Want to Save Money on Your Disposal Costs? Consider This DIY Strategy

Longtime Texas pumping company All Pro Septic boosts profit margins, builds a stable future through cost-cutting land-spreading program.

Want to Save Money on Your Disposal Costs? Consider This DIY Strategy

David Lamas confers with workers on a commercial pumping job site. The truck was built out by White River Distributors and carries a Moro USA pump.

An often-repeated business mantra says, “There’s no substitute for experience.” All Pro Septic in Cleveland, Texas, has that in spades. The family company traces its roots in southeastern Texas to 1945, and the knowledge accumulated over several generations serves its customers well. And when shared with other pumpers, it can benefit the entire industry.

Owner David Lamas, 49, started learning the business from his uncles when he was a boy. His father was a master plumber, but his parents got into pumping when his mother bought a truck from his grandfather around 1979. His uncles learned the pumping business from his grandfather.

“My grandfather bought his first pump truck around 1945. So this has been going on in the family for a while,” he says.

In 1999, Lamas went out on his own after working in the family company. He has a big territory, a 100-mile radius from his shop in Cleveland, and it’s big in another way. It includes greater Houston and more, and with some 5.6 million people, it has about one-fifth of the population of Texas.

Lamas has seen so many problems solved that he has a rich experience to draw on to help his own customers. In some cases, the simple first step of pumping down a tank will clear a line blockage because it allows water to flow faster if it is not meeting resistance in an over-full septic tank, he says. Or there was the call he went on with his dad. A customer’s toilet didn’t flush properly. The septic tank was empty and the lines were clear, yet something prevented water from flowing. His dad blocked the pipe where the toilet flange passed through the floor, then connected the hose from the vacuum truck to the drain pipe coming out of the house.

“We applied vacuum, and all of a sudden the vacuum hose jerked like it had swallowed a big wad of something. We pulled the hose out very slowly, and there was a dead squirrel stuck on the end of it,” Lamas says. The critter had apparently crawled into the home’s vent pipe system, died, and blocked the airflow.

Problems like that are key to All Pro’s success. Lamas doesn’t brand his company as a different or better or cheaper pumping company. It’s a troubleshooting company that will diagnose and fix a problem on the first visit instead of taking money for continuous re-pumping. 


Troubleshooting is important, but All Pro has another advantage in handling its own disposal. Lamas purchased 55 acres of agricultural land near Livingston, and it is permitted for land application of wastewater (but not grease). The property was used by a logger for a while, and it backs up to the Sam Houston National Forest. Now about half of it is pasture, and the other half, based on state regulations, is cropped with Bermuda grass in the summer to soak up water and rye through the fall and winter.

A couple of miles of dirt road run through it, and Lamas has the land divided in sections marked A through F so he can rotate where septage is discharged in accordance with state approval. Lamas has a special trailer for this process. He designed it with the help of Springer & Springer, a welding company in Cleveland, and they did the building. The trailer has an open, galvanized steel box, about 12 feet long and 3 feet wide, with a 3-inch quick-disconnect fitting matching those on his pumping trucks. The trailer is pulled to the designated discharge zone, and trucks hook up to dump their loads. Inside the trailer are a set of screens that catch baby wipes and other large debris.

In his area, disposing of septage at a licensed facility costs 6 cents per gallon or more, Lamas says. Multiply that by the million-plus gallons his company hauled in 2016, and the savings are clear.

“The only thing I can’t do out there on my land is off-load when it’s raining because the state doesn’t want heavy rains washing septage to places other than where it’s supposed to be,” he says. Lime is applied before dumping to ensure the pH level is above the limit of 12. Every year his team takes soil samples and sends them off for lab analysis to check pH and contaminant levels.

The land is safe for grazing horses or cattle 30 to 60 days after application, although Lamas doesn’t have any animals on it.

“We’ve joked about starting a produce farm out there because every once in a while we see patches of melons or squash that pop up from seeds in the septage. What would be great would be to have a bunch of goats because they eat grass like crazy, and the septage is such good fertilizer that we have to mow about once a month,” Lamas says.


Another part of his disposal strategy is storage. On the yard at his shop are several holding tanks: a 12,000-gallon, a 6,000-gallon, a 5,000-gallon, and three more of 2,500-gallons each. Add in what the trucks hold, and Lamas has a way to avoid frequent stops to unload. That means the trucks stay on the road during the day, serving clients and bringing in revenue.

An evening crew transports septage to the land-spreading site. Lamas is planning to buy an 18-wheeler to move the daily loads more efficiently, and he has considered buying property to put a holding tank on.

“If you have a job that’s two or three truckloads of water, having a staging area for septage would allow an off-load without coming back to the shop,” Lamas says.

And he does big jobs all the time, at residences, Texas A&M University, nursing homes, health care facilities, and fast-food restaurants. In addition to his volume, he accepts septage from the companies of four family members he helped get a start in the business.


