Make It Better

Luanne and Greg Howland bought a company with a long history of success, and then continued to add building blocks to profitability.

Make It Better

  Luanne Howland, left, Alex Bravo, center, and Mike Kennedy pull a filter to be cleaned during a septic service call in Crescent Bar, Washington.

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When Luanne and Greg Howland bought Apple Valley Pumping in 2018, they acquired a well-established business that was founded decades ago in 1979, offering customers both septic and grease tank pumping service and portable restroom rentals.

As such, it would’ve been easy to maintain the status quo. But that’s just not how the dynamic and industrious couple rolls.

“That would never do,” says Luanne. “Greg and I never set any particular goals for number of customers or revenue, but I don’t think we’re different from any other business — we want every job. We’re not content to stand pat.

“We bought this business for its potential.”

So far, so good. Annual revenue for the business — based in East Wenatchee in central Washington, about 150 miles east of Seattle — has jumped about 30% since 2019, their first full year owning the business. Its fleet of septic pumping and restroom service vehicles expanded by six, including two septic trucks and two restroom service trucks. And its workforce grew from 13 to 18.

Key factors in the company’s growth arc? Diverse services; investments in productivity-enhancing technology; land application of waste, which reduced disposal and transportation-related costs; a great team of employees; strong work ethic; and a strong emphasis on customer service.

“We bought a company that was very well-established, so we had a good foundation — we weren’t starting from zero,” she notes. “But we re-emphasized timely customer service. That’s what has taken us to the next level in the industry.”


It’s also difficult to ignore the power of the couple’s great working relationship. Greg handles most corporate-related responsibilities, pumps septic tanks when needed and also runs a plumbing business, while Luanne schedules commercial septic jobs and restroom rentals, manages vehicle maintenance and handles other office responsibilities.

“Luanne is fantastic,” says Greg. “Her organizational skills are 10 times better than mine. And she’s not afraid to dig in. She has a commercial driver’s license and can pull and back up a trailer, pump a tank and change out a toilet. She can do anything.”

“It’s not always easy,” Luanne says of the workplace husband-and-wife dynamic. “But we work super well together. Greg is a rock — he’s very calm, which is invaluable when dealing with so many customers. He never flies off the handle.

“And I’d say his loyalty to the employees who stayed with the business after we bought it is amazing.”

Employees also appreciate the fact that the Howlands regularly assist out in the field.

“I believe it increases the morale of employees when you work alongside them,” Greg explains. “We just hired a driver and he told me he couldn’t believe I work out in the field with him. But I love working and believe it’s important to lead by example.”


No one can accuse the Howlands of being slackers. Greg, 59, started working with his father, Vern Howland, a plumber in Jerome, Idaho, when he was 10 years old.

After working in retail businesses, Greg actually was hired at Apple Valley (then called Apple Valley Pumping Services) in 1986. After four years, he left and started a plumbing business that he still owns. When the former owners of Apple Valley, Steve and Susan Gregg, decided to retire, they called their former employee and worked out a deal to sell the company. 

“I enjoyed the work before when I worked there in the 1980s,” Greg says, explaining his interest in buying Apple Valley. “I knew there was potential to increase the business and make it better than it was.

“But the thing that really triggered it was a septic emergency we had at some rental properties we own,” he adds. “We were told we’d have to wait two weeks. That told me there was an opportunity out there to provide better service.”

On the other hand, Luanne, 45, ran a hay delivery business for livestock and horses for 20 years. At the same time, she also worked a swing shift at a U.S. Postal Service mail-sorting facility in Wenatchee. Luanne left the postal job after they bought the company.


At first, the couple avoided major changes because they didn’t want to make it uncomfortable for employees who stayed on board after the acquisition.

But they did invest in a Verizon Fleetmatics Reveal GPS tracking system (now known as Verizon Connect Reveal & Work) that also offers business management capabilities such as dispatching, job-scheduling and vehicle-maintenance tracking, Greg says.

The service costs about $30 per month per vehicle for a total payment of about $660 a month. Greg says the system easily pays for itself every month by boosting routing efficiency alone.

“We didn’t tell drivers about the system for about a month,” he says. “Then one day we brought in a 70-inch monitor and hung it on a wall in the office. It displays a giant map that shows the location of every truck. There was some pushback from some people, but for the most part, nobody cared.”

The system also sends notifications when technicians drive aggressively. It also can provide proof of service if customers call and claim that their tank wasn’t pumped or their restrooms weren’t cleaned, Greg notes.


