A Fully Prepped Service Vehicle Shows You Care About Doing a Good Job

The fleet at Jack’s Septic is always washed, waxed and fully equipped to serve loyal customers around Syracuse, New York

A Fully Prepped Service Vehicle Shows You Care About Doing a Good Job

The fleet at Jack’s Septic is always washed, waxed and fully equipped to serve loyal customers around Syracuse, New York

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In the 1980s, Jack Coleman was a Teamster driver working for a concrete company. He enjoyed the work but had bigger goals and a few frustrations. “I was No. 27 on the seniority list and got tired of being the low man,” he says. “And I wanted to work for myself.”

He made it happen in 1989 when he started his own septic company, although it would be another seven years before he felt the business was financially stable enough and had sufficient assets to leave his union job. It was tough to get the business to that point, but he never wavered and poured every dollar and spare minute into it.

Coleman takes great pride in his service fleet and is fanatical about keeping everything maintained and clean. He works equally hard at nurturing customer and employee relationships. And he charges a price that’s fair to him, fair to the customer.

Jack’s Septic Service is located in Syracuse, New York. Working with Coleman are Tim Garn, Dan Miller and Nick Vitto. They service a three-county region providing septic pumping, installations and repairs; grease trap services; and high-pressure waterjetting.

GETTING STARTED

When Coleman’s brother bought a septic pumping business, he worked for him on the side and started to see a path to a bright future. After a short time he bought a vacuum truck and struck out on his own. “It was an old fire truck converted to a septic truck,” he says. “It was a single-axle 1975 Ford C900 with a 2,600-gallon tank and an old Masport pump.”

Within six months he added installations when he hooked up with a gentleman who had excavation equipment and 25 years’ experience. “He subcontracted with me and taught me all about tanks and distribution boxes,” Coleman says.

Coleman’s marketing plan was labor-intensive. To avoid expensive phone book advertising, he created a letterhead, printed up a couple thousand flyers and distributed them to homeowners. He also called restaurants and plumbing companies. The work started coming in and then it was long hours working two jobs until he was finally able to leave the concrete company.

GATHERING ASSETS

Coleman installs about 25 conventional septic systems a year. A lot of it is replacing old collapsing steel or deteriorating concrete tanks, or even homemade units.

He purchased his first excavator in 2005, a Takeuchi TB145 mini, along with a Thomas Equipment T245 skid-steer. Today he also has a 2019 John Deere 85G tracked excavator and a 1990 Volvo dump truck.

His service vehicle is a 2005 Hino box truck. “There’s probably $10,000 worth of materials in it at any given time,” Coleman says. “I can carry chain saws, chop saws, all the equipment needed to put tanks and leachfields in, including 10-foot lengths of pipe and all the PVC Schedule 40 fittings and sewer and drain fittings.”

The clay, shale and bedrock in his area doesn’t provide good percolation so the company installs a lot of raised-bed systems. “You’ve got to buy the approved material that’s got a good perc rate,” Coleman says. “The engineers do a perc test at the site they’re getting it from. Then when it’s delivered and dozed off, they’ll perc it again to make sure it’s good quality material — which I like to do that for us, too.”

Pumping equipment includes RIDGID cameras and locators, Spartan cable machines (models 1065, 300, 100) and Crust Buster tank agitators.

A FIT FLEET

There are four vacuum trucks. The pride of the fleet — displayed at the 2001 Pumper & Cleaner Expo — is a red 2001 International 5900i with a 20,000-pound front axle, double-frame rails, with a 550 hp Cat C15 engine. “It’s the best truck in the fleet and still looks brand new,” Coleman says. The truck has a 3,700-gallon waste/300-gallon Progress aluminum tank and Masport HXL400 liquid-cooled pump. 

