The Road to Prosperity

An uptick in onsite system installations and repairs signal an economic recovery brewing for hard-hit South Florida and Jason’s Septic Inc.
The Road to Prosperity

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Surviving the wild economic ride and choppy real estate market of the past few years would be a huge challenge for any company. But for a family run septic service and onsite system installation provider, such economic chaos leaves even smaller room for error.

With a small staff and operating in southern Florida — particularly walloped by real estate woes — Jason’s Septic Inc. has deepened its customer service efforts and allocated its manpower carefully to sustain through tough times. And now that owners Jason and Brittnie Nesenman are seeing glimpses of a recovery, they’re slowly building the business.

Started in 2003, the company’s bread and butter business has been pumping septic tanks and installing onsite systems over a large territory from Boca Raton to Key West, Fla. But the Nesenmans also have grown the customer base by providing small system repairs, grease-trap service, real estate inspections and ongoing system maintenance.

“Pumping has brought us so much installation work that we would be foolish to abandon that service,” Jason says. Inspecting existing systems brings repair opportunities as well, but demand for inspections has seen big swings in recent years. In 2007, Jason was performing five inspections a week, but by 2009, the number dwindled to one per week. In 2011, demand is continuing to build toward a slow recovery. “For about three years, Jason subbed out all of the new installation jobs, but when we realized how much business we were giving away, that changed,” Brittnie says.

The pumper or system inspector is often the first to identify a problem with an existing system and report it to the owner. Trust built between the pumping contractor and the customer puts the pumper in a good position to land the contract for needed work. In the case of Jason’s Septic, they offer both services.



In Florida, starting a pumping business requires more than simply buying a vacuum truck and hitting the road. Business owners must complete a two-year apprenticeship before applying for the necessary operator licenses. Jason, like other business owners, began by working for someone else.

Over the years, Jason’s Septic has matched its equipment and personnel resources to market demand. Tommy Edwards operates the vacuum truck with Josh Spano onboard as a helper. They operate a 1995 White Volvo GMC with a 2,750-gallon steel tank and a Battioni pump. A PTO-driven CAT pump delivers 6 gpm at 4,000 psi to the onboard jetter.

Working with Jason on installation jobs is Richard Aoci. The company has two backhoes outfitted for specialized use. A 2008 Cat 430 E is used for digging and a 1990 John Deere backhoe is used for backfilling, final grading and transferring aggregate. A 1995 Ford F-350 pulls a gooseneck equipment trailer.

Installation work sometimes requires subcontractors. Usually it is a trade-related license requirement that forces subcontracting.



The Nesenmans are watching a pointed political debate play out in their state, one they say could have impacts, both positive and negative, on the future of their business.

“In July, a new mandatory pump-out law will kick-in across Florida. Every treatment tank will be on a five-year pump-out schedule. The purpose of this law is to protect Florida’s groundwater,” Jason says. It will have the secondary effect of forcing people to do the right thing regarding proper maintenance. “This will make our business grow,” Brittnie says, “but there are downsides.

Would-be septic contractors “will see this as an opportunity to make a ‘fast buck’ and get into the business,” Jason says. The Nesenmans believe they could see the number of pumper businesses double in the next few years. This is not the type of competition they look forward to. Competing with other professionals is one thing; competing with fly-by-night contractors is another, they say.

There has been a lot of discussion in the state regarding the wisdom of this mandate, and in light of grassroots efforts to have the law repealed.

Proponents point to the benefits resulting from proper septage management, identification of noncompliant systems or components and their repair, and the general protection of the freshwater aquifers that underlay highly porous limestone geology. Opponents argue the timing of septic system maintenance should be up to the homeowner and that required service would be expensive in tough economic times.

Small companies like Jason’s Septic are waiting and watching the debate.



In Florida, septage disposal is usually handled at municipal treatment facilities. In some cases the treated material is pumped into deep injection wells. Regardless of the technology, the tipping fee is uniform for all facilities in a particular county.

“Lake Okeechobee sits on a rough dividing line that marks the transition between geological conditions that are suitable or unsuitable for land application,” Jason says. To the north, land application is permitted. This area is more sparsely populated and has fewer and smaller municipal treatment facilities.

To the south in Monroe County, pumping brings other considerations. “Monroe County has no treatment facilities because of the underlying geology and the Florida Keys’ higher water quality standards. Every gallon of septage removed from a tank in the Keys must go north for treatment and disposal,” Jason explains. To minimize truck traffic on the mostly two-lane U.S. 1 causeway, loads are consolidated into semi-tankers.

To judge the cost of disposal Jason must factor in distance to the facility, distance to the service stop after disposal and related travel time in addition to the facility’s treatment charges.

Most of the disposal sites Jason’s Septic uses are charging $81 for 2,500 gallons. There is no surcharge for “stronger” loads or grease-trap waste. This is not the case for his customers, however. Jason’s Septic has over 100 grease traps under contract. “Because grease trap customers place special demands upon us that affect other aspects of our business, we add an inconvenience fee to their cost of service,” Jason says. The additional fee is incorporated into the service charge.

Typically, Jason’s Septic charges $50 to $75 more for grease-trap service compared to a septic tank of the same size. This offsets the off-hour pump-out times (often 2 or 3 a.m.) some businesses require. “We service one 24-hour restaurant after the overnight crowd leaves and before the early breakfast crowd arrives. This gives our guys about a 30-minute window to get there, set up, clean up and go,” Brittnie explains.



In Florida, onsite systems for new construction must be designed using two sizing parameters. First, the number of bedrooms is determined and a flow value is assigned. Next, the air-conditioned square footage is considered. The calculation that yields the larger absorption area dictates the minimum size. When a structure has more than 10 bedrooms or 7,800 square feet of air-conditioned space, state regulations require two separate and isolated systems. Additional reserve absorption areas must also be protected for future use.

Unique lifestyles are prevalent in south Florida. Jason recently repaired a system serving a single-family home with seven bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, 17,000 square feet of air-conditioned living space, and an institutional-style kitchen. The owner of the house often entertains groups of 100 or more.

As the economy shrank a few years ago, some people moved business activities from storefront settings on municipal sewer to homes served by onsite systems. Brittnie took one call from a distraught woman who had moved her commercial bakery to her house.

Inspection revealed that flour, oil and other materials had escaped to the absorption area and destroyed the infiltrative soil surface. The repair required two septic tanks — installed in series — and a new, oversized drainfield. “Brittnie’s customer interaction skills made all the difference with this customer, and now we have another friend of the family,” Jason says.



The Nesenmans agree that when a woman calls, upset by an onsite system problem, Brittnie’s response has an immediate calming effect. “I understand what they are feeling,” she says. “I reassure them by saying that we can solve their problem and that it is not the life-changing disaster they think it is. Yes, sewage on your floor is bad, but we can fix it.”

During a customer’s initial call, Brittnie works to build trust. This attention to customers continues long beyond the first contact. For pump-out jobs, Brittnie calls about 30 minutes before the truck arrives. “I call to remind them that we’re on our way, make sure they are ready for us, and answer any questions.”

About 30 minutes after the job is completed, Brittnie calls to make sure the site has been restored properly and to answer any lingering questions. “Every call ends with ‘Thank you,’ ” Brittnie says.

Appreciating customers is part of the business plan.

“Our marketing relies exclusively on our customers telling their friends and business associates about us. We want them to only have good things to say about us,’’ she says. “We show up when we say we will; we make sure the customer knows what we will be doing and how much it will cost.”


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