Diversified equipment offerings, technician professionalism and promoting an environmental message are keys to building revenues in the coming busy season.
Nancy Gump is the third-generation leader at Andy Gump Temporary Site Services in Santa Clarita, California. Before stepping in for her father, Barry, when he retired, she ran the company’s special events division, which was formed after the company coordinated portable sanitation for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She has managed services for numerous high-profile events like the Rose Bowl hospitality venue, the BCS national college football championship, four major golf tournaments, three U.S. Open golf tournaments and Hollywood events like the film industry’s Academy Awards.
How can her experiences inform pumpers who provide restroom service as they head into the busy 2015 season? Gump shares some valuable lessons she’s learned watching the industry mature over the past few decades and offers advice on how service providers can continue to move the industry toward greater professionalism.
Pumper: What can contractors take away from your company’s many years in business?
Gump: We have that true entrepreneurial spirit. For my grandfather [Andy Gump], it was about his word and integrity. He wasn’t going to sell you something you didn’t need. He was going to do the best he could to provide high-quality service. And that’s been our company philosophy throughout the years.
We’re willing to meet challenges. When a new ordinance required portable restrooms on construction sites in the 1950s, my grandfather and dad built the first five units by hand out of scrap plywood. When the 1984 Olympics needed hand-washing units, my dad built the first ones from a 55-gallon poly drum and an RV sink. He showed it to the Olympic Committee and by the time he got back to the office, my grandfather told him there were people on the phone saying we had these hand-wash stations and my dad said, “We do now.”
My dad began running the company in the 1970s. He got into different market segments, including temporary power and temporary fencing. I worked with dad for 26 years and we branched out into special events. When I started in 1989, we didn’t have VIP units and luxury restroom trailers. You’ve got to adapt and look for opportunities to grow. We call it the pioneer spirit, and it came from my dad and grandfather.
Pumper: What trends do you see in the industry?
Gump: It’s a blessing and a curse being in California because so many trends start here. We’re in a drought, so we have to be creative. We’ve had to change our trucks to carry more freshwater and less waste. We also have to have more water because the health department now requires that we have hand-washing sinks at construction sites. There is a new ADA compliance law in California [Title 24] and the manufacturers have had to reconfigure ADA units to have a smaller tank. Eventually these requirements will most likely spread to the east.
We have around 5,000 portable restrooms [Satellite Industries] for construction sites. Many of our customers have upgraded from our deluxe unit, our standard for special events, to the self-contained, solar-powered restrooms from NuConcepts. They’re staying out long term and then we don’t have them for our special events. A lot of the contractors are ordering the VIP units.
We have more than 100 restroom trailers from Ameri-Can Engineering. They could include flushing porcelain toilets and urinals, private stalls, heating and air conditioning, stereos, wood cabinetry, an on-site attendant, carpeted landing and steps, and tile floors.
We also have six shower trailers from 23 to 38 feet with separate men’s and women’s areas, and private showers with dressing areas. We have about 200 Satellite Breeze hand-washing stations and 10 NuConcepts three-basin stainless steel sinks with hot and cold running water.
Pumper: Human resources can be a challenge for the wastewater industry. What can pumpers learn from your recent experience with staffing?
Gump: We have 155 employees. Before the recession, we had 225. We really took a hit, but we have minimal debt. We run it very conservatively so we’re able to tighten our belt and cut costs. The really hard part for us was to let go good people that had been so dedicated for so long. We just didn’t have the work for them.
We expect a lot from our employees. We put them through an extensive interview process and hire people who have the right attitude. Our human resources person, Evelyn Abernathy, has been with us 25 years and was in customer service. We hire the people who want to make a difference and learn other aspects of the job. One of the things that helped us through the recession was that we had significant crossover, like temporary power guys picking up and servicing portable toilets. Not only do we hire right, we train them right.
Pumper: Can you explain your views on promoting a professional image for service providers?
Gump: All [our] operations personnel wear uniforms that we provide, so they look nice, clean and professional. We all dress professionally, that’s how we set the tone. How you present yourself is very important to our company image. We keep our trucks immaculate and our yards are clean.
Customer service is about wanting to help people. We’re an operations-driven company, not sales driven. It’s about educating the customer and asking the right questions. You can sell until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have a strong operations team that can make it happen and take care of the customers, you’re not going to be successful.
We have great communication as a team, so we need to get out of their way and let the people who know what they’re doing get the job done right. They do it very well and we recognize them for it. We also follow up with customers to make sure everything went well, especially for special events. For construction sites, our customer service reps go out and meet customers on site.
All customer concerns are entered into the computer so we see them in real time. If a driver can’t service a unit because something is in the way, he’ll enter that in the field on the smartphone and send a picture. If the customer calls wondering why the unit wasn’t serviced, we can tell them. It helps build a relationship with the customer.
Pumper: You are on the board of Portable Sanitation Association International. How important is such networking?
Gump: It’s invaluable. If I could share one thing with any new portable restroom operator, it would be join PSAI. They do an incredible job with their trade show. Probably the most valuable are the roundtables. We break them up by different topics. If you bring a couple of team members, they can go to different roundtables.
We’re a veteran company but still learn things. Four years ago we had a roundtable about surviving the recession. Someone said they had started charging late fees for past due invoices and it had brought up their receivable numbers and saved on collection fees. We tried it, and it was a huge impact. One little idea can really help.
I’m on the Education Initiatives Committee of PSAI. Many people don’t realize that we are a sustainable industry. Every day, portable restrooms save 125 million gallons of freshwater. The waste that we gather goes to the treatment facilities and it’s all recycled and becomes reclaimed water. We help the environment, and there’s also an economic value for companies that save water.
On the weekend of World Portable Sanitation Day [Aug. 15], we handed out water, educated people about portable sanitation and wrapped a six-unit trailer at a large outdoor concert with graphics to promote it. It’s been very positive marketing. PSAI has marketing materials that companies can put their logo on to spread the message of what we do to save the environment. That message creates value.