An Ongoing Public Health Threat Shows the Value of PROs

When COVID-19 hit, you were called on to provide an essential service and delivered with professionalism

No matter how long you’ve been pushing portable restrooms around — even if you go back to the days of plywood walls and steel barrel holding tanks — you have never seen a year like 2020 as we pass the midway mark.

When it struck in March, the COVID-19 pandemic was like nothing we have ever experienced — stay-at-home orders, social distancing, the canceling of events like March Madness basketball and many months of large special events. Small business has been hit, and hit hard.

For PROs, the normal patterns of work have been radically altered. By late in the spring, you were informed that many of your events — some of the most profitable jobs of the year — were canceled or postponed. Right when you would be gearing up to deliver dozens or hundreds of restrooms to an early summer festival, that business suddenly went away.

At the same time, many of you were reacting to serve a different kind of customer. Local governments, states, universities and federal highway officials were calling to ask you to place restrooms — and especially hand-wash stations — in public places. Much of this equipment was needed to serve the workforce essential to keeping the world running during the pandemic.

That included temporary medical testing and hospital facilities for our health care professionals. Many highway rest stop bathrooms were closed, and officials hired you to place and service portable restrooms as a more workable alternative. Cities requested additional portable sanitation equipment in downtowns to allow people to social distance rather than crowd into public bathrooms.

HEAR FROM A PRO

When the pandemic kicked into high gear, I received an email from Tyler Gordon of Above All Sanitation in Eugene, Oregon. He offered to share his story with Portable Restroom Operator about the many requests they were getting for new service.

“Recently, due to the COVID-19 virus, we have been slammed with orders for hand sanitizers, portable sinks and restrooms,” he wrote. “We have been contracted by the state’s largest university and local governments to handle their sanitation needs during this pandemic.”

We followed up with Travis Gates, the operations manager at Above All Sanitation and talked with him about the challenges the company faced as the pandemic took hold in the Pacific Northwest. Their story is our On Location feature in this issue.

 Like all the stories we heard about grocery store shelves being cleaned out by shoppers desperate for toilet paper and foodstuffs, Gates and his crew faced numerous challenges that many of you also probably experienced. They enhanced their cleaning procedures to make sure they were wiping out any coronavirus on frequently touched surfaces. Before the end of March, the company ran out of hand-wash stations. They ordered what they could, but never got enough to fill potential orders. At the same time, vandalism became an issue.

“We’ve had people either ripping sanitizer dispensers out or damaging them enough to get the bag out,” Gates told our writer Betty Dageforde. Gates is far from the only PRO I’ve heard these stories from. Vandalism, especially to sanitizer dispensers, was a tremendous problem, as was damage to restrooms in many public locations. Unfortunately, that’s nothing new.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

As the year goes on, one thing is for sure: You can expect the unexpected. Your business world will continue in a topsy-turvy pattern with highs and lows to navigate before everything returns to normal, or as close to normal as we can expect.

In the meantime, I’d like to make one important point. The success of your small business relies — more than ever — on the strength of your relationships. You must be reassuring and flexible in all of your dealings at times like these. Be fair, upfront and reasonable. Promise what you can realistically deliver, and then follow through.

Take special care when working with these important business partners:

YOUR VENDORS

The companies you have bought restrooms and supplies from for years will do whatever they can to help out during an emergency. I’ve heard a few complaints this year about manufacturers running out of products or announcing production delays. Remember that they are facing the same kind of challenges you are. Maybe they can’t get the raw materials needed to keep pace with production demand. Like your end users, they probably received calls from all of their customers at the same time when the pandemic broke, and while they want to satisfy every order, at some point it’s impossible. Stay in touch with them and make sure they are aware that you value them as much as they value your business.

GOVERNMENT CUSTOMERS

This is a time to shine for your municipal, county, state and federal customers. Over the years, you may have felt like you were hitting a brick wall trying to convince these customers about the value of portable sanitation. Well, you don’t have to convince them anymore. They now realize it may be more practical to hire you to place and service restrooms than to put their own workers in a difficult situation cleaning overused public bathrooms. Also, when battling COVID-19, they learned that washing hands after using a portable restroom is not optional. You can make the point from now on that a sink, or at least a sanitizing station, is a must for all restrooms.

EVENT ORGANIZERS

Just because so many events were postponed or canceled doesn’t mean you should forget about these important customers. Make occasional wellness checks with the planners who are probably under a lot of stress these days. Call just to say hello and ask if there is anything you can do for them. Or have a special treat delivered to them. Find new ways to keep your name in front of them and they will remember to call on you for help when events are rescheduled.

 YOUR HARDWORKING CREW

Your guys and gals on the front lines deserve a lot of credit, especially in these days of high stress and uncertainty. They were out doing necessary work when others were sitting safely at home. They probably worry about the future: Will the business continue to be busy or at some point drop off?

First off, continue to make sure your technicians have plenty of the proper personal protection equipment and the training to use it effectively. Keep them informed month to month about the state of the business and reassure them they provide a vital service that won’t go away. And while you can’t always give them the pay raises and bonuses you would like, do something nice for your crew. It could be as simple as a gift card from a local business or a pizza delivered to their homes. Now more than ever, your folks need to hear your support and thanks.

YOU ARE ESSENTIAL

If there’s one reminder PROs can draw from all of this upheaval, it’s that your service is essential, especially in a time of crisis. Portable sanitation providers have never received the respect they deserve and often bear the brunt of “potty humor.” No more! You protect people from disease, offer comfort when needed and ensure a cleaner, safer environment. Congratulations on the important job you perform every day!  



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