Small Company, Big Image

Michigan’s Pump That Septic aggressively markets to spur growth and educate consumers.
Small Company, Big Image
Dervin Witmer, owner of Pump That Septic, is ready to empty a customer’s tank. (Photos by Ben Bredeweg)

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With a colorful, informative website and professionally produced marketing materials, you wouldn’t know that Pump That Septic consists of owner Dervin Witmer and a couple of part-time employees. That’s exactly what Witmer, 33, strives to accomplish.

“I want our image to be of a clean service company,” he says.

The positioning — and name — for Pump That Septic came from a brainstorming session between Witmer and his brother-in-law, Ben Bredeweg, a graphic designer and marketing consultant.

“I kept running into homeowners who didn’t have a clue about how their septic system worked or what to do with it,” Witmer says. “I felt like a focus on education was really needed. Ben and I kicked that around and came up with ‘Pump That Septic.’ In marketing, you’ve got three seconds to identify a problem and create a solution.”

The brainstorming didn’t stop with the name. Witmer and Bredeweg selected blue as a background color because they felt it conveys a clean, environmental feel. Bredeweg created the Pump That Septic logo, a smiling, hose-carrying service technician that appears on the service truck, website, brochures, promotional fliers and refrigerator magnets.

Roots in excavation

Witmer is a Pennsylvania native who relocated to southern Michigan after marrying his wife, Kari. While doing general excavation work in 2005, he got the opportunity to market his services to owners of recreational properties in Porter Township, Mich., where the local municipality had constructed a new treatment plant. The new system, which serves about 1,500 customers, was created to improve the overall water quality of five area lakes by replacing septic systems.

For the better part of a year, Witmer went door-to-door to about 200 individual property owners who hired him to pump out the existing tanks, crush the lids, fill the tanks with sand and reroute service lines to the new system.

Initially, he paid a third party to do the pumping. Then, another opportunity came knocking.

“One day, I dropped by a well-digger friend who told me about a used (vacuum) truck for sale. I thought about it for a minute and bought it,” Witmer says. “I thought the businesses would complement each other.”

Witmer obtained the necessary state license and was soon pumping septic tanks with a 1986 Chevy carrying a 2,000-gallon tank. As the conversion project work wound down in late 2006, Witmer marketed septic tank pumping along with his excavation business.

Pump That Septic is set up as a subsidiary of his Dig-It Excavating Inc., which offers water and sewer line installation, septic system installation and general excavation.

Variety of Equipment

The 50-50 split between septic system maintenance and excavation work, means that Witmer runs a variety of equipment.

The septic service work is handled by a 2002 International 7400 built out by Imperial Industries Inc. with a 3,200-gallon steel tank and a NVE (National Vacuum Equipment) Challenger pump, heated collars and aluminum hose trays. The rig was acquired in March 2010 to replace Pump That Septic’s original truck.

Imperial produced the new rig’s distinctive two-tone design on the tank, and a local body shop matched the look on the truck cab. The large logo on the tank was produced on four-color vinyl by a local sign shop.

The excavation side of the business is handled with a 2008 Kobelco 80 CS excavator, a 2007 Takeuchi TL 140 skid-steer and a 1990 Peterbilt 378 tandem dump truck. The excavator and the skid-steer are transported on a 1994 20 DT tag-along low boy from Interstate Trailers Inc. A 2003 Dodge Ram pickup, equipped with a snowplow and fuel tanks, rounds out the equipment roster.

Witmer says the rubber-tracked excavator and skid-steer minimize landscaping disturbance — a selling point he mentions to property owners.

Making the most of the Web

While the creation of the Pump That Septic name may have been a quick hit of inspiration, Witmer makes the most of it as an online marketing device. A big plus, he says, is that “pump” and “septic” are among the words people type in when using a search engine, like Google, to find information about septic service.

“When Ben (Bredeweg) and I came up with the name, we checked right away to see if the (website) domain name was available. We bought it right on the spot,” he recalls.

Bredeweg, who also created the Dig-It Excavating site, started with a simple website and gradually made improvements to produce something that both educates and sells. Witmer says the latest version of the site was completed in the spring of 2010.

The Pump That Septic website (www.pumpthatseptic.com) contains detailed explanations of septic system maintenance and installation and offers discount coupons for inspections, new systems or risers. The site also includes short videos that illustrate how a septic system works, demonstrate system maintenance and explain system replacement.

