Room to Grow

Diversification into storage containers helps an Ohio company expand despite market saturation in its core portable restroom business
Room to Grow
Ron Brooker, owner of Ron's Porta Jons, stands in front of an outhouse he displays as a float during Marietta, Ohio, parades. (Photos courtesy of Ron's Porta Jons)

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Take a look at this Ron’s Porta Jons company article featured 10 years ago in the January 2003 issue of Pumper magazine. We spotlight the company again in a follow-up story to see how the business has evolved over the last decade: “Ron’s Porta Jons Travels to Gas & Oil Fields.”

The company where Ron Brooker drove a pump truck 11 years ago hardly looks the same today. With 92 portable restrooms and three pump trucks on their last legs, the feeble operation didn’t appear worth buying. But when his boss said he planned to sell the satellite operation and focus on the parent business in Charleston, W.Va., Ron headed straight for the bank and asked for $125,000. 

Willing to take a chance, drive all night and handle his own office management, Ron turned the company, now Ron’s Porta Jons, into a viable portable restroom operation. “It was a lot of hard work,” says Ron. “The first day I owned the company, the transmission went out in one of the trucks. I knew I was in for a hell of a ride.” 

Getting started 

Helped by a strong work ethic, Ron rode the company to success in fairly short order. But as he pursued his ambition to expand the business, he ran up against a hard fact: His market was essentially saturated with three portable restroom companies. The key to growth, then, was to diversify. Ron added on a range of services, including the rental of storage containers – a service that dovetailed nicely with his restroom service for construction sites and differentiated him from competitors. 

Although the business was difficult at first, Ron had little time to get discouraged. He relied on his farm boy work ethic to dive in and get the job done. “I would start my week at 6 p.m. Sunday and run routes all night,” he recalls. “At ten the following morning I would either jump in a septic tank truck or clean toilets.” To take calls from customers, he relied on a pager and an answering service. Weekends weren’t for rest either: That’s when he did paperwork and invoicing. 

Not long after he bought the company, Ron started weeding out the older equipment and adding to his fleet. Today the company owns 440 portable restrooms and a newer fleet of trucks. As the operation grew, so did the need for manpower. After working it alone for a year and a half, Ron added a driver. Today he employs two route drivers, one septic driver, two delivery and pickup drivers and, as of three years ago, an office manager.           

Unique hometown 

The six-man team, plus Ron, services a 60-mile radius of Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, W.Va. Ron’s Porta Jons services more than its share of special events. 

Marietta, a small and historic Ohio River community that was the first settlement in the Northwest Territory, brings in $110 million a year in tourist dollars. With its rich history, riverboat era hotel, preserved downtown business district and gothic homes, it hosts more festivals than any other southern Ohio town. 

On average, Ron’s provides sanitation to 16 major events a year. He uses PolyJohn restrooms for special events and is the first of his two competitors to offer flushable restrooms. Over the years, Ron has seen the logistical needs of festivals change to include restroom trailers and transportation carts, all of which he now rents. 

As for his approach to service: “I always liked the saying, ‘I run a portable toilet business. We have the cleanest around. Ever need one, give us a call.’” 

It seems to work. Although Ron charges more than his competitors, his customers are willing to pay it. “If you take care of customer service the rest will follow, especially profitability,” he says. “If one contractor is happy he’ll tell another and it’s a cycle that can’t be beat.” 

He expects service employees to pay attention to detail. Consequently, complaints are minimal. Employees document any problems that occur when servicing routes, such as the make and license of a truck that blocked a toilet. The service employee at the home shop keeps restrooms repaired, cleaned and ready to go. 

The company uses direct mail and construction reports to market its service. Ron also sends a letter to all customers once a year asking how he can serve them better. 

A niche in storage 

Ron says it’s been an adjustment going from a hardworking employee focused on day-to-day operations to a businessman concerned with marketing and business growth.

There is always room to improve, but for a time Ron had trouble seeing room to grow. His market had all the portable restroom companies it needed. He had already diversified into restroom trailer rentals, septic cleaning, grease trap cleaning and car wash oil/water separator pumping. 

It was at the 1999 Pumper & Cleaner Expo that he came across DropBox, a portable storage container trailer and container company. Ron liked the idea of offering portable toilets along with portable storage containers as an added service. 

“After my first loan (for the portable restroom company in 1990) was paid off I went to the bank to pitch the new idea,” Ron recalls. “The banker said, ‘Rent two and we’ll see what we can do.’ So I talked to some contractors and went back the next day and said, ‘Okay, I’ve rented the two.’” 

He started out with one container trailer and six containers. In just two years he is up to 72 containers and still growing. “It’s one of the best business moves I’ve ever made,” he says. 

Ron extends his portable storage route to include a 100-mile radius. He charges monthly rental for the 20-foot containers, plus a pickup and delivery charge. He uses a 1-ton pickup to haul the trailer and containers and does the deliveries himself. 

After years solely in the toilet routes, he is pleasantly surprised at the income he generates from portable storage and the edge it provides over his competitors. The storage business also has helped the company expand its customer base to include insurance agents and retail stores.           

Planning for the future 

As for the portable restroom business, Ron says he one day would like to turn it over to one of his two sons, if they are interested. But at ages 18 and 16, they are too young to make that commitment. Sons Anthony and Christopher do work with their dad in the summer months getting a chance to see what it takes to be owner. Of course, as Ron knows, it is always possible Ron’s Porta Jons one day will be run by one of his hardworking pump truck drivers.            


The secret to Ron Brooker’s success is simple: Hard work can get you anywhere. 

In running his company, Ron’s Porta Jons, Ron started out doing everything himself. Eleven years later, he still has the urge, at times, to do so. But he realizes that growing his staff is necessary to growing the business. 

“I find myself grabbing a wrench and insisting to do it myself and I’ll have an employee say, ‘What are you doing? You should be in the office,’” Ron says. After wearing all the hats of the business himself, he expects nothing but 100 percent from his employees. His philosophy is simply, “If you don’t want to work, don’t show up.” 


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