If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, Says This New Minnesota PRO

Following a small-business dream, Jeff Pederson made his share of mistakes along the way. But now his portable sanitation business is looking up.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, Says This New Minnesota PRO

Jeff Pederson is shown with his Ford F-350 with a Satellite Vacuum Trucks tank and a Conde (Westmoor) Super 6 pump. (Photos by Brad Stauffer)

Jeff Pederson started his portable sanitation business in 2017 when he was 24. He had no college education, no trade school background, no experience in the industry. His education can only be described as the School of Hard Knocks.

Shortly after high school Pederson began a career as a baseball clubhouse manager in Little Rock, Arkansas, taking care of players and coaches. He enjoyed it but the 16- to 20-hour days were grueling. So when a restroom trailer vendor working at the stadium suggested he buy a restroom trailer and start his own company, Pederson was ripe for conversion. He’d never heard of restroom trailers, but two months later owned a 2017 Forest River three-stall Cargo Mate and had a business, Jeff’s Restroom Trailer Rentals, focused on the wedding industry.

Between lack of business and industry knowledge, sketchy advice and admittedly bad decisions he didn’t get far and the initial excitement of owning his own company quickly dampened. But Pederson didn’t give up. After about a year he did a reality check, returned home to Bovey, Minnesota, and started over, this time a lot more savvy and with support from family and friends. He still works a second job – graveyard shift doing housekeeping at the hospital – but says he enjoys it because it gives him a lot of time to work on the business, which he reports is starting to pay for itself.

In hindsight there are many things Pederson says he’d do differently — “But hindsight is 20/20,” he says.

BE CAREFUL WHO YOU TRUST

When Pederson bought his restroom trailer, he successfully navigated his first challenge — learning on the fly how to drive the trailer home from the Forest River factory in Indiana. “It was 12 nerve-wracking hours,” he says, “but a good first learning experience.” On the other hand, he regrets turning down Forest River’s offer to explain the features of the trailer because the ballpark vendor’s partner who went with him said he would do that and help him get his business started — a promise not kept.

“So I didn’t know how to operate it, fix it or dump it,” he says. “I also had no idea what to price the trailer at so I gave away rentals for pretty cheap.”

Pederson financed his trailer through a finance company associated with the ballpark vendor’s partner. The fine print was confusing and unclear.

“I’ve read that contract a hundred times,” he says, “and I even asked them what the interest rate was and they just said it’s built into the loan. I figure I’m paying like 23%. That prevented me from growing because I was paying $1,200 a month with no income and no idea how to run a business. It handcuffed me.” A bank has since told him they would have charged 6% over 5 years, for a $450 monthly payment.

DIVERSIFY

Pederson says it would have been better to start out with portable restrooms along with the trailer because traditional single units are cheaper to buy, easier to rent and almost maintenance free. Only later did the vendor’s partner tell him that’s how most people do it — “And it was like, man, I wish I had known that when I started.”

When he moved to Bovey, Pederson considered portable restrooms but hesitated, as there were several competitors. But in July 2019 he bought a few units — “just to experiment.” He now has 13 (Globals from Satellite Industries) and soon plans to have 20 and a couple Liberty wheelchair-accessible units. In early 2020 he bought a vacuum truck — a 2004 Ford F-350 with a Satellite Vacuum Trucks 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater aluminum tank and a Conde (Westmoor) Super 6 pump.

He also bought a second trailer — a Forest River two-station unit. He wanted a new unit but the long lead time would have caused him to lose jobs already lined up. In a stroke of luck, a man from Minneapolis contacted him wanting to sell a new trailer he bought for a project that got canceled. “His mother-in-law found me online,” Pederson says. “It was identical to what I’d been looking for. It was one of those things that was just supposed to happen.” The unit came winterized, something he wished he had thought of for his first trailer, which is usable only six months of the year.

 PLANNING MAKES PERFECT

Pederson says if he had it to do over, he would take at least six months to prepare for owning a business. “I would also do market research, make brochures and flyers and do advance marketing. As I’ve evolved, I really see how big of an impact that has on a business because nobody knew who I was when I started.”

He also suggests new PROs give a lot of thought to their company name. Jeff’s Restroom Trailer Rentals describes Pederson’s original business idea but doesn’t leave room for future plans, which might include shower, utility and refrigerated trailers, along with portable restrooms. He’s now hesitant to change the name for fear it might hurt him. “If you change your name it’s almost like you go out of business,” he says. “You lose your history which can hurt you from a branding and financing perspective.”

By the time Pederson moved to Bovey, he had more knowledge, realistic expectations and a plan. He moved in with his parents, saving money and giving him a place to store the trailer. His father, Jeff Sr., a retired concrete worker, has been teaching him the mechanical aspects of the trailer and his mother, Beth, helps with bookkeeping and answering the phone as needed.

Pederson has registered with wedding planners, partnered with a tent rental company and attends home and bridal shows. “The combination of all those plus a good online presence has really been successful,” he says. “And word-of-mouth is becoming really big now, thankfully.”

 FRIENDS AND THE FUTURE

Pederson has also received a helping hand from others in the industry. A PRO acquaintance from Boston, Tom Harris, explained how to operate the trailer, gave him marketing pointers and recommended Pederson network with local PROs. Alpha Mobile Solutions has answered numerous questions about the trailers. A local web design company is redesigning his homebuilt site. Others have given him advice about Google AdWords and how to charge. Attending the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show (WWETT) Show was also very helpful.

In the next 12 months Pederson hopes to build up the portable restroom work through event and construction work, hire his mother full time and quit his hospital job. He has long-term plans, as well.

“By my 10th year I’d like to have 500 portable restrooms and maybe eight restroom trailers and two shower trailers,” he says. “I’d also look at adding refrigerated trailers.” Those plans will require hiring employees — which he knows will be a new kind of challenge for him to face. “It’s nerve-wracking to think about,” he says. “You’re putting your reputation in somebody else’s hands.”

It’s been trial by fire for Pederson, but he persevered and is as enthusiastic as ever. “I’m just fortunate I’m still operating and things are going as well as they are,” he says.  



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