Join Us for a Return Engagement

A new feature kicking off in this issue reconnects us with a successful PRO from our past.

Join Us for a Return Engagement

Gretchen Menard, owner of Swanky Restroom Trailers, is shown holding an issue of PRO magazine from September 2009 where she appeared on the cover with her mother, Cheryl Menard. (Photo by Amy Voigt)

Recently I was reminded of a series of day-in-the-life videos we produced a decade ago with Gretchen Menard, a portable restroom contractor near Detroit. I went to our website www.promonthly.com and took another look at a few of the videos, including Riding Shotgun With Gretchen Menard, and wondered how the plucky entrepreneur is doing these days. 

So I picked up the phone and dialed the number for Gretchen’s company, Swanky Restroom Trailers. When she answered, she sounded the same as she ever did, enthusiastic about her business and upbeat about the portable sanitation industry. It was great to hear about her progress since the last video was posted in 2012. 

Gretchen noted some changes in her boutique restroom trailer business, perhaps most importantly a laser-focus on serving outdoor wedding customers throughout Michigan. And she expressed amazement that she still regularly hears from people across the country who watch the Riding Shotgun videos through our website and on YouTube. 

HOW SHE MADE IT HAPPEN

I asked Gretchen if she would be willing to share the story of growing her business with our readers, and she graciously agreed. The result is writer Ken Wysocky’s feature in this issue titled “Finding Her Happy Place.” This is a story of perseverance, deftly adapting to a changing marketplace and showing what can be accomplished with a small business if you keep your eye on the prize. 

As you will read, Gretchen totally transformed the business she took over in the 1990s and fashioned it to suit her lifestyle and career expectations. Let’s key in on those three areas mentioned above.

Perseverance

Facing all the challenges you might expect in running a small restroom operation, Gretchen kept going through economic highs and lows, long hours on the job and struggling to meet the demanding needs of her customers. It was tough, she admits, slinging up to 300 restrooms in her inventory, making constant trips to the dumpsite and managing employees. But she always powered through it and is now enjoying the fruits of those labors.

Adapting to change

The business profile has run the gamut of the restroom industry during Gretchen’s ownership. First known as Poopy’s Potties, she initially focused on the grind of construction work. When that became overwhelming, she bought restroom trailers and made a success of serving film and television production companies in the Detroit area. When incentives to bring those productions to Michigan went away, that business dropped off and Gretchen tailored her marketing toward outdoor weddings, which had become very popular even before COVID-19 drove many gatherings outside.

Focusing on goals

Gretchen has always made the business work for her rather than the other way around. Clearly she’s worked very hard to succeed, but she’s also sought out opportunities that would ensure a fair profit for the labor expended. She was one of the early proponents of specializing in high-end restroom trailer rentals. Boutique trailer businesses are somewhat common in today’s marketplace, but this was a fresh concept when Gretchen made the move. 

When she sold off her standard units and was determined to make it on trailers alone, that would have had some contractors scratching their heads. And some PROs may have wondered about her decision to reach out to a statewide market for her trailers. But she has shown that a trendy and clean brand identity can drive profits to justify driving several hours to deliver a unit for the weekend.

 A FEATURE IS BORN

So kudos go out to Gretchen for her success and dedication to providing quality portable sanitation services. I found her story inspiring and I hope you do, too. 

Hanging up the phone after talking with Gretchen, I started wondering about all of the PROs we’ve featured since COLE Publishing took over the magazine way back in October 2004. What other inspiring stories would I find if I started calling all those companies from the past? 

To answer that question, we’re starting a new feature, Return Engagement, with Gretchen’s Swanky Restroom Trailers taking the lead. As for future installments, I’m inviting you to lend a hand. 

Perhaps one of our stories from the past has stuck with you and you wonder whatever became of that PRO we featured. Maybe your company was featured long ago and you would like to share how your business has grown or changed since that first story. In either case, I want to hear from you. Send me your story suggestions or let me know you’re up for a new interview about your company.

After all, one way to profit in the future is to learn from the past. Collectively, PROs are an astute group of small business owners. Like Gretchen, many have found a way to weather the ups and downs of an industry and come out farther ahead. These are the stories we should return to and reflect upon. I look forward to hearing from you.  



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