Clayton and Harrison Whipkey Dish on the Best Convenience Store Food

When you’re hungry and you only have a few minutes between septic service appointments, they’ll tell you how to find the quickest meal in town.

Clayton and Harrison Whipkey Dish on the Best Convenience Store Food

 Clayton, left, and his son Harrison Whipkey share their reviews of convenience store food for hungry pumpers and others who are on the road all day.

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Clayton Whipkey was taking a lunch break every day anyway, so why not turn on his phone camera and review the fare at convenience stores and gas stations around his Homeworth, Ohio, home?

So that’s how it all started, two septic service guys, Clayton and his son, Harrison, filming themselves rating sandwiches, pizza slices and curly fries from the cab of their Kenworth rig. And a few months into it, the guys have become a minor YouTube sensation for their culinary takes on the workingman’s eats.

The most popular “In Truck Food Reviews” from Whipkey Septic Pumping garner a few thousand views from all over the world, driving the company’s Facebook page likes over 800, which is a lot for a small mom and pop business, Clayton says. And they have brought on an unexpected media blitz.

“We’ve been in 36 newspapers and five news broadcasts so far,” Clayton explains. “We’ve gotten calls from all over America, as well as a bit in Australia and South Africa … I don’t know why.

“Recently I brought my son on to help and have somebody in the truck with me. I’ve got to feed him anyway, so we just started with the reviews,” he continues. The boys work hard and bring a big appetite to the dashboard. Harrison is hungry all the time, like any 23-year-old helper. And Clayton, well he’s 6-foot 8-inches tall and 380 pounds so he needs big-time refueling.


“Everybody was a little skeptical at first. When I started, there was a lot of oohs and ahhs and people couldn’t figure out what I was doing,” Clayton says. “Now other pumpers are a little jealous about the news coverage. They come up to us at the treatment plant and give us a hard time.”

The videos intersperse with daily pumping scenes — digging up tanks, working the hose, waiting to dump at the disposal plant — along with a view behind the wheel in a gas station parking lot. Clayton sends Harrison inside to pick out a few entrees of his choice; at the same time Clayton cleans his hands with sanitizer (I asked to be sure). When Harrison returns with bags of goodies, a negotiation ensues over who gets what fare that day.

Then the father-and-son duo digs in and shares their opinions, rating the quality of their items on a scale of 1-10. They note if the fries are crunchy, if the sandwiches are hot or lukewarm, and the general quality of the experience. This isn’t haute cuisine, and the guys take a no-nonsense approach to the reviews. Like pumpers everywhere, they have a limited time for meals and need to get onto the next tank. They spend 10 bucks for lunch and tell you whether each spot is worth stopping and chowing down.

“When we started this, we figured we eat a lot of bad food. But gas station food is so much better than it was 10 years ago,” Clayton says. This is an interesting observation, and it seems so true. He talks about a day when he’d stop at the gas station and the only prepared food they offered were tuna fish and egg salad sandwich triangles in a refrigerator case. Or if you were lucky, there was a burrito you could throw into a microwave.


The bigger chain convenience stores and truck stop travel centers drove the trend toward better food, Clayton says. He mentions a favorite regional convenience store, Sheetz, which makes the best curly fries, and the Flying J truck stop that serves outstanding pizza. The quality improvement is appreciated by the hardworking pumpers who don’t like to brown-bag it.

“Everyone wants to know if there’s anything we won’t try,” says Clayton. “I’ll try anything at least once.”

How did this all start? Clayton has always been attuned to the value of marketing, and he has the technical skills to create social media content. He wasn’t always a pumper. Clayton, 46, got a degree in visual communications from Penn State University, then worked in the newspaper business for 15 years as head of graphics at the Canton Free Press before the newspaper went out of business.

Out of a job, Clayton saw an ad for a pumping job on a general store bulletin board and applied. He got the job and liked it so much that he suspended his search for office work and bought his own vacuum truck. He’s been pumping for 20 years and loves the work. He’s built the customer list to about 1,000 and now runs a main truck and a backup, and is thinking about a third rig.

Their go-to rig is a 1998 Kenworth T200 with a 2,500-gallon steel tank. The backup is a 1996 Chevy Topkick with a 2,500-gallon steel tank. Both trucks carry tanks of unknown origin and run Masport pumps. The guys cover five counties and a 45-mile radius in a rural area, pumping on average 20 tanks a week, up to 35 in the summer.

