This Arizona Pumping Pro Leans Into Quality Service and a Skilled Team to Succeed

Quality Pumping owner Chancy Thomas is a woman thriving in a male-dominated industry … and she’s loving every minute of it.

This Arizona Pumping Pro Leans Into Quality Service and a Skilled Team to Succeed

  The Quality Pumping team includes, from left, Gabe Hesson, Joshua Hughes, Vikki Candler, Chancy Thomas, Shelly Brown, Joe Brown, Joshua Craghead and Amber Marshall. (Photos by Keith Morris)

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By several measures, the deck was a bit  stacked against Chancy Thomas when she took ownership of Quality Pumping, the company her parents, Joe and Shelly Brown, established more than two decades ago in Payson, AZ, a small town about 70 miles northeast of Phoenix.

For starters, Thomas had no experience running a business by herself, though she did work for her parents while in high school and attending college. Second, Thomas was a woman in a male-dominated field — no small obstacle 20-some years ago. And third, the business wasn’t fully modernized.

Yet despite these challenges, Thomas, 38, has grown Quality Pumping into a sizable enterprise. The business pumps residential and commercial septic tanks, designs septic systems, does soil testing and rents and services portable restrooms. 

Thomas’ success story is a something that many pumpers and portable restroom operators can relate to — a testament to the value of family support, a willingness to change and adapt and, above all, an industrious and deep-rooted work ethic.

“There were some lean times when we started out,” says Thomas, who initially started attending Central Arizona College in 2001 to earn a nursing degree. “My biggest goal back them was just to make it work.

“It’s all kind of a blur as I look back,” she continues. “There were a lot of stressful times and a lot of good times, too. The learning curve was steep at times and I did a lot of learning the hard way. 

“But we made it work with the help and support of family, lots of sacrifices and around-the-clock work, 24/7,” she notes. “It really does take a village.”

COMPANYWIDE SUPPORT

Key residents of that village were her parents, who founded the company in 1999, and her husband, Sterling Thomas, a superintendent/foreman who also bids out and runs jobs, and maintains equipment.

Other important contributors include Vikki Candler, Thomas’s administrative assistant; Joshua Hughes, a supervisor and a portable sanitation technician; Gabe Hesson, supervisor of septic system inspections; Amber Marshall, route coordinator; Logan Weinland, a portable sanitation and septic technician; and Louis Mora, repairs superintendent.

“Everyone is instrumental in their own way to the success of the company,” Thomas says.

But sex discrimination is one thing that made success more difficult early on.

“There were many challenges to being a female in a male-dominated industry, and sometimes there still are,” she says. “There was a lot of intimidation within the industry. But at some point, those people have mostly all come around and we now have good relationships.”

PERFECT TIMING

Two key factors thrust Thomas into her ownership role around 2002. The first was her father’s decision to start a new construction business shortly after buying 15 portable restrooms and a vacuum truck. The second was Thomas’ growing realization that becoming a nurse wasn’t really what she wanted as a career.

So Brown needed someone to run the business and Thomas wanted to scratch her entrepreneurial itch. As the old saying goes, timing is everything.

“I realized that I wasn’t really excited about a nursing career, so I left school and directed my attention to the company,” she says. “Growing a business seemed way more exciting to me than the nursing field. … I thought it was super exciting to have those 15 restrooms and a truck.”

Did Thomas ever find it daunting to when she took the reins in 2002?

“Not really,” she says. “I had always worked the business anyway, except for on weekends when my father ran things. 

“To grow it to what we have now has been very gratifying,” she adds. “But I never could’ve done it without my parents and Sterling.”

MORE EQUIPMENT

As the company grew, so did its fleet of trucks and equipment. Today, the company owns four vacuum trucks, all featuring Masport vacuum pumps: a 1997 Freightliner with a 3,000-gallon steel tank; a Ford F-550 with a 3,000-gallon aluminum tank built by Satellite Vacuum Trucks; a 2014 Freightliner with a 3,000-gallon aluminum tank built by Tank World; and a 1997 Kenworth with a 3,000-gallon steel tank, also from Tank World.

