Family-owned Tidy Tim’s Inc. looks to the next generation to kick-start business into a higher gear.
After many years in business, Tim and Patty Hack — the owners of Tidy Tim’s Inc. in Mount Gilead, Ohio — found themselves at an impasse.
On one hand, their septic pumping and portable restroom operation had grown considerably since they bought it in 1995, bolstered by diverse service offerings, investments in profit-building equipment, and a strong work ethic. On the other hand, a difficulty attracting and retaining good employees stopped them from taking on more new business.
“There’s a lot more work out there that we could go after,” says Tim. “But I’m afraid of damaging our reputation by biting off more than we can chew.”
But now that concern has given way to optimism. The reason? Their children — Kyle, 22, and Katie Gossett, 25, along with Katie’s husband, Zach, 25, represent a youth infusion the couple believes will take the business to the higher level they’ve aspired to reach for years. Kyle recently graduated from Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute with a degree in livestock management (the Hacks also own a hobby farm). Katie earned an agricultural communications degree from Ohio State University and Zach is also an Ohio State graduate, with a degree in agricultural systems management.
Kyle now manages the portable sanitation side of the business, Katie handles the company’s marketing responsibilities and Zach performs septic system inspections and repairs. Patty continues to play a key role, managing the office and the company’s finances. “I feel very confident that we’ve put the pieces in place to help us grow,” Tim says. “We’ve got someone overseeing the restrooms, one on the septic end and one in marketing.
“I can’t put into words how happy we are to see the kids involved in the business,” he adds. “It’s pretty amazing.”
BUILDING ON SUCCESS
The younger generation is inheriting a solid business. Restroom rentals and service generate about 60 percent of revenue, and pumping septic tanks and installing and inspecting septic systems produces the rest, Tim says.
The business also has well-established brand equity in Tidy Tim’s, a name that emerged during a brainstorming session after the Hacks bought the business. “We didn’t know what to call it,” Tim recalls. “Tidy Tim’s just kind of came to be.” The name partially references Tiny Tim from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and it also ties into cleanliness, which Tim says is a factor playing a big role in the company’s growth.
“Some people even call us Tiny Tim’s and some customers even write out checks to Tiny Tim’s,” he laughs. “We don’t care what people call us as long as they remember to call us.”
Over the years, the Hacks have made considerable investments in equipment. On the restroom end, the company owns about 350 restrooms, made by Satellite Industries and T.S.F. Company Inc.; one dozen T.S.F. hand-wash stations; and two restroom trailers, made by Satellite Industries and NuConcepts. “Every year we have more success with the restroom trailers,” Tim points out. “We bought the Satellite unit two years ago because the NuConcept trailer was out on a regular basis. It’ll completely pay for itself by the end of next summer.”
The company relies on three vehicles to service restrooms. The first is a 2005 Ford F-550 with a 750-gallon waste/350-gallon freshwater steel tank and Masport pump from Crescent Tank Manufacturing. The flat-top tank design allows the truck to carry six restrooms over the tank and two more on the liftgate, Tim notes. “We went to that setup in 2007 because we usually have to travel some distance to serve customers,” he says. “You get more use out of your truck if you can haul more units at one time. Plus we avoid having to make multiple trips to one job site or towing a flatbed trailer.”
The other two trucks are a 2007 Isuzu NRR with a 750-gallon steel waste tank and 350-gallon freshwater tank, also built out by Crescent with a Masport pump; and a 2014 Isuzu NQR outfitted with a 700-gallon steel wastewater tank made by Marengo Fabricated Steel, a 300-gallon freshwater plastic tank supplied by FMI Trucks, Sale and Service, and a Wallenstein pump manufactured by Elmira Machine Industries Inc. Hack bought most of the truck’s main components from FMI, which makes WorkMate restroom trucks, and assembled it in-house with help from Marengo Fabricated Steel.
On the septic side, the business relies on a 2005 Kenworth with a 2,300-gallon steel tank and National Vacuum Equipment pump outfitted by Transport Truck Sales. It also features a 50-gallon water tank and an O’Brien toolbox jetter (a brand owned by Hi-Vac Corp.), which is used to clear mainlines from house to septic tank. The company also owns a John Deere mini-excavator and skid-steer, a Crust Buster tank agitator, and a pipeline inspection camera and locator from MyTana Manufacturing.
The camera and locator are essential because the company often has no information about the type and location of customers’ septic systems, Tim says.
“I’d say that about a third of the time, we don’t have any information,” he says. “And without that, your guess about where the tank is locator is as good as mine. But the MyTana camera and locater save us hours and hours of time on jobs.”
