A Wisconsin Pumper Starts In High School, Builds A Diverse And Thriving Business

Starting in high school with a used truck and a few restrooms, Wisconsin’s Bryce Harding has quickly grown a diversified pumping business … with plans to keep expanding.
A Wisconsin Pumper Starts In High School, Builds A Diverse And Thriving Business
Harding Portables and Jim’s Septic Pumping owner Bryce Harding is shown with his wife, Heidi, and their children Brody, 4, and Brecklyn, 2.

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Bryce Harding had his first portable restroom contract two weeks before he graduated from Peshtigo High School in northern Wisconsin. Though some classmates ribbed him about his career choice, he had helped his father, Gerry, who ran a one-man septic service business. When Gerry received a letter requesting bids for portable restroom services, the younger Harding recognized an opportunity and purchased his first eight restrooms and a 1994 Ford F-450 truck.

It took several years to grow the business before he could quit a full-time pipefitting job but he managed to grow Harding Portables to the point where he could hire employees. With the recent purchase of a competitor’s business, Harding, now 30, has grown the business even more. And he’s not done yet. He has added services to diversify his business in the past and is willing to add more in the future.

Harding learned hard work early on. He had several years of working experience at a neighbor’s farm milking every morning and evening and helping with fieldwork during the summer. His great-grandfather, Lee Bruso, ran an excavating business and taught Harding the basics of welding. Between the two operations, he had plenty of opportunities to drive, troubleshoot and fix a variety of equipment.


From the beginning, Harding had a sense of valuing his business. His strategy for winning that first contract was to see what other portable restroom operators charged and add $5. At the beginning of the recent economic downturn, he raised prices to make up for anticipated lost business, and says he never really felt any losses.

“I never used to raise prices. Now I add $10 [to rentals and services] every year until they get where they need to be. When you are out working you have to get paid to cover your loan, fuel and other costs,” he says. “You never want to go backwards.”

One of his pet peeves is a business owner who low-balls prices to the point of not covering costs. He points out there are legitimate reasons for charging more than the typical septic service fee in his area. First, he needs to charge enough to pay a competitive wage to employees who will do work to meet his quality standards. Secondly, while competitors field-spread septage, Harding’s trucks pay the $35 per 1,000-gallon dumping fee at municipal plants.

“I tell my customers, and they appreciate knowing where it’s going and that it’s not going on a field,” Harding says. He’s been surprised how important that is to customers and plans to emphasize it in future marketing and radio advertisements.

Finally, Harding wants his units and service to stand out. He makes sure his inventory of 280 restrooms from Five Peaks are in good shape, and he keeps them smelling fresh during weekly washdown service, using deodorants from J & J Chemical Co. And he says he’s diligent about looking for overused restrooms.

“If one is getting over-full, I tell [the customer] I’m putting an extra unit in. I don’t want a bad name,” Harding says. “I used to be scared to tell customers how to do things.”

Rather than tarnish his business’ reputation with too few or dirty units, he prefers to walk away and lose business.


Portable sanitation makes up about 25 percent of the business’ income. Septic pumping accounts for about 50 percent. Early on, Harding realized he needed to add services.

“I got into sewer cleaning about six years in,” he says. “I could see that a lot of work was going out the window.” He got tired of scheduling conflicts while arranging for others to do the work, so he invested in his own equipment.

“I go to the [Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport] show every year and it helps with [choosing] new equipment,” he says. “I’ve just been around the plumbing industry a long time and when I see an opportunity I’m ready to try it.” After talking to people at the show he purchased a Power Line Industries hot-water jetter and Electric Eel inspection camera.

He put the equipment to work almost immediately cleaning 12,000 feet of floor drains for a local shipyard. Then he used it at a piston manufacturing plant. Salt from the metal went into floor drains and hardened and plugged 150 feet of line. Using an auger hadn’t worked and factory owners thought they’d have to spend up to $200,000 tearing up the floor and replacing the line. They were happy when Harding’s jetter dissolved the salt and solved the problem. Harding set up a maintenance plan to regularly clean the pipe to prevent future problems.

The jetter also turned out to be a great investment last winter for 460 frozen sewer line calls.

In early 2014, Harding expanded again when he bought out his biggest competitor, Jim’s Septic Pumping in Crivitz, Wis., which had a strong customer list in a tourist town and lake area. He was busier than expected right away. In addition to frozen systems and getting to know new customers, two counties sent out notices to people with septic tanks that needed to be pumped (every three years). Harding Portables received the list and sent reminder postcards.

“At one time we were 350 calls behind with both businesses,” Harding says.

Grouping customers by location, he and his workers methodically pumped tanks to whittle down the list.


Until a couple of years ago, Harding ran the business alone with the help of his mother, Elizabeth, who answered his phone, and a couple of part-time employees. As the workload grew, he knew he needed help.

Being the boss and finding the right people has been more challenging than he expected. But he tries to emulate his former welding employer, Dan Saucier of Tri-City Plumbing in Marinette, Wis., whom he greatly respects.

“My old boss had a crew of 12 for 20-some years. He doesn’t yell, scream or holler. I try to follow in his footsteps – not yell, pay well and not get too excited about stuff.”

