Latching on to the Thriving Crockett Septic for a Career Reboot

Wisconsin’s George Van Stedum looked around for an exciting small business to operate. He found a rewarding opportunity in septic service and portable sanitation

Latching on to the Thriving Crockett Septic for a Career Reboot

Mason Wirtz handles a Crust Buster tank agitator while Van Stedum sprays the agitation blades clean.

George Van Stedum and Lori Leggett weren’t fulfilled working for others and had an entrepreneurial itch they needed to scratch. So they started moving away from the jobs they worked together in a Wisconsin warehouse and set off in a new direction, taking over a small, one-truck septic service operation. And that’s when the work started.

With long hours, an eye for detail and the willingness to try new things, the couple has built that $60,000 pumping business into a thriving small company — Crockett Septic, in Wisconsin Rapids — with hardworking employees, newer trucks and an expansion into portable restroom rentals stimulating growth.

In fact, the business stands out because within just a few years they’ve branded themselves with a snappy radio advertising jingle that people remember. It’s just one creative way the couple markets to grow their septic and portable restroom business.


A fortuitous call from a friend is what sprung Leggett and Van Stedum out of their career doldrums. A family friend rang up Leggett, asking if she had the phone number for a Realtor to help sell a septic company. When she mentioned it to Van Stedum, he recognized an opportunity and seized it.

“I liked the idea of owning a business. I was at a point in my career with no way to go up,” says Van Stedum, who was 29 at the time and had worked for 10 years as a cold-storage forklift operator and part time as a small-engine technician at a local hardware store. He continued to work full time at the warehouse as he learned from the former septic company owner for the first summer and then part time at the hardware store for a year and a half during the transition.

“It was on-the-job training to learn about the systems and how to properly diagnose problems,” Van Stedum says. Combined with Wisconsin’s required classes for a license, he learned everything he could. He passed the operator’s license test within a month and got his master operator’s license within three months of getting into the business.

There was plenty to learn because of the business’ location.

“We’re on a divide in Wisconsin where the Wisconsin River flows. On the east side it’s very fine sand, and on the west side it’s red clay. So there is a wide difference in soil types,” he explains. Though Van Stedum doesn’t install or repair systems, he’s had to learn how to service all types of systems and educate his clients about them.


The company has added appropriate equipment to boost efficiency for the variety of systems and customers across the half-dozen counties served by Crockett Septic. “The business we bought came with a truck with a 1,800-gallon tank. It wasn’t big enough for servicing and pumping two septic systems so we traded it in,” Van Stedum says.

That was in 2014, when he traded for a 2007 Sterling truck with a 2,500-gallon Imperial Industries steel tank carrying a National Vacuum Equipment pump. Though it was better, it still wasn’t big enough for larger holding tanks common in the area. So in 2016, Van Stedum purchased a 2012 Peterbilt with a 4,000-gallon Imperial Industries aluminum tank. “The 2,500-gallon truck is more of a backup and transfer truck,” Van Stedum says. It also comes in handy for events to provide storage for portable restroom waste.

Crockett Septic typically hauls to four area waste treatment plants. With the business’ land application certification, they also spread 13,000 gallons in 2018, though it’s not something Van Stedum prefers. “I don’t put a big priority on land application because of all the trash people put in septic systems,” he explains. When he notices a lot of trash while pumping, Leggett, a co-manager of the business, leaves the customer a “do and don’t” list with the invoice to educate customers how to avoid future problems.

Van Stedum believes that adding the Crust Busters tank agitator has saved time and gets the job done correctly. “I never want to go on a job without it,” he says. He purchased his first one in 2015 and another in 2017, both at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show.


That Wisconsin is ahead of the game with regulations helps Crockett Septic and the customers who benefit from septic system maintenance, Van Stedum says.

“The state of Wisconsin is on the leading edge with wastewater regulations to make sure everything is safe and to preserve lakes, streams and groundwater,” Van Stedum says. “I think Wisconsin is covering bases to do the right thing. The regulations in place requiring system maintenance every three years help to ensure this.”

Every three years, Van Stedum is required to earn 18 continuing education credits. However, he feels education is important and earns additional credits by attending the Wisconsin Liquid Waste Carriers Association annual winter conference. Leggett and Mason Wirtz, pumper employee, are required to earn three compliance credits every three years to maintain their septage operator licenses.

Tanks must be inspected by certified pumpers every three years, and if sludge and scum fill the tanks to one-third capacity or more, they must be pumped. While doing inspections, Van Stedum also makes sure everything is in working order.

Because of poor soils, many customers have holding tanks that must be pumped on a regular basis depending on water usage — from every few weeks to every couple of months.

The state’s focus on wastewater reporting offers another benefit to pumpers. Because most counties list information about tank sizes and other details, pumpers can access Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment System data to schedule time and labor assets accordingly.

“Once in a while you run into a surprise. You figure you have a 1,000-gallon tank, and then on site you see it’s 2,000 gallons or more and that throws a wrench in your schedule,” Van Stedum says. “It’s a learning curve to identify systems and to make sure you cover the bases to avoid potential shortfalls like running out of room in your truck.”


