielle Duplichan, Belinda Harper and Leah Fontenot, persevered through the chaotic period and emerged as a significantly larger company.

In addition, the company currently is going through the federal certification process to become a women-owned business enterprise. That process will open the door to bidding on government contracts, says Michael Duplichan, who is married to Danielle Duplichan.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

Several factors gave the group confidence to take on the daunting challenge of serving one of the largest petrochemical plant expansions in North America. For starters, employee Shaun Fontenot (Leah Fontenot’s husband), who primarily helps out with truck maintenance and route scheduling, already had five years of experience in the portable restroom industry. Furthermore, Michael Duplichan worked for more than a decade as a sales rep for a large industrial cleaning firm. “So we both had a basic idea of what needs to be done,” he notes.

Moreover, Duplichan is a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps. The military background gave him the experience to implement a framework of systematic processes upon which the service end of the business is built, he says.

Satellite | PolyPortables and Satellite Vacuum Trucks also played critical roles by supplying restrooms, hand-wash stations and service trucks on short notice, Duplichan says.

Satellite Vacuum Trucks had a couple of service trucks available for immediate purchase, plus DEF Rentals already had bought two used vehicles and self-fabricated another one. After that, the company took delivery of trucks as they became available. “After three months, we had about eight trucks,” Duplichan says.

THE FLEET

Currently, DEF Rentals cleans about 800 restrooms daily at the construction site. Some get cleaned once a day, while others receive two or three daily services. About 75% of the company’s employees (16 to 18 employees on each of two shifts) and two-thirds of its trucks (eight or nine) are working on the site. Each truck now services about 150 to 220 restrooms. “We run 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says.

Overall, the company owns 10 vacuum trucks: nine used for servicing restrooms and one septic service truck used mostly for waste disposal transport. The restroom service trucks include two used vehicles: a 2007 Freightliner M2 106 outfitted with a 1,500-gallon waste and 500-gallon freshwater aluminum tank and a 2011 International DuraStar 4000 with a 1,100-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater aluminum tank. Both are equipped with Masport pumps.

The remaining restroom trucks, all with aluminum tanks, were built out by Satellite Vacuum Trucks: a 2017 Ram 5500 with a 1,100-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater tank and a Masport pump; a 2019 International MV607 with a 1,500-gallon waste and 500-gallon freshwater tank and a pump manufactured by National Vacuum Equipment; and a 2019 Ford F-550 equipped with a 650-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tank and an NVE pump.

DEF Rentals also runs four 2019 Hinos (from Satellite Vacuum Trucks): one with a 1,100-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater tank and an NVE pump; one with a 600-gallon waste and 500-gallon freshwater tank and a Masport pump; and two with 650-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tanks and pumps made by NVE and Conde (a brand owned by Westmoor).

The septic truck is a 2019 Mack 870 from Engine & Accessory carrying a 4,000-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater aluminum tank and Fruitland pump.

The company also owns 1,200 restrooms and 300 hand-wash stations from Satellite | PolyPortables and two restroom trailers from Rich Specialty Trailers and JAG Mobile Solutions.

EMPLOYMENT AGENCY

It wasn’t easy to ramp up from two employees to about 45 in just three or four months. To accomplish that, DEF Rentals took a somewhat novel approach: using a temporary-staffing agency to hire many of its employees.

“At the moment, only 20 of our workers are technically our employees,” Duplichan explains, noting that the company plans to keep bringing temporary employees on board as full-time employees as it pays down its debt load.

“It’s been a good marriage,” he says of the company’s relationship with the temporary-staffing agency. DEF Rentals provides input for interview questions and tells the agency what skills employees will need and what safety classes they must complete. (Each petrochemical plant requires contractor employees to take a safety class before they’re allowed at work sites.) The agency also handles employee drug testing, which removes another administrative burden.

Not that there weren’t any growing pains. Finding the right employees was difficult. “We went through a year or two of pretty heavy lifting,” Duplichan explains, saying there was a lot of turnover at first. “We finally have a team in place that we feel pretty good about.”

What’s the key? “We treat our guys a little differently,” he notes. “We treat them like they’re family. They know they can come talk to me about anything.

“If they have problems with money, we’ll work something out,” he continues. “We also buy them dinners every so often and cut up with them — get to know them as people.”

REFINERY SPECIALTY

Do company officials ever feel nervous about having so many eggs in the basket of one client? Or anxious about the possibility of idle trucks after the massive expansion project ends? Not really, Duplichan says.

First of all, the economy in southwestern Louisiana is considered one of the more robust in the U.S., Duplichan says, noting that three liquefied natural gas and one methanol plant are slated to be built in the area. Two more new petrochemical-plant expansions are also expected.

Moreover, the construction project is only 3 miles from DEF Rentals’ headquarters, which minimizes wear and tear on service vehicles. “Our trucks don’t drive more than 10 miles a day, except for the septic truck,” he notes.

Restroom service trucks off-load waste into a frac tank at the construction site, and from there, the 4,000-gallon-capacity septic truck vacuums the waste and hauls it to a local treatment center.

The company purposely serves mainly refineries and petrochemical plants because the profit margins are better than special events or smaller monthly rentals. It also made sense because the Westlake/Lake Charles area is home to many such facilities, he says.

THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT

Duplichan says expansion into eastern Louisiana and/or East Texas is possible in the years ahead. But no matter when or where the company branches out, maintaining quality control will be a key priority. “We have systems in place to enhance quality control,” he says. “If we go slow, we should be OK.”

In the meantime, there’s still plenty of work locally. And if the opportunity presents itself again, Duplichan says he’d be excited to take on another big project like the one they’re currently servicing.

“It (the sudden growth spurt in 2018) was kind of fun,” he says. “Sure, it was hectic, too — I’m still not quite sure how we did it — but I’d be willing to do it again if the circumstances are right. So we say bring it on.” 



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