They’re Fresh Faces in the Industry, but This California Company's Family Has Been Delivering Restrooms for Generations

Alicia and Jared O’Neill lean on a long history of quality service in portable sanitation as they grow Western Site Services

They’re Fresh Faces in the Industry, but This California Company's Family Has Been Delivering Restrooms for Generations

The Western Site Services team includes, from left, Isaiah Ketterman, Salvador Anguiano Sr., David Garcia, Jared O’Neill (holding daughter Daisy), Alicia O’Neill, Nicole Youngblood, Jose Tafolla, Desiree Van Leuvan, Salvador Anguiano Jr. and Nina Souza.

Alicia O’Neill has only been operating Western Site Services for a few years, but she grew up in a family of portable restroom operators, so she’s pretty confident about what’s most important in this kind of business.

“It’s about the level of customer service; it’s about taking care of people,” O’Neill says. “It’s not just about cleaning toilets.”

That’s not to say cleaning the restrooms isn’t a top priority, but Western Site Services, located in San Jose, California, wants its customers to feel assured that their portable sanitation needs will be met, no matter what. She says if a service truck shows up and finds a unit locked so it can’t be cleaned, the company will make a return trip to clean it.

Her sister, Nicole Youngblood, the operations manager for Western Site Services, says some construction site superintendents understand how important portable sanitation can be.

“Oddly enough, the condition of the toilets kind of sets an energy for the job site,” Nicole says. “If the toilets are always terrible and no one wants to go in them, people kind of get crabby. But if it’s one less thing they have to worry about, it’s more time they have to accomplish what they have to do. It lightens the mood a little bit. Nobody really wants to worry about the toilets. It gives them more time to take care of their real job.”

FAMILY TRADITION

The sisters’ grandparents, Diane and Frank Youngblood, founded Acme Sanitation in 1971. Their father, Dan Youngblood, and his brother Jim, also went into the business, which became Acme and Sons Sanitation, which was sold to a national company in 2005.

O’Neill and Nicole were teenagers then. They didn’t go into the portable restroom business until 2015. Both had careers as emergency medical technicians. Jared O’Neill, Alicia’s husband, had been an electrical contractor. They considered starting a portable restroom operation after Dan had difficulty obtaining a quote from a contractor for fencing.

“My dad said there was an opportunity,” Alicia recalls. “It just felt right. We started it from scratch. We bought 32 toilets with money we had saved. We started walking on job sites and trying to sell toilets. My dad gave us his old Chevy truck. We put a 600-gallon slide-in (vacuum tank) on it. We used that before we bought our first pump truck because we couldn’t really afford one. We also had our own personal pickup trucks and a trailer.”

Now Western Site Services has nearly 600 portable restrooms, all from Satellite | PolyPortables, including high-rise and trailer-mounted units (trailers are built in-house), holding tanks, hand-wash stations and freshwater tanks.

Although many PROs offer a wide variety of wastewater and other services, Western Site Services generally sticks to portable sanitation.

“We wanted to get really good at doing toilets,” Alicia says. “We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. Our reputation was the most important thing. What we say we are going to do, it was really important that we do it. We didn’t want to overcommit.”

Recently the company added fencing to its inventory after a customer requested it.

Acme and Sons had enjoyed a good reputation in the industry, but the company had been gone for 10 years when Western Site Services was founded. Time diminished name recognition of the family business. “When you walk onto a job site, there is a 25-year-old superintendent and he has no idea what Acme was,” Alicia says.

Alicia, Jared and Nicole worked by themselves for about a year and a half before additional workers were hired.

“We did this by ourselves as long as we could, until we absolutely needed more hands on deck,” Alicia recalls. The tipping point came when she was doing pickups and deliveries while she was four months pregnant, and she had some handicapped units that she couldn’t get off the truck by herself.

 “We literally went to our wits’ end, as far as what we could feasibly get done in a day’s worth of work,” Nicole recalls. “When we got help, it was a relief and we were grateful for it.”

