Michigan Pumper Takes His Dad’s Advice: 'Make Hay While the Sun Shines'

Paul Lawrence was running a vacuum truck at age 18 and then relentlessly pursued his dream to build a full-service wastewater business.

Michigan Pumper Takes His Dad’s Advice: 'Make Hay While the Sun Shines'

The All American Septic Service crew includes (front row, from left) Melissa Schoo, Paul Lawrence, Maureen Walton, Brandon Blatt; (back row, from left) James Crawford, Dave Mead, Todd Cole, Ben Horton, Dave Betker and Bob Ludwig. (Photo by Eric Seals)

After one semester of college and a summer job working for a septic company, Paul Lawrence knew he wouldn’t be going back to college.

“He paid so well, and I was making as much as my dad at GM (General Motors). The smell didn’t bother me, and I picked up on it real quick. I was running the service van and pumper truck and doing repair work at 18. I’m glad I never looked back,” Lawrence says.

Five years later, he purchased his first truck and started his own pumping business. Now at 51, Lawrence looks at 23-year-olds and wonders how he managed it. Today, All American Septic Service is thriving as it tries to keep up with Michigan’s growing economy. He and his team are doing all the jobs he first did as a teenager, plus installing septic systems.


Before venturing on his own, Lawrence worked for two businesses that did everything from pumping septic tanks to servicing mainlines and drains. So he had a few years’ experience when he saw a 1977 International truck for sale for $13,000. With financial backing from his dad, Leslie, he purchased the truck and went into business.

“It [buying the old truck] was probably the worst thing I could have done. I worked on the truck about three days every week,” he recalls. But he managed to get enough work to buy a newer truck within nine months.

“Before I was doing the work for everyone else,” he says, reflecting on the bold entrepreneurial move. “Rather than doing that, I broke off on my own to go in a more diversified direction, and it ended up paying off.”

From the beginning, Lawrence valued advice from his father. The first thing father and son dealt with was naming the business. With military folks on both sides of his family, it was important to put “American” in the name. That worked well for marketing too, as it puts the company at the top alphabetically. It also led to eye-catching red equipment with a mustard yellow oval logo with the business name.

The next thing Leslie helped with was advising Lawrence on how to deal with employees. Leslie worked in quality control at GM and had taken a Dale Carnegie course.

“Dealing with my first employees was kind of a struggle,” Lawrence admits. “I’m a doer and not a good boss-person.”

His dad gave him advice that helped: Remember no one is perfect. Take it one day at a time. Realize you don’t know what people are dealing with and the backgrounds they’ve had.

“I try to be more patient and talk them through it. I let them speak their mind, and I interject how they can do better in a more positive direction,” Lawrence says.


As he learned to work with his employees, Lawrence expanded his services. He started with pumping, and when he could afford it, he purchased his first service van and drain cleaning equipment for repair work.

“That opened the door to a new level for us — excavating,” he says. “Our ratio was 75% to 80% pumping. But now pumping is almost equal to excavation of septic fields and repairs. We are so busy we could double our work. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the economy explode with building.”

About 10% of the work is new septic installations. The rest are repair and replacement jobs. To keep up with demand and to provide enough equipment for his employees, he has built an impressive fleet.

For pumping he has four trucks: two Internationals (2010 and 2011) with 5,000-gallon steel tanks and 4310 National Vacuum Equipment blowers; a 2000 WG64F Volvo with a Transway Systems 4,500-gallon steel tank and Fruitland 500 pump; and a 2005 378 Peterbilt with a 4,000-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater aluminum tank and a NVE 866 pump.

For other services, the company has two Chevrolet Express vans (2007 and 2008) and three pickups: a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, 2017 GMC 2500 and 2007 Dodge 1500. They are outfitted with Spartan Tool drain cleaning machines, General Pipe Cleaners Gen-Eye cameras, and jetters made by Landa, Shark and Sewer Equipment.

