He’s a Welder, Handy With a Wrench and Always Looking for New Ways to Serve Customers

Georgia’s Neal Bennett is the septic service version of Bob the Builder, always ready with the right tool to get the job done efficiently.

He’s a Welder, Handy With a Wrench and Always Looking for New Ways to Serve Customers

Neal Bennett and Kimberly Bennett Wood are shown with the company’s equipment used for dewatering grease trap waste, from AQUA-Zyme Disposal Systems.

Whether it’s vacuum trucks, small business, race cars or any number of other things, Neal Bennett is pretty good at building things from the ground up. A good example is NDB Septic Service, a septic and grease trap pumping company he started from scratch in Nashville, Georgia.

When a friend who installed septic systems asked in 2006 if he was interested in pumping septic tanks, the resourceful entrepreneur dove right in, buying a 1999 International 4700 truck and outfitting it with an old 2,000-gallon fuel tank and a diaphragm pump, made by Wacker Neuson. It was a portend of things to come.

“No one in our area was doing it, so I figured I’d give it a try,” says Bennett, who enjoys drag racing and building his own dragsters. “I figured I was going to pump one or two tanks a day, but it kind of grew from there.”

Today NDB (Bennett’s initials) employs 14 people and runs four vacuum trucks, all built out by Bennett, age 58. The company also pumps out grease traps, a service Bennett added around 2011. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also established Greenway Services, a trash-collection company, in January. About 60 percent of his company’s revenue comes from grease trap service, with the balance generated by septic work.

The keys to his success? For starters, he’s mechanically inclined. He’s also adept at spotting and capitalizing on business opportunities. Then there’s his aversion to debt, coupled with his steadfast refusal to lower his rates to match those offered by lowballing competitors.

Providing great customer service also pays dividends. To Bennett, that means doing simple things like treating customers the way he’d want to be treated. Keeping his trucks clean. “And if you tell a customer you’re going to be there at 10 in the morning, you better be driving up to their house at 10 in the morning,” he adds.

Building a great reputation that drives word-of-mouth referrals also demands an unswerving commitment to the job. Bennett recalls one instance several years ago when family and friends threw him a birthday party at South Georgia Motorsports Park, where he’d been drag racing for years.

“I got a call from Walmart, right in the middle of all that good Georgia barbecue and birthday cake,” he recalls. “A lift station had gone down and they needed a pump truck there to handle things, so I had to leave. We sat there for three days until they replaced the (lift station) pump. If you’re not dedicated like that, you’d better not be in this business.”


Bennett had a little prior experience in the industry, thanks to a stint as a utility superintendent for a large plumbing company during the 1990s. “I already knew all about septic tanks pretty well,” he says. “I could put in a tank and plumb it.” But in 2006, he got into the pumping end of the business.

Three of Bennett’s vacuum trucks are built on 2001 International 4700 and 4900s and the fourth is a 2000 International. One carries a 4,500-gallon tank while the remaining three have capacities of 3,000, 2,500 and 1,800 gallons. All the tanks are made of steel and feature Jurop/Chandler LC420 water-cooled pumps.

Each truck is suited for a different application. Bennett uses the 1,800- and 2,500-gallon trucks mostly for cleaning car wash pits. He uses the 4,500-gallon truck for pumping tanks because of its large capacity, which reduces profit-killing disposal trips to the nearest treatment center, which is a 25- to 30-mile drive one-way, he notes.

“Plus most of our customers live in rural areas and might be 15 to 20 miles apart,” he adds. “So we can usually pump out four tanks before we have to go and dump.”

Self-fabricated specials

Is it practical to fabricate a truck from the cab and chassis on up? As long as you’re mechanically inclined, have the right equipment, and are willing to suffer some setbacks while figuring it all out, Bennett says.

“If you don’t have any construction experience, it would probably be pretty tough,” he explains. “But I figure if I can build a 200-unit apartment complex, I can build just about anything. I just figure it out as I go and keep going until I get what I want.”

After Bennett gets a cab and chassis (he buys them at auction), he says his company has the means to do everything except roll the tank and build the dished ends, including painting. The main pieces of equipment used are a computer numerical control plasma-torch cutting table made by BurnTables (used mostly to cut out metal brackets) and a Miller Electric 200 welding machine.

Bennett receives the tank in four pieces: two dished ends and two cylinders of rolled metal, both fabricated by a local supplier. He welds the two sections together to form the tank cylinder, then welds on the two ends.


Then comes the installation of all the truck components, ranging from hose trays, manways, bumpers, valves and electrical wiring, a vacuum and a water pump, a water jetter, hose reels, and toolboxes. “We also shorten or lengthen the chassis to fit whatever tank we’re using,” he says.

One difference between a Bennett-built tank and a standard manufactured tank is the number of valves and their locations. He prefers to have four inlet valves: one on the front, one on the back, and one on each side. “I don’t like to bend the hose (from where it leaves the truck) to the ground … or to go around a truck,” he says. “The side valves work great if you’re in a residential neighborhood where you can’t get in the driveway.

“You just pull up to the curb and work curbside,” he continues. “It’s a lot more convenient. If you expect to do a certain number of tanks a day, you’ve got to do everything you can to make it easier for your drivers — try to get those hoses as short as possible. Time is money.”

