Pumper Talks About Stepping up from Standard Restrooms to Upscale Trailers

Michigan’s Gretchen Hole trades standard restrooms for upscale trailers and scores big with movie, TV and wedding customers.
Pumper Talks About Stepping up from Standard Restrooms to Upscale Trailers
Gretchen Hole

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After 15 years in the portable sanitation industry, Gretchen Hole made a decision about a year ago to sell her inventory of standard restrooms and concentrate solely on providing high-end restroom trailers for special events.

It wasn’t a lack of business or a lack of enjoyment that pushed her away from the original business plan she followed for her Poopy’s Potties company in Holly, Mich. As a woman working mostly alone, the problem was the accumulated physical cost of pushing, pulling and heaving portable restrooms into place and on and off a transport trailer.

Hole retooled her business with a new name, Swanky Restroom Trailers by Gretchen (www.swankytrailers.com), using equipment from Comforts of Home Services Inc., and targets the needs of clients who want more than the ordinary restroom. As a result, there’s no more wrestling with portable units and she’s developed a new market for her services. And she’s found success teaming with a network of partner businesses that ease her workload while everyone makes money.

Pumper: How do you connect with potential customers?

Gretchen Hole: A lot of my business comes from referrals, and I make sure to have business cards in the units because people will pick those up at events. A woman from a chamber of commerce did that, and I’ve been getting regular business from them. Movies and TV shows are about 50 percent of my contracts. I was lucky when I got into that. A bunch of shows came to film in Detroit so I ended up getting some big accounts. Then I joined the Michigan Film Office, and that lets location managers find me. They’re the people who set up support services, and that’s a small group. Develop a good reputation with a couple of them, and they’ll mention you to other people.

When a lot of those shows left, I had to figure out another market. I moved into wedding services and VIP events and advertise on websites where brides shop for services. I hardly ever get a phone call now. Most customers write emails, usually late at night. Sometimes I don’t even talk to the customer on the phone when I’m setting up a job. I’ll write, “OK, I’ll call you the week of your delivery,” and that’s the first time I ever talk to them. To make it easier for customers, I put a contact form on my website. All people have to do is fill it out. I respond within 24 hours with a quote, and I follow up with a phone call if they have questions.

Pumper:  How do you set your units apart from others that customers see?

Gretchen Hole: On my newest trailer I designed the whole interior myself. Comforts of Home will let me do that – one reason I love those trailers – and then build it to my design. I have it set up so I can switch out the decorations – like the artwork or the rug – so I can have a different color. If I’m doing a wedding, I’ll ask the bride what colors she’s using and decorate the interior to match. I can put in pictures of the couple or their events, like an engagement party. For one TV show I hang photos from it. If the customers want to decorate themselves, I’ll deliver the trailer plain.

Pumper: How far do you go for jobs?

Gretchen Hole: I’ll go pretty far. I live between Detroit and Flint but I have gone as far as Traverse City, which is about 3 1/2 hours to the northwest on the shore of Lake Michigan, the other side of the state. I’ve done VIP events in Harbor Springs, near Traverse City. They’re big into horses there. I priced my service so it pays, and it’s high, but people are paying it.

I’m in my third year with National Geographic for a show called “The Incredible Dr. Pol” that follows a veterinarian. It’s kind of crazy; they called me because I’m two hours away from them, but I priced it out, and they still went with me. This year the season is February to August, but I have a complete schedule ahead of time so I can rent my trailer to other clients when the show is on break from filming.

Pumper: How do you handle service for your units?

Gretchen Hole: I call up another pumper and contract with him to pump out my trailer. Then I don’t have to have a [vacuum] truck. That’s a big expense to have, especially for me, because maybe once a week I need to have something pumped out. So the trailer is pumped out before I bring it home, and that helps a lot because I have only two or three days to thoroughly clean it and make any repairs before the next job.

This year I have a wedding almost every weekend, so on Thursday or Friday I’m on the road to deliver. I always try to pick everything up on Sunday. People like the Sunday pickup, and I understand they don’t want my trailer sitting on their property for an extra day once their event is over. I tell clients I won’t come too early so I don’t wake them. A lot of my competitors won’t work on Sunday.

I even met a couple of pumpers around Traverse City who told me I could leave my trailer with them between rentals so I don’t have to haul it back and forth from Detroit. The more people you know the better. It all comes down to relationships. Good relationships make my life so much easier, and the same goes for my partners.

Pumper: What does your future look like, and what about Poopy’s Potties?

Gretchen Hole: I had to keep Poopy’s Potties. I’d been in business for so long everyone in the area knows me, and they keep calling about jobs. But now my friend Ray [Birchmeier of R & D Septic, New Lothrop, Mich.] delivers and services the units. I’d started working with Ray on big events. I book everything just like I used to, and we agreed on a commission for me. I use pictures of his units on the website.

Ray and I share the same idea of service quality, so customers calling me based on my reputation won’t be disappointed. Customer service is so important, not only to the present job but also for future business. I know my trailers are impeccably clean. When I drop a trailer off, it looks brand new. That’s also why I replace trailers fairly often; an older trailer can be very clean but still look second-rate just because it’s a little worn.

Right now I have two two-room trailers. One can handle an event with up to 300 people, and that’s 95 percent of what I do. There are a couple of other companies I partner with; I refer business to them if I get a call when I’m booked, and they do the same. I could add a third trailer. I’ve had to turn down some jobs, including a movie, because my two units were already spoken for. Next year I’ll probably buy a third trailer, but I’m still thinking about that. I would rather grow slowly than too fast.


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