For More Than 60 Years, the Zuech Family Has Been Ready to Work

When a customer comes calling with a request for a new type of service, New York’s Zuech’s Environmental Services invests in equipment and education to get the job done right.

For More Than 60 Years, the Zuech Family Has Been Ready to Work

Moe Kurowski, left, and Vinnie Zuech dig to locate a lid while serving a residential septic system.

What’s in a name? Quite a bit in the case of Zuech’s Environmental Services, based in Franklinville, New York­ — and formerly known as just Zuech’s Septic Service.

That’s what the late Fred Zuech named the company when he established it in 1955, and the straightforward, no-nonsense moniker served the company well for decades. But around 2005, Fritz Zuech — Fred Zuech’s son, who bought the company in the late 1980s — changed the name to reflect the company’s wider breadth of services, which had expanded well beyond just pumping septic tanks.

Now Fritz Zuech’s sons, Eric and Vinnie Zuech, are third-generation owners of the company. Pumping septic tanks still is a primary focal point for the business, accounting for about 60 percent of revenue. But the firm also installs, maintains, and repairs systems; rents and services portable restrooms; hauls sludge from local wastewater treatment plants; pumps out grease traps; and offers drain cleaning and pipeline inspection services, Eric Zuech explains.

“We’re pretty much a one-stop shop for anything liquid-waste related,” says Zuech, 42, of the company, which he and his brother bought from their father in 2016. That kind of service diversity keeps cash flow more consistent by offsetting reductions in seasonal-dependent revenue.

When portable restroom revenue slows, for example (the company has only about 70 units out during the middle of winter), septic pumping continues. So does grease trap pumping and hauling sludge. In addition, the acquisition of an enclosed, trailer-mounted water jetter, built by US Jetting, allows the company to clean clogged drainlines in winter, as well as thaw frozen lines, Zuech adds.

“Three years ago, we were thawing three or four frozen laterals a day for about six weeks,” he recalls. “That’s what prompted us to buy a bigger, trailer-mounted machine. A lot of plumbers in our area don’t have a jetter, so we get a lot of subcontracting work out of it, too.”

The services complement each other and generate cross-business revenue. For example, when a technician doing routine pumping discovers that the system is failing, customers inevitably ask if the company does installations. “Probably 30 percent or so of our installations come directly from a pumping service call,” Zuech notes. “Or they perhaps have a clogged pipe that needs cleaning.”


Fred Zuech started out pumping septic tanks part time while working full time at a stamping plant operated by Ford. “He definitely was a self-made man,” Eric Zuech says. “He came to America from Italy when he was 16 years old, with just $15 in his pocket.”

Eric Zuech worked for his father as a teenager, pumping tanks and delivering restrooms. He joined the company in 1996 after moving from North Carolina, where he worked as a drafter/construction field tech for a large corporation. “My dad expressed interest in getting a little extra help, especially with the restroom business, which had grown to between 175 and 200 units,” Zuech says. “At the time, I was working for a larger company and didn’t know how much room there was for career growth. Being out on my own sounded a little more intriguing, I guess. Plus, I missed the small-town feel of Franklinville.”

The company purchased four restrooms around 1987 in response to requests from customers. Today the company owns about 500 units, with about 20 percent of that growth coming from the acquisition of a competitor who also pumped septic tanks but wanted to divest the restroom end of the business.

“Our main business niche is larger special events,” Zuech explains, noting that the acquisition included all of the competitor’s accounts, including the Jam in the Valley, a large, annual country music festival held on the Fourth of July. Zuech’s currently supplies about 275 restrooms for that event. The rest of the restroom revenue comes from construction and other monthly rentals, he says.

The firm started cleaning grease traps in the early 1990s. It’s a great complementary business, although the nearest disposal facilities for grease are in Jamestown and Buffalo, both about 50 to 60 miles way, which adds to maintenance and fuel costs, he says.

Grease customers range from casinos and fast-food restaurants to schools with cafeterias. One advantage of serving commercial customers: Repeat business is more frequent than getting a septic tank pumped every three years or so. “As long as we keep our customers happy, the work keeps coming back — you can rely on it,” Zuech says. “It’s a little more competitive, so the margins aren’t as good. But we make it up on volume.”


In the early 2000s, Zuech steered the business into drainline cleaning and repair. A few years later, he started pushing to get the company more involved in septic system installations. “I was kind of bored with just pumping tanks and delivering restrooms,” he says. “It was getting monotonous, so I decided to change it up a little bit.”

The company used to do one or two installations a year but now averages between 30 and 35. “Most of those are replacements for older systems that are starting to fail. We even had to add an extra employee this year to handle all the installations,” Zuech explains.

Zuech says the company installs mostly concrete tanks made by Kistner Concrete Products and sand filter systems (65 to 70 percent). In residential yards with limited space, he sometimes uses alternative systems with Ecoflo (Premier Tech Aqua) coco filters.