On the portable restroom side of the business, the company relies on two trucks: a 2015 Ford F-450 that carries a self-fabricated, 450-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank and a 2007 Dodge 2500 equipped with a slide-in, 350-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank made by Satellite. Both trucks feature Masport pumps.

The company also owns roughly 550 restrooms, mostly from Satellite Industries; six self-fabricated restroom trailers; and more than 150 hand-wash stations from Satellite.

TECH ASSIST

In the company’s office, Thomas initiated a switch from manual QuickBooks accounting software from Intuit to QuickBooks Online. The switch occurred after Chandler came on board in October 2021.

The move to QuickBooks online and Chandler’s hiring reflected a double realization for Thomas that many family-owned septic and restroom companies can understand: Business owners can’t do everything themselves. And in order to thrive, it’s necessary to embrace technology that helps people work smarter, not harder, she says.

“I went for a long time without an assistant because I had family that was extremely helpful,” she explains. “But I realized at some point that getting some extra help would be beneficial.

“I’m a pretty hard-headed individual. … I’d put the kids to bed and then start doing paperwork – contracts, invoices, emails and so forth – until maybe 2 a.m.,” she continues. “I wasn’t very good at delegating or letting loose on the reins.

“I hired four other assistants before Vikki, but they didn’t work out,” Thomas adds. “Training them was almost like having another job, which wasn’t very helpful.

“But Vikki has been such a big help,” she says. “She has great organizational skills and helped with the transition to QuickBooks Online.”

PROFESSIONALISM MATTERS

A never-ending dedication to improvement also was instrumental to the company’s success, she says.

“I have a constant desire to get better and do better,” Thomas explains. “I’m a firm believer in providing quality services. If a client is unhappy, we stand behind our work — honesty and integrity is very important to us.”

That’s especially true when a company is named Quality Pumping, a moniker her parents created. To ensure quality work, the company trains employees to follow structured processes that, when followed, result in consistent performance, she says.

A membership in National Association of Wastewater Technicians also paid dividends, Thomas says, noting she became a member in 2001 after obtaining her designer’s license.

“I realized that NAWT offered more than just design certification,” she says. “It keeps you educated and up to date with things such as new treatment systems. It also teaches you how to operate and service a pump truck, how septic systems operate, the best way to run service routes and tips for running a business.

“NAWT gives you all the knowledge you need,” Thomas concludes. “It’s a really great asset for companies.”

WORK HARD

Today, Quality Pumping gets about half of its revenue from septic system-related work and the rest from portable restroom-related services. Within the portable sanitation end of the business, monthly rentals generate about half the revenue while special events — ranging from school-related events to weddings to rodeos — contribute the rest, she says.

What kind of advice would Thomas offer to young people starting out the way she did, with a lot of ambition but not much business experience?

“Work hard and stick it out through the hard times,” she suggests. “There’ll be good times and bad times — plenty of growing pains. But you also need to stay committed. Never say no to customers and never give up.”

It also helps to realize there’s no shame in admitting when you need help, she adds.

“Don’t be hard-headed about it,” Thomas advises. “You need to realize that you can’t do everything yourself.”

CAREFUL GROWTH

As for what lies ahead, Thomas says she’d like to see the company grow even more, but not at the expense of high standards for quality work. On the other hand, the difficulty in finding quality employees can limit ambitions for more growth.

“I don’t want to grow too fast,” Thomas explains. “I’d like to avoid taking on more than we can handle. At the same time, we’d need more employees so we don’t burn out the good ones we already have.”

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that not having enough help turns out to be too much for existing employees.”

Geographic expansion isn’t likely, but expansion into other services is a possibility. But Thomas says she has no specific intentions right now, preferring to wait for business opportunities to occur organically.

“We’re not leaning toward anything specific right now,” she notes. “I just want to maintain our good name and reputation and provide great services for our community.”  



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