Make Grease a Gateway to Pumping Profits

Look for new customers with commercial kitchens, then offer grease trap cleaning and other services to build more revenue onto every invoice.
Make Grease a Gateway to Pumping Profits
John Remstedt is shown with his newest truck, purchased at the WWETT Show. It’s a 2015 Peterbilt built out by Satellite Industries and carrying a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank from Imperial Industries, a pump from National Vacuum Equipment Inc. (NVE) and a pressure jetter from Advance Pump & Equipment Inc., powered by a Giant pump. (Photo courtesy of Grease Masters)

Interested in Plumbing?

Get Plumbing articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Plumbing + Get Alerts

Grease Masters LLC, based in St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, lives up to its name. The company collects about 1.1 million gallons of grease a year, mostly from restaurants and commercial kitchens, and also recycles cooking oil (yellow grease) to generate an additional revenue stream.

Owned by John and Pam Remstedt, the company also cleans municipal sewer lines, provides back-of-house restaurant services (such as cleaning exhaust hoods and inspecting and maintaining fire-suppression systems) and offers industrial cleaning and power-washing services. About 90 percent of the company’s revenues come from grease-related operations.

Pumpers interested in diversifying their services should take notice of the company’s success in cleaning grease traps. From its first year in business in 2006 to 2010, Grease Masters doubled its gross revenues. And from 2010 to 2015, gross revenue grew approximately 150 percent, says John Remstedt, noting that customers typically prefer contractors that offer multiple services. Or as he puts it: “If you don’t do it, someone else will.”

EQUIPMENT GETS JOB DONE

To handle all those services, the company relies on a Vac-Con Inc. combination vacuum/hydroexcavating truck, built on a 2013 Freightliner chassis with a 12-cubic-yard debris tank, a blower made by Roots Systems Ltd, a 1,500-gallon water tank and a water jetter powered by a Giant Industries pump; a waterjetting truck built on a 2013 Isuzu NPR outfitted with a 16-foot box body, a water jetter made by US Jetting LLC, a Giant pump and a 200-gallon water tank; another jetting truck, built by BCE Cleaning Systems LLC on a 2014 Isuzu NQR chassis equipped with a 200-gallon water tank and a General pump; and a vacuum truck built by Satellite Industries Inc. on a 2015 Peterbilt chassis and equipped with a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank made by Imperial Industries Inc., a pump manufactured by National Vacuum Equipment Inc. (NVE) and a pressure jetter from Advance Pump & Equipment Inc. powered by a Giant pump.

The company also owns portable vac equipment from Dyna-Vac Equipment; an older vacuum truck with a 4,000-gallon steel tank from National Truck Center with a water jetter from Advance Pump & Equipment; a pump truck built on a 2010 Ford F-550 with an aluminum 700-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater tank, built by Dyna-Vac; a jetting truck built on a 2006 Freightliner and equipped with a 600-gallon steel slide-in tank unit from Dyna-Vac; cart-mounted water jetters made by Spartan Tool LLC; and cable drain cleaning machines and a pipeline inspection camera made by RIDGID.

Grease Masters was featured in a 2011 contractor profile in Pumper. We caught up with Remstedt to get advice for pumpers interested in expanding their grease-related services.

Pumper: Why should septic pumpers consider getting into cleaning grease traps?

Remstedt: Because they can generate an additional revenue source with almost all of the same equipment (vacuum trucks and water jetters). The key is the ability to dispose of grease cost-effectively. We’re lucky because we pay only 7 1/2 cents per gallon, and both the local municipal waste treatment plant and a private treatment company that we also use accept just about anything – even grease mixed with septage – without requiring pretreatment to neutralize it.

Pumper: How do you train technicians to clean grease traps?

Remstedt: Our guys spend a minimum of two weeks job-shadowing a veteran employee before they go off on their own. They have to learn how to operate a water jetter because instead of manually scraping grease traps clean, we use a jetter to clean the tank as well as the outgoing channels and baffles. We’ve found that pressure washers speed things up and break up the grease.

We emphasize making sure the outgoing line is clear on outside traps. Overlooking that is a very common mistake … because technicians are in a hurry. They clean the trap itself but don’t take extra care to remove the access cap to the outgoing line that takes effluent to the sewer line. We also stress the importance of making sure the grease traps are sealed and any manhole covers are put back on properly, so the odors don’t go back into the kitchen.