Bennett says he’s never calculated how many hours it takes on average to build out a truck. “It might take us up to six months because sometimes we only have time to work on it when nothing else is going on,” he notes. “We use it as a time-filler.”

Bennett also relies on four tank-agitating Crust Busters, built by Schmitz Bros. “I would not let a truck leave the shop without a Crust Buster on it,” Bennett says. “If you ever used one, you’d never go to work without one again. They make life a lot easier. After using a Crust Buster, we can put a hose in and pump out a 1,000-gallon tank in about 15 minutes. Without it, we might be there as long as three hours.”

The company also owns a trailer-mounted vacuum and hydroexcavating unit, made by Vac-Tron Equipment and used for locating buried lines and cleaning car wash pits. It features a 750-gallon debris tank and a 300-gallon water tank.

In addition, the company owns three roll-off trucks from Peterbilt, Kenworth and International; two garbage trucks (a 2017 Kenworth and a 2006 Peterbilt) rigged with compaction units made by Loadmaster; and 45 roll-off containers fabricated by Bradford Machine Shop, a local company.


One key to Bennett’s success is only buying equipment he can afford; that helps him avoid debt. “The next thing is I’m the first one in every morning and last one to leave in the afternoon,” he says. “And I answer every phone call that comes in to my phone. I take a very hands-on approach and talk to every customer that calls.”

Bennett also refuses to lower his prices to meet those posted by lowballing competitors, which is another factor in his ability to pay for equipment. It’s part of an overall philosophy of knowing his overhead expenses and charging accordingly to make a profit.

“The way I look at it, if you pump 1,000 tanks a year and charge $200 per tank, you have $200,000,” he explains. “But if you charge just $25 more, you have $225,000, which is a $25,000 difference for what amounts to the same amount time, effort, fuel and labor.

“That extra $25,000 makes a big difference,” he continues. “Guys that cut prices don’t stay in business very long. If your business is failing, I think you’ve got to raise your prices, not lower them.”

A keen eye for new business opportunities also has served Bennett well. About seven years ago, he learned that businesses with grease traps would be required to pump their tanks every 90 days, part of an overall effort to reduce the amount of grease entering septic tanks and sewer systems, he says.

“I saw it coming and was one of the first guys around here to get a FOG permit,” he says. Collecting grease didn’t require investing in any additional trucks; he just has to be sure whatever truck is used for grease traps gets thoroughly cleaned so there’s no cross-contamination with septage going to a treatment plant. He did, however, invest in biosolid dewatering boxes from AQUA-Zyme Disposal Systems to properly dispose of grease.


As he looks back over the last 12 years, Bennett says he never regretted taking a career U-turn and heading into septic service. Sure, money was tight in the early going; he recalls going to his first Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo International show (now the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport Show) around 2008, dreaming about all the products he wanted to buy but unable to purchase anything.

“We couldn’t even afford a motel room, so we parked our camper out in the venue’s parking lot,” he says. “Now we go and we can buy whatever we want. We’ve been very blessed. It took — and still takes — a lot of work to make it successful, but I enjoy every day of it.”

Trash talking

Good business owners spot and capitalize on opportunities. And that’s exactly what Neal Bennett, the owner of NDB Septic Service, did this past January when he added trash collection to his company, Greenway Services, which rents roll-off containers.

It all started late in 2016, when Berrien County (Georgia) officials asked Bennett to manage the county’s garbage transfer site. (Nashville is about 30 miles north of Valdosta in south-central Georgia and is the county seat of Berrien County.) The day Bennett took over the operations, a local garbage-collection company decided to switch its trash to another transfer station.

The entrepreneurial Bennett immediately decided to get into the garbage-collection business. “We bought a new garbage truck that afternoon,” he says. “Then we put our name out there that we’re in the trash business, and now we have about 600 customers — and we’re getting about 10 new ones each week.” At the transfer station, the collected garbage gets put into roll-off containers Greenway Services already owned. From there, the trash is transported to a nearby landfill.

Why did Bennett already own roll-off containers? Because he saw another business opportunity emerge in 2013. After the prolonged economic recession starting in 2007, all the local roll-off container providers got out of the business. When the economy rebounded, there were no roll-off companies around.

“So we started a company and it sort of grew from there, mostly from word-of-mouth referrals,” he explains. “The profit margins are good — very comparable to pumping septic tanks.”

Renting roll-off containers is a very capital-intensive business, with an average cost of about $3,500 to $4,500 for a container and about $180,000 for a truck. “It gets pricey in a hurry,” Bennett says. (The company owns three trucks and around 45 containers.)

“We’ve been throwing money at it for five years … and we’re finally turning a profit,” he adds. “But we expect that to get much better in the future. It pays to get into a business that’s either too expensive or too dirty for others to want to get into it.”

While roll-off containers may not seem like a complementary service to Bennett’s septic service, it does have cross-marketing potential. “We have 600 garbage customers and every one of them has a septic tank,” he notes. “So every time we send out an invoice, customers get an NDB flyer, too. We’re also sending $10-off coupons for septic tank pumping with the garbage invoices.”


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