Facing sewer expansion throughout their territory, the owners of Cumberland Septic Services sought a new revenue path through portable sanitation and roll-off container service.
In 1990, Mike and Audrey Stancil bought a struggling septic service company in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and then built it up to the point where Mike could quit his job with a solid waste company. They had a pretty good thing going until 15 years later when a slight hiccup forced them to make a dramatic change in direction. It was referred to as the “big bang annexation.”
“The city took in everybody within 25 miles,” Mike Stancil explains. By the time the annexation project was complete, Fayetteville had grown by 46,000 people, all of whom were hooked up to the city sewer system, essentially putting the Stancils out of the septic business.
Of course, sewer extensions didn’t go in overnight, so the Stancils had some time to regroup. Fortunately, a few years earlier they had gotten their feet wet in the portable sanitation business when a friend needed some help, so when they saw the handwriting on the wall they started expanding that line of work.
They operate their company, Cumberland Septic Services, out of their 10-acre homestead and a 15-acre offsite storage lot. Everyone on the team is treated like family, Stancil says, but about one-third of them actually are family. Daughter Crystal Stancil McGahee is the office manager, daughter Jodi Stancil Reynolds handles accounts receivable and marketing, daughter Emily Jamison and Jodi’s sister-in-law, Ashley Marie Reynolds, work in the office. Sons-in-law Ronnie McGahee and Keith Reynolds are on the service team along with 15 other technicians.
About 75 percent of their work is portable sanitation, 20 percent roll-off container rentals, and the rest is septic work, holding tanks and storage containers. They service eight counties in a 50-mile radius.
A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS
Stancil got into each of his three major lines of business because of friends. In 1990, his pal Roy Jackson, owner of a 3-year-old septic business, asked him to build a vacuum truck to replace the one his son wrecked. At the time, Stancil was very happy working for a large independent trash pickup company where one of his jobs was building garbage collection trucks. He agreed to build the truck and while doing so got to thinking.
“I said, ‘Roy, why don’t you let me run the business and make you some money?’ He said, ‘Mike, why don’t you buy it and make it for yourself?’” He and Audrey borrowed $35,000 and did just that. “It wasn’t making much money,” he recalls, “but we took the bull by the horns.” For three years Audrey ran it with the help of a couple employees, until one day she told Stancil she needed him there.
About 10 years later, it was another friend, Ron Kennedy, who got him involved in portable sanitation. Kennedy had won a contract to provide units at a nearby airport. “He said, ‘I’ll buy the toilets if you service them. I keep the money and you keep the toilets.’” Stancil picked up 22 fiberglass units, serviced them daily with his septic truck for the duration of the contract, then started renting them out to others as a sideline.
Little did he know, it would also be his lifeline when the city annexations occurred and septic work dried up. He started going after portable restroom contracts at military base Fort Bragg and also made a couple acquisitions. His friend Alan Richardson worked at one of the companies he bought and subsequently came on board at Cumberland, where he’s now Stancil’s foreman. “He does everything,” Stancil says. “He’s one of a kind. Every company needs an Alan.”
A request from yet another friend in 2014 led to roll-off work. “He was in the business and didn’t want to be in it anymore, so he asked me if I’d buy it — and I did,” Stancil says.
Today, that all adds up to a company that services 1,000 commercial, residential, military and agricultural customers with an inventory of 3,000 Satellite Industries restrooms; two Forest River 2015 restroom trailers, a 10-stall and a two-stall; two Satellite shower trailers; 2,000 PolyPortables Super Twin and Tag Along hand-wash stations; 1,000 280- to 320-gallon holding tanks from PolyPortables and Kentucky Tank; and 400 roll-off containers from Bakers Waste Equipment. The company uses deodorant products from J & J Chemical and disposes of waste at several wastewater treatment plants.
Two-thirds of the units are tan because Fort Bragg, a major customer, requires it. The rest are blue and green — “And we’ve got a couple pinks for the women, if they need them,” Stancil says. Another nod to female requests is a set of units with flushable toilets, sinks and mirrors.
The company provides about 90 percent of the restrooms needed at Fort Bragg, by population the largest military base in the country with 53,000 army troops and 14,000 civilians. Units are provided for awards ceremonies and special events, but most are needed for field training exercises conducted year-round on the 500-square-mile facility.
“The government doesn’t stop training, so we work for them seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” Stancil says. “If they call us at 2 in the morning, we’re there.”
