What’s the Most Unusual Pumping Job You’ve Ever Performed?

You service portable restrooms every day, but don’t forget the nontraditional pumping jobs that can boost revenue and lead to more restroom placements.

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Question: In addition to recreational vehicles, what other types of specialized equipment can PROs pump and service? 

Answer: In our career, we serviced RVs, military airplanes, railroad repair crew sleeping quarters and a small river touring boat! 

Despite a variety of specialized customer equipment, we maintained a common strategy in determining if we could accommodate these customer inquiries.

Our policy was:

Can we easily, safety and profitably provide service in these unique situations?

Our strategy was:  

To investigate, anticipate and communicate with the potential customer. 

Goal

We will refer to the examples listed above to illustrate how we used our policy and our strategy in order to provide top-notch service to unique customer needs. It is our hope that you can use this information to explore new areas in which you can expand your range of services.

Military Airplanes

As with most of these “unique situations,” the potential customer usually initiates the communication. In our case, a competitor had provided this service to the local military air base for several years but had recently ceased operations. We had never considered the service need, but we were immediately interested.

The air base stated quite clearly upfront that this was a contracted service that renewed every three years. We asked for an informational onsite meeting. At this meeting we learned how to service these military C-130 cargo planes and the military protocol that accompanied the service:

1. We needed to purchase a unique piece of equipment to open the waste discharge valve on the plane. This device was Y-shaped and had a plunger on one branch of the Y that opened the valve on the side of the plane, while the other branch channeled the waste into a 55-gallon sturdy plastic garbage can that we would pump out as we would normally pump out a unit or a holding tank. The specialized Y-shaped component cost roughly $600, and we also had to provide the 55-gallon commercial-grade plastic garbage can.

2. Our service truck was inspected at the front gate of the base to check for leaks of any kind (oil, water, waste, etc.). The driver was required to be in an “identifying” company uniform or shirt. Paperwork such as the Material Safety Data Sheets and the location of where the waste would be disposed was required, whether asked to be presented or not.        

3. Military police (MP) would escort our service truck throughout the time it was on the base property.

4. Prior to entering the gate to the runway, as well as once on the runway itself, the route service tech and the MP would inspect the area for foreign object debris and remove these items if found. Items such as small pebbles lodged in the tires of the service truck that could be dislodged in the runway area were of prime concern. Once again, a check for any leaks or unsecured equipment was performed.  

5. The MP was required to stand by and watch the service take place.   

6. Once completed, the service vehicle was escorted to the front gate.

As a PRO, the actual service of the airplane was quite easy. Using the Y-shaped plunger and drain, no more than 20 gallons of waste drained into the 55-gallon trash can where it was pumped out. We then handed our bucket with 3 gallons of water and a double charge of blue deodorizer to a soldier (when available) inside the plane who poured the mixture into the toilet.

The “investigate” portion of our visit was thorough and complete. The “anticipate” and “communicate” pieces of our conversation with the customer revealed several other considerations:

1. We were expected to provide service within 24 hours of notification by the base operations staff.

2. Our questioning of the customer revealed that, at times, it was possible that our route service driver would be in a “holding pattern” at the entrance to the runway due to the takeoff or landing of aircraft. We were steadfast in our desire to include language in the contract to account for longer than reasonable delays in the service process of the plane(s). “Time is money,” and we were able to gain agreement through the final contract that delays more than 15 minutes would incur an additional charge.

3. “Emergency charges” was another subject we inquired about during our investigation of this customer’s needs. Again, we agreed upon a significant charge for such emergencies and, in our many years of serving the air base, we experienced very few emergency calls. 

We were awarded the contract with the pricing that we felt covered our costs and the special equipment that we had to purchase. We were able to view the previous contract and discovered that our prices were somewhat higher and included extra charges for delays and emergency situations. Since the contract was for three years, we anticipated increased costs of doing business during this time. 

We use this as an example where the actual service of the specialized equipment was quite easy. The procedures and the details, however, made the situation more complex. After careful study and communication with the customer, the resulting contract was beneficial to our company and resulted in an ongoing relationship with this base for many years. In fact, both the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds held airshows at this base whereby our company was also awarded the business for these large special events.      

Train Cars for Repair Crew Personnel

Like the military planes, the actual service of this specialized equipment is relatively easy, but logistics dictate the cost to the customer. The train line sends out crews to work for periods of time on repairing various aspects of the track. We basically serviced a 200-gallon holding tank under the train car that housed the repair crew. The customer required that the service be completed during the day while the crew was “working on the railroad.” A contract would be involved.  

We requested easy access to the railcar to be serviced. Supplies, vehicle and other impediments needed to be clear in the service area. 

Our investigation revealed that a double hose made it easier to reach the tank due to its position under the car. We needed no other additional equipment to complete this service.

Communication with the customer resulted in a minimum three-day advance notification of impending service. As with the planes, we also negotiated emergency charges. These were never used in our time with this customer. Again, as with the planes, we received additional unit revenue as portable restrooms were often requested at certain points along the local rail line for repair crew use during the day. 

Here is another example of specialized equipment that is easy to service with the only addition being that of a double hose. While we serviced actual train cars, we also obtained unit revenue as an additional benefit.

Small River Touring Boat

We received this request from the customer directly. This was not a contract situation as previously described with the planes and the trains. In fact, the customer was just beginning this endeavor and had converted a large pontoon boat into a touring craft by adding additional seating with a small restroom below the main deck. There was a 150-gallon holding tank attached to the toilet. From a PRO’s perspective, there was a portable restroom unit draining into a small holding tank.           

On our mandatory site visit prior to any agreement on potential service, we investigated and inquired as to the requirements needed to service this holding tank. We determined, with agreement from the customer:

Service could not take place at the dock where the boat would be positioned for boarding by the 20 or so passengers on any tour during summer operation. With the length of the long gangway and then the platform adjacent to the boat, at least three of our 20-foot vacuum hoses would be needed and the pressure would be extremely weak. 

Given this fact, the customer related that he owned a private area a short distance away where the boat was moored during the week when not in use for these weekend excursions. Investigation at this site revealed that it was easily accessible via a double hose and that the service truck could safely park on a level concrete pad adjacent to the boat. Easy access to the boat and the tank were possible from this point.

The boat’s small holding tank needed service any time during the week from Monday to Thursday. To control odor, we assigned this service to a Monday route. 

One final consideration that we presented the customer was access to the boat. A locked gate surrounded this area. We recommended that a combination lock replace the key lock and the customer agreed. With the lock code, we could then provide the service that was needed at our convenience without delay. The customer agreed to our putting one of our company decals inside the restroom on the boat, and we were confident that we received some additional business from the boat’s customers. We enjoyed a two-year relationship with this customer before he closed the operation.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Consider providing service to customers who present unique requirements. Often the actual service of the equipment is relatively easy and quite sanitary. As more customers approach your company about these special needs, you will become proficient in meeting these requirements. As your experience grows, consider proactively approaching other potential customers such as RV parks, small boat marinas and military facilities. 

If it is easy, safe and profitable after you have investigated and communicated with the potential customer, accept the opportunity. Many times, the exposure you receive and the business relationships you establish will add even more to your bottom line.  



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