Challenges Abound Working Remote Routes for Energy Companies Across the Southwest

With help from the whole team, service providers for Texas-based JIT Total Site Solutions find satisfaction living a nomadic lifestyle.

Challenges Abound Working Remote Routes for Energy Companies Across the Southwest

The JIT Total Site Solutions team includes, from left, Wesley Neeley, Jacob Templeton, Mike Drennan, Fabian Campos and Mikkail Shepherd. (Photos by Olivia Ogren-Hrejsa)

Providing portable sanitation for energy industry construction projects in the U.S. Southwest presents unique challenges. Distances are vast, locations are remote and projects are always on the move. Many logistical issues are involved in managing these jobs and it couldn’t be done without dedicated employees willing to live in the field and move with the projects, management software and numerous contracts with disposal facilities and third-party vendors. This is the niche JIT Total Site Solutions thrives in.

The company’s service territory changes but is generally within a 500-mile radius of their headquarters in Boerne, Texas — from Oklahoma City north, to Corpus Christi south, New Orleans east and Carlsbad, New Mexico west. Field operations manager Mike Drennan coordinates the various components of these jobs and says the key is constant communication and making sure the far-flung employees are supported and feel part of a family.

The company operates out of a 12,000- square-foot facility in Boerne and two remote offices/yards in Coolidge, Texas, 200 miles north and Monahans, Texas, 300 miles west. Owners Austin Thompson, CEO, and Hank Dallam, president, emphasize that all team members are invaluable to the success of the company — an asset manager, human resources manager and controller in the office and a field team consisting of Drennan, two salespeople, three supervisors and 11 service technicians. 

Drennan reports the area is booming, with people moving in, renewable energy taking off, oil and gas coming back and heavy highway and industrial infrastructure projects lining up. While the salespeople stay busy keeping their ear to the ground about upcoming work, reading articles and meeting with folks, Thompson says the other side of sales is excellent execution in the field which leads to referrals, invitations to bid and offers to take on additional work. One of Drennan’s jobs is making sure the company maintains a good reputation. 

“I pop in on all the different techs,” he says. “I just show up unannounced. I visit with customers, go out in the field and check the jobs because I demand exceptional service from my technicians. I constantly tell them I want their portable restrooms to be clean enough for my mom to go in there and feel comfortable.”

NEW OWNERS, NEW SERVICES

Thompson and Dallam purchased the company in 2019, seven years after its formation. They had backgrounds in oil and gas management and were looking for something different. 

“We wanted to do something on our own,” Thompson explains. “We came across this and thought it was a company we could get on board with and help.” Dallam adds that the company had a good track record and a culture of caring about clients and the employees. 

The business they bought was limited in scope and a little behind on some things. 

“We used to do our billing off a whiteboard,” notes Drennan, who came with the original company. “Or we’d spend two days looking for one of our trailers.” 

Being new to the sanitation industry, Thompson and Dallam relied on Drennan and his team to bring them up to speed, then wasted no time implementing improvements. They changed the name (previously, Just in Time Services & Rentals), brought in technology for everyone and everything, and expanded operations into renewable energy and heavy road construction projects. 

CUSTOM SOLUTIONS

The company’s main service offering is portable sanitation. They also offer trash trailers, holding tanks and water tanks. But they want to be viewed as a one-stop shop for their clients. 

“We want to be the only number a customer has to call when setting up a new job,” Drennan says. “If we don’t have something, we’ll third-party it.” Examples include water, ice, light towers and roll-off containers. 

The inventory stands at 1,600 standard portable restrooms, 10 ADA-compliant units, 100 hand-wash stations, 70 300-gallon holding tanks (all from Satellite Industries and PolyJohn), 10 Norwesco 2,500-gallon freshwater tanks, 20 10- and 20-unit transport trailers, 30 25-foot enclosed trailers used for trash, and 15 combo trash/two-unit trailers. They also have 75 small trailers that customers move around as needed, which are customized to customer needs and might include two or three units and a hand-wash station.

