It’s No Gamble: Sani-Hut Has Dealt a Fair Hand for 65 Years and Counting

Three generations of Fred Cutlers have adapted to a fast-changing portable sanitation industry to better serve the folks around Reno, Nevada.

It’s No Gamble: Sani-Hut Has Dealt a Fair Hand for 65 Years and Counting

Employee Lance Johnson loads PolyJohn restrooms on a GMC 4500 truck the company built out to carry six units. (Photos by Tom R. Smedes)

When you’re in business for 65 years, there are reasons for success. As the third-generation owner of Sani-Hut Co. Inc., in Reno, Nevada, Fred “Repeat” Cutler V figures it’s because the family business got a couple things right — despite the inevitable challenges over the years.

Nicknamed “Repeat” because there are four Freds before him, he says “Repeat” also fits the business’ emphasis for consistent, quality customer service and treating employees like family. At the same time, the Cutlers have been willing to have a little fun and try new ideas. Like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks, they’ve diversified with various ventures. While some, like temporary power and auger service, succeeded for a while, other ideas such as female urinals and wobble light rentals are a little more imaginative.

But through it all, the Sani-Hut portable restrooms continue to be the company’s mainstay as they were when Fred Cutler III bought a 2-year-old portable restroom company in 1956, making the Sani-Hut brand synonymous with portable restrooms in the region. 

MEETING CHALLENGES

In 1956, portable restrooms were in their infancy and the area around Reno was sparsely populated. These days, the Sani-Hut coverage area extends into northern Nevada and northeastern California with growing populations and opportunities in small and large business construction projects. And event work has taken off as the area hosts The Great Reno Balloon Races, The Wildest, Richest, Rodeo in the West — Reno Rodeo, Hot August Nights classic car show and the STIHL National Championship Air Races. 

The stock of a few restrooms has grown into thousands of units, but the growth hasn’t come without setbacks.

Eleven years ago, when PRO featured Sani-Hut, the business was holding its own and coming back from the economic recession. Some trucks were parked and half of the 50 employees laid off as the Cutlers tightened their budgets. By 2020, they had bought out a couple of competing businesses and expanded their territory and service offerings. 

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

“A portion of our business is special events. We took a financial hit, which forced us to focus all our resources on the construction side of the business. Construction was a saving grace for not having the events,” Cutler says, noting no employees had to be laid off due to the pandemic.

Besides increasing construction site rentals, Cutler and his father did what they always do — diversify.

“We had more hand sanitizer stands, that we built in-house, and hand-wash stations out than we’ve ever had. Putting hand-wash stations in grocery stores was new, and we worked closely with local hospitals and on COVID testing sites,” Cutler says. 

To keep up, they purchased more PolyJohn Bravo hand-wash stations. And they did their best to stock up on hard-to-find consumables such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and soap.

Though excellent service and thorough cleaning has always been part of Sani-Hut protocol, the virus upped it even more. 

“With COVID, you clean with a better deep-cleaning. You spend more time on the service. Service is all you have to offer; it’s how you take care of business and the customers that matters the most,” Cutler says. 

EMPLOYEE STRONG

Cutler credits employees for the business’ long-term success. 

“Our employees are customer-friendly. They get our vision of taking care of customers, and they are what helps keep us together,” he says. 

Many employees have been with the company 10 to 20 years; one has worked more than 30 years. Sani-Hut’s secret is treating them like family and keeping the work atmosphere light with joking and having fun. For example, they keep a running total of who pulls the most cellphones out of tanks when servicing the special events. Going to breakfast after a big service has become a tradition that employees really enjoy.

“It is an expense,” says Cutler, “but well worth it when the employees have a chance to come together and have a morale booster.”

New hires ride with an assistant manager, then a route driver before going on their own. All attend monthly meetings focusing on safety, current jobs and issues that come up — like COVID-19. Personal protection equipment and the different protocol required for each site were common topics in 2020. 

A sense of working on an even playing field helps keep employees satisfied.

“Everybody does everything; even myself and my dad. We pump toilets and deliver buildings too — whatever it takes to keep moving,” Cutler says.

DIVERSIFICATION

The portable buildings have long been a reliable standby for Sani-Hut and helped keep employees busy when events canceled in 2020.

Sani-Hut employees construct a variety of office buildings from the ground up, rented weekly on construction sites as well as for special events.  

Fire service keeps workers busy every year. Though 2020 marked a year for many intense wildfires, the region at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains experienced a typical fire year, Cutler notes. Sani-Hut employees followed their well-established procedures.

“Our skies are so clear that when we see smoke rising, we know there’s a good chance we’ll get a call. The yard crew starts washing units and we get ready,” he says. 

