Melton’s Septic Pumping Service Takes Pride in Serving Veterans, Speaking Up for the Pumping Community

Mississippi pumper Steve Melton helped start a state wastewater association to give pumpers a seat at the legislative table

Melton’s Septic Pumping Service Takes Pride in Serving Veterans, Speaking Up for the Pumping Community

Steve Melton is shown with his technicians, Brandon Cooper, left, and Darrin Long. The fleet of vacuum trucks was built out by Iron-Vac and a local welding shop. Vacuum is provided by either a Masport pump or National Vacuum Equipment blower. 

(Photos by Jeff and Meggan Haller)

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When 18-year-old Steve Melton went to work for Wicker Building Supply in Summit, Mississippi in 1997, he ended up getting a lot more out of it than just a job. He soon fell in love with the owner’s daughter and a couple years later, he and Robin got married.

And a few months before the wedding, when one of their customers decided to retire from his septic business, Melton saw an opportunity that would give them a little extra pocket money.

“I bought his truck and the service,” he says. “We were young, didn’t have a lot of money and I just thought a little gas money would be great.”

The sideline enterprise eventually became a full-time business and today his company, Melton’s Septic Pumping Service, employs two technicians, Brandon Cooper and Darrin Long. Services include pumping septic tanks, servicing grease traps and performing septic inspections for real estate transactions.

At one time Melton considered adding installation work but because Wicker manufactures septic tanks — 500 or 600 a year — he chose not to be a competitor to their contractor customers.

The company works within a 100-mile radius of Summit, which takes them into Louisiana. Melton says the main regulatory difference between the two states is that in Louisiana, the oversight body is the state Department of Environment Quality, and in Mississippi it’s the state Department of Health.

A SLOW START

The business Melton bought didn’t have much in the way of assets. There was no customer list. But the guy did send him jobs when he got calls. Wicker also sent work his way. And the truck was on its last legs.

“I got an old truck that needed everything worked on; if it wasn’t the motor or the rear end or the transmission going out,” Melton says. “It didn’t have an air conditioner, it didn’t have a heater, there was no radio. It was bare-bones.”

It also had a small tank, only 900 gallons, so pumping a septic tank often required two trips. But Melton says he made it work and ran it for quite a while.

The first four or five years were slow. At first he was lucky to get a call or two a week. But the business finally gained some traction and he was able to hire his first full-time employee, his brother, who worked with him for a few years before moving away. Then Melton got a big account with an electric plant, which enabled him to upgrade to a nicer, more reliable truck.

“After that it just took off and now we stay fully booked,” he says.

EQUIPMENT LINEUP

The tank on the company’s second truck collapsed after about seven years.

“A tank is kind of like a Coke can,” Melton says. “You squeeze and let it out, squeeze and let it out. Well, finally, it’s going to get weak and give up.” Melton needed a new one in a hurry so he hired a local welder to build a tank to his specs. He wanted to use a heavier steel and to place some of the valves in spots he felt worked better. The tank, which he uses with a 2017 Ram 5500, is 1,250 gallons and has a Masport pump.

The company also has a 2009 Peterbilt built out by Iron-Vac with a 2,500-gallon steel tank and Masport pump. Melton was expecting delivery of a 2023 Peterbilt built out by Iron-Vac with a 2,400-gallon tank and a National Vacuum Equipment B500 blower.

Each truck is equipped with a Chandler Truck Accessories jetter. And Melton says they couldn’t live without their Crust Busters tank agitators. “It cuts your time in half whenever you’re trying to mix up a tank with a lot of solids in it,” he says.

TANKS, TRAPS AND TRANSFERS

Although sending his guys out during the COVID pandemic made him nervous, Melton says their services were needed more than ever.

“Your toilets are used to you being gone to work all day but people were staying home using them more, taking more showers, washing more clothes. So it was putting a tax on their systems, more than what they were designed for.” Added to that were the difficulties that arise when people flush disposable wipes.

