Pumper Rewind: Sticking to ‘Hall’s Way’

Pumper Rewind: Sticking to ‘Hall’s Way’
Kathy and Jerry Scarborough pose in front of their newest truck, a 2011 Peterbilt with a Pik Rite tank.

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We celebrate the continued dedication and hard work of septic service contractors by revisiting companies profiled 10 years ago in Pumper magazine. Check out the original story on Hall’s Septic Service and Hall’s Honey Pots we featured in the September 2003 issue: “Out of the Squad Car, Into the Truck.”

Last year, when it came time to celebrate Hall’s Septic Service and Hall’s Honey Pots 20th anniversary, owner Jerry Scarborough had an epiphany. 

“My wife Kathy and I thought we would splurge in some way for ourselves. Then it hit me. Without my employees, we wouldn’t be celebrating anything,” Scarborough says. “It is truly good employees that make a business run as it should.” 

To repay employees, family and other supporters, the Scarboroughs invited about 100 people for a party on a three-hour paddlewheel boat tour in the Chesapeake Bay. 

“We had a blast and another little surprise for the employees,” Scarborough adds. “We gave them $100 cash for every year they worked for us.” 

Standing by quality

Since Pumper magazine featured the Street, Md., business a decade ago, there have been many changes — all in line with Scarborough’s emphasis on doing it “Hall’s way.” A retired Maryland state trooper, Scarborough greatly respected the appearance and professionalism of “Mr. Hall,” the man he purchased the business from in 1992. 

Unfortunately “Hall’s way” included Scarborough “firing” his own children from the business because the parent/child relationship hindered the total commitment he expected of employees who go beyond his expectations because they appreciate having a job. 

Scarborough also made the tough decision to not reduce prices during the “recession” and some customers switched to lower-priced portable restroom and septic companies.

“But in time they realized the quality of maintaining and the quality of the toilet was also less. Eventually, most of them came back to us,” he says, noting most customers also returned for septic services. 

“Another problem we’ve had to deal with is five new septic companies have sprouted up around us. I’ll simply say I have heard some horror stories about that,” Scarborough says. “One of the biggest money makers for this company is simply talking to the people. We just don't go to the front door and collect a check after we pump out a septic tank. We give them an explanation in person of our findings or write it on the bill — especially if we find a problem with the septic system.” 

Education and equipment

Educating customers has always been important to Scarborough, a certified septic inspector, who continues to teach free Septic 101 classes to realtors and home inspectors.

“Those same guys and gals and now their realtor children are using Hall's Septic Service for septic inspections. As the years go by I am reinspecting houses that I originally inspected and have been servicing for years,” he says. 

Communication and consistency may be a couple of carryovers from his days as a state trooper. 

For example every truck is equipped the same. “Any driver can drive any truck, and every tool is in the same place,” Scarborough explains. 

His fleet has grown to eight trucks. Septic pumping trucks include a 2011 Peterbilt Auto with 3,500-gallon Pik Rite tank and Jurop pump; a 2005 Peterbilt Auto with 2,500-gallon Abernethy tank and Masport pump; a 2003 Peterbilt 8LL with 2,500-gallon Abernethy tank and Masport pump; and a 1988 Chevy Kodiak with a 2,500-gallon tank with a Masport pump. 

His portable restroom service trucks include a 2009 International Auto with 1,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater Abernethy tank and Masport pump; a 2006 GMC Auto with 500-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater Abernethy tank and Masport pump; a 2006 GMC Auto with 275-gallon waste/125-gallon freshwater Abernethy tank and Masport pump; and a 2004 GMC Auto with 1,000-gallon waste/500-gallon freshwater Abernethy tank and Masport pump. 

Scarborough also owns more than 300 Satellite Industries products including standard, wheelchair accessible and flushable portable restroom units as well as sinks, sewage bladders, water tanks and hand sanitation stands. 

“We get several jobs a week from our website,” Scarborough says. He adds that customers check out and respect the company’s A+ membership with the Better Business Bureau. 

He is exploring an opportunity to partner with Angie’s List where customers have already left favorable comments. 

Employee satisfaction

To keep the good comments coming and quality staff on board, Scarborough treats his employees well. 

“My employees have been here long enough, they have become family,” he says. “They know exactly what I want and expect. I have never asked an employee to perform a task that I wouldn't perform myself. Twice a year, in the summer and at Christmas, Kathy and I take them and their spouses out to a nice restaurant. We water and feed them real good. Of course, during Christmas we give them a healthy Christmas bonus. I don’t think they plan to leave any time soon.” 

At the same time the employees understand the increasing costs of doing business. For example, Scarborough provides full health care coverage for them. Recently the premium increased $64/month/employee. When he asked them if they preferred a raise or the cost of the insurance they unanimously agreed on covering insurance. 

Future fee challenges

It’s important to focus on reputation, customer service, clean trucks and a good work ethic, Scarborough says, to offset challenges like increases for insurance, the everyday costs of business and ever increasing dump fees. 

“Here in Maryland we also have the Chesapeake Bay Fund tax and the Rain tax,” he explains. “Still, we have to increase the pump fee to pay the bills.” 

A new, controversial regulation began January 2013. All new construction in Maryland counties around the Chesapeake Bay are required to install Best Available Technology (BAT) septic systems. Engineer-designed and equipped with a computer and filtering systems to reduce nitrogen in the Bay area, they cost about $30,000 to install. Plus, after the five-year warranty goes off they must be inspected twice a year at an estimated cost of $300/visit. 

The right thing

In spite of the challenges, Scarborough is proud of his business, his workers and his reputation. He gives back to his “brothers in blue” and firefighters with discounts. 

Scarborough rejoined Street’s volunteer fire department several years ago and received a “Fire Fighter of the Year” award last year. It hangs next to his “Trooper of the Year” Award. 

He had a chance to reflect on his career and life in September when his wife invited 120 people for his 60th birthday party. 

“It seems like just yesterday I purchased this septic company from the original Mr. Ray Hall,” Scarborough says. “I have met so many people over the years and consider them friends, not just customers. About the time I think I have seen it all in this industry, something changes, or I’m still amazed at what I find out about septic systems.” 

One thing that never changes is integrity. Scarborough notes he has been asked to perform more second opinion inspections than ever — possibly due to the economy.

“Some septic inspectors are finding failures that are not valid,” he says. “I understand the backhoe needs to make money and the employees need to be paid, but if it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it. I usually concur with other septic inspectors, but in the last two years I have passed septic systems that were functioning properly after another inspector failed the system. 

“Bottom line, do the right thing," he says. "It will pay you in the long run with a good reputation and you don’t have to wipe egg off of your face.” 


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