Lamas prides himself on having clean, good-looking trucks and sharp uniforms for his crew, but the workers are what’s really important. “We train people as they come in, and if they stay long enough, they learn more as they go. Of course anyone who’s really good is also good enough to go off and start his own business,” he says.

To help retain people, Lamas pays a good hourly wage, but he also pays a commission for technicians who land more business, for instance a crew member who identifies necessary additional work on the job. Lamas wants the people on the day shift pumping and serving as sales representatives for the company. The night crew consists of strictly drivers.  

“When we’re done, we always walk the customer through what we did and show them we did a good job,” he says. Technicians run through a seven-point checklist on pumping jobs. They have cut down trees and treated roots with copper sulfate to keep them out of drainfields. Lamas depends on them to notice small things like water dripping into a tank when no one is running water in a home.

“A little bit of water over a period of time is a lot of water, and customers appreciate knowing about a leaky toilet or faucet,” he says.


Lamas runs two vacuum service trucks. One is a 2006 International with a 3,400-gallon aluminum tank. The other is a 2012 Ford with a 2,800-gallon aluminum tank. Both carry Moro USA pumps. The International was built by Amigo Truck of Houston. The Ford was built and sold by White River Distributors of Batesville, Arkansas.

This fleet is small but adequate for the company that is split 60 percent pumping and 40 percent septic system repairs.

When Lamas started the company, everyone had conventional septic systems. As the more advanced, aerated systems came into wider use, Lamas saw no effect on his business. He and his team clean and service them as well. People with multitank systems who don’t maintain them may find solids building up their second or third tanks or in drainfield lines. When Lamas and his technicians can take care of these issues, the customer saves thousands by not being forced into a system upgrade.

After Lamas set up business in Cleveland, he bought out several competitors as opportunities presented themselves. The names and phone numbers now lead to his office, and he has taken to answering the phone by saying “septic service.” It avoids confusion among customers who call one name in a phone listing but see the All Pro truck show up.

Lamas does not depend only on good service, good employees, and clean trucks to publicize All Pro. He also uses phone book ads, billboards and radio. He also hands out refrigerator magnets produced by Stamp Works Magnets. He tracks what is working best with a simple technique: When someone calls, he asks how they heard about the company.

“We were doing our own website, and my daughter was learning about how to do it. I’ve never been interested in the internet,” he says.

For a time, they used a website service that wasn’t doing much for them. Then they were contacted by BizIQ, which offered to take over the whole online operation. The website design was updated, and BizIQ started regular blog posts. It handles Facebook posts, notifies Lamas if customers send in a review, and is working on getting All Pro an even higher rating on Google searches.


The Lamas family pumping tradition is not ending with David. Like his grandfather, his father, and his uncles, he is helping other family members start in the industry. (There’s his brother, Jonathan, AAA-Action Septic & Plumbing; sister Angel Ackley, Allied Septic; sister Meredith Burney, Pumpco Septic Solutions; and daughter Rebekah Lamas, Anytime Septic.) That’s why he no longer has seven trucks but only two. Other trucks went to his sisters, one of whom runs an onsite installing company, and other relatives.

“I’m happy where I’m at,” he says. He’s not about to stop working, but he is re-evaluating how much he wants to do. “I would like to spend the last few years of my life not having the worry and stress of a bigger business or always being at work or on call.”

But with all the people he’s helped build careers in the wastewater industry, the people in and around Houston won’t suffer from a lack of capable pumpers.

Working through the hurricane

When it hit in late August 2017, Harvey was the first major hurricane to strike Texas since 1970. After making landfall near Corpus Christi as a Category 3 hurricane and hammering the coastal areas, Harvey’s center drifted back over the Gulf of Mexico before it turned and came ashore as a tropical storm near Beaumont, about 67 miles from All Pro Septic. The storm stalled for days and dumped massive amounts of rain — in some places as much as 40 inches in 48 hours.

“It was bad, man,” says David Lamas, owner of All Pro. “The water came up several feet within minutes. My sister Angel and daughter Kelli had to be rescued by boat.”

Through the disaster, All Pro kept going and kept its customers in good shape.

Bridges were gone, and roads were gone. The interstate was closed, which has never happened, but All Pro technicians found ways to get through. Because they were driving trucks with significant ground clearance, they had an advantage in getting through high water and keeping flooded systems pumped down, Lamas says.

One of the company’s clients is a nursing home in Porter, about halfway between Cleveland and Houston. “We were able to keep the nursing home system flowing through several days of the storm, where other buildings around them didn’t have working restrooms,” Lamas says.

Adding to the company’s flexibility was its stock of holding tanks. Storage at the shop is more than 30,000 gallons. That meant trucks could keep going, and disposal could wait until conditions improved.

Many people in his part of the country won’t act on a flooded system immediately, Lamas says. They’ll wait a week or two until water recedes, and then they’ll see whether the problem resolves on its own. If it doesn’t, then they’ll call a professional for help.


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