“They’re horrible,” he says. “I try to tell everybody there is no such thing as a disposable or flushable wipe. Most of the time everybody wants to know what the price is prior to you going, so you give them a price. But you really don’t expect to go there and it’s full of flushable wipes. But you don’t want to leave with a bad name by not giving them the price you told them over the phone.”

About half the company’s work is servicing grease traps for restaurants, schools and hotels. While the company has access to a wastewater treatment plant in nearby McComb, Mississippi, and a lagoon for septage disposal, there is no local disposal facility for grease. “It’s a little aggravating and it costs us a lot of money,” Melton says.

His current solution is to bring grease back to the shop and store it in a 6,000-gallon tanker used only for this purpose. When it’s full, they call Liquid Environmental Solutions out of Louisiana, which takes it 100 miles away to a treatment center near Baton Rouge for recycling. He does not see the disposal situation changing for the foreseeable future.

On the inspection side, Mississippi does not have a requirement that septic tanks be inspected before a real estate transfer, but Melton says real estate companies and banks are promoting it. He says he’s seen some things that graphically indicate how important inspections are.

“I’ve actually been to some residences that didn’t even have a septic tank,” he says. “Everything was just running out on the ground or in the woods. So it’s very important for the real estate companies to do that.”

PAY THEM WELL

Melton echoes a common theme in today’s labor market — it’s difficult to find good help.

“I don’t want to just put anybody in that truck,” he says. “I want to make sure they’re trustworthy and have a good, clean driving record. It’s more than just a driving job. They’re representing my business so their attitude is key — and then doing a proper job of pumping the tank and cleaning it to the customer’s satisfaction. That can be difficult, especially when it’s 100 degrees out and you have to go out and dig a tank up.”

He hired Darrin Long on the recommendation of friends. Long was employed as a medic at the time, working in an ambulance. Melton trained him to the point he could handle the work without help. He’s been a valuable asset and will be sorely missed when he is soon deployed for the National Guard for a year. But Melton will hold the job for him. Melton hired his second employee, Brandon Cooper, on the recommendation of Long. Melton says, in his experience, the best way to keep employees happy is to reward them with good pay.

HAVING A VOICE

Around 2010, Melton and other pumpers became concerned about proposed changes to septic regulations.

“I didn’t feel there was enough opinion from the industry included when they were writing those,” he says. “We went to our representative with our concern and before you know it, a day or two later, we were sitting at the state capitol in the governor’s office with people from the Department of Health.”

State Rep. Angela Cockerham (I-Magnolia) was also his lawyer and she recommended he form an association of pumpers and installers, which he did — the Mississippi Pumpers Association. He has served as president since its inception.

Soon after, the chairman of the Board of Health appointed him to the Wastewater Advisory Board for the Mississippi Department of Health, a 21-member board representing pumpers, installers, manufacturers and governmental agencies. He currently serves as vice chairman.

The group works on proposed regulations that are presented to the Board of Health for approval. “Wastewater may be a small part of what the Department of Health does, but it’s a very important part of human health,” Melton says.

HAPPY CUSTOMERS

Melton spends his days at the Wicker store, dividing his time between the building supply business — now run by his wife Robin — and the septic company. He takes the calls and schedules the work.

Trucks have TrackNet tracking units on them so he knows where each driver is at all times and who he should send a service call to. He uses Setmore appointment scheduling software and mobile app to schedule jobs and alert the technicians, without having to interrupt them with a phone call.

He says he’s had to dramatically raise his prices in the last year due to inflation and the increase in gas prices. And keeping up with maintenance on the trucks is always a challenge because it requires taking a vehicle out of service for a day or more

Overall, Melton says it’s been a rewarding business.

“What I like best about it is I can count on one hand how many unhappy customers I’ve had in 20-plus years,” he says. “Very seldom do I have anybody bickering at the price or saying I charge too much. I mean, you’re dealing with their sewer. We try to be fair anyway but they’re always happy to see you and they never mind paying you what you ask.”



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