Spread Holiday Cheer While Marketing Your Portable Restroom Operation

A little creativity, and the sacrifice of a unit or two, can go a long way to improve brand visibility during the holidays

Spread Holiday Cheer While Marketing Your Portable Restroom Operation

Santa and a helper drive Tillett Toilets' portable handicap unit through the streets for holiday parades.

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In chilly climates, the portable sanitation business can slow down when the mercury takes a dip. Several portable restroom operators have gotten creative in their marketing efforts over the holiday season to improve brand visibility when there are fewer units out around the community.

One of Service Sanitation’s most talked-about initiatives started out simply as a way to thank its customers. For the past three years, the huge portable restroom company, headquartered in Gary, Indiana, has set up its trademark Jingle Johns throughout its service area, and the response has literally gone viral.

“It started as a way to say thank you to customers and entice new ones,” says Steve Dykstra, director of marketing and brands for Service Sanitation — a company with more than 50,000 portable units that services the greater Midwest regions of Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee. “It was cheaper than the cost of printing and mailing Christmas cards.”

With a background in technology, music and lighting, Dykstra was looking for a fresh way to promote the business. Jingle Johns provided the answer, and one that now has a presence on YouTube and has made portable restrooms buzzworthy in its service area.

“We built the four-unit trailer as a show trailer; it’s completely computerized,” Dykstra says. Four stand-alone units — affectionately named Porta Paul, Carl Can, Buddy Blue and Linda Loo — light up to provide a 20-minute light show featuring several songs, cleverly crafted narration and an opportunity for people to take pictures using the hashtag #JingleJohns.

The units, which are locked and not able to be used as restrooms, spread their holiday cheer from Chicago to northwest Indiana to Milwaukee.

Service Sanitation’s marketing team creates schedules on the computer, and the Jingle Johns can be controlled remotely. “It’s pretty sophisticated as far as the technology goes,” Dykstra says.

The company takes requests for the Jingle Johns, setting them up in busy areas, such as holiday festivals, zoos and other high-traffic locations. He notes that every year one of the most popular holiday exhibits at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is the Jingle Johns. And, fortunately, Dykstra says they have not experienced any vandalism at any venue.

One thing that might surprise other operators is that Service Sanitation does this for free, based on availability and venue. “We’re not charging for this,” Dykstra says. “It’s a commercial, but it’s not a commercial. We get our advertising out there. That’s the key for us. From a brand-awareness standpoint, we get in front of a lot more people.”

Initial success

The company’s first attempt to market in this way was its striking Holiday Cans 2015 video:

“It definitely was a lot of creative strategy,” Dykstra says, noting that the first video cost about $300.

He estimates the Jingle Johns cost about $2,500 for the technology, plus the cost of the units. Now that that expense has been incurred, Dykstras says continuous challenges include finding royalty-free or public domain music, noting they have to abide by copyright laws.

“You have to be very careful. We’ve kind of taken the royalty-free route. This year, we’ve got some of our own employees who write their own music. We’re kind of working that angle.”

Dykstra and his marketing team are now maintaining the Jingle Johns success while trying to figure out how to do new innovative marketing to promote Service Sanitation and the industry as a whole. 

The Jingle Johns promotion works “to get people to look at the portable toilet in a different light. I have to believe subconsciously I’m changing the view of the portable toilet,” Dykstra says.

“Everyone takes their phones out, it’s unique, there’s so many different things we can do with it, and we’re just scratching the surface.”

The Jingle Johns are time consuming, an investment that might not work for all operators. But Dykstra notes that others shouldn’t just try to replicate others’ successes.

“Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you,” he says. “Take it a different path.”

The parade route

Another component of Tillett Toilets' parade participation is a float advertising services.
Another component of Tillett Toilets' parade participation is a float advertising services.

Putting together the effort to promote portable sanitation during the holidays has proven a successful marketing tool for Service Sanitation, and other PROs have seen similar success.

While on a smaller scale, Tillett Toilets brings holiday cheer to central Pennsylvania and gains name recognition by including one of its units in local holiday parade. The Palmyra-based company has participated in local parades for about 10 years. Owner Jeffrey Tillett Sr., a former volunteer fire chief, says, “We’re a family business, so our whole family gets involved.” 

The company began its marketing parade when Tillett realized he had a PolyJohn Enterprises ADA unit that the company wasn’t using, and he thought, “I think my four-wheeler (a Polaris 600 all-terrain vehicle) will fit in there.” He outfitted it with lights and now drives it through town and in holiday parades. The exterior of the unit is labeled with company information. 

“We have a good time with it,” he says, adding that there was very little cost to outfit the unit. 

“It’s saying thank you and promoting our business, and just having fun,” says Tillett, who notes that the attention seems to be working. "The other day, we got a new customer. We always ask how they got our name, and she said, ‘I remembered your float in the parade.’”

That’s what makes good marketing effective. As Dykstra says, “Do something remarkable — something worth talking about.”


Do you have a great marketing initiative for your business? We’d love to share your story; contact PROmonthly.com’s digital editor, Carly Ratliff, at carly.ratliff@colepublishing.com or 715-350-8435. 


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