How to Know When It's Time to Start Your Own Pumping Business

Four pumpers share stories of their humble beginnings
How to Know When It's Time to Start Your Own Pumping Business

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How do you know when it’s the right time to start a septic pumping company? While business plans and careful market analysis are certainly good practices, pumpers don’t always get their starts in such methodical ways.

Whether you’re buying out an employer, taking a chance on a new venture, or slipping and falling into an industry you know nothing about, sometimes it helps to hear how other companies got started. We spoke to a few pumpers who told us about their humble beginnings.

Jarvis Septic & Drain of Seville, Ohio
Who better to ask than a guy who recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of a successful pumping operation? Gene Morris got started in the septic industry right out of high school when he went to work for a pumper in 1981. He stayed about five years, tried another pumper for a few years, and then returned to the first company. He experienced some frustrations along the way and started to get the idea that maybe he could do things a little better.

“There were too many years of shaking your head and thinking why did the boss do it that way,” he says. “If I was the boss, I’d do it this way. The time came to put up or shut up.” Morris had a good relationship with Noble Jarvis, as they were both in the industry and went to the same church. Morris knew Jarvis was getting to a retirement age and told him to get in touch when he was ready to sell. “In 1992, he called me up, and that’s where it started,” he says.

Morris says the transition was seamless for the customers. Other than Jarvis introducing Morris to the major commercial accounts and smoothing things over with a couple of elderly women who were afraid to let Morris in the house, the handoff was quick and painless for everyone involved.

Overall, Morris has enjoyed being his own boss and working in an industry where he can get out, meet people and provide a good service. “I don’t think I could do something like work on an assembly line,” he says. “I enjoy the job being complete at the end of the day and the customer being happy with the work you’ve done. That’s the most rewarding part. To the right person who’s willing to learn the business and work hard, it’s a very good income, a good living. But it takes the right person.”

Fiedler’s Your Pumping Specialists of Royalton, Minnesota
Sometimes, a combination of the right experience and the right circumstance can land you in the industry. When Cindy Tiemann — a registered nurse and director of nursing for an assisted living facility — wanted a career change, she never anticipated becoming an owner of a septic pumping business.

But her experience dealing with details, paperwork and regulatory licenses were ideal when she and her farming/mechanic husband, Jeff, agreed to a 50-50 partnership with Ted Popp and purchased Fiedler Pumping in central Minnesota, renaming it Fiedler’s Your Pumping Specialists.

Popp, who had worked for the company for 10 years, had knowledge about the pumping industry. The Tiemanns had property, facilities, and a strong farm work ethic to support and grow the business. Since the partners purchased the business in 2010, they have added trucks, equipment and services.

The Tiemanns had a busy life with their Sandy Hill Farms operation, where they raised 2,000 acres of crops and chickens for the Gold’n Plump brand. But then Popp talked to them about the septic service business. It seemed like an opportunity they shouldn’t pass up, Cindy recalls, and it turned into a full-time job for her. It also went well with her husband’s skills.

FarWest Sanitation & Storage of Concord, California
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez got his first taste of the sanitation industry after coming to the U.S. from Bolivia as a young man. Following a series of jobs working for other companies, he set up his own shop in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1994. “In the beginning, the growing pains were killing us,” he says. “But you learn, and in the last 10 years, we’ve been a lot smarter in how we’ve grown. You just have to be consistent and do what’s best for the client and yourself.”

The company has 43 employees, and the restroom inventory has grown from approximately 3,000 units 10 years ago to about 12,000 today. Five Peaks and PolyJohn Enterprises account for most of the restrooms, with some from Satellite Industries.

The last 10 years have also seen FarWest Sanitation & Storage expand its service area beyond the San Francisco area into the Los Angeles market. 
“We had clients moving out there, and they wanted to continue service with us and were able to give us good contracts,” Rodriguez says. “We tried it out to see if we could make it, and business has kept growing.”

Service Pumping & Drain of North Reading, Massachusetts
Dick Mottolo got started in the business when he purchased his company from the Hewitt family in 1972. Previously, his background had been raising pigs. “I knew nothing about this business except it was a necessity that probably would survive any downturns,” he says.

He laughs when he recalls how he only put $500 down. “Nowadays, we can spend twice that on just one flotation tire on one of these trucks.”

He started with two employees and two trucks and has grown every year since. And he’s done it without a sales force. “We just try to give top service consistently, no excuses, and we have a great team of people.”

In the beginning, the work was about 90 percent residential and 10 percent commercial. But gradually, Mottolo began focusing more on commercial, and today those figures are reversed. “It just evolved,” he says. “As your overhead gets higher, you have to have the commercial because you couldn’t afford to pay the benefit packages I do with 
just residential.”

However, he’s not about to abandon residential customers, some of whom have been with the company for over 50 years. “I have a great deal of satisfaction with long-term customers,” he says.


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