Time to Hire?

A poster would like to add a service technician. Industry veterans weigh in with the pros and cons of bringing on a new employee.

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This feature in Pumper reports noteworthy conversations that take place at the Pumper Discussion Forum, an online forum for industry professionals found at www.pumper.com. Pumper Discussion enables exchange of information and ideas on septic and drainfield installation and maintenance, trucks and equipment, portable sanitation, chemical and additives and much more.

Information and advice in Overheard Online is offered in good faith by industry professionals. However, readers should consult in depth with appropriate industry sources before applying such advice to a specific business situation.

Question:

I'm interested in hiring a driver, but wonder how to go about putting them on the books? I have many concerns, such as letting someone go out on their own and risk my reputation. No matter who you hire, they will not do as good a job as the company owner will. They come in to do their hours and go home. They beat equipment and lose tools. What do you do on days when jobs are slow? A competitor of mine got out of septic pumping because he said after all is said and done, there isn't enough money in septic tank cleaning alone. Some days you can have anywhere from four to 10 pumps, some days one or two, and some days none. Is it better to stay small or go bigger?

Answers:

The small company I worked for had three trucks. When we were slow, we washed the trucks and greased them, etc., for the day. Or we put two drivers in one truck for the day to speed things up. Most of the time he had the work. But every once in a while we would get a slow day. But he would never send us home; we always got 40 hours a week.

What was starting pay? Did you guys have benefits? I don't see how it's possible to turn much of a profit with dumping, maintenance, fuel, advertising, payroll, insurance and unforeseen expenses.

I started at $17.50 per hour, and when I left three years later I was earning $19.10 per hour. We had paid holidays, sick days and one week of vacation. He did have health insurance benefits. It wasn't the greatest plan, but it was free. Also if you were on call for the week, you got an extra $75 in your check. Plus he had uniforms so we didn't have to get our own clothes messed up. Overall it was a good small family-owned company to work for.

Back in the day, he was at $195 per pump-out up to 1,250 gallons. Dumping fees were 1.2 cents a gallon. We did six to 10 tanks a day and then had a couple holding tanks, grease traps or package plants we would pump. Each truck did two to three tanks a day.

I have only three employees in the septic service part of my business. The low guy on the totem pole works three days a week and cleans equipment. I pay him a flat $350 per week. I have another flat-rate employee who rides shotgun on a truck and also does mechanic work for me. He gets $550.

I know some guys don't believe it, but every truck needs two people on it. My wife and I run a truck. One person does the initial talking and paperwork and the other mostly does the work. Two people per truck can by far outrun the profits of one-man trucks.

The trick is the person you're talking about has to be able to really perform. Trust is the first and major issue. They absolutely must be trustworthy. But you still draw up a non-compete agreement. Last but certainly not least you have to pay them enough to keep them.

In my opinion, the only answer is commission. The young man I have in this position started working for me when he was in high school and has been with me more than 12 years. His pay is calculated after deducting the disposal fees from the job and I pay him 30 percent of what's left. He has consistently done better every year. For the last two years, he made $100,000. I know that's a lot of money, but he is worth it and he's not going anywhere.

I was told a long time ago: "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.'' Good people make or break a business.



Discussion

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