Just call these sweepers turned PROs “the clean freaks”

Whether servicing portable restrooms or picking up trash off the pavement, the folks at T&T Sweeping and Port-O-Let Service are sticklers for cleanliness.

Just call these sweepers turned PROs “the clean freaks”

The T&T crew includes, from left, Lewis Armstong, Wayne Lawrence, J.R. and Sierra Thompson, Matt Johnson, Jackie Thompson, Ricky Thompson, Jeremy Edwards, Sissy Thompson, Buddy Thompson, Austin Russell, Jenny Long and Denise Hollidge. The truck in the background is a Peterbilt from Robinson Vacuum Tank and carrying a Fruitland pump. (Photos by John Boal)

Three generations of Thompsons have offered entrepreneurial services in southern Maryland to make T&T Sweeping and Port-O-Let 

Service a familiar name. The most recent business — portable restrooms since 2006 — got new recognition this year. With lockdown due to the coronavirus, demand was down for restroom trailers for spring and summer events. But the need for hand-wash stations and restrooms at businesses and construction sites kept workers on their toes adapting to ever-changing procedures to meet regulations.

Along with the loss of their beloved matriarch, 2020 was a challenging year that the family tackled together to succeed as they have for half a century.

FROM DEBRIS TO RESTROOMS

Joseph “Buddy” Thompson grew up in a family of “watermen” — fishing, crabbing, clamming and oystering for a living. But in 1969, after serving in the National Guard, he returned home and decided to start a business on land. Buddy’s Disposal & Sons picked up trash and debris, with the support of his wife, Louise and his three sons. They ran the trash business for 20 years before selling it.

“Then he opened a sweeping company in 1989 because he felt he was young enough to build another successful business,” says his granddaughter, Jenny Long, office manager. “Buddy has always been self-employed and a strong business owner.”

He knew there was a need for sweeping as customers often asked if he could sweep the area when he was picking up trash. He purchased a Billy Goat, a small walk-behind sweeper/vacuum. The sweeping business grew, but by 2006, Buddy wanted to slow down — just a little bit. So he asked his son, Joseph “Ricky” Thompson, to buy into half of the business. Ricky ended his dump truck business, sold his truck and joined his father’s sweeping business.

“In 2008, Dad (Ricky) said, ‘let’s try port-a-potties,’” Jenny says, noting it was just a whim. “My dad is a go-getter. He doesn’t stop at all.”

The whim turned out to be a good one, and soon portable restrooms overtook the sweeping side of the business. Third generation family members joined the business. Ricky’s son, Joseph “J.R.” started working in 1999 and runs daily routes pumping restrooms, while his sister, Jenny, started working with Louise, or Maw-Maw, as a high school senior in 2008. At 29, she manages the office to keep both sides of the business in order.

“Maw-Maw taught me everything I know about this business. Unfortunately she passed away in January (2020). I get scared sometimes when a situation approaches that I would ask her about. But I have learned to push through as she would want me to do and keep this business going strong,” she says.

Jenny had to become familiar with the sweeper side of the business, which her grandmother had taken care of, while Jenny handled the restrooms.

GROWING DEMAND

By 2013, T&T had 250 restrooms and four vacuum service trucks, and they’ve grown greatly since then due to demand from commercial and residential construction. Contracts with area military bases provides steady — and growing — work. For example, they provide 30 portable restrooms to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, for continuous building projects. Jenny took the initiative to go through the applications and red tape to get the contracts and to make sure all of T&T’s drivers qualify for DBIDS (Defense Biometric Identification System) passes to have access to the bases.

Over the years, weddings and weekend events such as air shows at military bases increased demand for trailer units, but that changed with the lockdown after the coronavirus hit.

“COVID-19 hurt us with our event trailers as they were rented for weekend use and everyone had to cancel their events,” Jenny says. “Our main focus was to help other businesses who were suffering through this crazy pandemic.”

To comply with regulations, customers needed hand-wash stations when they reopened for business outdoors. Even though they had a good supply, T&T ran out of wash stations after supplying hospitals and other clients. Jenny tried to order more, but there was a back order. So instead, she and office worker, Denise Hollidge, came up with the idea to build wood stands for sanitizer dispensers that business owners/cooks could use to sanitize their hands.