The service fleet includes 24 four-wheel drive Ford F‑550 vacuum trucks (2018 and newer), most with 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tanks and Masport pumps. Their older tanks are steel and stainless steel from Lely Mfg. and Progress Tank. Newer units are from Satellite Vacuum Trucks with MD950 steel tanks and Masport pumps.

The vehicles are serviced in the field by a third-party automotive garage and also undergo monthly maintenance at the company yard. JIT’s standard policy is to service all units twice a week unless requested otherwise. The company uses TOICO Industries products for servicing.

NOT FOR EVERYONE

Most of the service techs live full-time in company-provided RVs, often with their families, particularly when kids are out of school or are home-schooled. And Drennan knows them all. 

“Not only do I treat the employees that work with me as family, I treat their family as family. I know every one of the kids’ names, their wives’ names. I’ve been to birthday parties and you name it.” Last Thanksgiving, he gathered up everyone and their families and took them to the Golden Corral for Thanksgiving dinner. At Christmas he drove around and handed out hams and gift cards. 

Techs may stay in one spot for a few months or more than a year. Because jobs are so spread out, they typically do not live near other techs. Drennan says it can be a lonely lifestyle but there are people who thrive in that environment. And he knows firsthand what it’s like because he and his wife also live in an RV.

Drennan is the communication link between management, salespeople, technicians and customers. Everybody from the new guy to the company president has his phone number. He makes sure the techs are happy and never feel alone. 

“I don’t want my guys to just be parked up somewhere and nobody ever talks to them, and they just get a phone call from their supervisor once in a while for something they forgot to do, or whatever,” he says. 

Although he has an office at the Coolidge yard, Drennan spends most of his time on the road. He visits each service provider and their customer at least monthly. He’ll often buy them breakfast and hold a safety meeting. Supervisors and techs also attend weekly safety meetings organized by their customer.

“I request the techs be involved in those meetings because they’re part of that family, too,” Drennan says. “They need to know what their customer has found that needs to be discussed.”

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Obviously not everyone is suited for this type of work environment. The company uses their website, social media, job boards and referrals to find people, but Drennan is always on the lookout for prospective hires. He’s been known to walk up to a total stranger if he sees something in that person that grabs his attention. When interviewing he says he’s brutally honest with people about the realities of the job. 

After a background check and orientation, new hires ride with a supervisor for a week, then an experienced tech for another week. Drennan has several discussions with trainees. 

“I throw different scenarios at them — what would you do in this situation, how would you handle this. When we’re both comfortable I hand him over to the supervisor and keep an eye on him from afar.” He eases new hires out on their own, usually in less remote areas and sees how they do. “I spend a little extra time visiting with them, seeing how they feel. The last thing I want is for somebody to get homesick and just up and leave in the middle of the night,” he says. 

After training, there’s a 90-day probationary period with a lot of checking in and providing feedback. “We want to make sure they’re executing the way we want them to, but also so they know they’re supported and know what success looks like,” Thompson says. 

TOOLS FOR A LOGISTICS PUZZLE

Technology is indispensable for managing these projects. JIT uses Samsara software along with GPS and Google Maps. All technicians have company-provided iPhones. The technology handles everything from planning routes to keeping track of inventory, staying on top of fleet maintenance schedules and monitoring driver and vehicle performance. Drennan also uses these tools to figure out what RV parks to place the field workers for the most efficient use of their time, taking into account locations of job sites, disposal facilities, water and fuel. 

“We can track where the tech uses the PTO pumps so I can pull it up on the map and figure out the best place so he’s right in the middle of what he’s doing,” he says. “I try to keep it to where they’re not driving more than two hours to do a job.” He uses Google Maps to find the nearest treatment facilities to job sites, then has the office set up accounts. 

“These are giant projects,” Dallam says. “There are a lot more important things going on than portable restrooms and fresh water, but the other side of the coin is that none of those things can go on without the services JIT and others provide. As soon as there are boots on the ground, water, trash and sanitation, are critical.”  



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