Going Green Can Pay Off for Your Pumping Business

Whether it’s on-site septage dewatering or going paperless in the office, California’s Nathan Officer is always looking to promote efficiency and the environment.
Going Green Can Pay Off for Your Pumping Business
The combined teams of Septic Pumping Service and Septic Solutions include, from left, Jon Wilder, Tony Wiebe, Sandie Officer, Michael Wilder, Keith Condon, Wayne Officer, Amanda Auge, Nathan Officer and Kaisha Officer (holding Landon Officer). In the background is the ABCO Industries dewatering truck used by the pumping company.

Interested in General?

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

General + Get Alerts

Nathan Officer saw a business opportunity that would allow the 24-year-old wastewater professional to stand on his own — but also work hand in hand with the company his father founded 18 years ago.

Based in Fallbrook, California — about 50 miles from San Diego — Officer started Septic Pumping Service in 2014, with his one-technician operation complementing the work of San Diego-based Septic Solutions, an onsite system installation business started by his father, Wayne, and a partner, Jon Wilder.

The younger Officer — a certified wastewater treatment plant operator who graduated from Mount San Jacinto Community College with a degree in water technology — wanted to utilize technology to answer major wastewater challenges in the area: Long trips to a disposal facility and rising per-gallon dumping prices.

His answer was a dewatering truck from ABCO Industries that separates septage into solids and liquids and puts clear water back into the tank. After a short time in the field, he says the mobile dewatering technology helps him save on operating expenses and promote an environmental solution to pumping that has become popular with customers.

FAMILY TIES

Officer grew up in the decentralized wastewater industry, often working weekends and summers for his father’s company. “Any time school was out, I was not at the beach — I was working with my dad,” he says. “I learned how to run equipment and about trucks and plumbing.”

Septic Pumping was established by Officer and his wife, Kaisha, in response to frequent requests from Septic Solutions customers. The company had been referring customers to other local pumpers, so it made sense to stop turning away the extra revenue. In the end, it was decided that it made business sense to let Officer put his experience to use by running his own pumping company.

Officer credits his father and Wilder for his inclination toward embracing new technology. “They’ve always been local pioneers in the industry — always on the cutting edge of technology and staying ahead of the regulatory curve,” Officer says. For example, the duo adapted quickly after California passed a law that required the use of an advanced treatment septic unit if a property has less than 5 feet of separation between the ground level and the water table.

LIGHTEN THE LOAD

The San Diego area presents challenges for pumping professionals, not the least of which is a scarcity of disposal sites that drives up operating costs — and customer invoices. That’s where the ABCO Industries rig came in. The truck essentially vacuums septage from a septic tank, then uses a polymer and filters to separate the water from the solids. After completing that process, the truck dumps the water back into the tank, thereby reducing disposable waste volume by up to 90 percent.

The significant reduction in disposable waste is critical because the nearest treatment facility is 50 miles away, says Officer. The substantial decrease in disposal trips — from one or two per day down to once or twice a week — coupled with a huge decrease in waste volume (the company pays 9 cents per gallon) helped Officer justify the cost of the truck, which costs more than a conventional septic service truck. Moreover, fewer disposal trips allows time to pump out more tanks per week, which boosts profitability, he notes.

“I had buying this truck in mind from the day we started the business,” he says. “A regular truck can only manage about two jobs before we need to discharge, so I figured if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right — find a more profitable way than the traditional way of disposing waste.

“I’m still a bit daunted by the cost,” adds Officer. “But our increase in profitability and the capability to do more jobs in the same period of time outweighs my concerns. In the long run, it’s a truck payment and eventually it will go away.”

ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY

Using the dewatering truck requires a little more time at each job site because the water/solids separation process takes about 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the sludge. Then it takes an additional 15 to 25 minutes to filter the water and pump it back in the tank. “The truck filters and discharges the cleaned water back into the tank simultaneously,” he says.

“The filtered water contains solids of only .02 parts per million. And it’s good for the tank because it restarts the bacteria.”

The sludge that Officer takes to a treatment center is typically about 85 percent solids. He says his company pays a few cents more per gallon for disposal because the sludge is thicker than typical septage; that higher rate applies even when he takes in septage that hasn’t been dewatered.

Built on a 2013 International 7500 WorkStar chassis, the truck features an 1,800-gallon waste tank made of polyvinyl-coated steel; a 600-gallon water tank; dewatering capability of 200 gpm; an 850 cfm Wallenstein pump; 240 feet of hose; and an articulating hose reel that mechanically retracts the hose.

