It Took the Owner of Swanky Restroom Trailers Time to Find Her Happy Place, But It Was Sure Worth the Wait

Michigan PRO Gretchen Menard renews her career by saying “I do” to luxury restroom trailers for weddings.

It Took the Owner of Swanky Restroom Trailers Time to Find Her Happy Place, But It Was Sure Worth the Wait

Family pitches in and helps out at Swanky Restroom Trailers. Owner Gretchen Menard (right) is shown with her niece, Alexis Menard (left), and mother Cheryl Menard. (Photos by Amy Voigt)

Gretchen Menard’s portable sanitation career has taken a few twists and turns since she left her job as a waitress and entered the industry in 1998. But as it turns out, the latest phase as the owner of Swanky Restroom Trailers in Holly, Michigan, is the most satisfying — and most lucrative, too.

When PRO last wrote about Menard in 2009, she had just significantly downsized her business, Poopy’s Potties, which primarily rented restrooms to construction contractors. Physically and mentally worn out by routinely putting in 80- to 100-hour work weeks and a seemingly endless stream of employee issues, Menard sold most of her company’s 300 restrooms and a service vehicle in 2006 and let her five employees go.

But she kept 50 PolyJohn restrooms and decided to instead pursue the market for weddings, parties, festivals and other outdoor special events.

Around 2011, Menard discovered an even more lucrative market: renting restroom trailers to a burgeoning industry for filmmakers in the Detroit area. (Holly is about 40 miles northwest of downtown Detroit.) However, when the movie projects dwindled a few years later, Menard rolled her restroom trailers to yet another new market: weddings and VIP events.

“I rented one trailer for a wedding and thought it was fantastic,” she says. “It was a lot easier than catering to the film industry and I made a lot more money. Every year kept getting busier and busier and busier.”

DISTINCTIVE BRANDING

Effective branding and product differentiation stand as two keys to her company’s success. The branding starts with the company name and the stylized interiors reinforce her five restroom trailers, all manufactured by Comforts of Home Services.

“I wanted a company name different from anybody else,” she explains. “And my trailers are so unique. … They’re super swanky, which is how I came up with the name. People remember it, which is critical to effective branding.”

Four of the trailers are two-bathroom units and the fifth one is what Menard calls the Swanky Parlor Room trailer. It features a waiting room, or parlor, equipped with a table, bar stools, mirrors and other amenities plus two bathrooms in the rear, she says.

Menard worked with Comforts of Home to customize the trailers with themed interior designs. From lighting and wall colors to flooring and hand-picked artwork, the trailers reflect both Menard’s personal touch and her customer base.

“Lighting is a big deal to me,” she says. “When you go inside a trailer, I don’t want it bright and sterile-looking, so I use either blue or purple lightbulbs for softer and more subtle lighting.

“I also select unique artwork that further brands the trailers,” she adds.

Some of the trailers feature rustic interior designs that mesh well with barn weddings, which are very popular in Michigan. The others are themed for what Menard calls lake weddings, more popular in northern Michigan.

“The customers absolutely love the themes,” she notes. “When someone goes inside, they say, ‘Oh, wow — this is a much different experience than just going to the bathroom.’”

Menard also says she spends a little more money on higher-end hand soaps and air fresheners.

“They cost just a couple dollars more, but it makes a big difference,” she says.

A MARKETING PARTNERSHIP

Aside from promoting restroom trailers on the company’s website, Menard says she did little marketing to promote the trailers for weddings. Instead, she relied mainly on word-of-mouth referrals and repeat business from wedding planners.

“Once you get to know some good wedding planners, they’ll only rent from you,” she notes. “If you give wedding planners something unique that brides love, then the brides are happy with the wedding planners, which leads to more referrals.”

Menard also receives a promotional boost from a partnership with Ray Birchmeier, the owner of R&D Septic and Portable Restrooms in nearby New Lothrop, Michigan. She met Birchmeier at a licensing accreditation class in 2008, and they became friends after discovering they had similar philosophies about running a portable sanitation business.

“I was starting to get big special events that I couldn’t handle myself, so we combined forces,” Menard explains. “Then I got sick of delivering portable restrooms — it’s so labor intensive and I just couldn’t physically do it anymore. So that’s when I started to focus only on restroom trailers.”

Nonetheless, people kept calling Poopy’s Potties for restroom rentals. Menard hated to turn away business, so she struck a deal with Birchmeier: She’d book restroom rentals for R&D on a commission basis and he’d handle everything else (delivery, service and pickups). He also pumps out her service trailers.

“It works out really well,” she says.

Eventually, Birchmeier bought five restroom trailers and agreed to deepen the business relationship by branding them as Swanky Restroom Trailers. Menard books the rentals for them on a commission basis, and he takes care of everything else, she explains.

A COMFORTABLE NICHE

While delivering and servicing restroom trailers is easier than handling large numbers of portable restrooms for special events by herself, Menard says it’s still stressful at times, especially since she serves customers all over the state.

“One weekend I had a trailer in each corner of the state. … Jobs like that require getting up at 3 a.m. and maybe driving 18 hours in a day,” she says. When it makes sense logistically, Birchmeier sometimes helps her pick up trailers on Sundays.

On the other hand, the focus on trailers guided her to a much happier place, personally and professionally, Menard notes.

“I get to meet so many different people,” she says. “And when I deliver a trailer, they’re excited to see me — and that makes me smile. So many people tell me they’ve never been so excited about toilets before. It’s funny.”

“I’m very happy now,” she adds. “I absolutely love what I do and I make good money. I didn’t love it so much 15 years ago, but I sure do now. I guess I just had to go from experience to experience to learn what I really wanted — find out what I love the most and figure out how to work smarter, not harder.”

“I still work crazy hours during the summers,” she adds. “But it’s all good.”  



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