Selling Service, Not Price Will Keep Your Company in the Black

Mississippi’s Chris Hodge cautions pumpers and installers to value their time and hard work when confronted with a bargain-happy customer.

Selling Service, Not Price Will Keep Your Company in the Black

Name and title or job description: Chris Hodge, sales manager, certified septic installer and pumper

Business name & location: B Clean, Laurel, Mississippi 

Services we offer: Our septic work includes pumping tanks and cleaning lines for homeowners and municipal customers, and pumping grease traps. We also rent portable restrooms and roll-off containers. We have a plumbing division. We do hydroexcavation, pressure washing, and municipal sewer line cleaning and inspection. And we do a lot of drainline cleaning for poultry processing plants (because chicken fat coats the inside of drainlines).

Age: 52

Years in the industry: The company was started in 2000, and I’ve been here since April 1, 2008.

Association involvement: We’ve been involved in the Mississippi Pumpers Association and the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association. We’re only about 40 miles from the Alabama border and to provide portable restrooms in Alabama, you have to be licensed and a member of the association.

Benefits of belonging to the association: These associations provide lobbying efforts with legislators and keep members informed of changes and new trends in the industry. 

Biggest issue facing your association right now: In Alabama, one of our biggest concerns is unnecessary legislation. For example, they’re requiring more on-the-job training for someone trying to get their license. So, you have to work for somebody for so long and then you get your license, which means you pretty well have to be deceptive when you’re working for them as to why you’re working for them. I don’t think it was thought through very well. 

Our crew includes: We have about 100 employees, of which about 25 work in the septic, portable restroom and plumbing area.

Typical day on the job: I’m mainly talking to customers helping identify their problem and putting together the best possible solution at the least cost. Someone might call in thinking their tank needs pumping because the commode won’t flush, but I’ll talk to them and find out if that’s really the problem. So, I do a lot of troubleshooting prior to sending a crew out and maybe even doing a site visit myself.

The job I’ll never forget: Sometimes we have to rent a vacuum truck from someone if we need more than we have. One time when I returned one to the place I had rented it from, I opened up the back of the tank and out came a load of you-know-what into their parking lot. The crew was supposed to have cleaned the tank and emptied it out. I cleaned it up — all by myself. 

My favorite piece of equipment: We’re known in our area for our ability to identify problems with our camera systems, both residential and commercial. Our sewer camera from IBAK does a really good job. Most of the time we use it for municipal work but occasionally we will have to run it for an individual. That’s our main system and then we have smaller RIDGID SeeSnake cameras. 

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: We pumped a septic tank that was full of paper towels. Paper towels set up like concrete. We had to break it up, chop it up with an axe and shovel. I had to call in a Vactor 2100 with a hydroexcavation pump on it to get it cut up. One thing I told people on social media during the COVID crisis, when it was hard to get toilet paper, is do not flush paper towels. But we did see quite a bit of that. 

Oops, I wish I could take this one back: One of my guys was pumping a grease trap at a high-end white-tablecloth restaurant just before lunch time and accidentally dumped a load of grease in the parking lot. He used the Vactor 2100 to add water on it and had to wash it all down and vacuum it up real quick before the restaurant started serving lunch.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: One of the goofiest questions I get, when I tell people I have to dig their yard up, is, “Why can’t you just go through the clean-out?” — which, of course, is only four inches. It’s one of the biggest misconceptions about pumping septic tanks. People don’t realize you actually have to dig the dirt off the top of the tank and then pump it. 

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: I would move to having recertification be every five years instead of every year. It’s aggravating and the equipment and regulations don’t change that fast. 

Best piece of small business advice I’ve heard: Never drop your prices — stick to them. I learned that at a seminar. We sell a service, not a cheap price. It’s all about selling a service, providing a good product, and your price is what your price is. 

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: I have a Bachelor of Science degree in poultry science so I’d probably be working solely in the chicken business. I currently have a chicken farm with a capacity of 88,000. I started in that industry when I was 16 years old. 

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: We had a lot of change in Mississippi about 10 years ago, so we’ve come a long way, but since then it’s been just steady, business as usual. I don’t see a lot of change going forward any time soon here. We change really slowly. Our State Board of Human Health has been largely defunded so any change would have to be driven by federal regulations. But hopefully in the future this will be a full professional business with people who have knowledge about what they’re doing. 

- Compiled by Betty Dageforde


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