Soon after getting a handle on the pumping business, the couple knew they wanted to get into portable restrooms. They attended the 2015 WWETT Show with the goal of learning all they could about the portable sanitation industry. They attended education classes and talked to other operators.

“We are very grateful for Bob, the owner of Bobby’s Pottys out of Maryland, who took the time to talk with us,” Leggett says. “We had so many questions, and he was so informative and patient answering them. He was truly our inspiration. We left the show and decided we can do this.”

After the show, they traveled to Missouri to purchase their first restroom service truck, and they bought a few new portable restrooms. In fall 2015, they bought the portable restroom division of another company, which added 150 restrooms and another truck. Starting small was helpful, Leggett says, and a little over six months later they finalized the purchase of another existing restroom company.

Currently they have nearly 500 standard units, mostly Satellite | PolyPortables Global restrooms but also some Tufway and Maxim 3000 models used mostly for golf courses. They also have about 150 T.S.F. Tuff Jon restrooms. Older units are used for event camping and for area paper mills that need restrooms during maintenance work.

“In the summer we have 250-300 units out for mostly contractors, but we also get a lot of campsites, personal use stuff and weekend events. Most weekends we have one or two larger events (50-plus restrooms), all summer long. There seems to be an unwritten rule that every bigger event is an hour away from our shop,” Van Stedum laughs.

To accommodate the variety of needs, he has trailer-mounted units for ag-type customers, four high-rise, 17 handicap units, three family changing station units from Satellite | PolyPortables, three flushable units with hand-wash stations from PolyJohn Enterprises and three TJ-Kid units (in red, blue and purple) from T.S.F. They also have more than 50 hand-wash stations and sanitizer stands from T.S.F., Satellite | PolyPortables and PolyJohn Enterprises.

For portable sanitation, Crockett Septic has seven vacuum service trucks: a 2017 Ram 5550 with a 650-gallon waste and 300-gallon freshwater tank; a 2007 Hino 268A with a 1,000-gallon waste and 350-gallon freshwater flat tank that can also haul 10 units; a 2005 Chevy C5500 4x4 with a 700-gallon waste and 275-gallon freshwater tank; a 2006 Ford cabover with a 350-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater tank that can haul six units; a 1995 Ford Super Duty with a 400-gallon waste and 200-gallon freshwater tank; a 2002 GMC 3500 with a 350-gallon waste and 150-gallon freshwater tank; and a 1997 Ford F-800 truck with a 1,600-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater tank. Most were built by Imperial Industries, except for the Hino built by Crescent Tank. All are steel. Pumps are from Masport and Conde (Westmoor).

Additionally, Crockett Septic has five trailers that haul between four and 20 restrooms: A 10-unit Explorer trailer is manufactured by McKee Technologies, two trailers are homemade and two are snowmobile trailers. A 350-gallon tank with a Burks DC 10 washdown pump is skid-mounted so it can be put on a truck for extra water capacity at events.

Three 350-gallon tanks hold enough brine to use in restrooms during Wisconsin’s coldest weather. Typically, Crockett Septic has 150 units out on rental to service weekly during the winter months.


Besides standing out with kids’ units and colorful red, blue and orange portable restrooms, Crockett Septic is pretty well known in the area for having service trucks that smell like cherry pie. They run scented pump oil controller from J&J Chemical through the vane pumps in their septic trucks. That detail came up when working with marketing specialist Rob Wefel with NRG Media who came up with a jingle.

“Initially, I was mortified when I heard it,” Liggett says with a laugh about the lively, hillbilly-style song. But once heard, it sticks in people’s minds. Customers frequently recite some of the lyrics. They associate it with the business and that “their pumper trucks smell just like cherry pie” as mentioned in the jingle.

Besides radio ads and social media, Crockett Septic leased billboard space in 2018 and the ads were moved around to different locations throughout the year. They won’t rent billboard space this year but may resume in 2020.

“It is beneficial because we have a large area,” Leggett says, and the messages can be targeted to people who live in different areas. Sometimes the emphasis is on septic pumping, and other times it is on portable restrooms. The billboards and putting ads on a different radio station must have worked since Crockett Septic had to turn down some events because they were so busy last year.


To meet demand, especially for special event service, the company may need to invest in more restrooms. But an even bigger holdup is finding employees to service them. Currently past co-workers from the warehouse and family members work for Crockett Septic.

“It’s tough out here because owner-operators run their own trucks and pricing has been artificially held down. It’s hard to pay drivers what they are worth. Plus, there’s drug testing and it’s hard to find CDL drivers,” Van Stedum says.

He personally puts in 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. days running a septic truck during the day and then doing maintenance in the shop.

“I hate rust,” he says. “It’s a dirty word. Last year I took a truck out of service because a flatbed rusted out. We have a heated shop to keep the trucks washed every day to inhibit rust, and we keep everything painted.”

