Commonwealth Waste Solutions Is a Successful Second Act for This Driven Virginia Pumper

Jason Muzzy started and sold one successful pumping operation and moved away. Later on he returned to the septic industry and started all over.

Commonwealth Waste Solutions Is a Successful Second Act for This Driven Virginia Pumper

Muzzy writes an invoice from the cab of his truck. With a small operation, it’s important to stay on top of 

The fact that Jason Muzzy has started not one, but two successful septic pumping businesses in the last 19 years is a testament to the power of persistence. His second business — Commonwealth Waste Solutions in Chester, Virginia — has generated double-digit income growth since its inception, thanks to an emphasis on customer service and septic system repairs, a boost from regional environmental regulations and a solid work ethic.

“I never leave a phone call unanswered,” says Muzzy, age 47, who established Commonwealth Waste Solutions in 2012. “I pay attention to details … and look for potential problems that could cause an issue for customers down the road.”

As for work ethic, Muzzy is like most small-business owners — always on the go, trying to balance the demands of managing a business, prospecting for new customers and serving existing clients. “I used to get up at 4 a.m. and run that truck as long as I could,” he says, recalling the early days of Commonwealth Waste Solutions. “You really need a gung-ho work ethic in order to succeed.”

The effort has paid off. Muzzy says the company’s gross revenue has increased an average of 20% a year since 2012, including a 30% bump in 2018. The reason for the growth? The company’s main service area lies within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a sprawling, 64,000-square-mile drainage area that covers parts of six states and the District of Columbia.

Residents and businesses within the environmentally sensitive watershed must have their septic tanks pumped every five years, and 2018 marked the fifth full year that Muzzy was in business. So revenue rose as repeat customers on the five-year cycle called to get their tanks pumped again, he says.

While the pumping mandate has been a boon to business, it’s also a two-edged sword because it brought in more competitors, including some that lowball prices. “It definitely helps business,” Muzzy says. “But anywhere you have mandatory pumping, you’re going to get more pumpers. It seems like there’s always someone new popping up. There are about 15 to 20 pumpers now in the entire Richmond area.”


The circuitous arc of Muzzy’s career included a stint at sea as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, followed by stops in Nags Head, North Carolina; Dallas; and now Chester. Muzzy was born in Chester and later attended two small colleges in Texas, where he studied business management.

Then he spent four years in the Coast Guard. After that, he started a septic service company in August 2002. It was based in Nags Head, a coastal barrier-island community where he’d always wanted to live. The business took off quickly.

“By the next February, I had three trucks,” he says. “I just stepped into a very lucky situation. A competitor was leaving the business and I just walked in at the perfect time. I had land to use for land application of waste and picked up most of the competitor’s previous customers.”

But after eight years, Muzzy sold the business and moved to Dallas to get married. When the marriage failed six months later, he moved back to his hometown, Chester, and established Commonwealth Waste Solutions. He preferred to go back to Nags Head, but was prohibited by a noncompete agreement.

Commonwealth Waste Solutions primarily serves customers in east-central Virginia in Charles City, Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties, which generally lie south of Richmond. Because it’s a fairly large area to cover, Muzzy adjusts his pumping rates by ZIP code.

“I start with Chester in the middle and raise the price according to each (subsequent) ZIP code’s distance from Chester,” he explains. “It helps compensate for labor, fuel, and truck wear and tear. The expenses simply are higher the farther out the customers are, especially since we’re heavy coming back, which reduces our gas mileage and raises our fuel costs.”

Muzzy also cleans grease traps occasionally, but only in Chesterfield County because its treatment facility only accepts grease waste generated within the county. “I’ve always done grease traps and would like to do more, but it’s just too hard to get rid of,” he says.

To service customers, Muzzy relies on two trucks: a 2006 Freightliner with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and Masport pump and a 2007 Peterbilt with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and Fruitland pump. Both trucks were built out by Accurate Fabrication. He also has invested in a portable KJ-3100 water jetter from RIDGID (3,000 psi at 5.5 gpm), mostly used for cleaning septic system pipes and restaurant grease trap lines. He also owns a RIDGID SeeSnake pipeline inspection camera.


To Muzzy, providing good customer service means more than just pumping out a septic tank. It includes educating customers about how septic systems work and bringing to their attention potential problems that could turn into expensive repairs down the road.

“Maybe there’s an old cast iron pipe close to failing, or terra cotta or Orangeburg (pressed wood) pipe,” he says. “Or maybe there’s a missing sanitary tee. We try to get things up to modern standards instead of just sucking out the tank, putting the lid back on and leaving.

“A lot of (pumping) employees aren’t the owner of the company or with the owner when they pump out tanks, so there’s not as much incentive to think that way,” he adds, noting the value that an owner-operator brings to the job. “Some companies offer their employees commissions on repairs, but when that’s the case, I think they start pushing things that aren’t necessary. We don’t do that.”

