Serving a Fleet of Dredging Barges Made Jim Jansen Think Outside the Box

Servicing floating restrooms in Wisconsin requires an innovative approach to customer service

Serving a Fleet of Dredging Barges Made Jim Jansen Think Outside the Box

One of the barges on the Fox River in downtown Green Bay carries a Jim’s Johns Satellite Industries restroom.

THE TEAM

Based in New Franken, Wisconsin — located just northeast of Green Bay — Jim’s John’s is owned by Jim Jansen. He also owns a septic tank pumping company called Dyckesville Sanitation, which is based in nearby Dyckesville and managed by his son, Chris, his only employee.

COMPANY HISTORY

In 1997, Jansen was working as a salesman and supervisor/estimator for a local fabrication shop when he heard about a portable restroom company that was for sale. An entrepreneur at heart, he thought it might be a good way to earn a little extra money on weekends. “But it took off from there because I went farther out for customers than the original owner did,” Jansen explains. “I tripled the company’s service area almost right away.”

Today, the company serves about a 75-mile radius around New Franken, which includes Brown and Kewaunee counties as well as part of Door County, a popular Wisconsin tourist destination. About 75% of its revenue comes from monthly rentals with special events supplying the balance, he says.

EQUIPMENT ROUND-UP

The company owns more than 400 restrooms. Most of them are from Satellite Industries, with the rest from Samson Industries and PolyJohn Enterprises. The company also owns nearly two dozen hand-wash stations built by The T.S.F. Company and Satellite. He uses Walex chemical products.

To service restrooms, the company relies on a locally fabricated 2004 Chevrolet 4500 with an 800-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump; and a 2004 Ford F-550 with a 400-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater aluminum tank built out by Imperial Industries with a Masport pump. For pumping septic tanks, the company owns a 2015 Western Star truck equipped with a locally built 5,800-gallon steel tank and a National Vacuum Equipment vacuum pump.

THE MAIN EVENT

In 2009, contractors started a $1 billion project to dredge a 13-mile stretch of the lower Fox River, from Green Bay to a dam located upstream, then recap portions of the river bottom with sand and gravel. The goal? Remove PCBs, a man-made chemical used for years in the papermaking industry before it was banned. During the recently completed 11-year project, contractors removed an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of PCB-polluted sediment, which was dewatered, then taken to a special landfill.

Tetra Tech EC, the project’s primary contractor, and J.F. Brennan, a subcontractor that did the actual dredging, hired Jim’s Johns in 2009 to supply 12 restrooms for about a dozen barges doing dredging and related work. Jansen supplied the companies with new Tufway restrooms from Satellite Industries. A local fabricator outfitted the restrooms with special frames so a crane could lift them on and off the barges, Jansen says.

Jansen also supplied an additional 15 or so restrooms at other locations related to the project, including a temporary fabricating shop, on-site trailer offices and the dewatering facility. Servicing the roughly 27 restrooms and two hand-wash stations, located within about a 5-mile radius of each other, took about two hours once a week, he says.

OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY

The job posed one logistical problem: Jansen never knew exactly when the barges would come ashore so he could clean the restrooms. So rather than waiting for them to arrive, he proposed putting 12 clean restrooms at a designated spot along the river on a designated day every week.

That allowed the barges to come ashore during the designated day, offload a dirty restroom, load a clean restroom on-board and be on its way, all without Jansen having to waste time waiting.

“Time is money,” he says. “I didn’t want to have to sit around and wait. Every Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, I’d go to the drop-off site, clean the restrooms they dropped off and zip-tie the locks to indicate they were cleaned. Then I’d go and clean the other restrooms.

“It was a very unusual arrangement, but in the long run, it was a much more feasible and efficient way to do it,” he continues. “They said it made a lot of sense and it worked out great, they loved it.

Jansen only charged the companies for 12 restrooms, not 24, because the arrangement potentially saved him hours and hours of waiting. “I can clean a lot of restrooms in that time that I’d otherwise spend waiting if something went wrong and it took the barges longer than expected to come ashore,” he explains. “And giving them 12 free restrooms helped build a bond of trust.”

NEW REVENUE STREAM

The project also led Jansen into another role: campground operator. Shortly after the dredging project began, a local campground flooded and left dredging workers staying in campers stranded. That prompted officials from the companies to ask Jansen if he’d consider building a campground on the 10-acre site where his business is located.

“It’s a very peaceful, rural area, which is what they wanted for their workers because they work 12-hour shifts and need a quiet spot to sleep,” Jansen says. “I found there was no ordinance against building a campground on my property, so I got on it right away.”

In just two weeks, Jansen rounded up contractors that did the required site-prep work, drilled a well and ran water and electric power to 12 camping sites. “It went unbelievable quick,” he says. “And the customers were very grateful.” The total cost? About $20,000, he says, noting it paid for itself in 1-1/2 years.

Now that the project has concluded, Jansen plans to rent campsites to construction workers and others that might need temporary lodging. “I’m not worried at all about it being empty,” he says. “Lots of people come here from out-of-state.”

KEYS TO SUCCESS

What made the project work? A strong commitment to customer service, Jansen says. “If they’d call for something, I responded right away,” he observes. “Sometimes they’d need another restroom in another location for a month or two, so I’d do it. We developed a good working relationship.” Developing a practical solution to the barge-arrival issue also helped, he adds, noting, “Sometimes it helps to think outside the box.”  



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