Celebrating Fathers And Their Best Small-Business Advice

What tips from your father helped you become a better person and a successful small-business owner?
Celebrating Fathers And Their Best Small-Business Advice
The author's father, Earl Kneiszel, in 2001, holding his photo from the Army Air Corps in World War II (Photo by Jim Kneiszel)

Father’s Day is June 21. What once was a great opportunity to visit with my dad and surprise him with a token gift of gratitude has become a bittersweet moment for reflection on the relentless passing of time. He’s been gone a dozen years now, but some of our long-ago shared experiences come back in a flash … like when I’m trying to solve a problem in the workshop and I pause to wonder what tool he’d grab to handle it. Or when I fill up the car at the gas pump and meticulously log the gallons and price like he did, never to look at that dog-eared notebook again.

As I was surfing the Web recently, I came upon a few stories from the Popular Mechanics Useful Stuff My Dad Taught Me issue, and it struck a chord. It was great fun to read the no-nonsense practical information fathers pass along to their sons and daughters in some of the most mundane, day-to-day moments of life. And it made me stop and recall some of the treasured advice my father imparted, probably never expecting I’d remember it … and how I catch myself passing those same nuggets along to my sons as naturally as rain cascades over a waterfall.

And I wondered if readers of Pumper have had similar experiences. I have met so many of you over the years, both fathers and their sons and daughters who run the rock-solid small businesses that define the liquid waste industry. When I contact you to learn about your businesses or sit down to share lunch with you at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show, I recognize the close bonds that come to generations of families who work hard together to earn a living.


What would happen if we lost all those common sense lessons handed down from the older generation? How many of these little lessons contribute every day to the way you treat your customers and maintain your equipment? Were your parents and grandparents fully responsible for the resourcefulness you’ve developed, allowing you to continue to build a successful business?

I think, for pumpers, these family life lessons have a profound impact on running a tight and profitable business. The old-school way of doing things means going the extra mile to provide quality service. It builds ethics to do the right thing for your customer – regardless if it puts an extra dollar in your pocket. Sometimes it fosters a conservative, pay-as-you-go approach to business that helps you weather tough times and save during good times.

Please indulge me a few paragraphs to reminisce about some of the shreds of advice my father shared with me and have stuck with me all these years. And then I’ll ask you to share some of your own stories. Maybe through recalling these stories, we can further preserve the small-business success stories that dominate our industry.

So here are a few things Earl Kneiszel taught me:  

Change your own oil. Nobody you hire to do it is going to let it drain properly.

The ritual of changing the oil in my vehicles is an opportunity for me to reflect on my father’s meticulous care for his cars. He kept them running great and looking clean; the guys down at the car wash certainly knew his name and his shiny 1989 Plymouth Acclaim. For pumpers, this lesson is about taking a hands-on approach to vehicle maintenance and the importance of pride of ownership for your fleet. Take care of your trucks and they’ll take care of you. Pay attention to little details, and your truck will last longer and perform better. Let that clean rig reflect your quality workmanship.

Clean the shop at the end of the day.

A messy or cluttered workshop is inefficient and is a poor reflection on you. Many was the time growing up when I heard my father holler up from the basement, “If you can’t learn to put away my tools, you’re not going to be using them.’’ Sadly, my follow-through on this one isn’t always so good. But when I’m confronted with a workbench strewn with tools from my last project, I understand his message. Pumpers know this one, too. There’s a tool for every job and a place to store every tool. A well-organized shop – or vacuum truck – helps the business run smoothly.

You think you know everything now. That won’t always be the case.

When I was 16 years old, I had all the answers. And I wasn’t afraid to share all that wisdom with my father. But as he predicted, the older I get, the clearer it becomes that I was clueless about a lot of things. And I see the same pattern repeating itself with my kids. I would bet all you middle-aged pumpers have a similar story to tell. My experience tells me that we should all step back and respect the parents who paved the way for our success. If you come from a pumper family, you should be proud of the resourcefulness of your mom and dad and tell them this as often as you can. The small-business journey they’ve brought you along on is a gift.

If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.

My father lived his life with integrity, and he was a tough act to follow in that respect. I can’t remember him speaking critically of anyone, and I never heard him curse. I wish my kids could say they had the same experience with their father. My dad did not own a business, but his advice to avoid complaining about or being critical of others would serve pumpers well. Sure, you don’t care for that deadbeat customer who refuses to pay his septic service bill, but what good can come out of complaining about him to others? Hold your tongue and you won’t say anything you might regret later on.

Comb your hair and get dressed up for church on Sunday.

It’s funny how things change so much over the course of a generation. It seems like about the only time people get dressed up anymore is to attend weddings and, sometimes, funerals. At least their own. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a person under 40 years old drag a comb through an unruly moptop. Wind-blown seems to be the look these days. But I still try to look sharp when I’m at work or at public functions, and I’ll tell you why I think you should, too. I still think your customers appreciate a uniformed pumper with clean clothes and appearance. It may sound old-fashioned, but if you care about how you look on the job, most folks believe you care about the job you do.

Don’t forget to say “thank you.’’

Since the days when my grandmother would give me a shiny 50-cent piece for my birthday, my father reminded me of the importance of saying “thank you.’’ People want to be appreciated for extending a kindness, and it’s important to follow through. That’s good advice for small-business owners as well. Thank your customers for calling for septic service. Write it again on the bottom of your invoice. Send them a thank-you note after the bill’s been paid. You can’t thank people enough for making your business a success.


So what bits of wisdom did your father impart to you over the years? How have those life lessons shaped the business owner you are today? Send your stories to me at editor@pumper.com. I’ll share them in a future issue. 


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