Revenue from repairs and maintenance has increased almost every year since Muzzy established Commonwealth Waste Solutions. Why? The entrepreneurial-minded contractor slowly increased the number of repairs he did himself, as opposed to subbing out the work to plumbers.

The reasons were twofold. First, why put money in someone else’s pocket? And second, Muzzy started to crave a bit of variety.

“I want to do something different than just driving the truck,” he says. “I’m trying to diversify a little bit. I’ve still got to be out in the truck some, but I also have to be out there doing repairs and selling. I have to wear a lot of hats.

“In the beginning, all I did was pumping,” he continues. “I kept myself so busy that there was no time to do anything else. But now, instead of killing myself in the pump truck, we leave room and time in the schedule to do the repairs instead of giving them away.”


Achieving that balance between pumping and doing repairs requires a reliable employee, and Muzzy has one in James Miles, who he calls his “right-hand man — a guy who really knows what he’s doing.” Miles has been with the company a little more than a year, and Muzzy says he does everything he can to keep him on board, including providing paid holidays and offering a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

“I treat him like a friend,” Muzzy says. “Sometimes I buy him work-related things, like an expensive pair of boots or something else he needs. … Finding quality employees who want to do this kind of work is tough. It’s a physically demanding, dirty job. And it’s miserable to work outside here when it’s 96 degrees F with 100% humidity. The difficulty of finding good employees definitely is one reason why I stay small.”

Muzzy also recognizes his parents, Jeff and Diane Muzzy, for their help and support. “They’re a big part of my success,” he says. “I have to give them credit where credit is due.”


Looking ahead, Muzzy says his desire to keep growing the business more and more often conflicts with the realization that he also needs more downtime to avoid burnout. In other words, he’s less enthusiastic these days about getting up at 4 a.m. and then burning the midnight oil.

“I’m not as hungry as I used to be, and I’m less concerned about that almighty dollar,” he explains. “I’ve learned that I have to run the business, but I also have to get some downtime. What purpose is there in earning anything if it’s killing you?

“I started my own businesses to try to control my own destiny,” he adds. “But if you let it control you, you might as well be working for someone else.”

So what keeps Muzzy going? He loves to fix people’s problems.

“Customers call and sometimes they’re almost in tears because someone else told them they’re stuck with a huge repair bill,” he says. “Then I get out there and help them find a way around it, so they can flush their toilet again and there’s no more sewage on the floor and life is good again.

“When you can solve a customer’s problem, it’s awesome — just awesome,” he says. “That makes it all worthwhile.”

While growth prospects are dictated somewhat by the ability to find another solid employee, Muzzy still plans on getting bigger. “I want to say that I’m content where I’m at, but that’s not the truth,” he notes. “One truck already has grown to two trucks and the business keeps growing by default, thanks to word-of-mouth referrals and the five-year mandatory pumpings.

“I might continue to grow like this or by diversifying further,” he says. “Or maybe by opening a new location or even buying out a little guy. … I just don’t know how it’s going to pan out. But five years from now, I think we’ll be larger in some fashion.”

Ignore tech updates at your own peril

Jason Muzzy has a word of advice for pumpers who aren’t too keen about embracing new computer technology and taking the steps required to keep systems up to date. The owner of Commonwealth Waste Solutions, established in 2012, recently learned his lesson the hard way when he repeatedly ignored automated messages reminding him to update the software that maintains his pumping schedule.

“I admit I have a hard time adjusting to new technology, especially when it’s related to computers,” he says. “I refuse to do the upgrades, for example. But last week, everything crashed and I lost all the jobs on my schedule for two weeks. To find out who was on the schedule, I had to wait for customers to call and ask why we weren’t showing up.

“It’s the worst thing that’s happened to me in the last seven years,” he adds. “I felt like a complete idiot. I was told I needed a new computer and software and cloud backup, but I figured it’s always worked fine — why fix it if it isn’t broken?”

The problem arose when Muzzy noticed appointments were appearing in triplicate in his business calendar. He called for technical support, but the cure was almost worse than the problem. “My computer screen just went blank,” he recalls. “Two weeks of work just disappeared.”

In the end, Muzzy was able to figure out who the customers were for 33 out of 35 upcoming pumping jobs. “Under the circumstances, losing just two jobs wasn’t that bad,” he says. “It could’ve been a disaster.”

Since then, Muzzy has invested in a new computer; purchased QuickBooks Online, a cloud-based accounting system from Intuit; and hired a bookkeeper who’s familiar with cloud-based programs.

The takeaway here? Regularly update computers and software. “I’m definitely going to be more proactive about things like that,” Muzzy says. “I don’t update things because I’m cheap, and I hate change — I like to use things until they don’t work anymore. But when I see what it could’ve cost me the last time around, I realize I need to get over that.”


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