Business Owner Regroups, Finds Success in Professionalism, Efficient Customer Service & Honesty

Connecticut pumper Jason LaChance relies on personal service and efficient equipment to build a reputation with friends and neighbors.
Business Owner Regroups, Finds Success in Professionalism, Efficient Customer Service & Honesty
Jason LaChance is shown with his fiancee Sara Sabbagh and daughters Naiya, 6, and Genevieve, 20 months, in front of their 2006 Mack built out by Joe’s Welding Supply.

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As the construction industry suffered in 2009, it pulled Jason LaChance and his excavation company right down with it, forcing him to reconsider his career options. Already experienced in doing excavation and septic-system repairs, he decided to become a septic pumper and founded Small Town Septic LLC in Granby, Conn.

What unfolded over the next four years is a classic story of a hardworking contractor who rebuilt a business from the ground up, relying on a reputation for honesty, an emphasis on professionalism and customer service, a grassroots marketing plan and diversified service offerings – plus a strong sense of community service for good measure.

That’s not to say it was easy when LaChance’s largest customer, a construction contractor, went out of business in those tough times. LaChance had invested in excavation equipment as his business with the contractor steadily increased, so it was a blow when the company went under.


“It was a really rough time,” says his fiancee, Sara Sabbagh, who handles marketing, legal and administration duties for Small Town while also working full time as an attorney for an insurance company. “But we just started brainstorming and tried to figure out how to go up from there.

“Jason had done septic repairs and excavating for a local guy … so he decided to do this all the way – get licensed as an installer [which also covers pumping in Connecticut] and go for it,” she recalls. “We figured it was a service that people need to have done, so we came up with a company name, designed a logo and thought about marketing.”

Today, Small Town Septic thrives despite working in a competitive marketplace. LaChance now does septic installations, repairs, tank pumping and inspections. He started out with a 1986 Ford L8000 vacuum truck and, as revenue increased, upgraded to a 2006 Mack Granite CV713 truck with a 3,200-gallon steel tank, built by Joe’s Welding Supply and equipped with a HXL400 pump (394 cfm) from Masport Inc.

The company also owns a 1992 Ford L8000 dump truck, a 2000 John Deere 120 excavator, a 2008 Volvo EC55 mini-excavator, a 2004 Bobcat T300 skid-steer, and a 12-ton flatbed trailer built by CAM Superline Inc.

The Mack truck was a display model with only 400 miles on it. The rig had been in storage for six years, and LaChance says he paid substantially less for it than what a new truck would have cost. The truck was originally built to haul water for oil- and gas-well operations in Kentucky and West Virginia. He made some modifications, such as changing the rear discharge from a 3-inch to a 6-inch valve for faster dumping, and converting three inlet valves from 3 to 4 inches. He also added heated collars to avoid winter freezing and an oil-catch muffler.


Topped off with a crisp, distinctive red-and-white paint scheme, the truck serves as a rolling marketing machine and enhances productivity. “It’s pretty and eye-catching,’’ Sabbagh says. “We showcase it at town celebrations. People usually think septic-pumping trucks are unsightly, but not this one.”

A good marketing campaign helped get Small Town off to a fast start. Sabbagh says she has no formal marketing training, but enjoys taking a creative approach to promoting the company. She prides herself on looking at the business from a customer’s point of view – figuring out what motivates them to use one company over another.

Initially, Small Town took out ads in local newspapers and set up booths at local celebrations, where they gave away Small Town T-shirts and other small promotional items. “We always try to give away something with our name on it,” she says. The company also used coupons that offered customers initial price discounts.

“But the one thing that really got the word out there is that Jason is deeply rooted here,” Sabbagh points out. “He’s lived here all his life and knows everyone, and has a great reputation.”

Pure chance played a role, too. There already was an established pumper in Granby for whom LaChance did septic repairs; he figured he’d try to buy the business when the owner retired. But when the opportunity arose, LaChance decided against making a bid, figuring that a newer truck was a higher priority than buying the competing business.

“So someone else bought the company, but then moved it out of town, leaving us as the only Granby-based pumper,” Sabbagh says. “It turned into a really good outcome. We knew we had to buy a truck because that first truck wasn’t going to last another year.’’


Professionalism also drives Small Town’s growth. LaChance washes his truck a couple times a week and wears a uniform every day: a clean pair of blue jeans with a red shirt (matching the new truck) that bears the company’s logo.

“Jason always wants things presentable and looking nice, and I know our customers appreciate that,” Sabbagh says. “I mean, we’re dealing with waste. Who wants someone who shows up with dirty equipment? When they see a clean professional with clean equipment, people figure he’s going to pay attention to details and leave their yard looking nice.

“People think their yards are going to be trashed when they get a septic system installed, but they’re not,” she continues. “Jason puts things back together exactly the way they should be.”

Expanded services also have been instrumental to Small Town’s success. By focusing on installations, repairs, pumping and inspections, LaChance positioned the company as a one-stop shop for all septic-related services – an attractive point of differentiation for time-pressed customers.

Time-of-sale real estate inspections are particularly critical because they get Small Town’s name in front of new homeowners even before they move in. Sabbagh says it took a long time and a lot of persistence – and LaChance being available for inspections at inconvenient times – to develop relationships with real estate agents. But it was well worth the effort, she says, because it often leads to repair and pumping work.


Selective investments in more efficient machinery and technology help LaChance stay competitive in a crowded market, as well as improve profit margins. As a one-man operator, he says he has to make sure equipment provides a good return on investment.

An example is the RMX 200 pipeline camera inspection system made by RIDGID, which improves the quality of septic system inspections. It includes a built-in sonde, which allows him to more easily map a septic system.

“I also have a RIDGID locator with a flushable sonde,” he says. “It helps me to more quickly locate tanks, which can sometimes be rather tricky. You can easily spend two or three hours looking for a tank. The other day, I used the sonde to find a tank that was 8 1/2 feet down in the ground, with no riser. I don’t know how I would’ve found it without the sonde.”

LaChance also bought a John Deere 120 excavator, which offers more digging capacity than his Volvo mini-excavator. The increased productivity makes system installations more efficient. “I just did a job in one day that otherwise would’ve taken two days,” he notes.

But one of his favorite pieces of equipment is a Crust Buster tank agitator, made by Schmitz Brothers LLC, which he uses on tanks with particularly thick solids. It’s especially useful because Connecticut law requires two-compartment septic tanks, and solids build up faster in the smaller compartment, he explains.

“As a result, I can spend quite a bit of time backwashing to get all the solids to liquefy,” LaChance says. “I might have to backwash three or four times. But the Crust Buster stirs it all up into a nice slurry, which can save me up to 25 minutes per job. Plus backwashing is a lot of work – it’s hard on your back.’’


Low-ball pricing is a periodic issue for Small Town, but the company contends with it by emphasizing quality customer service and local ties.

“Jason stresses that we’re local and not going anywhere,” she says, adding that they’re willing to provide local references to customers with questions. “He also explains that going with the cheapest price is not always the best route.’’

Though Small Town won’t always win the pricing challenge, Sabbagh says they are competitive because they’ve kept the business small and don’t have a lot of overhead costs. They don’t have a big building or a lot of employees that would raise costs that would have to be passed on to their customers.

“We’re also successful because we don’t focus on other companies,” she adds. “We don’t want to lose sight of who we should be focusing on – our customers and how to attract new ones.”


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