Tim and Becky Peltzer Have Enjoyed Their Career Move Into Portable Sanitation

An Iowa couple discovers their entrepreneurial side to revitalize put their own stamp on an existing operation.

Tim and Becky Peltzer Have Enjoyed Their Career Move Into Portable Sanitation

Entrepreneurs Tim and Becky Peltzer are learning more about the portable sanitation industry every day at Waste Solutions of Iowa. The couple is shown in the company shop with some of their truck fleet in the background. (Photos by Scott Morgan)

When Tim Peltzer told his wife, Becky, that he was interested in buying Jim’s Johns, a portable sanitation business based in Des Moines, Iowa, she thought it was an unconventional if not odd career choice — until she went in to help him.

“He was having a rough start,” she says of her husband, who left a sales job at an architectural and engineering firm to become an entrepreneur. “I came into the office to help in May of 2018, and I never left.

“I found I absolutely love running a business,” adds Peltzer, who earlier had made a career U-turn herself; after 15 years as an air pollution-monitoring specialist for Polk County, she decided to sell essential oils. “I love all the challenges that come with running a business, as well as taking something with a lot of potential and helping it grow and develop.”

Jim’s Johns, which the couple renamed Waste Solutions of Iowa, already was a solid enterprise. But the former owner essentially ran it out of his pickup truck, with no staff. Tim Peltzer was intrigued by how much more successful it could be by modernizing processes and technology.

“We were confident that we could improve things — and achieve great results by putting systems into place and streamlining operations,” she says.

As it turned out, the couple needed every ounce of that confidence and optimism during their first year in operation. They were quickly overwhelmed by a myriad of frustrations and challenges, coupled with a lack of experience in the industry.

“When we bought the business, we kind of didn’t get what we thought we were buying,” she says. “It was hard to figure out inventory, for example, because there were no records. Billing was in disarray. There was no accountability for customers or for drivers. The trucks weren’t in good shape.

“In many ways, we were starting from scratch,” she says. “We had to take the tiger by the tail.”

But how the couple pivoted and righted the ship offers a blueprint for other industry newcomers.

ASKING FOR HELP

One of the first things the Peltzers did was join the Portable Sanitation Association International, which she says was a game-changer. In fact, she currently is on the group’s board of directors.

The PSAI membership gave the couple access to a network of experienced PROs who were willing to give advice on everything from maximizing route density and reliable GPS systems to trucks and structuring and organizing a business.

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs, too, so we reached out to family,” she adds. “They were an absolute godsend.”

Furthermore, all of Jim’s Johns employees stayed on board after the acquisition, which was immensely helpful. “They’re one of the main reasons why we’re here today,” Peltzer says. “Their knowledge of the industry helped move us forward.”

The couple also hired an accountant, a great resource for financial advice.

MAKING UPGRADES

The company invested in a cloud-based, dispatching/outing system from CRO Software Solutions. The system includes a customer-database component, helpful for documenting and organizing pertinent customer information, and integrates easily with QuickBooks accounting software from Intuit.

In addition, drivers can take photos of restrooms they’ve cleaned, then upload them into the CRO system. If customers complain that restrooms weren’t cleaned, the photos provide proof that they were, she says.

The company also invested in a GPS system from GeoTab, which improved operational efficiencies, she notes.

The Peltzers renamed the company to reflect its full range of services, which include cleaning grease traps and renting roll-off containers.

“We wanted to start out fresh, put our own mark on the industry,” Peltzer explains. “We also wanted to project a more professional image. And if we ever expand into other waste services, the name will still apply.

“We made the shift gradually, not overnight,” she adds. “At first, we answered the phones as Jim’s Johns, then as Waste Solutions of Iowa, formerly Jim’s Johns, then just Waste Solutions of Iowa. We also gradually shifted to the new name on invoices and on all of our branding and marketing programs.”

NEW EQUIPMENT

The couple also quickly realized they needed to invest in new trucks. They tried to hang onto the trucks that came with the business as long as possible, but continual repairs were denting profit margins considerably.

“That stopped some of the financial hemorrhaging,” Peltzer says. “It’s cheaper to have loans than to keep getting repair bills. New trucks also increased efficiency because we didn’t have trucks breaking down all the time. And it made the drivers happier, too.”

The company primarily relies on four service trucks. Two were built out by FlowMark on 2018 and 2019 Isuzu chassis and feature 900-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks. The other two trucks are 2018 and 2019 Ford F-550s, built out in-house repurposing 900-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater aluminum tanks. The trucks rely on vacuum pumps from Masport or National Vacuum Equipment.

WSI also owns about 2,000 restrooms, made primarily by PolyJohn, and restroom trailers made by JAG Mobile Solutions.

Monthly rentals typically generate about 70% of the company’s revenue with special events contributing the balance, Peltzer says.

RAISING PRICES

Rental rates also needed an overhaul, so the company gradually increased its prices.

“Customers didn’t love it, but leaving rates at the same level just wasn’t an option for us after we started to realize our actual costs,” Peltzer explains. “If we wanted to stay in business, we had to change prices appropriately.”

The key to customer acceptance of higher rates? Educating them about the services the company provides, and the costs associated with offering those services, she says.

“If you provide clean restrooms and be honest about your costs, you’ll keep most of your customers,” she asserts. “In addition, you have to know your market niche — who you want to serve. We decided we wanted customers who are willing to pay for a high-quality service provider.”

The company also raised employees’ pay. “We have an awesome team, and the company exists only because of them, so we try to treat them well,” Peltzer says. “We also value their opinions and listen to what they tell us. We really thrive on a team- and service-oriented environment.”

BRIGHT OUTLOOK

Despite all the frustrations and challenges, Peltzer says that turning the business around has been one of the most amazing experiences of her life.

“The journey has been wonderful, heart-wrenching and exciting, all those emotions and more,” she says. “Comparing where we came from to where we are today is just amazing.

“We still a long way to go, but we take a lot of pride in surviving,” she continues. “We’re still climbing the hill, but we’re really excited to see what the view is like from the top.”  



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