We also train them to keep their tools and trucks clean. This is one of the dirtiest jobs out there. If the trucks are clean and in working order, it’s a better experience for the customer and the employee.

Pumper: How important is it to educate customers about grease traps?

Remstedt: It’s very important. In fact, it’s almost more important to educate customers than employees. Customers usually think that if they don’t use a fryer, they don’t have grease. But day in and day out, there are fats and oils that come from everyday cooking – things such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, starches, eggs and milk – even coffee grounds. It all adds up. We remind them that they need to scrape those things into a trash can, not put them down a drain. Just because it looks like it’s going away doesn’t mean it is.

Pumper: Are there under-the-radar grease trap customers you should look for?

Remstedt: Definitely. Schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, VFWs and any kind of club or organization – anyone who operates a commercial kitchen. You’d be surprised how many companies have commercial kitchens nowadays. And unless they have maintenance guys on it, most of them are not cleaning their grease traps. We’ve encountered school districts with 20 or 30 schools and each one has a grease trap and they don’t even know they have grease traps. You’d be surprised how many businesses don’t know they have a grease trap.

In fact, many fast-food restaurants don’t realize they have two-chamber grease traps, and sometimes the second one is covered by asphalt or concrete. They think we don’t need to get into the second chamber, and even if we do, we can get there through the first chamber. But a hose won’t fit through the pipe that connects the two chambers. So what we have to do is get a jackhammer and then install a riser on the second chamber. We run into that a couple of times a year.

Pumper: What additional services can you offer grease trap customers?

Remstedt: Grease trap customers often need sewer and drain cleaning services. It’s a great ancillary service because you can clean storm drains with the same truck you use to clean grease traps. Why tell a customer to call another guy for drain cleaning work when you can do it yourself? Sanitary lines need regular maintenance, too. We have a water jetter on all our pump trucks. The more things you can do for a customer, the more they think just about you and nobody else.

Pumper: Why did you decide to use a private company for grease disposal?

Remstedt: We take almost all our waste to Merrell Brothers Inc. because it’s cheaper than taking it to the municipal treatment center. Their rates are now just a quarter of a cent cheaper than the municipal rate, but that still saves us about $52,000 a year. And both plants are within a mile of each other, so there’s virtually no difference in transportation costs.

Pumper: How did you get into recycling cooking oil?

Remstedt: We began doing it about three years ago because we discovered we were missing out on a huge market. We started losing accounts to competitors who were cleaning grease traps and recycling cooking oil. So you always have to listen to your customers and understand that even if you’re providing them with excellent service, you need to adjust and adapt if you find out you’re not giving them everything they need.

There’s good money in cooking oil. You typically lock in customers to a three-year cooking oil agreement, which essentially pays for the storage containers. They’re usually 100 to 300 gallons in capacity, cost about $500 and are made of steel. We figure it takes three years to get your money back.

The yellow grease is used to make biofuel. You either have to pay the customers for the yellow grease or discount your other services in exchange for the grease. The market fluctuates daily, but we usually sell it for 17 to 34 cents a pound, and there are 8 pounds in a gallon. We thought it would be a little easier to break into this market. … We’re doing OK but would like to have more customers. We usually collect one week a month, using one of our 4,000-gallon pump trucks.

Pumper: You’re a WWETT Show regular. How do you benefit from attending?

Remstedt: At the last three shows, we bought four trucks: a Vac-Con combination vacuum truck, used for municipal cleaning work that we started doing about three years ago; a Satellite Industries vacuum truck, used for pumping out grease traps; and two jetting trucks made by US Jetting and BCE Cleaning Systems and used for cleaning kitchen exhaust hoods and sewer lines. The Satellite pump truck allowed us to put an older pump truck on backup status, plus we use it just for collecting yellow grease.

The newer trucks help us improve productivity and profitability. For example, the Vac-Con truck probably boosted our gross revenues by 15 percent annually. And before this we had just one jetting truck, which was used mostly for cleaning grease traps. That meant our full-time plumber and drain cleaner always had to wait to get a jetter truck. Now we can do two jetting jobs at the same time, which probably boosts our annual gross sales by about another 5 percent.



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.