In a typical year, restroom rentals and service generate about 55% of annual revenue, with septic tank and grease trap pumping kicking in the balance. For about half of a year, monthly rentals provide most of the restroom revenue; the other half of the year, monthly rentals drop to about 60% of the revenue, with special-event rentals contributing the rest, Greg says. 

From 2019 to 2021, restroom rental revenue jumped 31%, an increase he attributes to marketing, consistent service and prompt deliveries.

To service restrooms, the company relies on 11 restroom trucks, all built by Satellite Vacuum Trucks on Dodge 5500 chassis. Most of them carry 600-gallon waste/300-gallon freshwater steel tanks with Conde vacuum pumps, by Westmoor Ltd.

The company also owns roughly 2,500 standard restrooms, around 150 hand-wash stations and about 30 hand sanitizer stations, all from Satellite Industries. For special events, the company invested in a NuConcepts luxury restroom trailer.

To serve agricultural customers, the company also relies on small trailers, fabricated by a local company, that hold single restrooms.


On the septic services side, the company runs two 2007 Peterbilts from Vacuum Sales Inc. with 3,600-gallon aluminum tanks; a 2015 Kenworth from Satellite with a 3,600-gallon aluminum tank; a 2021 Volvo VHD from Satellite, featuring a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank; a 1990 Kenworth rigged out by Erickson Tank & Pump with a 3,600-gallon steel tank; and a 2020 International built by Erickson with a 3,700-gallon aluminum tank. All the trucks feature Masport pumps except for the 2015 Kenworth and the Volvo, which have pumps from National Vacuum Equipment.

Apple Valley also owns a pup trailer with a 4,700-gallon steel tank. It’s towed by the 2020 International truck and used primarily for big jobs like cleaning septic tanks at fruit-packing sheds or highway rest areas.

“With fuel costs so high, it’s great when you can carry about a double load and still use roughly the same amount of fuel,” Greg says. “We’re thinking about getting a second one because they’re so versatile — we sometimes off-load waste from another truck into the pup-trailer tank, for example, and save a disposal trip.”

Luanne says the company benefits from offering a broad menu of services. And cross-marketing opportunities abound; as an example, Luanne says that when she delivers restrooms to a wedding where the facilities have a kitchen, she mentions that the company also cleans grease traps.

“Or maybe a facility doesn’t have a kitchen, but it holds one or two big special events a year,” she adds. “Then I can mention we also do septic pumping.”


Apple Valley also relies on a 6x6 International truck, which was an old military vehicle, used to land-apply waste on 1,000 acres of farmland the couple owns. The truck features a 4,000-gallon steel tank built by Erickson, a Wittig vacuum pump (Gardner Denver) and a debris screen fabricated in-house.

“I don’t want to be held hostage by waste disposal centers,” Greg explains. “We have only two disposal sites in the region, one in Quincy, which is about a 1 1/2-hour round trip, and one in Ellensburg, which is around a 2 1/2-hour round trip.”

 The Howlands allow two other septic companies — one of which is a competitor — to dump waste at the land application site, which includes two 2 million-gallon lagoons used to store septage before it’s land-applied, he says.

The company devotes one full-time employee to land-applying waste. Greg says the lagoons were needed because the company couldn’t keep up with the amount of waste coming in, so it needed storage space.

Why help a competitor? The main reason is the additional revenue.

“There’s enough work to go around for everyone here, anyway,” he adds. “We’re not in a cutthroat market.”

The company uses two John Deere tractors to disc the waste into the farmland. Land application is restricted to March through December.


Looking ahead, the couple expects continued growth. Luanne says some growth will come from investing in more restroom trailers and expanding the company’s share of the market for weddings and other special events.

“Greg is a little apprehensive about the cost of restroom trailers, but I feel they’re the future of the industry and special events,” Luanne says. “There are a lot of outdoor weddings in our area and I believe that trailers are important to people holding those outdoor weddings. I try to join every (wedding-related) group I can to get our name out there.”

Greg notes the company is trying to expand its grease-trap cleaning client base by developing relationships with national grocery and restaurant chains.

“I feel we’re a mid-sized company,” Luanne adds. “So we’ll take whatever growth we can get. We have enough employees to absorb future growth for the time being. And Greg and I agree that if we find good employees, we’ll hire them and find work for them.

“But no matter what happens, we still want to provide consistent and reliable service,” she concludes. “Because those are really the foundation of a solid business.” 


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