When called, they deploy within hours to set up restrooms and hand-wash stations at command posts where firefighters camp. Sani-Hut uses its event models, PolyJohn Fleet Series, and PolyJohn Bravo hand-wash units and provide daily and sometimes twice-a-day service. In addition to providing support to their local firefighters, Sani-Hut also helped out friends in the industry who needed restrooms for fires in California. 

INVENTORY

With thousands of restrooms and no events in 2020, Sani-Hut had plenty of restrooms available. Most are PolyJohn’s Fleet restroom. ADA-compliant models include We’ll Care II and Comfort Inn. The Bravo and Applause hand-wash stations are also from PolyJohn, as are the hand sanitizers in every restroom. Special event trailers come from Advanced Containment Systems. Sani-Hut also carries freshwater flush, junior and other specialty units from PolyJohn. Deodorizers are from J&J Portable Sanitation Products. 

Trucks for delivery and pickup include a 2016 Hino that hauls 10 restrooms, a 2013 International and 2000 Freightliner that each haul 12 restrooms and a 2007 GMC W4500 that hauls six restrooms. All the flatbeds of the trucks were built in-house to meet their specific needs. 

For service trucks, Sani-Hut built 900-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tanks for eight International DT trucks, (ranging from 1997 to 2013). Sani-Hut also built 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tanks for two Isuzu trucks, 2005 and 2007.  Another two 2018 Isuzu trucks have 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks from Flowmark. 

The fleet includes six Ford trucks. Two of them are 2018 Ford F-450s with 900-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks from Flowmark. Four of the Ford trucks are F-550s, 2017 and 2018 models, with 1,150-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks. One is from KeeVac Industries, and the other three were built out by Lely Tank & Waste Solutions. A 1998 Freightliner has a 750-gallon waste/250-gallon freshwater steel tank built in-house. Finally, for wastewater only, they have a 1996 International truck with a homemade 2,500-gallon steel tank and a semi-trailer with a 5,000-gallon steel tank.

Sani-Hut uses Masport and National Vacuum Equipment pumps on its trucks.

Trucks used to move office buildings and storage containers include three Internationals, one Kenworth and one Peterbilt, models ranging from 1979 to 2007.

CONTINUING WHAT WORKS

Sani-Hut keeps the business running in much the same way as it has for years. Office manager Linda Martinez uses MAS 90 ERP software from global software provider Sage North America for accounting. 

“I take care of the routing,” Cutler says. “All routes are on paper — living, breathing documents we are constantly tweaking.”

Typically, there are about 20 trucks out daily traveling in all directions. Vast distances are part of the job around Reno and its surrounding areas.  The weather can also be a challenge for Sani-Hut. From extreme heat in the summer, requiring extra water and deodorant, to snow and ice, requiring a brine mixture to be added to the water when the temperature drops into the teens in the winter.

Customers learn about Sani-Hut services through phone book ads, web searches, word-of-mouth and most of all from their involvement and presence in their community. 

The Sani-Hut website — due to be updated — provides lists and photos of the services and products the business has available. The 18 items include everything from specialty restrooms for baby care and multiple restroom trailers to U-Tow ticket booths, portable dock and trailer ramp, and sweeper services. Some of Sani-Hut services have been discontinued, such as temporary power, which is underutilized and expensive to continue. That and other services came about because of requests from event customers. 

Some of them have become popular. For example, picnic tables are often rented as part of the package for events. Sani-Hut employees add redwood boards to purchased framework, and customers like the sturdy and attractive picnic tables and benches. Trash management services with recycling drums are also popular additions for events. 

Not every idea pans out.

“My dad thought we would try renting (construction) wobble lights and put them on the website,” Cutler says. To his knowledge, they’ve never been used, other than a project at his house. Another novelty item is a female urinal, which Cutler says is no longer manufactured. It has never been rented but sits next to the Sani-Hut office and makes a great conversation piece.

“We’re not looking at adding anything new with the climate of everything that’s going on,” Cutler says. “Right now, we just want to maintain the customers we have.”

KEEP IT GOING?

There is no Fred Cutler VI. But, Cutler’s 14-year-old daughter, Hayley, says she is interested in carrying on the Sani-Hut business.

It’s hard to say what will happen in the future, Cutler says. But whether or not she takes over the business, he likes to think of all employees as family.

“My grandparents started out in this business because, ‘It looked like fun,’” he says. “We use that mantra even today. It’s not always a glamourous job. We laugh. We joke. All the employees are like one big, happy, dysfunctional family — but we get along. We have good people and good customers.”  



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