These Can-Do Pennsylvania PROs Are Not Intimidated by Any DIY Project

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a run on their hand-wash equipment inventory, the skilled fabricators at Biros Utilities went to work building a homemade solution.

These Can-Do Pennsylvania PROs Are Not Intimidated by Any DIY Project

Jonathon and John Biros are shown with Jonathon’s twin sons, Jonathon “Jay” and Alexander “Zan,” the namesakes of the JayZan 2020 hand-wash stations built by Biros Utilities. In the background are PolyJohn restrooms. (Photo by Kevin Blackburn)

The ability to manufacture portable hand-wash stations for their customers kept Biros Utilities of Sheppton, Pennsylvania, at full staff, even during the worst of the economic slowdown that started this past spring.

         As it did elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the portable restroom business in Pennsylvania. Everything suddenly came to a standstill: Construction sites were shut down and special events were canceled.

         But as construction work began to recover, concern about the coronavirus created a new opportunity. Demand for portable hand-wash stations went through the roof. Biros Utilities had a fairly large inventory of them, more than 200, from PolyJohn and Satellite | PolyPortables. But they needed more and were having difficulty sourcing them due to staggering demand.

         “We were running in short supply,” says Jonathon Biros. “Our suppliers were not able to supply us with wash stations. With the restrictions and the emphasis on hand washing and sanitizing, we had to go in a different direction. We started to manufacture our own.”

         John Biros, Jonathon’s father and one of the founders of Biros Utilities, had a lot of experience in welding and metal fabricating. He went to work building a prototype, with his grandsons, age 5, helping to make the first templates out of cardboard. His first prototype would have worked, but he figured that it would be too complicated to weld and too expensive to manufacture.

         Eventually he designed a portable wash station with an aluminum frame, a 25-gallon PVC water barrel and an 8 mL wastewater bladder. The washstand has a foot-operated water pump, a palm-operated soap dispenser and a pull-down paper towel dispenser. It was designed to be transportable inside a portable restroom.

TAKING UP THE SLACK

         John Biros figured this could be manufactured at a reasonable cost, and he dubbed it the JayZan 2020 after his twin grandsons, Jonathon, who goes by Jay, and Alexander, who goes by Zan. Biros Utilities started out by making 50. The workers whose routes had been cut by the economic slowdown were kept on the payroll to help with the manufacturing.

“Everybody was down in the dumps when the pandemic started,” John said. “They wanted to keep working.”

         And they did, thanks in large part to the JayZan 2020 hand-wash station. The first 50 were rented out quickly. When there were only 10 or so left in the yard, they built another 50. Every time the inventory would start to run low, they’d build another batch. By mid-July, they had built 300 and were adding about 100 more wash stations a month.

         As lockdown restrictions gradually eased and work resumed at construction sites, demand for hand-wash equipment was heightened. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, a regular customer for Biros, was one of the earliest organizations to resume work, and it required wash stations at every job site.

         Hand-wash stations used to go out of the yard and come back quickly because most of them were used for parties and special events. Now, they were going out to construction sites with the portable restrooms, and they were staying on the sites.

A NEW NORMAL

         Before the pandemic, the usual ratio of restrooms to wash stations was between five and 10 restrooms for each wash station. Now, Jonathon says, it’s more like three restrooms for each wash station.

         “That’s going to be the new normal,” Jonathon says. “Previously it was rare for wash stations to be ordered for a construction site. Now, it seems like all the construction sites across the board are going for one restroom unit and one wash station.”

         The pandemic also created demand for portable restrooms, wash stations and even restroom trailers in new places. These included:

• Warehouses and loading docks. Companies receiving deliveries would not want the             delivery drivers to come into the building, so they would have restrooms and washstands set up outside.

• Hospital test sites. Some hospitals that were testing employees before they entered the hospital needed portable restrooms and washstands or restroom trailers at the testing site.

• Small businesses, as they reopened, needed wash stations

• Funerals, which were often held outside, instead of inside churches.

• Graduation parties. Big graduation ceremonies were all canceled, but some families still had outdoor graduation parties, and they would order portable restrooms and washstands so people would not have to go into the house.

FAB HAPPY

         Designing and manufacturing hand-wash stations wasn’t much of a stretch from routine for Biros Utilities. Welding and fabricating things from metal is in the company’s DNA. John Biros’ father, a welder who immigrated to the United States in the 1950s from what is now Slovakia, opened a welding shop here and became a U.S. citizen. John, the oldest of his seven children, grew up around the welding shop. He says he learned to weld and drive a truck when he was 10 years old.

         Once his father gave him a “summer school” project, designing and building a wrought iron stair railing for his uncle. His father just told him to “measure it up” and gave him all summer to work on it. At summer’s end, they installed it.

