Following a Midcareer Course Correction, a California Businessman Found Success in the Wastewater Industry

At first, Martin Ruiz didn’t even know what a septic tank was. Today he owns a profitable pumping and portable restroom business in Southern California.

Following a Midcareer Course Correction, a California Businessman Found Success in the Wastewater Industry

 This Hino with a tank from Transport Truck Sales and a Jurop/Chandler pump are part of a fleet updated to meet California’s strict emissions regulations.

In 1998 Martin Ruiz knew nothing about septic systems and never imagined he’d one day own a company in the wastewater industry. But with an unexpected career change, Ruiz landed in a management position for California’s Andy Gump Temporary Site Services, then eventually bought a small Gump subsidiary, Septic Control, in Phelan, California.

Talk about a second-career learning curve!

It’s been a wild and gratifying ride for Ruiz and his wife and business partner, Martha Ruiz. Today they have four technicians under their wings and three vacuum trucks and offer a broad menu of wastewater services to their customers. His takeaway message to other industry newcomers: Have faith, be patient, and don’t give up on yourself.


Ruiz’s employment at Andy Gump Temporary Site Services initially seemed unlikely. During a third interview with the well-known Los Angeles-area company, Barry Gump asked only one question: “Do you know what a septic tank is?” Ruiz had to say no. “That was a downer for me,” he says, “but an hour later I got a call and they offered me the position.”

He managed 31 people in the septic and portable sanitation divisions. The company trained him on everything from technical aspects of septic work to service aspects of cleaning a portable restroom. They also sent him to seminars and the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show (then the Pumper & Cleaner Expo), where he learned about supervision, human resources, leadership, and customer service. The job required him to be on call 24/7, and he helped coordinate many large, high-profile events such as professional golf tournaments and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

In 2010, with the economy stalling, Ruiz was laid off at Andy Gump Temporary Site Services. But Barry Gump surprised him by offering to sell him Septic Control, located 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and actually financed the deal. Ruiz took the leap into business ownership, due in no small part to the confidence shown in him by Gump, who passed away in 2017.


Septic Control currently offers pumping, onsite installations and inspections, as well as portable restroom rentals. They work within a 60-mile radius. Martha Ruiz takes care of the office; daughter Lynda Ruiz handles permits, reporting requirements, and online activities; and Manuel Simpson, Wayne Higgins, Bulmaro Diaz, and Michael Garrity work in the field with Martin Ruiz.

The business came with one vacuum truck, a 1997 Freightliner FL70 with an 1,800-gallon stainless steel tank and Masport pump, and an office trailer located on a rented lot. There were two company phone numbers, no customer list and no employees. Ruiz took off his management hat and prepared to get his hands dirty.

“It was so hard,” he admits. “I’d be taking the calls, pumping, invoicing, everything. It was a shocker of a learning experience in terms of doing all the other things I wasn’t accustomed to doing because Andy Gump had other folks to do that. Just getting in and out of the truck was a task for me because for a guy who had been mainly behind a desk, I was overweight.”

The small tank size on the truck was also challenging, requiring numerous trips to the treatment plant. Soon he logged onto the Pumper website and found a 1990 Freightliner FLD120 with a 5,000-gallon aluminum tank and Masport pump. Due to changes in California emissions laws, he sold those two vehicles a few years later and between 2014 and 2017 bought a 2009 Freightliner Columbia with a 3,300-gallon steel tank and Masport pump, a 2008 Freightliner Columbia with a 3,360-gallon steel tank and Masport pump, and a 2011 Hino 268 with a 2,200-gallon steel tank and Jurop/Chandler pump, all built out by Transport Truck Sales. He also has a 2017 Dodge Ram 3500 utility truck. Other equipment includes a Prototek locator system (AR‑1 receiver and ATP‑12 transmitter).


Ruiz marketed his new company by meeting the community, running a weekly newspaper ad and developing a website. In 2014 he hired his first employee. He also added portable restrooms after receiving calls requesting them for weekend parties. Andy Gump sold him 40 used Satellite Industries units and a 2001 Ford F‑550 built out by Erickson Tank & Pump with a 480-gallon waste and 230-gallon freshwater steel tank, a Masport pump, as well as a flatbed with liftgate for six portable restrooms. Today he’s got 70 units, two wheelchair-accessible units and 16 hand-wash stations from Satellite Industries. They’re used for parties, weddings, and local events such as the Phelan Phamily Phun Days and car shows, but construction now accounts for the bulk of his rentals.

