Criminal Behavior and Public Defecation Continue to Plague Restroom Operators

Even being in pandemic mode doesn’t put an end to typical problems faced by the portable sanitation community.

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If I had to sum up the year in portable sanitation in one word, it would be perseverance.

         PROs entered 2020 with boundless enthusiasm, adding equipment and employees in response to a growing economy that promised more revenue opportunities from construction and special event clients.

         By early spring, however, the upbeat mood came crashing down with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Every day in late March was filled with announcements of event cancellations — music and food festivals, athletic events, fairs. Many of our favorite entertainment institutions were gone for the entire year.

         I recall talking to many of you in this time period about the gut punch you took as these profitable customers were falling by the wayside. Stunned by the reversal of fortunes, I’m not even sure if this news was sinking in with all of you. There was a disbelief, a denial of the grim situation. It was so fresh in those early days that I don’t recall talk of mass layoffs, selling off equipment, or going into survival mode like I might have expected.

         Then something happened — and in hindsight it should not have been unexpected. A new market was opening for restroom contractors. The sanitation part of portable sanitation was taking over.

ANSWER THE CALL

         Customers who once dickered over adding an extra restroom on their construction site were now demanding it. Those who wanted to hold off on service until waste reached the brim of the holding tank were calling for more frequent visits from your technicians. Cost conscious clients who previously balked at adding a sink to their order suddenly wanted multiple sinks or hand sanitizer stands along with their restrooms.

         All those years you preached to customers about the importance of the sanitation in addition to offering relief stations. And too often they wouldn’t listen. But as the pandemic took hold, they became strong advocates for your message of cleanliness. As a result, you bought up every available sink and sanitizing stand and created a huge backlog of orders for industry manufacturers.

         In addition, creative PROs who are skilled fabricators started building their own portable sinks to cope with overwhelming demand. I talked to several contractors over the summer who grabbed whatever materials they could gather — metal, wood, makeshift sinks and sanitizer dispensers — to build and deploy workable solutions as fast as the orders came in.

         In the course of a few months, the small business rollercoaster that is portable sanitation had gone from great optimism to the shock of losing so much work, to enjoying a resurgence by finding and going down a new path. In short, you took lemons and made lemonade. The transformation was heartening and a great example of American ingenuity.

IT WAS A “HUGE BLUR”

         Recently, one of our metro New York PROs, Abe Breuer of John To Go — who we’ve featured in the magazine in the past — was the subject of a story in The New Yorker Magazine. He talked about this phenomenon.

         Breuer explained how he placed units for drive-through COVID-19 testing sites, answered the call of utility companies who wanted shower trailers, and rented restroom trailers to so many couples who were moving their weddings outdoors. He talked about how customers took every sink he had to offer — a product that was once a hard upsell was now in demand.

         “Everything is just a huge blur to me,” Breuer said in the New Yorker article. “The market is as hot as it can get. The stage has been set to have a very, very busy 2021.”

         Looking back on the year, it’s clear that many are suffering in business and as individual families. The virus has taken the life of so many thousands of people and sickened millions more. Unemployment was unprecedented during the early days of the pandemic and continues to threaten the well being of so many people. We all want to see a return to better days and to put this put this terrible chapter of the world story to bed as soon as possible.

         Yet for the portable sanitation community, I return to the word perseverance to explain how this industry has managed to keep going when everything turned upside down. In the face of worry, fear and the unknown, you kept getting up and going to work every day. Partly there was a determination based on your duties finally being recognized as an “essential service.” And partly your actions were expected, as you are generally self-reliant “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” kind of people.

         First you had to assess how you and your crews were going to get by. Then you saw a job needed to be done, so you did it. It’s that simple.

BETTER DAYS AHEAD

         As it turned out, so many of you told me you remained busy in 2020, but it was just a different kind of busy. In the end, some of the optimism of the New Year remained. This economic crisis was not 2008 all over again. Unlike the real estate bubble, we haven’t seen PROs drastically trim their staffs or their equipment inventories. I have not heard the kind of negativity that came with the last recession more than a decade ago.

         What I have heard is that construction — both commercial and residential — continues like it did before the pandemic. And there is an expectation that events will return when a vaccine is available for COVID-19. And I expect that hand-wash equipment will become a permanent fixture for all restroom orders even after the pandemic dies down. Workers at job sites and the general public will never again accept restrooms without sinks or sanitizers.

         So as we all head into the holidays and focus inward on our families and friends, I want to offer you congratulations on a job well done this year. And keep your hopes high for a better 2021.  



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