A Quality Crew and an Effective Disposal Plan, an Ohio Family Pumping Company Is Poised for Growth

Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. sticks to a proven business formula — but adds innovations that improve efficiency, please customers and enhance profits.
A Quality Crew and an Effective Disposal Plan, an Ohio Family Pumping Company Is Poised for Growth
Gary Baise holds a replacement pipe that’s ready to go in the ground.

Interested in General?

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

General + Get Alerts

If you buy a race car that has been a winner on the circuit, you don’t tear the engine apart. You upgrade some technology, give it a tuneup, put on new tires, maybe apply fresh paint and decals, and get ready for the season.

That’s how it is for Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. of Huntsburg, Ohio. Founder and owner Tim Frank, for years a leader in the industry and the 2001 Pumper magazine Contractor of the Year, retired seven years ago. Tim Frank’s son, Tom Frank, and his wife, Carol Frank, now own and run the business with lots of input from their son, Todd Frank.

Some things have changed — a newer fleet of vacuum trucks, more efficient routing, a new shop building, better financial planning and budgeting, and more diverse and sophisticated marketing. But the core of the business remains — well-compensated, long-time team members who are educated and empowered to make decisions; dedication to quality customer service; a sophisticated septage treatment facility; and generous service to the industry.

The continuity shouldn’t be surprising since Tom Frank, quite literally, grew up in the business. “I was in a tank truck from the day I could sit up straight in a seat,” he says. “In planning an open house last year for our 50th anniversary, we found pictures of one of the very first tank trucks. I was standing next to it as a pretty young kid, probably 4 years old.”

NEW GENERATIONS

Frank has been with the company except for several years after high school when he worked in the carnival business playing festivals, mostly near home base in northeastern Ohio. He and Carol Frank at various times owned large rides, kiddie rides, games, and food trailers. Even then, in the off-season, they came back to work for the family business.

Eventually, “The kids started to get older and had summertime activities,” Tom Frank says. “It was a hard business. If you had a bunch of weeks of rain, you could end up with no money, trying to figure out what to do next. We decided we’d have a better, stable future here.”

Todd Frank, meanwhile, worked for the company during summers and on winter breaks while in high school and college. He earned a four-year degree in business management from Ashland University with minors in accounting, finance, and information systems, along with an honors degree. While in college, he also earned a Class I Wastewater Treatment Operator license.

He quickly put his schooling to work, helping to sharpen the company’s business practices. All in all, the transition was easy when Tim Frank retired. Tom Frank recalls, “Carol and I, with Todd’s help while he was still in school, were already pretty much managing and operating the business and making a lot of the day-to-day decisions.”

ATTENTIVE SERVICE

Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. serves four counties that are more than 80 percent rural. Huntsburg itself is a bedroom community for Cleveland, and multiple subdivisions sprang up in and around it during the 1980s and 1990s.

Todd Frank observes, “We’re working for some third- and fourth-generation customers. Some families have used us from when the company first started.” There are reasons for the loyalty, and the quality of the team is a big one. Don Parnaby, head vacuum truck technician, has been with the company for 25 years; Mike Rose, vacuum truck technician, for 23; and Gary Baise, head service truck technician, for 16.

The other field team members are John Lanzone, vacuum truck technician; Cory Bevington, service truck technician; R.J. Lundstrom, municipal treatment plant technician; and Greg Frania, technician at the company’s septage treatment facility. Carol Frank runs the office with Carla Lechene, office administrator.

“Pretty much the reason we can do what we do is because those people are here,” Todd Frank says. “We educate them, and we send them to training. They’re dependable and smart. They represent us well, and we reward them for doing so. We pay them competitively. They receive Christmas bonuses. They have a retirement plan and health insurance.” In addition, special events and parties let them know they’re appreciated.

Tom Frank adds, “Basically, they’re like family.” Most field team members have gone through the various National Association of Wastewater Technicians training and certification programs. Each year, some attend the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show. “We try to keep them up to date with the industry so they understand and know what’s happening,” Frank says.

PLEASING CUSTOMERS

Quality service starts with a focus on solving customers’ problems. That process can begin with the initial phone call: With her long industry experience, Carol Frank often can work through customers’ issues in a conversation.

The vacuum truck operators are encouraged to give customers solutions on the spot instead of having to call back to the office. To that end, they’re thoroughly trained. New hires ride with experienced service truck and vacuum truck technicians for an extended time before working in the field on their own. “It’s about trusting our people to make the right decisions,” Todd Frank says. “People call us with the expectation that we’ll be able to answer their questions. If for some reason we don’t know the answer, we can call other people in the industry who Dad and Grandpa have met through all the networking they’ve done.”

Tom Frank adds that technicians are urged to call for help with problems they can’t solve or haven’t seen before: “We instill in them that if you don’t know, say so. ‘I don’t know’ is a good answer. Tell them that, and we will have somebody come back and take a look.”

Service efficiency has improved in recent years with Smart Service software (My Service Depot). “It enables us to schedule jobs closer together and fill the trucks up when they go out, instead of just sending them here, there and everywhere,” Frank says. Information entered in Smart Service links up automatically with QuickBooks for invoicing, so there’s no manual double-entry of jobs.

THE NEXT LEVEL

That’s just one of several innovations the company has adopted under the new ownership. Another is buying new vacuum trucks. “We’ve gotten away from buying used trucks and putting used tanks on them,” Frank says. “In 2016, we bought our first completely brand-new tank and truck, fully assembled. Last year, we got another one.”

