Tinseltown Diversification Is Helping Ken Novotny Expand His Family Company

Expanding into the film and television industry has forever changed the business model for Canada’s Gotta Go Portable Toilet & Septic Service.

Tinseltown Diversification Is Helping Ken Novotny Expand His Family Company

The service crew at Gotta Go includes, from left, Rob McKay, Marc Lamarche, Jay Nosaty, Ken Novotny, Taylor Christian, Braden Leost and Donald Malko. (Photos by Joel Boily)

When Ken Novotny founded his portable restroom business in 2003, he was wary of becoming too big to maintain a reputation for good service. In 2021, Gotta Go Portable Toilet & Septic Tank Pumping of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, has more than doubled in size and expanded beyond construction customers to serve the province’s film industry. His strategy for maintaining service? Knowing how to share the workload with family members, including his wife, Lois, and their daughter Lindsey Greig, who is playing an increasingly important role in the company.

PRO last visited Gotta Go in 2010, seven years after Novotny had leveraged a summer stint with a friend’s portable sanitation company and a government loan program to launch the business that freed him from the cyclic unemployment of working at a bus manufacturing plant. Starting with about 100 restrooms, he quickly found clients in the local construction industry and servicing area special events, ramping up to 330 units.

However, a friend of Novotny’s, Brent Yorke, who works in transportation services for the film and television industry, insisted he investigate that sector.

“In 2012, I spoke to John Mysyk, a film industry transportation coordinator, who came by the shop, looked at the units we had for rent and started using us immediately,” Novotny says. “It changed the company forever.”

Today, Novotny is 56 years old and Gotta Go employs seven people, including Novotny’s wife and daughter. The company fields more than 800 restrooms, adding 150 units in 2020 alone.

The restrooms are all supplied by PolyJohn Canada and Satellite Industries of which about 30 are fully accessible. The company owns 14 restroom trailers, including self-built units and others purchased from Rich Specialty Trailers, NuConcepts and Comforts of Home Services. The company offers 125 hand-wash stations from PolyJohn Canada.

Gotta Go operates 10 vacuum trucks, most featuring Wallenstein and Jurop (Chandler Equipment) pumps.

Eight are Fords, ranging from 1999 to 2014 and carrying 720-gallon waste/360-gallons freshwater tanks. Tanks are made of steel, stainless steel and aluminum. Seven are F-550s, and two feature flat decks, allowing one to transport 10 restrooms plus another six. An F-450 features a slide-in Satellite Vacuum Trucks tank. Gotta Go built out all but two of the Fords, installing some used tanks and some new tanks supplied by Vacutrux. A 1999 F-550 was built out by Keith Huber (Hol-Mac), while the 2006 F-550 was built out by Lane’s Vacuum Tank with a Moro pump.

A 2006 Chevrolet 2500 features a 360-gallon waste/180-gallon freshwater slide-in tank from Best Enterprises and a Condé pump. A 2003 International 4400 is outfitted with a 2,400-gallon steel tank. Another half-dozen Chevrolet and GMC half-tons with extended cabs are used to haul VIP restroom trailers and light towers.

About 35% of the business is now devoted to the entertainment industry, although construction remains the company’s primary focus. However, as a result of COVID-19, construction clients have been asking for more units and more frequent service, providing additional revenue.

Gotta Go’s wedding and event schedule has been heavily cut back during the pandemic, but the company has previously served area events including the River Cities Dragon Boat Festival in Winnipeg, and carnivals for Wonder Shows, Select Shows and Canucks, amusement companies which travel Manitoba to the Ontario border from spring to fall. Most of these events call for between 30 and 50 restrooms. Prior to the pandemic, the company serviced between 100 and 150 weddings per year. A small sideline business involves pumping out recreational vehicles.

Novotny ascribes company growth to providing top notch service to clients.

“That kind of growth creeps up on you,” he says, “but you can’t take your business relationships and the type of service they expect for granted. It needs to be the same or better.”

For example, any client who calls before noon will still receive a portable restroom delivery that same day. 

Balancing short-term event contracts with middle-term film and long-term construction contracts requires discipline. It’s a matter of knowing how to delegate responsibilities.

Novotny now manages the film work, while Greig handles incoming calls and construction contracts. They work together on events, dividing up the contracts between them. Lois Novotny handles other administrative tasks, including paperwork and delivering restrooms for film industry clients.

Winnipeg has a population of about 750,000. Gotta Go’s service area ranges to roughly a 50-mile radius around the city for construction contracts, though the company will go 250 miles to deliver a trailer for a film location.

“For locations outside a 90-minute drive, the film company has a choice whether to pay our increased travel costs or choose a local pumper,” Novotny says. “If they choose another company, they will ask me to provide them with a pumping schedule and any special instructions.”

Movie production companies provide their own trailers for the cast. Pumping bathrooms in these trailers is part of the overall service contract. When the transportation coordinator says it’s time for a production to move to a new location, Gotta Go is on the call list, arranging to move trailers to the next set. 

Gotta Go has provided restroom trailer rentals and service for productions as diverse as Amazon Prime’s Tales from the Loop series, to feature film A Dog’s Purpose and a long list of Hallmark TV movies, including Snowkissed, Let’s Meet Again on Christmas Eve, 12 Days to Love, Sweet Autumn and The Secret Ingredient. The company also provided service for The Nobody, a new action film starring Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, and The Ice Road featuring Liam Neeson.

Novotny has exchanged a few words with stars such as Neeson, Odenkirk and Keanu Reeves, but it’s all in a day’s work. “We’re all here to do a job,” he says. “If we don’t have a lot to say to each other, it’s because we’re providing the service we promise.”

Gotta Go buys social media ads and advertises a little in local construction publications, but the film work is strictly word of mouth.

The company’s four-acre property is located close to home and features a 2,700-square-foot shop and a 3,200-square-foot equipment building, complete with restroom wash pad. Novotny performs much of the vehicle maintenance during slower winter months, alongside his friend, Marc Lamarche, who is called in as needed. The pair also builds out many of the company’s newer vacuum trucks using Wallenstein pumps and Vacutrux tanks.

“I grew up on a farm and my father used to build his own equipment,” Novotny says. “I guess this is the farmer in me. We like to build them exactly as we want them.”

Manitoba’s cold winters can be a challenge, but Gotta Go is well stocked with methanol to prevent restroom tanks from freezing, without exposing vehicles to corrosive salt. Methanol is more expensive than salt, but PROs in Manitoba expense it directly as a winter surcharge.

All waste is pumped out at the City of Winnipeg’s wastewater facilities.

Novotny attends the WWETT Show every year to catch up with the latest trends in technology and to meet old friends like Scott Edwards, owner of Scottie’s Potties of Detroit, who he first met at the show, and Canadian PROs, including the father-and-son team of Dustin and Devon Cabelka of Go Services in Calgary, Alberta.

Novotny’s succession plans have evolved since daughter Lindsey has taken an increased interest in one day taking over the business. She’s driving additional company growth by exploring new contract opportunities. This year she bid on a contract for the City of Winnipeg that Novotny had previously had his eye on — and won it. Gotta Go is currently ordering 200 additional portable restrooms to fulfill the terms of the contract. 

“I’m lucky in that I can now leave for a month or so to go to Arizona in the winter,” Novotny says. “But I intend to stay in the business as long as I can, helping and guiding Lindsey as she takes on more responsibility.”  


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