For excavating, Lawrence says he appreciates his newest machine, a John Deere 160G excavator that he says cuts some work time in half. His other excavators include a 2002 New Holland LS180 skid-steer, Kubota XP excavator, New Holland C238 track loader and Komatsu D31PX dozer. Equipment is hauled with two Benson semitrailers (1987 and 1988) and a 1995 Fruehauf semitrailer. The business also has a fleet of utility trailers — from Integrity Trailers, Legend Premium Trailers, Talbert and PJ Trailers.

To land-apply septage, Lawrence has a four-wheel-drive John Deere 8760 tractor and a Balzer 4800 spreader to inject. For cultivating, seeding and harvesting crops grown on the fields, the company runs a 16-row Kinze planter, MT845B Caterpillar tractor and John Deere 9600 combine.

One major equipment expense he hasn’t regretted was switching to 4310 NVE 930 cfm blowers for two of the vacuum trucks. “They [the old pumps] were 400 to 500 cfm, so the blowers double their vacuum ability. They cut 15 to 25 minutes off a job, so they are phenomenal for saving time,” Lawrence says.


Lawrence relies on his team of employees and an efficient routine to get the work done. His office manager and fiancée, Melissa Schoo, and secretary Maureen Walton set pumping and service schedules the night before so drivers can grab a folder and be ready to go in the morning. Drivers call in whenever they arrive and leave a job and are given additional jobs as they come in.

“Sometimes there are only 10 jobs on the books, but we end up with 25 pumpings,” Lawrence says. “People call in and say, ‘Can you get me in today?’ and we try to be accommodating.” Although All American Septic Service isn’t the cheapest in the area (prices are in the middle), customers tell them they like the quality of service and that they are prompt.

“I tell the guys to go the extra mile. Give quality work and make sure the customers are happy when they leave.”

Lawrence notes that he hired three of his employees through the employment website Indeed. Younger people do everything on their smartphones, he says, so it’s an effective way to find employees. He also knows that Indeed automatically notifies people about other jobs, so he needs to pay good wages and keep employees satisfied so they aren’t tempted to move on.


Lawrence remembers when his ads ran in 5-inch-thick phone books. Though they are only about 1/4-inch thick now, he continues to run phone book ads to reach older customers. He also uses some radio advertising, but the majority of customers reach him through the company’s website, social media and YP internet advertising. Lawrence and Schoo take care of posting photos — and recently a drone video taken by a customer — on Facebook. They pay a YP salesperson to keep up their visibility on the internet, as more people shop online.

He also appreciates the technology on General Pipe Cleaner Gen-Eye camera equipment that can send more accurate information to a phone or flash drive.

In the office, staff use Intuit QuickBooks, as well as Tank Track software that has customer and tank information and reports when to send reminder postcards to more than 12,000 residential customers.

“That has netted a lot of repeat work for the business,” Lawrence says.

Finally, the trucks are outfitted with GPS to provide directions to drivers.


With restaurants, schools and monthly residential pumping, All American Septic Service doesn’t slow down as much as it used to in January and February. Contracts with a large corporation canning plant for drain work and repair during that time also keep crews busy. Lawrence, who does 90% of the contract bidding, also works on the excavating side of the business.

“I do the bigger (excavator) operating for water and sewer stuff and repairs for the canning plant,” he explains. It’s safer and faster for him to do some of the more intense jobs like digging near a gas plant, for example.

Recently moving the business from a rural property with a couple of sheds that he outgrew to a 10,000-square-foot building in Imlay City, Michigan, has been helpful. The former vegetable packing plant has room for offices and to store most of the equipment, plus shop space for working on equipment.

Lawrence anticipates continued growth in the area driving more work. He is considering purchasing another vacuum truck. With rural customers in three directions and a metro area with expensive homes in the fourth direction, his diversified customer base continues to grow.

He recently got back into the portable restroom business after being out of it for a few years. He rents about 40 PolyJohn and Satellite | PolyPortables units for commercial construction sites and is considering purchasing another 200 for weekend events. He realizes that would require hiring another employee or two, as it is difficult to keep on top of all the work he already has.

“I put more hours in than anyone else, so there are no loose ends. I want to make sure we grow and try not to turn any work down,” Lawrence says. “As my dad says, ‘Make hay while the sun shines.’”  


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