They also supplied units and roll-off containers during the recent construction of the new Fort Bragg baseball stadium, then sadly got under-bid for the first event, a baseball game and the Fourth of July celebration they’ve covered the previous 15 years. On a happier note, they were once nominated as Contractor of the Year by the Army Corps of Engineers for their work at the base. Stancil doesn’t get too worked up about price-cutting because he knows companies that engage in it can’t maintain low prices and a high level of service for long.
Stancil’s truck-building skills have come in handy. He’s built all their vacuum trucks, working out of a shop on his property. He mixes and matches trucks and tanks picked up along the way. “I can take any truck and switch whatever I want to make it work,” he says. Aging tanks are refurbished.
He’s got 15 portable sanitation trucks, one built out with a Satellite tank, the others from Abernethy Welding & Repair. Six were built on 2003-’15 Ford F-550s with 600-gallon waste/275-gallon freshwater steel tanks, the others on 2006-’07 Internationals with 1,100-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tanks. Three are aluminum, the others steel. Stancil puts Masport pumps on all his trucks.
For septic work, the company has two vacuum trucks with Lely Tank & Waste Solutions tanks — a 2007 International with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and a 1999 Kenworth with a 3,000-gallon steel tank, as well as a Bobcat mini-excavator, a Terramite backhoe and a Bobcat 843B skid-steer.
Two of the company’s transport trailers are from Lane’s Vacuum Tank (a 10-unit and a 16-unit), and eight were built by Stancil in a variety of sizes.
He also built their trailers carrying restrooms for agricultural use. Most have one or two units and a hand-wash station, but it could be any configuration. “It depends on what they need,” Stancil says. “If we don’t have it, we’ll build it.”
The fleet is rounded out with three 2000-’01 Volvo WG64s and one 1999 Peterbilt 379 for their roll-off work. Each carries hoists from Accurate Hoist Co. In 2014, the company purchased Fleetmatics fleet-tracking software. The system allows Stancil to see where everyone is just by looking at his phone, a feature he says he uses all the time.
Stancil says most of their work comes by word-of-mouth. But one way he keeps his name in front of the public is by running an ad on the informational TV monitor at the local Department of Motor Vehicles office. “Everybody who has to have their tags renewed knows what kind of business we do,” he says.
He is also a member of the North Carolina Portable Toilet Association, where he attends yearly classes to renew required wastewater certifications. The association also serves as an information resource for contractors in the industry. “If you’ve got a problem, you can call them and they will get you the answer,” Stancil says. “So the little bit of money you spend to be a member of the association is a whole lot cheaper than having to call a lawyer and ask them what’s going on.”
CAN’T DO IT ALONE
Stancil says he owes his success to his hardworking family, dedicated employees and loyal customers. He can’t offer the high salaries and benefits some companies do but doesn’t have trouble attracting and keeping employees. He’s very big on communication with the staff — and likes to have fun with it.
“It’s nothing for me to go get a bunch of steaks and say, ‘Let’s have a meeting,’” he says. “I talk to my guys all the time and I’d rather talk to them over a good steak. We have a lot of fun doing this. We play a lot but we’re serious.”
It was tough times for Stancil when the company lost its septic work and had to transition to portable restrooms, but the team gave him a lot of support. “I’d just like to thank my family and everyone for sticking with us,” he says.
When Hurricane Matthew hit the eastern coast of the U.S. in October 2016, Mike and Audrey Stancil, owners of Cumberland Septic Services, didn’t waste any time trying to deal with the destruction in their own backyard, including a downed tree. Instead, they jumped into action to provide portable sanitation services wherever needed. Fayetteville was hit hard, but it was nothing compared to Lumberton, 35 miles south, which lost its water treatment plant due to severe flooding.
The company dropped off 300 units, as well as restroom trailers, shower trailers and roll-off containers through contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), Duke Energy, Recovery Logistics and many of the shops in town. Sadly, some of the roll-offs were used by people whose personal possessions had been destroyed. “People filled them with the belongings in their house for us to take to the dump,” Stancil says.
The hurricane brought back memories of 1996, when the company sent several hundred units to Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas at the request of another contractor in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran. The units were gone for seven months — “And believe it or not, I got every one of them back,” Stancil says.
Stancil wasn’t the only one in the company who suffered property damage. Many on his team did, as well. But everyone was fully on board with the recovery effort. “I had employees coming in and working 20 hours at a time pumping waste so these counties could survive,” Stancil says.