‘You’re Only as Good as Your Worst Guy or Gal’

Arkansas pumper and installer Justin Haynes shares small-business words of wisdom, the toughest work site he’s faced and his wish for young professionals to populate the wastewater industry.

‘You’re Only as Good as Your Worst Guy or Gal’

Justin Haynes and his 2006 Peterbilt with a 5,000-gallon steel tank and Jurop/Chandler pump. (Photo courtesy of Southland Septic Service)

Name and title or job description: Justin Haynes, president and owner

Business name and location: Southland Septic Service, Hot Springs, Arkansas

Age: 43

Years in the industry: 22

Association involvement: I’ve been a member of the Arkansas Onsite Wastewater Association for eight years.

Benefits of belonging to the association: I get to work with Don and Peggy Daley, directors, who stay on top of the regulations and changes with the state and the health department. They let us know before things are implemented so we know what changes are coming. It’s also helpful knowing what issues are associated with the changes, good and bad.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: There’s a lack of support by the membership. Installers and designated representatives don’t want to get involved in an organization. And if they do get involved, they don’t want to show up at meetings or write letters or talk to the higher-ups at the state to voice their opinion.

Our crew includes: We do residential pumping, inspections, repairs and installations, as well as maintenance and installations for commercial and municipal accounts including grease traps. Our team includes Tim Vanmeter, disposal facility manager; Brandy Adams, field technician who helps with installs, service calls and repairs; and Jacob Hansen, equipment transporter and helper.

Typical day on the job: A typical day is very busy with many moving parts. Fielding incoming calls is a large part of my day. I try to keep a pulse on what’s happening with the disposal facility, and I manage active projects. Running the truck, doing repairs and maintenance, cleaning and organizing tools are key to operations. Most days require bouncing back and forth between jobs, helping the crew. When there are complicated factors to a job, I generally stay on site for the duration of the project. Syncing the installations with the regular maintenance accounts requires some flexibility, especially when the outdoor elements are a factor.

Helping hands – Indispensable crew member: Vanmeter is available and right there where you need him at any time, day or night, week in and week out. If there’s a need, he fills the spot. He’s very loyal. He’s been with me six years.

The job I’ll never forget: We were servicing a septic tank and found a lot of debris floating on the surface. The homeowner came out and was looking over my shoulder and asked, “What are those?” They were condoms. There was a blank look on his face and he said, “I don’t use condoms.” That was awkward. He seemed agitated and upset after that. It turned out that was how he found out his wife had been cheating on him. A couple years later, we came out to pump the tank again and learned he had since gotten a divorce.

My favorite piece of equipment: Our latest vacuum truck. It is very powerful and set up just right — simple, but very effective. It’s a 2006 Peterbilt with a 5,000-gallon steel tank and Jurop/Chandler pump with all sorts of bells and whistles — jake brakes, tag axle, full-locking rear-end differentials, LED lights all the way around, flotation fronts, 4-inch intake valve on the front of the tank so I can pump from the front of the truck (super handy), and heated valves.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: An installation where I bid the job without looking closely at the numbers on elevation. It was a 25-degree slope, which was extremely difficult. We handled that situation very carefully. I was the only one who ran the machine. I wouldn’t let anybody else on it. We had to find flatter areas on the hillside and traverse back and forth to navigate — and use extra care not to flip the machine. We didn’t flip it, we got it installed and everybody was happy, but it just goes to emphasize — always look at the permit. When it says tank elevation zero and line one is 20 feet away and elevation is 18 feet, you know it’s steep.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: We’ve had some doozies: Can you pump out our pool? Can you pump out an elevator shaft? Can you pump out our chicken house (in a flooded commercial building)?

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: The regulations are OK, but there’s not enough enforcement. One local pumper, for example, hasn’t had a permit (to operate) in 18 years. He supposedly wanted to buy a local company when the (owner) died, but he never gave the widow the money and talked her out of the customer list and kept the name.

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: There are two. One: You’re only as good as your worst guy or gal. All your employees represent your company. If you have one employee who’s not doing well, either correct it or make staffing changes because he or she is going to bring your business down. Two: Feedback from customers and business associates can provide a lot of insight if you can take it in with an objective point of view.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: Probably be on a beach in Mexico. But if I had to work, I’ve always been interested in building homes.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: I think we’re going to have a real serious problem — and we are already seeing it — because there’s a big shortage of people who want to work in this industry. It’s a problem not just in our industry, but all over; and I think it’s just going to continue to become more and more of an issue.


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