To haul restrooms and equipment, the company uses two Dodge Ram pickup trucks — a 3500 and a 5500; the latter is outfitted with a utility body made by Bull Head Products. For installations, the company relies on a 2016 Cat mini-excavator, a 2015 Link-Belt 145 excavator (LBX) and a 2011 Case 320 track loader.

Most restrooms are from PolyJohn Enterprises and PolyPortables. To service restrooms, the company relies on a 2006 Freightliner M2 106 with a 1,500-gallon waste and 500-gallon freshwater aluminum tank built by Progress Tank; a 2010 Ram 5500 with a 550-gallon waste and 250-gallon fresh-water steel tank built by Crescent Tank; and a 2016 Ram 5500 with a 550-gallon waste and 250-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank fabricated in-house. All three trucks are equipped with Masport pumps. The company also is currently building a fourth restroom truck on a 2017 Ram 5500 featuring a 550-gallon waste and 250-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank with a Masport pump, Zuech says.

Zuech says the company aggressively encourages customers to install risers on their tanks for more convenient return visits. The company prefers to use 20- and 24-inch diameter risers made by TUF-TITE. “They’ve created a great little side business for us — about $15,000 a year,” he says.


On the septic side of the business, the company owns three vacuum trucks: a 2007 Freightliner M2 112, featuring a 4,000-gallon steel tank and pump (396 cfm) from Fruitland; a 2007 Kenworth T800 outfitted with a 4,600-gallon steel tank and a National Vacuum Equipment 500 cfm pump; and a 2012 Kenworth T800 equipped with a 4,300-gallon steel tank and National Vacuum Equipment blower (950 cfm). Transway Systems built all three tanks.

The company specs large vacuum tanks because most of its customers have 1,500-gallon septic tanks. “So it’s nice to be able to get three or four tanks cleaned on a route before you have to unload,” he says. “The more volume you have, the more money you can make in a shorter period of time. We used to have 3,600-gallon trucks, and I’d never go below 4,000 gallons these days.”

For drain cleaning, the company relies on a trailer-mounted 4018 water jetter made by US Jetting (4,000 psi at 18 gpm); it’s carried in a trailer made by Sundowner Trailer. The company also uses two RIDGID cable drain cleaning machines, a pipeline inspection camera system made by MyTana Mfg.; a locator made by General Pipe Cleaners; a Prototek sonde; and Warthog jetter nozzles made by StoneAge.


Looking ahead, Zuech’s Environmental Services shows no signs of slowing down. Zuech says company revenues have grown about 50 percent in the last four years since his father went into semiretirement. “I’m pretty proud that we’ve done that well,” he says. He gives a lot of credit to the company’s employees: his brother, Vinnie, who is a route driver and a portable restroom technician; Kathy Colley, office manager; Rick Duncan, portable restroom technician; Moe Kurowski, septic route driver; Jasin Dick, septic route driver; Nick Terwilliger, portable restroom technician/installation equipment operator; and Harry MacElroy, installation technician/equipment operator.

Eric Zuech prefers slow and steady growth and believes 5 to 10 percent annual revenue growth is sustainable. “You have to be careful because growth can be a double-edged sword,” he says. “You have to weigh whether the additional revenue is worth the added cost, aggravation and stress that comes with growth.

“I’m thinking we’re pretty good where we stand right now,” he continues. “I’m not sure what other services we could add at this point, except for maybe a combination sewer (vacuum) truck or a restroom trailer. Our biggest goal when we bought the company was to maximize what we have, and now we’ve done that — it seems to be working. While we may not grow a lot more, we definitely plan to maintain the level of services we currently provide for our customers. That’s always our top priority.”

Good service is key to customer retention

There’s a lot of competition for pumping septic tanks and renting portable restrooms in and around Franklinville, New York. As such, it’s difficult to raise prices, says Eric Zuech of Zuech’s Environmental Services.

“Our biggest challenge is pricing,” he says. “Our septic pumping price has been the same for 10 years, and we’re making less money on portable restrooms than we were 10 years ago. Yet equipment and paying good wages and benefits keeps getting more expensive. So we try to make it up on volume.

“My dad (Fritz Zuech) and I used to go back and forth on this issue,” he continues. “It’s always been my feeling that we should keep our price down (to compete) and do twice as much business. We have payroll to make. … Rather than have our guys standing around, I say let’s put them to work.”

Better customer service is the secret to customer retention, Zuech says, especially in an age where bad reviews on social media can damage a company’s business prospects. “We have a method that works for the things we do,” he notes. “All we can do is try to keep customers happy and charge a fair price.”

Zuech also emphasizes to customers that his technicians will not do things like drive a truck onto their lawns; instead, they carry enough hose to pump out tanks from the side of a road — no driveways required. “And if we ever did make a mess of someone’s lawn, we’d pay to fix it,” he says. “That’s huge.” Technicians also go out of their way to educate customers about maintaining their systems.

In addition, the company retains customers through that old-fashioned, tried-but-true marketing staple: the reminder postcard. “It works fantastic,” he notes. “We get about a 10 to 15 percent response rate.”


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