Stake Your Turf: How To Define Service Areas

Learn how to optimize the size of your service territory.
Stake Your Turf: How To Define Service Areas
Affordable Portables technician John Sherman positions a restroom at a drop site, with his service truck from Vacutrux Limited in the background.

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Successful portable restroom operators and liquid waste professionals reach a point where they need to decide how far to extend their service area. Territorial expansion carries additional costs, from increased maintenance on vehicles, to fuel and labor, while potentially exposing businesses to increased competition. 

Here’s a look at how two businesses on either side of the U.S.-Canadian border define the optimal size of their service territory. 

Jason and Cherlynn Waite operate JC’s Johns Portable Sanitation Services in Oskaloosa, Iowa, about 60 mile southeast of Des Moines. The business offers 115 restroom units, including models from PolyJohn and Satellite Industries. The company services restrooms with a Ring-O-Matic vacuum trailer with a 500-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater steel tank. A 2003 Ford F-450 is outfitted with a 300-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater slide-in unit from Imperial Industries. Both feature Masport pumps. 

Jason is a few months from finishing a term with the National Guard, after which he will devote all his time to the business. Cherlynn’s father, Fred Northway, currently works the business during the day, while Jason takes evenings and weekends. 

Time is money

“I chose a service area where we try to stay within 40 to 50 miles of home base,” Jason says. “I operate in a rural area with a dispersed population, so I have to look at my service area demographically and geographically to find community festivals, construction projects and other clients, preferably in areas and along routes where I can service more than one client at a time.” 

Time is money so Jason says he frequently consults maps and state and federal road construction websites that will give him the most four-lane highway access, while reducing drive time and delays.

“If I drive outside my regular service area, I’ll charge a premium and take on a customer that I might be able to keep year after year,” Jason says. “However, if it’s a one-time deal totally off the beaten path, I usually turn it down. Part of the calculation is whether servicing that customer would add groupings of potential customers in towns and villages along the route.” 

When Jason completes his National Guard commitment, the company is looking to purchase another service truck that will allow him and his father-in-law to better cover the large service area by splitting routes geographically. 

Weekly checkups

Jason keeps the company trucks well maintained, performing visual inspections and booking a once-a-week pit stop in the family shop where he checks tires, brakes and major systems and performs scheduled oil changes.

“If I’m 50 miles away from home base, I never want to see an avoidable breakdown sideline a service or delivery call,” he says. 

Janet and Tom Brownlee, owners of Affordable Portables of St. Williams, Ontario, have a similar philosophy about keeping the service area small to better manage cliente. Located a two-hour drive southwest of Toronto, the company offers 1,000 restrooms supplied by PolyJohn Canada and a few specialty trailers from McKee Technologies and Wells Cargo. 

The Brownlees operate nine pumper trucks, all outfitted with Wallenstein vacuum pumps, and steel galvanized tanks by Vacutrux. The oldest is a 2005 Ford F-450 with a 420-gallon waste/240-gallon freshwater tank. Next up is a pair of Hino 158s, a 2006 model with a 600-gallon waste/240-gallon freshwater tank, and a 2007 with a 480-gallon waste/360-gallon freshwater tank. The fleet also features four Dodge Rams (a 2007 3500 model and 2008, 2009 and 2011 5500 models), each outfitted with 420-gallon waste/240-gallon freshwater tanks. A 2008 Sterling Bullet features the same tank configuration as the Dodges. 

The newest additions to the mobile family include a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 4 x 4, and a 2014 Freightliner M2 with Wallenstein pump and 1,200-gallon waste/600-gallon freshwater steel tank. 

Affordable Portables serves clientele ranging from construction companies to agriculture, special events and nearby marinas. The business employs as many as a dozen people during busy season. 

“We try to work within a 40-mile radius of the office,” says Janet. “Our back is to Lake Erie to the south, so we can only move to the north, west or east.” 

Summer is a busy period for the business and the Brownlees find they have plenty of work to keep them busy within the company’s standard service area. 

More travel, more money

“When things slow down in winter, we might consider moving beyond our normal service area, but we offer that service at a higher rate,” says Janet. “If the price doesn’t cover the cost of the service we have to decline.” 

The company’s routes are carefully planned to maximize efficiency for delivery, service and waste disposal. Provincial laws encourage operators to unload waste where it’s collected and this needs to be taken into consideration when determining the most efficient route. 

The Brownlees bought the 2014 Freightliner M2 specifically to service long routes that are keeping drivers on the road for longer periods of time before returning to home base. 

“This truck is as big as three of our regular tanks,” says Janet. “This will really cut down on hauling.” 

Tom oversees most of the maintenance work on the vehicles at the on-site shop with the assistance of his son, Ben, who handles engineering challenges. 

“We do everything from oil and tire changes to major repairs,” says Tom. “The routes serving construction sites are hardest on the vehicles because of the mud and the potholes.” 

The most common repair after rough road service: ball joints and suspensions. 

“We’d stay on the highways if we could,” says Janet. “But you have to take the work where you find it.” 

Click here to read more about JC’s Johns

Click here to read more about Affordable Portables


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