How To Break Into the Portable Restroom Industry

If you're considering adding portable toilets to your septic pumping outfit, find out what — and who — you need to know to create a successful portable restroom operation.
How To Break Into the Portable Restroom Industry
When you break into the portable restroom industry, you need to identify your future customers. Will they be construction clients, special events or festivals?

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If anyone knows about breaking into the portable restroom industry, it’s Jeff Wigley, past president of the Portable Sanitation Association International and owner of Pit Stop Sanitation Services Inc. in Atlanta. Wigley entered the business in 1995 after taking an early retirement package from IBM and transformed a change in career into a successful portable restroom operation. 

“There’s a low barrier to entering the business,” he says. “Any couple can go out and buy a truck and 50 portable restroom units and assign the husband to drive the truck and the wife to answer the phone and it’s off to the races. That’s a great recipe — for going out of business.” 

Wigley stresses seven points for anyone who’s considering following in his footsteps. 

1. Determine if you want to be a part of the industry

Before investing a cent, Wigley found a portable restroom operator who was willing to give him a first-hand look at the business. 

“I became acquainted with an owner, rode with a service driver for a day, sat in a dispatch office, attended an event and watched waste being dropped off,” he says. “I chose a company that was hundreds of miles out of my potential service area. You can’t approach potential competitors in your area and expect the same favor.” 

2. Scope out the competition

Wigley advises would-be operators to check business listings and online directories to see how many competitors are already providing service in the area. 

“The number of competitors doesn’t necessarily tell the entire story,” he says. “A small number of operators may field a large number of trucks and units. Look at company websites and drive past their premises. Check out festivals and other clients they service and see how many units they’re fielding.” 

Wigley also recommends simply calling up potential competitors and conducting an informal price survey by asking them what they would charge to service a hypothetical event. 

3. Identify your customers

Wigley started his business on the certainty that Atlanta would be underserviced during the 1996 Summer Olympics. 

“Identify your future customers,” he says. “Will they be construction clients, special events or festivals? Talk to some of these potential clients about their needs and what you plan to offer them to get an idea about who your customers will be and which industries they represent.” 

4. Know the local regulations

Find out which licenses and permits are required to operate a portable sanitation business. 

“Before I started out, I imagined I could offload waste at the wastewater treatment plant,” recalls Wigley. “Find out who can legally take your waste and how much disposal costs. Also, determine what sort of certification is required for drivers, whether PSAI certification or state certification.” 

5. Hire a good accountant

Wigley says financial advisors can help you to devise a solid business plan and help you to decide on matters such as incorporation and other choices that are better made before you take on your first job. 

6. Position your business

“You’re not offering a commodity, you’re offering a public health service,” says Wigley. “Don’t come out of the gate offering the cheapest prices in town or you’ll be forced to live down to that business model.” 

7. Network, network, network

Wigley recommends joining professional organizations or a local Chamber of Commerce. Small Business Development Centers, usually housed on college or university campuses, also offer advice on anything from marketing to applying for government loans. 

Network with competitors as well, if the opportunity arises. 

“I’ve worked with competitors on issues that affect us all or simply exchanged favors in servicing portable restroom units that are closer to them than to me,” says Wigley. “There’s usually plenty of business to go around.”

Need some help getting started? Check out this selection of standard restrooms, handwash equipment and transport trailers:


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