In addition to keeping trucks clean, restrooms are thoroughly cleaned in the shop with a Pumptec steam cleaner (5 gpm/3,000 psi).

Van Stedum and Wirtz change oil every 5,000 miles and do preventive maintenance on equipment. The company farms out more serious repairs.

Leggett is equally busy handling accounts receivable, marketing, and creating Excel spreadsheets for pumping and portable restroom pickup and delivery.

“I go wherever I’m needed,” she says, including power-washing and delivering units. “We have a receptionist answer our phones and schedule appointments. Calls transfer to me after 5 p.m. That allows me to be where I need to be during the day.”

Winter work usually slows down, but the past two winters brought little rest. With no snow before weather turned frigid, septic systems froze, so Van Stedum was busy pumping systems most days. That was in addition to employees working to mix salt brine and service the 150 portable restrooms on construction sites.


Until 2016, Leggett worked at her warehouse job part time in addition to helping with Crockett Septic. But she quit when the business grew. During the summer, days start as early as 4 a.m. and end as late as 11 p.m. Van Stedum and Leggett have a camper, but the only time it gets used is when they take it to events so they can service restrooms.

“We haven’t figured out the balance yet,” Leggett says. “There is so much to learn.”

To help find the balance, Van Stedum would like to add a full-time septic driver this summer, one who is as dependable as the employees who are already part of the Crockett Septic family. And additional restroom inventory would help them answer all the growing demands from events moving forward.

“We’d like to update a couple of the portable restroom trucks, phase out and sell some of the older trucks and possibly update with a larger septic truck,” Van Stedum adds.

Leggett knows there is a demand for higher-end restrooms, and it’s just a matter of doing more marketing. But they also require more time to service, which must be figured into scheduling.

Still, regardless of the intense work schedule, Crockett Septic stresses quality service that takes the extra step, whether it’s using a Crust Buster on every septic tank, decorating a restroom for a wedding or providing a detailed invoice.

And whatever the job, nothing is unfinished or left behind. Except the smell of cherry pie.

The personal touch

The extra steps Crockett Septic takes for customers are both practical and creative.

On the practical side, their website provides helpful information about how many restrooms are needed at an event and how to maintain septic tanks and holding tanks. Pumping invoices include lists and boxes to check to show how much scum and sludge was removed, how many gallons were pumped and any issues noticed, such as roots in the tank.

A person (not a machine) answers the phone, and George Van Stedum and other pumpers are always willing to answer customers’ questions.

Creativity shows up in the portable restroom side of the business. “I’m about the fun and making them fun potties,” Lori Leggett says.

She adds decals and decorative items to restrooms used for weddings, and she enjoys decorating special event trailers. For example, for a restroom used for a luau, she wrapped a vent pipe in lei flowers, hung flowers from the ceiling and added touches such as a pineapple sign.

In addition to visual accents, she uses J&J Chemical products and matches scents for the chemicals, fragrant sprays and disks to the event. Coconilla was perfect for the luau restroom, for example.

She tailors restroom color choices for events/customers. For example, a local high school gets units to match school colors with decals with the school’s logo. Besides aesthetic add-ons, Crockett Septic offers free or reduced rates for restrooms for local and charitable activities, such as a farmers market and local Special Olympics.

Finally, Leggett believes in providing customer service to everyone. When a customer sent a negative note with a payment regarding the cost of Crockett Septic’s pumping services, Leggett mailed her a card explaining their rate. She included a certificate for an ice cream treat at a local business (that also supports the Children’s Miracle Network) and thanked the customer for her feedback. Though Leggett didn’t expect anything from it, the customer was impressed that she paid attention and said she would continue using Crockett Septic.

Responses such as that and the wall of thank-you cards she has received make the extra efforts worthwhile, Leggett says. Among her favorites is a photo of a bride and groom dressed in wedding attire in front of the restroom she personalized for their wedding.

Crockett Septic receives honor

“Davy Crockett may not have needed portable restrooms, but we sure do.” 

With those words, George Van Stedum and Lori Leggett of Crockett Septic were introduced as the winners of the 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. It was a total surprise, Leggett says. The Chamber board unanimously voted for the couple.

“We were presented the award for our growth through acquisitions, superior service and support of nonprofits,” Leggett says. 

Only in the business since 2013, the couple added portable restrooms to the septic business they purchased, acquired another business, doubled their shop size, expanded their office and are generous supporters to local nonprofits and the Chamber. They hired a person with a disability to work part time in the office as part of their support for the local Opportunity Development Center and donate restrooms for Lunch by the River and other events sponsored by the Chamber.

Van Stedum, Leggett and team members accepted the honor at a Chamber banquet. They were mentioned in newspaper articles and social media posts, which provided positive exposure to potentially attract new customers.

And, besides a nice plaque to display in their new office, they received verification that the business is on the right track. “The emcee said his wife usually won’t go in portable restrooms,” Leggett says. “But she will go in ours. That was a selling point for him.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.