Miller’s Services Discovers the Keys to Growing Beyond the Vacuum Hose

As Virginia’s Jamie Miller focused on diversification and cross-training, profits soared, the crew prospered and customers kept calling back.

Miller’s Services Discovers the Keys to Growing Beyond the Vacuum Hose

The Miller’s Services team numbers 60, and they are shown in the company yard with a 2019 International vacuum truck built out by Imperial Industries and carrying a National Vacuum Equipment blower.  (Photos by Tristan Lorei.)

Jamie Miller candidly admits that he used to be one of those pumpers who was a solid technician but a not-so-great businessman. But that changed dramatically about five years ago after a crash course in business building helped him reshape his family’s septic pumping business, Miller’s Services.

The makeover spurred dramatic growth for the business, based in Saluda, Virginia. Revenue jumped 400% to more than $7 million in 2019. Employment rose to 60 workers from about 30, and the company invested heavily in new equipment while diversifying into new markets for drain cleaning, plumbing and electrical services, plus heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Miller says.

“We’ve grown so much because I learned how to be a business guy, not just a technician,” he explains. “And I’m still learning.”

Miller worked with a consultant in 2014 to straighten out the company’s finances, a move that led to changes in pricing structure and raised accountability standards for employees.

Furthermore, to shore up his business smarts, Miller hired a service-business consultant who he had heard speak at a seminar at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo, now called the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show.

“It was a total game changer at the time, and it still is today,” Miller says. “The secret is that there is no secret. You can pay all the money you want to consultants, but until you take action and make changes, it doesn’t matter.

“You have to get in a mindset that you have no competition — you are the competition.”


Service diversification has played a pivotal role in the company’s growth and transformation. Miller realized that when other house-hold problems emerged during pumping jobs, he had no choice but to hire subcontractors to do the work. In addition, providing more services greatly improved convenience and service for customers.  

“Homes have more than just septic tanks that need servicing,” he says. “I wanted to become a one-stop shop for homeowners. And we have an advantage because most other one-stop companies don’t do septic work.

“As a result, we can service customers better than anyone else,” he adds. “And after we build value and trust … we gain customers for life. You don’t want to lose that lifetime value of a customer.”

To further build rapport with customers, Miller says technicians even perform small tasks for customers, such as fixing a broken doorknob or offering to take out their garbage.

“Customers love the idea that we can do everything. … When they have a problem, they hate having to figure out who to call,” he adds. “And if we can’t fix their problem, I’ll find them someone reliable who can.”


The company offered only one service when James L. Miller Sr. and his wife, Mary, (Jamie Miller’s grandparents) established Miller’s Septic Tank Service in 1973. Miller worked there part time while in high school and came onboard full time in the fall of 1999 when a route driver quit.

In January 2002, Miller and his parents, Jim and Sallie Miller, bought the company and renamed it Miller’s Septic Service, but it does business as Miller’s Services. The company slowly grew by acquiring several other small septic pumping companies and by offering maintenance and repair service. The firm also expanded its drain cleaning services, he says.

The company added plumbing and electrical services in 2014. The newest addition is HVAC, which started in 2019.

Both customer service specialists who answer phones and in-the-field technicians play a role in promoting the company’s services to customers who may not be aware that Miller’s does more than just pump septic tanks, Miller says.


Of course, offering so many services requires multiskilled technicians. Miller is working on developing what he calls “super techs,” cross-trained technicians who can do, for example, plumbing, septic and electrical work.

“I would love nothing more than to have my electrical service expert come to a customer’s house to hang two ceiling fans, for example, and then while he’s there, offer to check out a toilet or HVAC issue,” he says.

If there’s a wet spot in yard, the technician can check that out, too, and then provide repair options for all the home’s issues, along with a menu of upfront pricing. Depending on the severity of the problem, the repairs could be done during the same visit or scheduled for another time, Miller says.

“It’s not about being able to fix everything right then and there,” he says. “It’s about the ability to recognize what’s going on and eventually get the right guy out there to do what’s needed.”

To motivate technicians to get cross-training, Miller offers pay incentives. For example, electrical technicians earn a raise if they obtain a commercial driver’s license and get trained to pump septic tanks. The company offers in-house CDL training, he says.

“Does that mean I want an electrical technician on a pump truck all day? No,” Miller says. “But if someone calls in sick or breaks a leg, I have backups.”


The company currently has 12 employees enrolled in apprenticeship programs across the various trades in which it does business. The company pays for school fees and books, and the employees sign a contract in which they agree to remain with the company one year for every year of school they complete, Miller says.

“I’m also sending some of my septic experts to HVAC school,” Miller adds. “All of this [developing super techs] isn’t going to happen overnight because they still have to work and generate revenue while attending school in the evening. But we’re getting there.”

Out of roughly 40 field technicians, about a half-dozen are what Miller would consider super techs. These employees work under the auspices of company-owned licenses for electrical, plumbing and HVAC work.                

The more skills technicians acquire, the more they get paid. This not only provides motivation, but Miller says it also works as a retention tool because cross-trained technicians are much less likely to get bored or burned out doing the same thing all the time.

“They’re more loyal when they see a company investing in them,” he explains. “It helps us to both attract and retain employees because we have so many more opportunities to offer them — so many different directions theyan go.”

The company also attracts and retains employees by offering benefits such as health insurance, a company-match retirement plan and paid vacations and holidays.


Over the years, Miller’s has invested heavily in new equipment. The company currently owns five vacuum trucks and a combination vacuum sewer truck.

All of the vacuum trucks are built on International chassis. The newest one was delivered this year, a 2019 International HV Series built out by Imperial Industries with a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank and National Vacuum Equipment 4307 blower. Another truck was built out by Lely Tank & Waste Solutions with a 3,600-gallon steel tank and National Vacuum Equipment blower. A different truck was built by Abernethy Welding & Repair with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and Masport pump.

The two other trucks were bought used and feature 3,600- and 2,500-gallon steel tanks and Masport pumps.

The combination vacuum truck was built by Vactor on a Freightliner chassis. It features a 10-cubic-yard debris tank, 1,200-gallon water tank, Roots blower (Howden) and water pump made by Vactor. It’s primarily used to remove old peat moss from septic systems.

“We sometimes use Ecoflo septic systems made by Premier Tech Aqua and Puraflo systems made by Anua. Both use peat moss as the filtering media,” Miller explains. “The peat moss breaks down in the tank, turning from dry and fibrous into a mudlike consistency.

“When that happens, we have to take out the old peat moss and replace it,” he continues. “It’s wet and heavy — too heavy for our vacuum trucks — so we use the combo truck.”

The company also owns two trailer-mounted water jetters made by Spartan Tool (4,000 psi at 18 gpm); two JM-1000 toolbox jetters built by General Pipe Cleaners; eight RIDGID pipeline inspection cameras; and a variety of RIDGID, General Pipe Cleaners and Spartan cable drain machines.


In the coming years, Miller’s goal is to keep building his super-tech workforce while becoming a national leader in the home services industry.

“I definitely want to see even more growth,” he notes. “And it’s not just for me — it’s for our employees, too. The more we grow, the more opportunities we have to offer them and the more we can offer our customers.

“I don’t know when and where I’ll stop,” he adds. “All I know is that I’m an entrepreneur — it’s in my blood. I thrive on the growth and helping people out, so I want to keep growing all of our services and maybe even add some more. I want to truly be a one-stop shop for all of our customers.” 


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