         “Fortunately, everything worked out well, so I got an A-plus,” John recalls.

         He has used those skills in the portable restroom business in numerous ways. Biros Utilities outfits its own trucks, sometimes even building their own aluminum tanks for pickup trucks. John has also designed and built restroom trailers.

EXCAVATION ROOTS

         Portable restrooms were a sideline for Biros Utilities in the beginning. John and his brother Michael had been operating a septic pumping and excavating business together since 1987, and the business grew to include other services, including portable sanitation. In 2000 the brothers split the business, with Michael taking the septic pumping and John taking the excavating business and portable sanitation. For years, excavating was the dominant part of John’s business.

         That changed with the housing collapse in 2008. The company had been doing water and sewer work and residential construction, but all that work evaporated. So John refocused. “The portable restroom side of the business became the provider, when before the excavation side had been the provider,” he says.

         There was no big turning point in the portable restroom business, just steady growth. He hired a full-time salesperson and a marketing director. The company no longer provides excavation services.

         “It just kept growing. Our coverage area went from about 15 miles to about 75 now,” John says. “Our service sells the business.”

         The company has 24 employees. Family members on the staff include John’s wife, Ann, who works in the office, Jonathon, and Jonathon’s nephew, Preston Biros, who drives routes.

         Many of the crew are longtime employees; several have been with the company more than 20 years. The company does not offer health insurance to the entire staff, but John says there are other perks that keep the employees satisfied with their jobs.

         “They are out on the road, not in factories or warehouses,” he says. “Some are former over-the-road truckers who decided they wanted to be home at the end of the day. The overtime that they work, the atmosphere, there are a bunch of different ways that we take care of people.”

A FIT FLEET

         He says he appreciates that the workers understand the importance of good service.

         “Our units are thoroughly cleaned,” he says. “We’ve put a good team together. Our office staff, instead of taking complaints, they are taking calls commending our drivers for their good service.”

         Over the years, Biros Utilities acquired the inventories of a couple of small portable restroom operators. The company now has about 2,000 portable restrooms from a variety of manufacturers plus about 200 commercially made hand-wash stations in addition to the JayZan 2020 hand-wash stations and sanitizer stands the company has manufactured. The company operates from a 5-acre property in Sheppton, about 50 miles southwest of Scranton. There is a 6,000-square-foot building and a 1,700-square-foot office building.

         The fleet includes 14 trucks, mostly Dodge Ram 5500s bought new, then outfitted by the Biros Utilities crew. “We do the outfitting with tanks, pumps and gates ourselves,” Jonathon says. “We do it all in-house.”

         They use 600-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater steel tanks, made by Crescent Tank, Garsite/Progress, Best Enterprises and Preston Biros, and they usually pair them with Conde pumps (Westmoor). The Biros crew also fabricates square aluminum 300-gallon waste and 160-gallon freshwater tanks to fit on the beds of pickup trucks. The company also uses a septic hauler, an International with a 5,000-gallon aluminum tank and Conde pump, to take wastewater to treatment plants.

         Biros Utilities still has some excavating equipment, but these days, it mostly sits idle.

CANCER SURVIVOR

         John Biros, 62, could be said to be living on borrowed time. In 2015, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that affects his kidneys, lungs and liver. He was scheduled for an operation in Allentown, but after they opened him up, the doctors there decided they were not able to help him and directed him to other hospitals. Biros ended up going to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After 28 days of radiation treatments and a six-week recovery period, he had a 15-hour operation in which his kidney was removed. Doctors told him he could expect to live four to six months.

         That was five years ago. In the meantime, he went to Colorado where he started using medical marijuana. He started that therapy in January 2016. He believes that helped shrink his tumor significantly. 

         “I’ve been working ever since,” he says.

         He also went to Houston to take immunotherapy, which he says has also been helpful.

         “We’re taking it one day at a time,” he says, when asked about his plans for the future. “We’re waiting to see what happens with this pandemic.”

BUSY DESPITE THE VIRUS

         Seasonal and special events like fairs and concerts typically amounted to about 25% of the portable restroom business for Biros Utilities. This year, except for some graduation parties and funerals, the special events have all been wiped off the calendar.

         In spite of that, Biros Utilities has been busy enough that it did not have to lay off anyone and actually had to add another driver.

         The company’s marketing push this year has been to reach out to existing customers and potential customers to make sure they know that Biros Utilities can provide hand-wash stations.

         Jonathon says that the emphasis on cleanliness has prompted customers to want more service for their restrooms and hand-wash stations.

“Our business wound up where a lot of construction companies want two or three-times-a-week service,” he says. “We had to add people to keep up with demand.”  



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.