“There’s nothing better than working for yourself. You don’t have to worry about if your paycheck’s coming or if the company is going to fold,” he says. “And if you work for someone else, you don’t want to tick off the boss or feel obligated.” With pumping, Clayton says, “You get your list in the morning and then at the end of the day you shut off your truck and you’re done.”


Clayton wanted to populate his Facebook page to draw in more customers, so he looked for ways to personalize posts to boost likes. First he featured his pets in posts, then he started including superhero action figures found in septic tanks in his videos. He’s sucked up three of them, cleaned them off and put them in the trucks as daily helpers.

Looking for something new, he researched and didn’t find anyone on YouTube reviewing fast food in their work trucks, so he started doing it. To piggyback on the success of the reviews, he and Harrison are starting to review convenience store bathrooms for working folks, reviewing the food as it goes in, and er, well you know, the facilities for when it has to go out.

Clayton says the reviews appear to be “guilty pleasures” for viewers. Many don’t post public comments, but they hear from fans by instant messenger and email. And sometimes they stop him during the day.

“They definitely know us at our local gas stations. We get noticed every once in a while, which is funny. They’ll say, ‘What are you having for lunch today?’ Or ‘you should try this or that.’”

But Clayton knows fame is fleeting on YouTube. He figures the reviews will run their course after about a year, so they are always looking for the next idea to draw new customers to call or message them for service.

With his marketing experience, I asked Clayton to share a few tips for pumpers to reach out to customers through social media or more traditional ways. Here are some ideas:

Start a Facebook page and keep it active.

The key to success is not in starting a Facebook presence, but with tending to it regularly. “I’ve looked and not a lot of (pumping companies) are using their Facebook pages. They have them, but they just don’t use them,” Clayton says. “But that really is what I built my business on.” There are numerous social media platforms, but Clayton says Facebook is still his go-to for lead generation. “If you post interesting things at least once a week, you’ll gain a following.”

Don’t worry about a website.

With 70% of web traffic coming from handheld devices, phones and tablets, Clayton said it’s not important for septic service companies to have a website anymore. “The average guy with a small business; people aren’t using your web page,” he says. Instead, your new customers are finding your social media links through Google and Facebook searches. Clayton has a simple, free Google web page that simply redirects to his Facebook page. Websites use to be an automatic investment for small businesses. If you don’t have one, don’t bother with one, he says.

Use Google advertising.

Clayton generates plenty of ads with a modest investment in Google advertising based on clicks of folks looking for septic services. He said the average cost of a click to his Facebook page $1.27 and he budgets up to $40 per month for these Google contacts. The average cost ends up being about $27 per month, which gets him six to seven new customers per month and a call every day. If the clicks ever reach his $40 budget, the ads stop until the next month. Even when he doesn’t get a lot of clicks, the Google advertising keeps his septic service company near the top of the search list in a very competitive market.

Incentivize folks to respond.

Visitors to the Whipkey Septic Facebook page are offered $10 off their next service if they “like” the page. Liking also keeps the company’s links showing up on potential customers’ Facebook feeds. “This is cheap marketing to me,” he says. “Think outside the box and find something that will work for you.”

If you’re still using the phone book, don’t.

The first year Clayton was in business, he paid $180 per month for small ads in three area phone books. The payoff was about two calls per month, far less than social media provides. He was essentially following all the other companies in the area. They advertised in the books regularly, and most still do. “I regretted it and the following year I didn’t renew. I haven’t looked at a phone book in so long,” he says.

Leave the potty humor behind.

Don’t use bathroom humor in your marketing and keep the look of your trucks simple and clean, Clayton says. “Don’t put anything on the truck that would offend anybody. Don’t call yourself the ‘turd burgler.’ I don’t get the concept of doing that. I don’t need a catchphrase like that for people to remember me.”

Use reminder postcards and calls.

Whipkey Septic uses Tank Track software for managing his customer list and is on a monthly schedule to keep in touch with customers due for service. He sends postcard reminders to one-time customers (about 40-60 per month) and makes personal phone calls to regular customers (20-40 per month). He doesn’t use email reminders because he works for a lot of older people who prefer the calls and cards. The postcards generate a 60%-70% return appointment and the number goes up with a phone call to about 90%. “People like getting a follow-up; it’s one less thing to remember,” Clayton says.


To see Clayton and Harrison on YouTube, search for the Whipkey Septic Pumping Facebook page or search the company name on YouTube. And be sure to give them a “like” if you learned anything from the reviews or the advice in this column.  


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