From the beginning, Harding emphasized standards of cleanliness and quality. He makes it clear to employees that their wages come from their work.

Harding starts technicians out with a competitive wage, $1 per hour annual increases and holiday bonuses.

“I ride with them for at least two weeks and then I let them go on their own a bit. Then I go on another ride with them. After that I let them make their own mistakes,” he explains. “They’re a good group of guys.”

In addition to drivers, Harding hired a secretary in early 2014. Laurie Simpson answers the phone, handles billing and accounting and will eventually dispatch trucks. Harding adds that he is grateful for his mom who continues to run errands for him. He also trades calls with his dad to better accommodate customers.

Finally, his wife Heidi answers the phone on weekends and has been invaluable at making business decisions. For example, she recognized customers with lake homes often called for service on weekends. Harding figured his costs (including overtime pay), realized he was losing money and started charging a flat rate of $300. Customers now plan ahead, and the Hardings have more time to spend with their two young children.


In the beginning, Harding welded septic tanks to save money. He has a well-equipped shop and did his own maintenance and repairs for years. But as his business grew his ideas about equipment changed.

“I’m buying new trucks and getting them under warranty. The warranty is gold,” he says. “I have tools but don’t have the time.”

While he and his crew take care of general maintenance, for bigger repairs the warranty covers 24-hour service. He can sleep while a truck is being worked on, and instead of paying a mechanic he can pay a driver to bring in more income.

Another change relates to the size of equipment. “Smaller tanker trucks don’t make money. Little trucks are becoming obsolete because the fuel, insurance, wages and tire prices keep going up,” he says.

His new favorite truck is a 2013 International WorkStar 7600 with a 5,000-gallon aluminum tank from Imperial Industries and a National Vacuum Equipment Inc. pump. Other trucks for septic pumping include a 2014 Western Star with an Imperial 4,500-gallon aluminum tank and a 2000 Freightliner with a 2,300-gallon steel tank, built in Harding’s shop and both with 390 Masport pumps.

For the portable restroom business, the fleet includes a 2014 Ram 5500 with 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tank built in-house and a 2000 Ford F-450 truck with a 600-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater LMT-VAXTEEL steel tank, both with Conde pumps (Westmoor Ltd.).


Harding owns a 1994 Butler trailer, a 43-foot Lane trailer and a modified snowmobile trailer to haul restrooms. He has 15 handicap units from Satellite Industries and Five Peaks, 22 Satellite sinks and a JAG Mobile Solutions 2013 Porta-Lisa trailer used for events, weddings and business bathroom remodeling projects.

Harding has a 2006 Chevy cube van for the jetter, a 2005 Ford E-350 for sewer augers and a 2006 Sprinter van for the sewer cleaner and camera. Due to additional frozen-line work last winter he purchased an Icebreaker 450 electric pipe thawer, two Arctic Blaster propane pipe thawers and a Miller Trailblazer welder.

A 2014 Dodge Ram 3500 work pickup transports Harding’s 2006 Volvo E55 mini-excavator and 2006 Cat 277B tracked skid-steer. He uses them and a 1997 Peterbilt quad-axle truck with a Heil dumpbody for installation and to repair septic systems.

A new 50- by 80-foot shop built in 2012 includes an office and is well-stocked with tools to maintain equipment.

Drivers typically use their smartphones to figure out the best route; Harding hopes to add GPS tracking in the future. In the office, QuickBooks accounting software keeps the bookwork organized.


Always looking for a new challenge, Harding sees new equipment designed for the wastewater industry and envisions many ways to utilize it. He has no doubt diversification will continue to be a priority for his growing business.

“There are a lot of options in this business. So many things you can do, endless routes for you to expand,” he says. Currently, he’s open to adding hydroexcavating to his services if a long-term contract comes through. If not now, he anticipates adding it sometime.

“I think hydroexcavation is going to be even more needed in the future,” he says. “I’m just waiting.”


Artic Blasters, Inc. - 403/638-3934 - www.arcticblaster.com

Caterpillar, Inc. - 309/675-1000 - www.cat.com

Crust Busters/Schmitz Brothers, LLC - 888/878-2296 - www.crustbusters.com

Electric Eel Mfg. - 800/833-1212 - www.electriceel.com

Five Peaks - 866/293-1502 - www.fivepeaks.net

Heil Trailer International - 423/745-5830 - www.heiltrailer.com

Imperial Industries, Inc. - 800/558-2945 - www.imperialind.com

J & J Chemical Co. - 800/345-3303 - www.jjchem.com

JAG Mobile Solutions, Inc. - 800/815-2557 - www.jagmobilesolutions.com

LMT - VAXTEEL - 800/545-0174 - www.vaxteel.com

National Vacuum Equipment, Inc. - 800/253-5500 - www.natvac.com

Power Line Industries - 800/750-7841 - www.powerlineindustries.com

Satellite Industries - 800/328-3332 - www.satelliteindustries.com

Volvo Construction Equipment - 828/650-2000 - www.volvo.com/constructionequipment

Westmoor Ltd. - 800/367-0972 - www.westmoorltd.com


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