Witmer hired a production company to create two of the videos. The videos feature Witmer in the field talking about septic system maintenance and installation. Witmer acquired the rights to a third video that was produced by a Michigan county health department.

“The videos were a lot of fun to produce and a lot of work, too,” he says. “Explaining what you do to an audience really helped me to think hard about how to explain it in a simple way.”

Witmer says the $4,000 in production and licensing costs for the videos helped meet his goal of having a user-friendly, educational website. In addition, the presence of video boosts the site’s visibility on search engines like Google.

Witmer cross-promotes Dig-It Excavating and Pump That Septic on respective websites. For example, visitors to the Dig-It site (www.digrdone.com) can view the same informational videos that are on the Pump That Septic site.

“It gives us double the exposure,” he says of the interconnected websites. “We want to be an in-house solution to whatever needs people may have.”

Witmer has doubled what he spends on marketing during the past couple of years to develop a solid Web presence. The company’s overall marketing budget, including the websites, Internet search engine products, Yellow Pages ads and other promotional materials, is 8 to 10 percent of annual gross income, compared with previous spending of 4 to 6 percent.

The online push has been effective, Witmer says. Website traffic has averaged 120 visits per month in 2010. In July, nearly 45 percent were first-time visitors. It costs about $2,000 annually to maintain and update the site.

At Bredeweg’s suggestion, Witmer reduced the size of Yellow Pages ads in his service territory and applied the money toward Web-based marketing. Bredeweg also recommended that a photo of Witmer appear in the Pump That Septic phone book ads. The thinking was that the owner’s photo delivers credibility and personalizes the business.

“Ben noticed that pictures of (service) trucks are what usually appear in the ads, so we used my picture to set us apart. I wasn’t looking for attention, but I have to say that people notice my picture,” Witmer says.

Witmer also believes that the Pump That Septic website will someday be a stronger marketing tool than increasingly costly phone book ads. He gauges the site’s effectiveness by e-mails received and coupon usage.

“We find the Yellow Pages still brings us a fair amount of work, but the website is getting more and more attention,” he says. “We wanted to be ahead of the curve with it.”

Varied marketing tools

Witmer likes to use a variety of marketing tools for his business. Examples include:

  • Riser lids sold to homeowners embossed with the Pump That Septic logo and phone number help ensure Witmer gets future service calls. He bought a supply of lids from Rotational Molding Technologies Inc. (RomoTech)
  • The Pump That Septic service truck appears in area parades where Witmer, his wife, and their five children toss candy to spectators.
  • Sponsorship of a youth soccer team that included giving a drawstring backpack with the company logo to all players.
  • Blanketing neighborhoods with fliers reminding homeowners of the need to have their septic tanks pumped and serviced on a routine basis.

A promotional idea in the works involves handing out numbered lottery-style tickets. Participants will be required to visit the company website and register their ticket number and e-mail address. The winner gets a free pump-out while Pump That Septic builds an e-mail list of prospective customers.

“It’s important to reach people and you have to do it a lot of different ways,” he says.

Regardless of what’s in the marketing mix, Witmer is dead serious about professionalism and avoids funny slogans on his equipment and materials.

“We’re trying to do everything in a clean, environmental way,” he says. “Proper septic maintenance is a public health issue, not a joke. I feel good about that.”

Witmer also credits a solid, three-year relationship with Bredeweg’s marketing consultancy for producing a consistent brand image.

What’s ahead?

“I call myself the reluctant successful businessman,” Witmer says with a chuckle. That’s because he wants to keep growing without losing the personal touch he can give his customers.

However, within a year, Witmer plans to add a full-time technician to the service truck. At present, a part-time laborer helps with excavation projects and occasionally distributes advertising fliers. A retiree is available to drive the service truck or the dump truck.

“My long-term goal is for the company to not have to completely rely on me,” he says.

Witmer also expects the septic service will likely grow from the present 50 percent to as much as 70 percent of his business volume within the next couple of years. He believes Pump That Septic’s continued Web presence will produce more opportunities for residential septic system maintenance.

There is an economic factor as well.

“The economy has people wanting to preserve and protect what they have,” Witmer says. “A $200 pump-out looks a whole lot better than a $10,000 replacement.” To help grow that part of the business, he’s considering the purchase of a jetter and septic field restoration equipment.

“We’re going to continue to market ourselves as a clean solution,” he says.



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