Town & Country

Population shifts in an area of dynamic suburban and ex-urban growth create constant new challenges for Wisconsin’s Stanley Walter Septic Service.
Town & Country
The crew at Stanley Walter Septic Service are shown with their fleet of trucks in the background. From left to right are, Mike Walter, Marion Gasser, Rick Walter and Allen Walter.

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For three generations, the trucks of Stanley Walter Septic Service have been a familiar sight on the roads of southeastern Wisconsin. There are plenty of new challenges facing the company as it celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, but owner Allen Walter is confident that creative business approaches and hard work will keep those trucks running down the road for years to come.

Many of the challenges for this Waukesha, Wis., pumping outfit can be summed up in one word: population.

The territory served by Stanley Walter Septic includes some of the most populous areas in Wisconsin. The company's four-county primary service area has almost 1 million residents, and includes part of suburban Milwaukee. Like many suburban areas, this one is growing. On average, population in the four counties increased by 8.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Company headquarters is a big shed next to the family farmhouse where the office is located. The farm is smaller than it used to be but remains a working farm, and Walter and his sons still grow crops and raise some steers, pigs and chickens in addition to running their pumping business.


Walter is the second generation in the business. His father, Stan, started pumping in 1953 while operating the family farm. Stan Walter fabricated a 1,000-gallon tank and placed it on a flatbed truck. When he wasn't pumping, he would remove the tank and use the truck for farm chores.

Stan died in 1962 when Allen Walter was just 14. The younger Walter ran the farm of about 200 acres until 1970, while his brother, Ken, ran the septic service truck. Then Allen took over pumping full time. By 1988, he had a second truck. His third truck went on the road about 17 years ago.

"And we never, ever — since my father started the business — had outside help except the family," Walter says. Allen Walter's younger sons, Rick and Mike, joined the business. Walter's sister, Marion Gasser, recently retired from looking after the office, and for the moment that duty falls to Mike.

This is where the population challenge becomes a little tough because the company's territory is expanding. As people move out of Milwaukee and its near suburbs, the population density increases within range of the Stanley Walter trucks. And at the same time, existing customers move farther out to the country to regain the more rural lifestyle they used to have.

After they move, those customers don't want another company to pump their tanks, Allen Walter explains. But that means more driving. Stanley Walter trucks now cover a radius of about 30 miles compared to a 15-mile radius about 15 years ago.


There is a positive side to this. The nearby customer base also expands because people call on Stanley Walter to service the homes bought from the customers who moved farther from the city.

And although increasing population density may seem a danger because municipal sewer service often follows, that hasn't been the case. Housing developments are sprouting up all over former farm fields across this part of the state, and home builders are moving so fast and so far that expansion of the big pipe is no threat at all, Allen Walter says.

Limiting the business to family maintains quality service, and all three Walters see that as critical to their success, growth and family business longevity. Some customers have used Stanley Walter almost since the company's inception. A third generation of Walter pumpers is now serving third-generation customers. Having three generations of customers is the result of maintaining good relationships, Rick Walter says. It means showing up when you say you will and taking time to educate customers, according to Mike and Rick Walter.


Company trucks are built on Mack chassis. There are two 5,000-gallon aluminum tanks on tri-axles, and one 4,600-gallon aluminum tank on a tandem axle. Two of the rigs are 2009 and 2007. The latest truck is a 2012. The company tends to buy often to avoid the downtime from major repairs on older vehicles. Tanks are from Progress Vactruck, added to the trucks by Advance Pump & Equipment. Pumps are from National Vacuum Equipment Inc.

Stanley Walter Septic also recently acquired a service truck, a late model Ford F-350 with a box that was formerly used by a moving company. The truck is playing a part in the latest expansion of the business: cleaning small restaurant grease traps. The company had been servicing larger traps — the biggest is 6,000 gallons — for some time.

Restaurant grease trap service was Rick Walter's idea, and it came about by accident and through a longtime residential septic customer who had no one to turn to. That person manages a restaurant, he says. "They were using a different company to pump their in-floor grease trap, and it was backing up all the time. She called and basically begged us to come pump it."

The younger Walter went on the job. Afterward, as the three Walters recall it, they traded information on their two-way radios, and by the time Rick returned to the office, they all realized the great potential of expanding into that service.

At the 2011 Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International, they purchased a 50-gallon Conde ProVac grease trap cart from Westmoor Ltd. that is narrow enough to fit into elevators and through standard-width doors. The company also added a 3,500 psi Mongoose jetter after the 2012 Expo, and uses it for cleaning outlet pipes and sometimes jetting out leachfields for system repair jobs.


In addition to growing a core of restaurant grease trap customers, Stanley Walter pumps residential septic tanks; plenty of 1,000- to 5,000-gallon holding tanks at restaurants, strip malls and small-business centers; and performs emergency work. Household tanks tend to be in the 800- to 1,000-gallon range, and they're seeing many large, multi-tank systems as larger homes are built in the area. Because of a high local water table, there are many mound systems, and the trend is toward using advanced treatment units that work efficiently and eat up less of the expensive real estate, Allen Walter says.

With all of the pumping work falling on just two people — three, once son Mike gets out of the office — the Walters employ some careful management to keep the workload under control. They split the territory into northern and southern routes, and trucks generally stay within one region each day. This results in shorter drives from one customer to the next and to disposal plants. There are no uninterrupted long hauls from one county to another with diesel fuel around $4 per gallon. The Walters also rotate regional assignments from day to day so everyone has variety in where they go and the customers they talk with.

Septage disposal is done at area wastewater plants, which, in some cases, have been receptive to pumpers' needs. About a decade ago, Allen Walter says, the nearby City of Waukesha was contemplating a redesign of its septage receiving station. Walter went to the committee discussing the project and suggested that pumpers who use the station could help improve the design. The committee welcomed his opinion, Walter says.


So he and his sons, with help from a couple of other local pumpers, designed the station. They specified two truck ramps built on a slight incline to promote complete draining of tanks. Instead of dumping into a manhole (the old method), hoses at the station connect directly to dump valves on the trucks and discharge into a buried trough. For winter, there is a salt bin to combat ice and keep the area safe. And now, Walter says, another nearby wastewater plant is considering its own redesign and is looking at the Waukesha station as a model.

There are more changes in store for Stanley Walter Septic. Walter says his sons have started computerizing the office, and they intend to establish a company presence on the Internet. In a couple of years, they plan to build a new, larger shop on land across the road from the farmhouse.

With business doing so well, Allen Walter is starting to see the need for a fourth truck. And they still have that office position to fill. That will mean bringing on employees from outside the family. That's a concept the Walters will have to get used to, and it means taking great care to hire people who will put service as a top priority to maintain those good customer relationships.

But that is for the future. For the moment, Allen Walter and his sons are pumping, and given the quality of service they're dedicated to and the innovation his sons are committed to, he's not worried about that future.

Walter says, "I could walk out of here tomorrow, and the business is going to keep on going."


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