For the first 15 years of his career, Tim worked as an automotive and forklift mechanic. But he was intrigued when he heard that a local pumper wanted to sell off part of his business. Tim had been thinking about establishing his own repair shop and finding another business he and Patty could operate part time.
“Patty and I thought about it and a week later, we both said to each other at the same time, ‘Maybe we should go and talk to the guy,’” he says. “So I did. There was no way we could afford to buy the whole business because we were young, had a 3-year-old daughter and another child on the way. So he offered to sell us just the portable restroom side of the business, which was 28 restrooms and a service truck. We went to the bank and got financing, and that’s how Tidy Tim’s came to be.”
The Hacks ran Tidy Tim’s as a part-time business for five years. But by providing good service, the company reached a tipping point where Tim felt they had to sell or he needed to quit his job and run the business full time. “Patty had already quit her full-time job as a registered administrative assistant at an investment firm to take care of the kids, plus answer the phone and do the finances,” he says. “The bottom line was we saw more opportunity in running the business full time.”
The Hacks built business largely through word-of-mouth referrals. “We take a lot of pride in clean restrooms,” he explains. “Restrooms leave our yard clean and they’re also clean on the site — there are no other options. It’s all about repetition — cleaning them the same way each time. We disinfect them, wipe them down and restock as needed.”
EXPANDING THE MENU
In a roundabout way, waste disposal issues led the Hacks to get into pumping and installing septic tanks. For years, Tim had been dumping waste in a large holding tank owned by the company that sold them the restroom business. But as business increased, that arrangement no longer worked as well, so the Hacks bought a holding tank.
That prompted the couple to buy a vacuum truck with a 2,300-gallon tank. Why? The nearest treatment plant was a 40-mile round trip away and charges the same dumping fee no matter how full the tank is. So it was more cost-effective to buy a truck with a bigger tank to minimize disposal runs and take full advantage of the dumping-fee structure, he explains.
Then it occurred to Tim that as long as the company owned a large vacuum truck for hauling waste, he might as well maximize its capabilities by pumping septic tanks. Septic service was slow at first, but like the restroom business, it slowly grew, largely via word-of-mouth referrals.
Looking ahead, Tim sees more growth on the horizon, spurred largely by the new enthusiasm and vitality his children and son-in-law bring to the business. When their children were younger, the Hacks had lots of ideas for growing the business, but never the manpower to implement them. A good example is a stronger marketing effort to boost restroom trailer rentals and restroom rentals for construction sites.
“For a number of years, Patty and I tried to control business growth,” Tim explains. “We did what we could to maintain day-to-day operations. We knew there was more work out there, but we didn’t want to hire people to do it because over the years, we’d had bad experiences with employees that didn’t work out. That hurts your reputation when employees don’t do what you promise customers they’ll do.”
But with an improving economy, a construction boom in the next county south and the infusion of new blood in the company, Tim anticipates more growth. “There’s a lot of work out there,” he says. “All it takes is some cold calls and someone attending the tradeshows put on by local contractors. I’m not saying we’ll get all of that new business, but you don’t know until you try.”
Just as importantly, Tim says he and Patty have new-found enthusiasm for the business they bought so many years ago.
“I’m having fun again,” he says. “I feel totally rejuvenated by all the new ideas and the people we have on board to carry them out. I’m very excited.”
Septic inspections generate business
At first glance, septic inspections don’t appear to be a huge contributor to the bottom line at Tidy Tim’s Inc. in Mount Gilead, Ohio, generating between 5 and 10 percent of the company’s sales. But appearances can be deceiving, says Tim Hack, who co-owns the company with his wife, Patty. In reality, system inspections are the fuel that primes the revenue pump because they get the company out in front of potential new customers who might later need more lucrative services, such as repairs, installations or tank pumping.
“We’ll do an inspection and many times, my son-in-law, Zach Gossett, will ask about the last time the customer had the tank pumped,” Hack says. “That usually turns into, ‘Well, it’s been at least several years.’ Inspections help us get our foot in the door … and generate more pumping business. It’s a contact point that’s been very beneficial for us.”
A new Ohio law requiring periodic septic inspections is boosting the company’s bottom line. “I actually had to hire my son-in-law to take care of inspections and repairs because I couldn’t keep up with it anymore,” Hack says.
To get certified as a licensed inspector, an employee at a pumping company must pass a test (the company holds the inspection license, not an individual). After that, the person who took the exam must fulfill six continuing education units (CEUs) every year in order to maintain the license, Hack says.
Just because Gossett primarily does inspections, however, doesn’t mean that he’s idle if there aren’t any scheduled. “Being a small business, we all have to wear multiple hats,” Hack says. “There are always plenty of other things to do.”