If conditions warrant it — such as tanks that haven’t been cleaned for so long that it’s almost impossible to separate the solids from water — the truck can also be used like a traditional vacuum truck. In fact, Officer gives each customer the option of cleaning a tank either in traditional fashion or by using the dewatering technology.

CUSTOMER EDUCATION

“We explain the technology after we get on a job site, not over the phone, because it can be confusing,” he says. “Most of our customers love it because it’s saving a precious resource, plus it allows us to charge less than competitors. But we want to be up-front about the technology we’re using. … The last thing we need is a customer coming out to ask us what we’re doing, then having them say, ‘No, I don’t want it done that way — put the water back in the truck.’ It’s much better to let them know from the get-go.”

The ABCO truck requires approximately 30 minutes of maintenance for every 10 hours of operating time. So running six days a week, eight to 12 hours a day, it requires at least two hours of maintenance weekly, including cleaning sensors, filters and the drain vent. In addition, the truck is larger than a conventional septic service truck, so sometimes it’s too big for the job site; in those instances, the company refers the customer to another pumper.

“We try to overcome that issue by carrying more hose than a typical truck,” Officer explains. “We’ve found we have to ask customers a lot of questions up-front. We also have to explain the technology, so we need someone in the truck that can articulate it in a way that customers can understand. But I’d say nine times out of 10, customers say, ‘That’s great, I definitely want to do it that way.’”

ALL-IN ON PUMPING

The transition from installing to pumping was relatively easy, Officer says, and he notes that he works closely with his father’s company, sharing equipment and services as necessary. “It made sense financially for our businesses,” he explains. “We became more of a one-stop shop, which in turn makes us more attractive to customers. And before, we were taking money out of our own wallets. Revenue increased substantially since we started pumping.”

In a few years, Septic Pumping has grown from about 30 pumping jobs per month during the first six months to about 45 jobs per month. “We’re on a steady and consistent rate of growth,” Officer notes.

Looking ahead, Officer envisions more slow but steady growth that enables the company to keep providing superior customer service. He also plans to buy another vacuum truck, though he’s not sure when that will happen. One thing is for certain, though: It will not be a conventional vacuum truck. “We’re already established in the dewatering market and it provides us with a lot of advantages,” he says. “There’s no turning back now — we’re in it for the long haul.”


No paper trail? No problem.

It’s unlikely that Septic Pumping Service in Fallbrook, California, will buy any filing cabinets in the years ahead. Why not? The company operates almost completely paperless, a move that increases efficiency and profit margins and enhances customer service and satisfaction, says Nathan Officer, who co-owns the company with his wife, Kaisha.

“We do everything paperless, from septic system inspection certifications to billing to truck inspections,” he explains. “It’s much faster and so much easier to keep track of records. And with unlimited storage capacity, we can keep records on hand longer.”

Officer’s brother, Kyle, who works in information technology, helped set up the paperless system. “To find out what systems work best, we also called a lot of other pumping companies in Orange County and Los Angeles,” he says. “Some people would give me good information.”

Going paperless saves substantial amounts of time and money, Officer says, eliminating hand-written invoices and receipts — a practice that could easily consume untold numbers of hours over the course of a year. “We did a cost-benefit analysis and found we’re easily saving about $10,000 a year in administrative costs by doing things paperlessly,” he says. “When we need to refer back to something, bam! It’s right there.” (Information is stored wirelessly onto an external hard drive.)

Going paperless also enables Officer to spend more time on customer service — explaining things to customers on job sites, for example — and reducing expenses leaves more money available for other things, such as more advertising.

The company relies on smartphones to handle almost all administrative tasks, although Officer still carries a printer and a laptop in the truck for old-school customers who prefer paper documents, or for situations where failed wireless connections render smartphones unusable for transactions. “We also have a card reader that allows customers to pay their bill by credit card via a smartphone,” he adds. “It’s an added-value convenience. People expect to be able to pay for things with a credit card.”

The company uses credit card software made by PayPal and Square and a wireless “hotspot” device from Verizon. The company pays a per-swipe fee of 2.5 percent of the total transaction. “It adds up,” he notes, “but the convenience outweighs the cost. Plus, I think we’d lose some customers if we didn’t have it.” PayPal and Square integrate seamlessly with the company’s QuickBooks accounting software, which reduces by about one-third the time spent on bookkeeping because there’s little need for hand-keying financial data. “For example, the per-swipe credit card fees get automatically deducted from our bank account,” he says. “We don’t do anything manually — it’s all automatic, except when people pay by cash or check.”



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.