Developing the Next Generation of Pumpers

Kids working for their parents get a chance to learn about the industry at a young age and decide whether they want to take over the family business.
Developing the Next Generation of Pumpers
The Weld kids, Milah, Sten and Maren, all help out with their family's business, Buck’s Sanitary Service.

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Matt and Erica Herink aren’t sure if their three children will eventually go into the family’s septic business. But that doesn’t mean the owners of Marko Septic in Roberts, Wisconsin, don’t get their kids involved in the work.

The same goes for Scott and Lisa Weld, owners of Buck’s Sanitary Service in Eugene, Oregon. Their kids are a bit older than the Herinks’ and while they are all very excited about their jobs, Lisa Weld says, “I certainly wouldn’t want to pressure them.”

Running a business is time-consuming and it can take away from family time. That’s why some families have decided to include their children in the day-to-day, or at least seasonal, work. For some, it’s simply a way to get things done; for others, it’s a learning experience. And of course some owners are thinking ahead to business succession.

“We talk about them getting into the business,” says Erica Herink. “We tell them it’s theirs if they want it.” The Herinks have three sons: Elliott, 13; Simon, 11; and Owen, 9.

“They all seem very interested in it, but at the same time, we want them to go to college. As a parent, of course you want them to (take over the business), but we don’t want to pressure them either. They have to do what makes them happy.”

For now, the Herink boys help out mostly in summer, cleaning portable restrooms. During the school year, they may help on weekends if it’s busy.

“They also like to ride with Matt and have attended a WWETT Show,” says Herink.

“Our business is very much a part of their lives; they’re in the photos used in our phone book ads, on postcards we mail out, on our Facebook page and on the home page of our company website. We always want to emphasize that we’re a family-run company.”

She adds that for the boys, working in the septic industry has just become part of their lives. “They think it’s normal,” Herink says. “They aren’t embarrassed. They don’t really think about the septic industry as a weird thing to be in because they grew up with it.” Marko Septic focuses primarily on septic services, but it also has about 75 portable restrooms, mostly Satellite Industries and PolyJohn Enterprises.

“They’re good kids. We’ve always given them chores, ever since they were little,” Herink says. “It’s just an extension of what they do around the house. They know we’re crazy busy.

“We would also make it fun … maybe stop at a park, stop for ice cream … you have to throw those fun things in.”

The Herinks don’t pay the boys for all their work; they want them to understand that sometimes you do things to help the family. But Herink says they do get paid for some jobs, such as cleaning restrooms.

“Getting paid shows them that their parents value their contributions … and that hard work pays off,” she says.

Kids find their niche
The Welds’ company, which serves the 100-mile-wide Willamette Valley area, has about 2,000 portable restrooms (mostly Satellite Industries), thanks to a recent acquisition of two smaller companies. About half of their business is special events, including some very large ones, such as the 2012 U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

In the span of three busy summer weeks, they also provide units — 400 to 600 each — to three major multiday country music festivals: the Cape Blanco Music Festival, the Oregon Jamboree and the Willamette Country Music Festival.

The Welds’ three children — son, Sten, 21; daughter, Milah, 17; and daughter, Maren, 13 — all have certain jobs with the company, as time permits. But their roles are carefully chosen based on their personalities, says Lisa Weld.

College-age Sten was never a fan of school, his mom says. “He hates school, but he absolutely loves to work.” So while he takes classes in diesel mechanics at Lane Community College, he serves as Buck’s shop supervisor. 

After he gets his degree, Weld says, “He will go work somewhere else for a while … after that, he’s welcome to come back; he’s only worked with us.” His parents want him to experience working with another company, another supervisor. “I want to see what he can do,” says Weld. “I don’t think he gives himself enough credit.”

In addition to supervising the shop, Sten has a penchant for purchasing and rebuilding Ford Powerstroke trucks. He has rebuilt about 15 of them, selling most of them on Craigslist, in addition to building and rebuilding many of the trucks they use at Buck’s.

Milah, a high school junior and multisport athlete with a 4.0 grade point average, works routes for two days and helps at large events in summer. “She works really hard in the summer,” says Weld, who notes that Milah prefers to do the cleanings, but doesn’t relish sales or marketing tasks.

Weld says that after school starts in fall, “many of our customers missed her … asking where the ‘little blond girl’ was.”

Milah is realizing the upside of working in summer and having almost the whole school year free to concentrate on her studies and athletics; her mom says she’s a “math wizard” who plans on attending college.

The youngest daughter, Maren, loves working the booth at bridal and home shows and her mom says she’s a natural at selling. “She started doing it when she was 11; she’s very outgoing. She absolutely loves doing shows.”  

But Maren doesn’t just “man” the booth, she’s a knowledgeable company representative. “People are amazed that she knows the answers to their questions,” says Weld. “They don’t expect her to know all that she knows.”

In the summer, Maren also does office work (filing and answering phones), as well as riding with drivers to restock toilet paper or wipe down units.

All the kids are on the payroll, says Weld, “performing as you would expect from any employee.”

Whether it be the Herinks in Wisconsin, the Welds in Oregon or any other family working in the septic industry, most owners are happy to have their children’s help and are cognizant of keeping it fun but professional.

“We want our kids to be an example and work with a positive attitude,” says Weld. “We never want our employees to think it’s a drag to work with our kids or feel that they get special treatment.”

Even though he would love to see one, two or all three of his sons eventually take over the business, Matt Herink adds, “I don’t want them to start pumping septic right out of high school and wonder what they missed out on. If they want to pursue something else they’re interested in after getting a secondary education, that’s fine.”

Weld says she, too, would love to see one or more of their children take over the business. “They each have their strengths which would mesh well in running the business if that’s something they chose to do in the future. We certainly do not want to pressure them and would never want the business to hinder their relationship as siblings.

“Working together as a family is fun,” she adds. “They have grown up in a family that likes to work, and working together is a bonus. It’s fun to have a nearly overwhelming task and accomplish it together.”


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