Besides the 325 wood stands they built, T&T’s portable restroom 

inventory includes 1,000 standard units for construction, 175 newer 

standard units for events and 50 handicap units, all from PolyJohn and 

Satellite Industries. To accommodate a growing number of events, T&T has an assortment of trailers: two 12-foot, a 15-foot, three 24-foot, one 20-foot and one 30-foot, built by Forest River Mobile Restrooms, Black Tie Products and Wells Cargo.

They also have an impressive inventory of accessory equipment: 50 single and 50 double sinks, 50 250- or 500-gallon holding tanks and 50 100-gallon freshwater tanks, all from PolyJohn.

“We recently ordered 28 new PolyJohn portable restrooms because we were running out,” Jenny says. “Construction is eating us up.”

She’s not sure what is going on, but construction is booming in the small cities T&T serves in southern Maryland.

QUALITY EMPLOYEES AND EQUIPMENT

In addition to four working family members, T&T hires six employees, who are loyal to the family. “Most of our employees have been with our company for years,” Jenny notes.

When hiring, her father, Ricky, handles the interview, drug testing, criminal background check and training. The first week is spent riding with a T&T driver to make sure new employees remain interested in the job. The next week a driver rides with them to make sure they do the job correctly.

With a busy schedule, there isn’t a lot of time for meetings, but T&T squeezes in a few and had to add additional requirements with the coronavirus.

“There are more safety regulations. The guys have to wear masks; gloves have to be changed out often. On every stop they have to check sanitizers to be refilled,” Jenny says. Though T&T always stressed thorough cleaning, it became even more important.

To retain employees, T&T offers vacation time and health insurance, as well as good trucks and equipment.

“Our drivers all have company cellphones, with the Waze navigation app to get them to their destination fast and safe,” Jenny says. The app highlights new additions to their regular routes.

Other than an older 2007 Ford F-750 with a 1,100-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump built by Abernethy Welding, the fleet is new and up to date. It includes a 2017 Ford F-550 with 900-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater tank, a 2015 Peterbilt with 1,500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater tank, a 2019 Peterbilt with 1,500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater tank and a 2019 Ford F-550 flatbed carrying an 800-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater tank. The newer trucks have steel Robinson Vacuum Tanks units and Fruitland pumps.

For sweeping, they have 2014 and 2018 Isuzu NPR trucks with tanks from TYMCO and Billy Goat Sweeper.

STRONG WORK ETHIC

With three generations working together, different opinions are inevitable, with occasional clashes, Jenny notes. But the family always comes together. And all have inherited Buddy and Louise’s strong work ethic. Buddy, 79, and going through cancer treatments, shows up for work most every day.

“He’s just here if we need him,” Jenny notes. He hangs out in the shop with the employee who power-washes the portable restrooms before being delivered to a new site. Buddy runs errands and occasionally delivers restrooms.

His approach has been to fix what you have and save for a rainy day. The 2007 truck is an example of that.

“My dad is getting more like his dad every day,” Jenny adds, as he also emphasizes good maintenance to make equipment last longer.

Ricky makes sure the trucks are power-washed every day, then wiped down and restocked with supplies. They are handwashed weekly. “Our drivers take great pride in our equipment. Sometimes when they arrive on a jobsite customers ask, ‘Are these show trucks?’” Jenny says.

Portable restrooms are given the same attention — power-washed, disinfected, wiped down and restocked before leaving the yard. On site, service calls include a thorough washing and stocking, including Walex deodorant discs to keep the restroom fresh.

Besides being clean, the trucks have “bling” with polished chrome bumpers and extra lights. Ricky started it, and J.R. has taken it to another level.

“My brother’s truck looks like a Christmas tree going down the road,” Jenny laughs.

Her focus is the office and updating accounting with QuickBooks and Peachtree Financial Solutions software and using Facebook and the business’ website to reach out to customers. She has an office assistant, and her mother, Sissy, who operates her own business, helps T&T whenever they need her.

FUTURE PLANS

The year 2020 has been challenging for T&T, as it has been for many businesses. But the diversity of services, a robust construction market and continued sweeping services have kept workers as busy as ever. Restroom trailers contracted for weddings in early 2020 were rescheduled for later in the year. And the business’ initiative to build sanitizing stations to meet needs from the COVID-19 crisis shows once again how the Thompsons recognize need and opportunity and respond.

So is there something new on the horizon? Maybe, Jenny says with a laugh.

“I told my dad we should pump septic tanks,” she explains. So far it’s just an idea, and finding good workers is the biggest challenge.

But who knows, in the future the Thompsons may decide it’s time to add another service as part of the T&T family business.  



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.