Savvy Marketing And Attention To Details Spur Growth For A Canadian Pumping Company

Marketing with attention to details and local charitable work provides a positive impact for Canada’s Northern Disposal & Sanitation.
Savvy Marketing And Attention To Details Spur Growth For A Canadian Pumping Company
The Northern Disposal & Sanitation crew includes, from left, Shawn Armstrong, Kevin Ashby, Dave and Katy McGregor, Nikki McGregor and Ron McGregor. They are shown in the company yard with trucks built out by Vacutrux.

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Northern Disposal & Sanitation in Katrine, Ontario, Canada, faces tough local competition and unpredictable winter weather. As owners Katy and Dave McGregor transition the business from startup to firm footing, they strive to differentiate themselves through vigorous participation in community initiatives and environmental stewardship while controlling costs to remain competitive.

Katrine is located 150 miles north of Toronto near the District of Muskoka resort region. The family-run business was established in 2007, offering septic pumping and septic system repairs, portable sanitation and roll-off containers. The business operates within a 90-minute drive from home base.

“We started in roll-off garbage bins primarily serving the construction market, but our clients were always asking us for portable restrooms as well,” says Katy McGregor. “I also used my contacts for the new business from my previous position as sales coordinator for the Deerhurst Resort, a popular venue for high-profile events.”

RESTROOMS FOR ALL OCCASIONS

Northern quickly bought out a local septic service business and expanded into restroom rentals. “We were soon handling construction contracts, weddings and smaller events, while successfully bidding on higher-profile events, including repeat contracts for the Subaru Ironman 70.3 Muskoka, which hosted 1,300 contestants and 3,000 spectators in 2014,” says McGregor.

Northern has also serviced the annual winter Canadian Pond Hockey Championships, the three-day Muskoka Sound Music Festival, which attracts 1,000 visitors, and such one-offs as the G8 summit held in nearby Huntsville and the Olympic Torch Relay in support of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, both in 2010.

Today, Northern has added a full-time and a part-time seasonal employee who takes on extra work during busy summers.

“Construction keeps us busy year-round, but the wedding business has ramped up to more than 50 events per year,” says McGregor. “We’re also seeing more winter events. The difficulty isn’t knowing whether you’ll have construction contracts all year, but the level of work that will require extra help in any given week.” 

The company fields 350 portable restrooms, all supplied by PolyJohn Canada, primarily PJN3s upgraded variously with flush capability, sinks, soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers. About 20 Fleet models in blue and off-white are devoted to wedding service while six Comfort XL models provide wheelchair accessibility.

HERE COMES THE BRIDE

“Wedding customers are our most discerning, so the event-grade stock never sees a construction site or rough service,” says McGregor. “Each year we try to add several new Fleet units and gradually recycle the older ones into the general stock.”

The company attends as many as three bridal shows per year, resulting in significant leads. 

“At the earlier shows I used to keep the door of the units shut, but I learned later that it’s best to keep the door open so that attendees will come up and look inside the units and see how clean and comfortable they are,” says McGregor. “The shows not only result in contracts, but build relationships with other players in the wedding industry who often recommend us.”

Northern also offers four Bravo two-station portable sinks and two stand-alone SaniStand four-place hand sanitizers, supplied by PolyJohn. Pot Shots from Polyjohn are Northern’s deodorizer of choice, and hand soap and hand sanitizers are supplied by Global Clean or GOJO Industries Inc.

Three trucks serve the portable restroom side of the business, all with hot-dip galvanized steel tanks from Vacutrux and Wallenstein pumps by Elmira Machine Industries Inc.: a 2001 Ford F-550 with flatbed-mounted 350-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater tank; a 2001 3500 Chevrolet with 250-gallon waste/120-gallon freshwater tank; and a 2008 5500 Dodge with a 350-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater tank. The company’s septic service truck is a 1997 GMC outfitted with a 2,200-gallon Vacutrux steel tank and Wallenstein pump.

A 1994 Chevy half-ton 4 X 4 rounds out the delivery fleet. The trucks move restrooms with a pair of Explorer trailers from McKee Technologies that carry six and 10 units.

Roll-off containers, primarily supplied by JSW Manufacturing Inc., are delivered using a 1996 Freightliner FL60.

Scheduling and routing for all of the trucks is handled with RouteOptix software.

CUSTOMER EDUCATION IS KEY

“Weather is a huge factor for us in winter,” says McGregor. “We’re limited by daylight hours, preparing brine so the restrooms don’t freeze and clearing snow from the equipment. We also tie off the restrooms or anchor them to the ground to make sure they don’t blow away. As Dave says, working winters is 50 times harder than working summers.”

Dave handles most of the septic pumping work and holds a provincial license for septic system installation. He notes that about 60 percent of the calls are backflow emergencies.

“We make a lot of presentations to homeowner associations and demonstrate what items such as grease and baby wipes can do to a septic system,” says McGregor. “We offer all new customers free Bio-Active Septic Tank Treatment packets from Walex that the homeowner can flush monthly to create bacteria that helps to break down solids.”

The company relies heavily on repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations.

“Testimonials are a huge seller for us, and we’re not shy to ask people if we can share those stories in our promotions,” says McGregor. “Having someone else say good things about you is worth 10 times more than saying it yourself.” 

Northern has invested heavily in its image, recently developing a new logo, redesigning its website and beefing up its presence on social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

“Even with older customers who don’t find us on the website, we can point to the website while we’re on the phone and follow through with them as they look at photos of the various restrooms we have available,” says McGregor. “It’s also a huge help on the septic side because we have diagrams showing how a septic system works, and customers can give us some idea of what we’ll see when we arrive.”

The site also instructs clients on how to prepare for the arrival of the septic pumper. This includes exposing septic lids by removing earth from around them, providing an accurate location for the tank and clearing overgrowth from the tank area.

GREEN AND GROWING

“Everything on our website points to the fact that we’re a conscientious family-owned-and-operated business with ties to the community,” says McGregor. “Customers are also increasingly interested in how green our business is.”

The website explains that Northern promotes proper recycling and waste disposal practices and uses no formaldehyde in its deodorizing products.

McGregor also hunts for business leads through membership in such organizations as the Muskoka North chapter of BNI Canada, where she was recently recognized as Notable Networker of the Year.

Northern has also attended the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show for the past five years to explore new products, technology and small-business ideas.

“No matter what activity we engage in and no matter what sort of capital investment we make or supplies we order, we look directly at the bottom line,” says McGregor. “Competition can be fierce, but Dave can crunch numbers to the point that we know the cost of a single roll of bathroom tissue and how that impacts the business. When we quote a contract, we’re confident that we know exactly how much it will cost to serve that client professionally. It’s tough when you don’t win a bid, but it’s better to pass if you know that there’s no profit in the contract, or you know that the price is too low to do the job well.” 



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