Robert and Wendy Garland Truly Are the Mom and Pop of Portable Sanitation

A New Hampshire couple is content with keeping a small inventory of restrooms and concentrating on personal service.

Robert and Wendy Garland Truly Are the Mom and Pop of Portable Sanitation

From left, Robert, Jackson, Lincoln and Wendy Garland pose in front of a row of PolyJohn restrooms at Garland Waste Services in Center Conway, New Hampshire.

People get into the portable restroom business for a variety of reasons. For Robert and Wendy Garland, two factors converged: a need for lifestyle flexibility and a lack of local portable sanitation providers in the Mount Washington Valley in central New Hampshire.

By establishing Garland Waste Services in 2008 in the town of Center Conway, the couple checked off both of those boxes. While summers are extremely busy, winters are slower, providing more time for the Garlands to take family vacations and enjoy other activities with their 14- and 10-year-old sons, Lincoln and Jackson.

Furthermore, fueled by demand, the business has slowly grown to two service trucks and about 240 restrooms, plus a restroom trailer, up from one truck and 40 restrooms in 2008. About 70% of the company’s business comes from monthly rentals, primarily for construction sites, while special event rentals accounts for the balance, says Wendy Garland.

“It was daunting at first,” Garland says, who left a job in banking to give portable sanitation a shot. “We had never really worked for ourselves before. I had always worked for someone else, and Robert worked for his parents’ solid-waste hauling company.

“There’s a lot more responsibility when you run your own business,” she continues. “But it’s also a lot more gratifying when you succeed.”

For years, Robert Garland had expressed interest in portable restrooms because his parents’ business served many construction sites. He noticed no local company was supplying the restrooms required by law for construction workers. In addition, he felt he could leverage relationships already established with contractors through the garbage-hauling business.

But she resisted. “I always said, ‘No way, not port-a-potties,” she recalls. “But he finally wore me down, and I said, ‘Fine, let’s do it.’ He thought the two businesses would work hand-in-hand, and he was right.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The couple started by investing in a used 1997 Ford truck and 40 PolyJohn restrooms. They started out slowly by design; at the time, Robert was still working for his family’s trash business, plus their children were younger, which made the couple hesitant about trying to do too much, too fast.

“Between hauling garbage and doing restrooms and with small children at the time, we just couldn’t do any more,” she says. “Robert was doing garbage because we needed that paycheck. Plus he did restrooms, too. And I wasn’t doing as many restroom deliveries back then because the kids were so much younger.”

But things changed in 2015, when they determined the restroom business was established enough that Robert could leave the garbage business and focus on restrooms full time.

Even though Garland Waste Services was founded at the beginning of the economic recession of 2008, the business still grew steadily. Financially, every year has been better than the year before, Garland notes.

The secret sauce? A commitment to customer service.

“We work hard to make customers happy,” she explains. “When we deliver a restroom trailer, for example, we give them a cellphone number to call if they need help. We want things to be right.

“And when we drop it off, it’s been thoroughly cleaned the same way I’d like it to be if it were my event. We take a lot of pride in that.”

DIVISION OF LABOR

Learning how to divide responsibilities required a learning curve. Working together as a husband-and-wife team also poses its own challenges at times, Garland notes.

“We finally accepted the fact that to make this business what we want, we both have to work and work hard,” she says. “We kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that summers are our time for hard work and winters are our summer, when we vacation with the kids. We both want to retire eventually, and to do that, we need to make this work. Ultimately, this common goal is what drives us.”

Garland handles the books and manages the office year-round. During summers, she also delivers restrooms and sets up and breaks down special events. “I’m in a truck three or four days a week,” she says.

At the same time, Robert handles the majority of the pumping and cleaning duties at both special events and for monthly rentals at parks, construction sites and the like, she says.

In winter, he’s responsible for almost all of the restroom deliveries and servicing.

In short, cooperation, communication and flexibility is the key to a good working relationship that also translates into maintaining a good marriage.

“We split things up as best we can,” Garland explains. “If I get done early, I call or email him and ask what he has left to do, and we divide and conquer from there. Plus the phone rings constantly, so I handle a lot of those last-minute requests.”

The business became even more of a family affair last summer when the couple integrated Lincoln and Jackson into the workforce. “They spent more time in the truck than in a pool,” she says. “Some days they’re happier about that than others.”

But it also provides for teachable moments, such as the value of hard work and self-sacrifice. In other words, if they want to go skiing on weekends in the surrounding White Mountains, they have to clean portable restrooms in the summer, she notes.

OPERATING STAPLES

The company relies on two service trucks: a 2016 Dodge 5500 with a 550-gallon waste and 250-gallon freshwater steel tank and a 2003 GMC 3500 with a 300-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater aluminum slide-in unit. Both trucks were built out by Crescent Tank and both feature Masport pumps.

The Garlands opted for a slide-in tank because it fits in a more maneuverable 3/4-ton pickup truck. Plus, it’s more economical than investing in another large vacuum truck.

Both trucks have four-wheel drive because of the harsh New Hampshire winters and tough, mountainous terrain. “We service some restrooms in winter, and we never know what the road conditions will be like,” Garland says. “We also service a lot of construction sites on mountain properties that are not easy to get into and out of.

“Plus, there’s always our ‘mud’ season in March and April, when the snow starts to melt,” she adds. “No matter how bad it gets, we still need to get places.”

In addition, the nearest treatment plant is in Berlin, about an 80-mile round trip through mountainous terrain. “We have to travel through a ‘notch’ (similar to a mountain pass) to get there, which isn’t fun in the winter,” she points out. “It’s a steep, windy road.”

The business owns about 240 restrooms, most of them PolyJohn Fleet models, and one hand-wash station from PolyJohn. The couple also invested in a five-station restroom trailer from Lang Specialty Trailers.

For cleaning supplies and chemicals, the company prefers products primarily made by J&J Portable Sanitation Products. Garland especially likes Truex liquid deodorizer, which the company buys in 55-gallon drums. “We feel the liquid works better: The scent is so much stronger than the granules,” she explains.

HOLDING PATTERN

Looking ahead, the couple has no plans to expand the company’s service territory or grow beyond 300 restrooms — not even after the boys are in college. “Right now our thought is to keep it the way it is until the kids decide to either take over the business themselves or do their own things and we sell the business,” Garland says.

However, the couple is open to shifting the company’s business mix away from monthly rentals and more toward special events, which offer better profit margins. “We’ll have to see how the market goes,” Garland says. “Right now, outdoor barn weddings are huge. But five years from now, that might not be the big thing anymore. Or construction might keep increasing, in which case we’d stay with it. We’ll go where the markets take us.”

As for one or both children eventually buying the business, Garland says it’s an option — but not their only option. She and Robert want them to do whatever makes them happiest.

But one thing is for sure: Garland is glad she finally relented and gave portable restrooms a try.

“As I look back at the last 12 years, things couldn’t have worked out much better,” she says. “We’re happy about and proud of what we’ve accomplished.”  



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