The new units are more reliable and need less maintenance. Full-open rear doors enable easier tank cleaning and allow the company to take more jobs that involve vacuuming heavier silt or sand. The vacuum truck fleet includes:

  • 2018 Freightliner M2 106, 3,500-gallon steel tank (LMT), 4310 National Vacuum Equipment blower.
  • 2017 Freightliner M2 106, 3,500-gallon steel tank (LMT), 866-FD Challenger pump (National Vacuum Equipment).
  • 2006 International 4400, 3,300-gallon steel tank (LMT), 866-FD Challenger pump.
  • 2006 International 4300, 2,500-gallon steel tank, 367 National Vacuum Equipment pump.
  • 2004 Mack CX613, 3,500-gallon steel Matador tank (Amthor International), 866 Challenger pump.

The company also owns two trailer-mounted jetters (Harben), a Spartan Tool locator and SparVision camera, and Rod Runner and Mini-Rooter cable machines (General Pipe Cleaners) as well as four service trucks for sewer cleaning and repairs, commercial treatment plant service, residential septic system service, lift station pumping, and other purposes. A shop built last year accommodates six vehicles and enables team members to do more maintenance during slower periods.

FINANCE FINE-TUNING

Meanwhile, the company is on solid financial footing with budget planning and pricing systems Todd Frank helped institute. In college, he wrote his honors degree thesis on the company’s pricing practices. It led him to recommend a structure that enables pricing to reflect the value customers receive while remaining competitive.

Sound budgeting with revenue and expense projections helps support sound decisions related to cash flow and capital investments. Tom Frank observes, “We’re in the snowbelt. We work hard all summer to store up enough money so we can pay our bills and not have to borrow to make it through the winter. Todd has helped a lot with that.”

Todd Frank adds, “You want to make sure you’re not holding onto money that you need to be spending on projects, but at the same time, you don’t want to spend so much on projects that you have to borrow money in winter. That’s where the budget comes in. We can look at it and say, ‘If we hit this number, we’ll be fine.’ With any extra, if we need to buy equipment, we can. The other nice thing is that once we meet the budget and have the money we need, we can give out a little more in bonuses to the team — spread the wealth around a little bit.”

SMARTER PROMOTION

Todd Frank also helped enact more varied advertising and outreach programs. The company still exhibits at the county fair each year and donates to school fundraisers, 4-H, Grange, the local food pantry and other causes. But most advertising has moved away from phone directories and into search engine optimization with Google, Facebook advertising, newspaper ads, radio spots and billboards.

“We’re trying to be in front of more people more often,” Frank says. “Fifteen years ago, you had to be in the phone books or nobody knew who you were. A lot of customers have our refrigerator magnets. We also send out reminder cards.”

So while the basics remain the same, there’s enough new at Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. to keep that business engine racing — better than ever.


Cradle to grave

Vacuum truck operators for Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. deliver their loads to a sister company, Septage Residual Recycling, which operates a lagoon-based treatment facility that handles some 3 million gallons of material per year.

The nearest municipal treatment plant able to take large volumes of septage is in Cleveland, about an hour away. In addition, company founder Tim Frank believed in taking full responsibility for the waste he collected. The treatment system has evolved over the years; the building and equipment were replaced and updated after a fire in 2008.

Septage (and some material pumped from municipal and commercial wastewater treatment plants) passes through a custom-built screen, followed by a 12-foot Maximizer automated screen (Lely Tank & Waste Solutions). The water then flows through a series of lagoons and man-made wetlands. Sludge pumped from a holding pond is dewatered on a Model SHX-500 screw press (FKC) and hauled to landfill. Final effluent from the process is applied by way of 15 Big Gun spray heads (Nelson Irrigation) to 25 acres of giant miscanthus, a large perennial grass hybrid that is harvested in winter.

The treatment facility has proven to be a sound decision, economically and otherwise. “We’re not limited to hours of operation,” Tom Frank says. “We can come and go as we need to. If we need to get in here in the middle of the night, we can. I would say it has been a good option.”


Where’s Tim?

Tim Frank rode off into the sunset — on his favorite mule — seven years ago. That doesn’t mean he’s sitting still.

As owner of Tim Frank Septic Tank Cleaning Co. for 44 years, Tim was always a doer. He was a driving force behind the wastewater trade association National Association of Wastewater Technicians and its various training programs, and was winner of its Ralph Macchio Lifetime Achievement Award.

He was an advocate for beneficial reuse of municipal biosolids and septage, and in 1998, he received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency award for Outstanding Septage Gathering, Processing and Utilization Services and National Support of Environmentally Sound Compliant Practices.

He served on numerous boards and committees developing standards and regulations for land application and onsite systems, and he helped the Ohio Department of Health craft comprehensive rules for onsite systems. He did all that while building and operating a successful business.

The tradition of industry service continues under the new generation. Son Tom Frank is the past president of the Ohio Waste Haulers Association, a past director of Ohio Onsite Wastewater Association, and a board member and past president of NAWT. He also co-chairs the NAWT Waste Treatment Symposium and serves on the education, scholarship and ethics committee. Tom Frank’s son, Todd Frank, received the NAWT scholarship in 2009 and completed a noncompensated internship with NAWT during his senior year of college.  

Today, Tim Frank and his wife, Janice, live on a farm near Huntsburg where they raise cows, hogs, and horses and cultivate about 70 acres of hay. For recreation, they ride trails in the Allegheny National Forest and elsewhere, he on his mule and she on a horse.

“He’s pretty busy being a farmer,” Tom Frank says. “Every chance he gets, he’s in the truck and headed for the mountains somewhere to go riding.”



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.