Ruiz initially referred out installation work, but customers complained to him if they were unhappy with something so in 2014 he decided to start doing installations himself.

“That was a huge milestone for us,” he says. “Because as soon as we started doing that, it just grew.” He was book-savvy on regulations and setback requirements but not the actual hands-on work, so he taught himself by watching installers. He bought a 2007 John Deere 27CZTS mini-excavator equipped with 36-inch, 24-inch, and 12-inch buckets, then added a 2006 IHI Compact Excavator Sales 35VX2 mini-excavator, and finally a 1992 Case Construction King backhoe.

Responding to market needs was a concept drilled into Ruiz at Andy Gump Temporary Site Services. “That’s one of the things I walked away with — that if we don’t offer a service, all you’re really saying to the customer is, ‘Go somewhere else.’”


By 2017 Ruiz had four employees, which gave him the chance to focus on his management skills. Just as Andy Gump did, he trains his staff on everything. It starts with customer contact — how to introduce themselves, maintain a professional demeanor, and answer questions. Field training includes problem-solving — a pump not working, a clogged hose, or a tank that collapses (not uncommon with old steel tanks in the area).

Ruiz also conducts biweekly safety meetings, held on payday. Topics run the gamut but often deal with current conditions such as weather and road concerns. Located in a high desert up against the San Gabriel Mountains, drivers run on everything from unpaved secondary roads — having to watch for rocks to avoid tire damage — to windy steep mountain roads, which can be so treacherous in the winter Ruiz sometimes sends a scout to determine whether a pump truck can make it.

Employees have company-issued Samsung Galaxy phones so they always have access to Ruiz for questions. Phones are also used for navigation and to call customers to let them know they’re on their way.


Ruiz has strong views on how to run the company, many of them developed during his time at Andy Gump Temporary Site Services. Some of his ideas include:

Company image: Trucks are clean and shiny. Employees are well-groomed and wear company-provided blue khaki work pants, work boots and shirts for safety and professionalism.

Stick to business: Ruiz keeps a professional distance between himself and his employees and customers. “I have that imaginary line between ‘this is business’ and ‘this is buddy-buddy,’” he says.

Smart pricing: Ruiz once suggested to Barry Gump that they lower prices during a slow period. Gump said no, if they did that, they wouldn’t have the profit margin to sustain the division. Ruiz took the advice to heart — know your costs and charge accordingly.

Cleaning up: “I tell my guys you need to think of it as your house,” he says. “Would you want us to leave a big mess?” Even when a customer says, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. Don’t worry about it,” the company will insist on cleaning everything and putting the site back the way they found it. “There is a quality of service people don’t expect from us that they get,” he says.

Customer safety: “Once we start digging, this is no longer regular soil: It’s a construction site,” Ruiz tells his staff. “So we need to keep the customer at a safe distance.”

Marketing: When Ruiz realized newspaper advertising wasn’t working, he started investing more in his website and social media. But focusing on word-of-mouth is the best advertising investment, he says, and that comes from great service. “And if we get it wrong, you just don’t know how destructive that can be for your business. In a small community, it spreads like wildfire.”


Ruiz is grateful for all the help and advice he’s gotten from friends, family and vendors. And there’s no question he credits Andy Gump Temporary Site Services for a lot of his success. Every skill he learned there he’s now applying to his own business. He also credits his employees. “I’ve shared with them that they’re one of the biggest contributors to our success.”

It’s been a lot of work and a huge learning experience, he says, but all worth it. “Is it hard? Yes. But I hope our story encourages other businesses or entrepreneurs that it is a worthwhile business to get into.”

Supersizing the business card

When Martin Ruiz bought Septic Control, he printed his own business cards. He started with a standard size, 2 by 3.5 inches. But he soon bumped it up to 3 by 3 inches, printed front and back, to include more information. But even that wasn’t enough for him, so in 2014 he went to professionally printed 4 by 5 3/4 inches — postcard size — printed front and back.

The larger size came about, he says, because he had a lot to say and to accommodate photographs. Ruiz believes pictures tell a story better than words. “It’s better for customers because it’s easier for them to understand.” So, while the front of the card provides contact information and lists services, the back shows pictures of what they do — a septic project, a portable restroom, lids and risers, a treatment product.

The size ensures the cards won’t get stuffed into wallets and forgotten. They also stand out from the crowd of business cards on community bulletin boards.

“What we’ve discovered is it’s very eye-catching. I’ve had compliments from contractors and homeowners,” Ruiz says.


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