They also have a 2010 International Paystar 5000. “It was an old dump truck that a town had with very low mileage on it,” Coleman says. It was rebuilt by Pik Rite — the frame sandblasted, epoxy-coated, a new steel 3,600-gallon waste/400-gallon freshwater tank, an National Vacuum Equipment 4310 blower, with a water jetter that pushes 16 gpm at 3,000 psi with 400-feet of 1/2-inch hose and a pump from Cat Pumps.

A 2018 Western Star 4900 was built out by Pik Rite with a 4,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater hoisted polished-aluminum tank and a NVE 4310 blower. It has a water jetter system, heated compartments, a Cat pump that puts out 20 gpm at 4,000 psi.

A 2006 Western Star was built out by Imperial Industries with a 5,000-gallon steel tank and Masport HXL400 liquid-cooled pump.

The company’s commercial accounts include big-box stores, Anheuser-Busch, hospitals, and apartment buildings. They do high-pressure water jetting of plugged sewer lines and parking lot catch basins with a Vactor 2100 with a 1990 Ford L8000 cab and chassis. Coleman says he got lucky to find the truck with only 17,000 miles on the odometer, previously owned and well-maintained by a local municipality.

For grease traps, Coleman says they have some long-term accounts with restaurants at several large hotels.

Other service vehicles include a 2012 Nissan NV van, a 2012 Chevy cargo van and a 2019 20-ton Eager Beaver trailer.

Coleman likes to keep the fleet looking good at all times. Equipment is washed daily at the shop in the winter and weekly in the summer. He polishes trucks after hours and occasionally takes them to a detail shop. “People say things like, ‘You’d think that was a milk truck coming to pick up a load of milk, not a load of septic,’” he says.

Having good-looking trucks is more than just a source of pride, Coleman says. It’s good business. “People assume if you take care of your equipment like that, you’ll take care of their property, too — and we do.”

WORKING WITH STAFF

Coleman’s bookwork is handled by a payroll service and an accounting firm, freeing the team to handle the physical labor. Coleman says he’d like to have more help but employees are hard to come by these days.

He feels fortunate to have Garn who has been with him 31 years. And he says Miller, his most recent hire with a couple years under his belt, is very motivated and likes to stay busy. Miller reminds Coleman of himself at that age — frustrated with the lack of advancement opportunities at his prior job and wanting something more for himself.

When assessing prospective hires, Coleman looks for a willingness to learn — and he is very patient. “I don’t care if I have to tell you something 10 times a day, I don’t holler and scream.”

He believes in paying as much as possible. But it’s getting harder. “When McDonald’s and Taco Bell are paying $18, $20 an hour, do you think you’re going to get a laborer for $20 or $22? They look at you cross-eyed.” He gives the guys Christmas bonuses, paid vacations, sick days — and they enjoy a summer family picnic and holiday dinners.

WORKING WITH CUSTOMERS

Coleman says he competes on service, not price. “I charge what I have to give them 110%. When you pump a tank you want to make sure you’re getting everything out of it and in order to do that you’ve got to charge enough.”

He says he has a strong following of customers, many of whom have been with him so long he’s now also working for their children.

His operating philosophy: “You have to listen to the customer and feel their pain and you just try to work with them. I’m always honest with them. And it’s about being clean, picking up after yourself, not leaving oil spots in their driveways, or snail trails on the lawn because you’re not rinsing the hose out. That’s why a lot of people like our service.”

Coleman still works seven days a week for his clients when they need it. He says it’s rare to get late-night calls but he personally answers the phone 24 hours a day, which people like because he can assess the situation and advise them.

CAREER SATISFACTION

Coleman says he enjoys being his own boss and finds this work very rewarding.

“People thank you and say things like, ‘You were a lifesaver.’ You’re the hero when you get calls on Christmas or Thanksgiving. When people are in a crisis and they have sewage coming up out of their bathtub drain or the toilet’s backing up, they don’t look down on you, whether they’re doctors or lawyers or whatever. Most people just have an appreciation.”

Coleman, 58, says he has no plans to retire. “I enjoy what I do. We make 99% of the people happy. And I’m blessed to have the two guys I have.”



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