Pumper Rewind: Coats & Coats Business Expansion Pays Off

Pumper Rewind: Coats & Coats Business Expansion Pays Off
From left, Matthew Peck, Darin Coats, Dirk Coats and Cory Robinson stand in front of Coats & Coats' 2009 Kenworth T300 septic truck.

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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 Nature's Call/Coats & Coats portable restroom, pumping and drain cleaning company we featured in the February 2004 issue: “Small But Mighty.”

What a difference a decade makes. At least that’s what Darin Coats of Coats & Coats in Weston, Idaho, has learned. But after weathering the recession, a divorce and major changes in his business, Coats and his business have come ahead even stronger. 

“I have that gift of always making it work,” Coats says. Today, his business — which includes portable restrooms, commercial/residential pumping, drain cleaning/camera inspection and septic system installation and repair — is a $1.2 million business serving rural portions of Idaho and Utah. 

Coats, 50, and his ex-wife, Sheryl, started the business in 1990, primarily in sewer and drain cleaning, but steadily added portable restrooms to their lineup. In 1996, they acquired Nature’s Call, which had 47 restrooms. Soon they would acquire another company that would expand their market into a geographic region they had hoped to crack. 

In 2012, a floundering portable restroom company, All Around Sanitation, approached Coats about buying their company. “They were struggling,” Coats says. “Good things happen in bad times; we felt like it was the right thing to do. 

“When you can assume another company and they want to, you probably should do it,” he adds. “It just works.” Coats purchased that company’s 52 Satellite Industries units, a trailer and their client list. “We bought 50 units with 25 to 30 clients already with those units.” 

That acquisition secured Coats’ position in the portable sanitation business in their region, expanding to an area Nature’s Call wasn’t servicing. And by 2012-2013, Coats says, Nature’s Call business was up 28 percent. 

“We had kind of reached a plateau with Nature’s Call,” Coats says. “This acquisition jump-started what already was a profitable branch of our business. Without those units, we would have had to start turning customers away based on the numbers we were getting.” 

Interestingly, Coats gets calls for both portable restroom companies to provide competitive bids because customers don’t realize the same company operates All Around Sanitation and Nature’s Call. 

Between the two portable restroom companies, Coats now has 250 units, and all are stored indoors at his 190-acre ranch in Weston, located 15 miles from the Utah border. 

Bringing in business expertise

Coats calls himself an “entrepreneur risk taker.” That works out fine, for the most part, but he also admits that he has more technical knowledge than business expertise. When he realized four years ago that it was time for someone to fill that role, Coats hired Business Manager Jed Miles. 

“He’s really good at the numbers and management,” Coats says. “It’s helped us abundantly. It’s definitely shown in our profit and loss statements.” 

Coats met Miles when Miles was working at a farm equipment dealership. 

“Darin is an entrepreneur and a risk taker,” Miles says. “What he needed help with was some calculated risk. I just try and reduce expenses while trying to increase growth.” 

Account Manager Cindy Jones, who handles all billing, payroll and other administrative duties, rounds out the office team with Miles. It’s a team Coats feels confident is leading his company in the right direction. “It’s a good recipe,” he says. “We’re making it work more efficiently.” 

Miles credits Coats with building local relationships with banks, dealerships and other vendors. “He has been great,” Miles says. “That’s one thing that’s often overlooked — the relationships with people that help make businesses work.” 

That’s especially important, Coats adds, in a handshake business like his. “We have no contracts. It’s a trust thing.” 

Gaining and retaining trust is important for name recognition, which has also served Coats well. “We’re known for being one of the higher-priced companies, but we do what we say we’re going to do. We’re just right up front; there’s no smoke and mirrors,” Coats says. 

“If you’re doing a good job, why would you have to sell yourself?” asks Coats. “Word of mouth is still the best.” 

Weathering the recession

Like many other businesses, Coats & Coats was impacted when the recession hit around 2008. “When the recession hit us the hardest, that was a tough year for portable toilets,” Coats says, noting that a major cause was due to a drop in remodels and new home construction.

Keeping expenses low was one way Coats kept the business afloat. He says they also try to bring in as much business as possible in the good years. “For some reason, when you’re an entrepreneur, you weather it pretty well,” Coats says. 

“We’d like to see us grow 10 percent every year,” he says, admitting that hasn’t happened every year, however. 

But he credits Miles with helping keep him create a growth pattern. Previously, for example, Coats would finance additional restroom units; now they buy them outright. 

Balancing Miles’ business acumen and Coats’ drive to grow the business is a constant part of the business. “It was like a team practicing hard,” Coats says. “You have to listen to your advisors, listen to what they’re doing.” 

Coats also took on new jobs during the recession — such as pumping out manure tanks, and cleaning lines at meat packing plants. Since he already had the equipment, it was a no-brainer to add to the business. 

“Darin’s comfort zone is everywhere,” Miles says. “Such jobs can diversify our work base. It goes back to Darin’s willingness to do those things.” 

In addition to owning portable restroom companies, Coats also has two rooter businesses — Coats Rooter Service, which he started on his own, and a Rooter-Man franchise. Coats’ son Dirk, 26, is the lead technician for the drain cleaning and septic pumping companies.   

With four companies to run, Coats trusts a fleet of reliable equipment including a 2005 Freightliner septic truck with 4,000-gallon tank and a 2009 Kenworth septic truck with 2,200-gallon tank, both built-out by Keith Huber. For portable restroom service, the company relies on a 2008 Dodge 5500 service truck with 250-gallon freshwater/400-gallon waste tank and a 2011 Dodge 4500 service truck with 250-gallon freshwater/400-gallon waste tank. A US Jetting 4018 (4,000 psi/18 gpm) jetter mounted on a 2006 GMC Topkick box truck rounds out the fleet. 

“Both businesses give the same service, but some people feel more comfortable with the franchise name,” Coats says. “It’s very versatile that way.” 

Versatility and frankness have been the keys to Coats & Coats success, especially over the past 10 years. And even though he’s a relative newcomer to the Coats’ team, Miles concurs that Coats has a great formula going. 

“What we’re telling customers is exactly what we’re going to do,” he says. “I think that’s the main component to Coats’ success.” 


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