They still feel that way about their staff, which has grown to 20. The company tries to show its appreciation in many ways, including having a paid health insurance plan that includes dental and vision care. This year, Western Site Services will be looking at establishing a retirement program.

EMPLOYEE RETENTION

Retaining good employees is extremely important for Western Site Services.

“It’s about providing an environment our employees want to be in,” Alicia says. “We want people to be able to take care of their families. It comes down to being able to take care of our employees and being able to get competitive with holding good guys. There are many portable restroom companies in our area, so we have to keep that in mind. They have options.”

Western Site Services provides other perks. Each driver has his own truck, giving employees a sense of ownership. There are company events, such as barbecues, and the owners strive to maintain an atmosphere where the workers feel like they have a voice.

“We’re working beside you, working with you,” Alicia says. “If you work for us, we’re not your boss; your boss is the customer. If we go away, Western Site Services will still be here. If the customer goes away, you wouldn’t have Western Site Services. Your boss is the one you are cleaning toilets for.”

Behind that philosophy is the realization of the high cost of turnover.

As Nicole says, “It is really difficult to get someone new in, show them a route, get them established, get them learning their customers and get them to have ownership of their route, because ultimately that’s how you get the best customer service for all those people. If you have a lot of turnover, it creates a lot of issues on those routes.”

So far, this strategy is working.

“We have been able to retain very well,” Alicia says. “We love our guys. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing. It’s a team effort.”

THE EQUIPMENT

Western Site Services still has the original 300-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater aluminum KeeVac Industries slide-in tank on a pickup truck, but it has added eight larger vacuum trucks. They are all International 4300s, 2015 to 2020 with 1,000-gallon waste and 500-gallon freshwater tanks and Masport pumps from Tank World. The fleet also includes two Ford F-450s with flatbed trailers, fabricated in the Western Site Services welding shop, that can haul up to 12 restrooms each.

Alicia says the company tries to keep the trucks operating in a tight service area. “We have the luxury of being in such a big city that we can get really condensed areas,” she says. For special events, they drive a little farther than their usual 40-mile radius, and Western Site Services goes to San Juan Bautista, about 45 miles away, for a customer who operates rock quarries.

“Getting the rock quarries was a pretty big account for us,” she says. “It’s worth it. It was either we got them all or we didn’t get any of them.”

The wastewater treatment plants they use are in San Jose, Palo Alto and Oakland.

FINDING SATISFACTION

Although the sisters grew up in the industry and thought they knew what it was going to be like to operate a portable restroom business, they’ve been surprised at how enjoyable it is.

“It’s been a lot more interesting than we anticipated,” Nicole says. “It’s not just putting out a toilet and cleaning it. It’s one of the coolest industries ever because of the people we get to work with.”

Family tradition is important to them, even though the older generations are not directly involved in Western Site Services.

“Grandma and Grandpa started Acme in their backyard, and they built one hell of a reputation for themselves. They taught us to value your relationships, work hard and keep moving forward. We’re very close with my father. We bounce a lot of things off him as far as what kind of trucks to buy. He’s very smart about the industry.”

Jared says the expertise Alicia’s father and grandfather were willing to share made the opportunity to start the business too good to pass up.

“If I was to go in blind, knowing nothing, I wouldn’t do it, because there is a learning curve, the same as any business,” he says. “But we had a leg up. We had mentors. We could ask anything and save ourselves a lot of trial and error. We saved ourselves a lot of headaches. We have not only resources to talk to, but also advice about buying equipment. It’s priceless when you are starting a new business to have some insight. It would be kind of silly not to take advantage of that.”

The younger generation took their ideas about employee relations from their dad. “He always said if you treat them right, they’re going to stay and treat you right. They say by yourself you can go fast, but in a team, you can go far. That team is very important to us,” Alicia says.

But the most important thing is service.

“We sell Western Site Services on a level of customer service. You give out your cellphone number and say call me,” Alicia says. “We don’t want to be the cheap guy. We know what we deserve. We’re competitive, but we hold our prices because if you have an emergency, I’ll be the one calling you back at 9 at night.”   



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