Building a Business: Cassie’s Cans

How Cassie Collinson turned a ‘crazy idea’ into a successful portable restroom business with three years of hard work

Building a Business: Cassie’s Cans

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“I remember waiting for the phone to ring.”

Cassie Collinson recalls the day nearly three years ago when she started her portable restroom business, Cassie’s Cans in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. 

“The first six months were just getting the ball rolling,” says Collinson, who launched her business with 20 portable restrooms and a flatbed truck when she was only 20 years old. 

Today, she has 190 PolyJohn Enterprises restrooms, two trucks (a 2008 Ford F-550 flatbed with 500-gallon waste and 200-gallon fresh aluminum tank by Progress Tank and a 2017 Ford F-550 with 700-gallon waste and 300-gallon fresh stainless steel tank from FlowMark Vacuum Trucks and PTO-driven National Vacuum Equipment 304 pump), as well as two trailers to haul units. 

And she’s brought on another employee — 21-year-old Karissa Jacobson. Together, the two young women are making others in the business — and their customers — take notice of their professionalism and customer service.

A young entrepreneur

In a somewhat roundabout way, Collinson got her start in the sanitation business when she began working with her father, Richard, at his company Guaranteed Rooter Service in West Kingstown, located about 50 minutes from Providence and only 15 minutes to the Atlantic coast.

“I’ve always been a lover of working out in the field,” Collinson says, but “I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do.” 

After graduating from high school, she tinkered around with part-time jobs, including landscaping, and then, “I had the crazy idea to open a portable toilet company.

“I’ve always kind of had this idea to start something of my own,” she says. “As a kid, I was kind of obsessed with lemonade stands and garage sales.” 

And while she worked with her dad for a few years — now they’re in the same office space and she still does her father’s bookkeeping — Collinson is running Cassie’s Cans on her own, driving (and fixing) her own trucks (often with her dog, Ozzie, in tow), servicing the units, and finding new customers. 

She financed her venture with a business loan and started out with a few small contacts she had through her father’s business, which she says she will likely take over someday.   

She also admits to having a lot to learn at the beginning. “The learning curve for me was so steep, up and down, all over the place. You learn from everything … (and) fake it until you make it.” 

It wasn’t always smooth. “I had to learn how to empty my truck at the treatment plant,” she says, recalling the day she backed up to the wrong spot. 

“We learned it, went out, pumped a few toilets … learned what to say.” She and Jacobson still do get few surprised looks when two young women show up on a job site. 

“When I started this — and I’ll still get this (reaction) — people are flabbergasted when we pull up on a job,” she says, adding, “My girlfriends and I get a good laugh out of the whole thing because we are super girly at times.” 

Still, while she has witnessed surprise, she has not encountered harassment on the job. “Customers have always been respectful. I take myself seriously; I ask to be treated respectfully. There are plenty of good men out there; most have helped me get where I am today.” 

She also faced the challenges of long days and not much downtime for socializing. When many of her 20-something friends ask her to go out, she often has to turn them down because she’s working, on the road or doing billing. “There were plenty of times I thought I couldn’t do another 16-hour day.” 

In addition to learning the vacuum pumps, hoses, and technical part of her job, Collinson also had to learn what program to use for billing, how to file quarterly taxes for an S corp, how to apply for licenses, and where to get rid of the waste. 

“I learned that these things cost money,” she says. “I learned that if I don’t call someone back in 15 minutes, that’s a lost customer.” 

She got her strong work ethic from her dad. She admits that she is sometimes “so stubborn that I want to do everything. I’ve always been so driven by the business because it’s doing well. That’s the benefit of it, the driving force. 

“I just put myself out there … and sometimes overextend myself.” 

Getting new business

While there are several other larger portable sanitation businesses in the area, Collinson says that, overall, she has been greeted by “a very supportive Rhode Island community in terms of competitors.” 

She supplies restrooms to construction sites, weddings, parties, and community events throughout the state, but the majority — she estimates about 80 to 90 percent — of her units go to construction sites. 

“We’re just so busy. It was a crazy idea, but it worked. Each year, I’ve gotten busier.” 

This past year was Collinson’s busiest summer yet, servicing more than 180 job sites with her distinctive, two-tone bright-lime and dark-green restrooms.

“Nobody has lime green,” says Collinson, whose trucks also match the color scheme. “I didn’t want to step on the toes of anyone around here; I picked the lime green because it sticks out. Green somewhat reflects the environment (as well), not that that was the driving force behind it.” 

The driving force behind Collinson these days is continued expansion: She has hired Jacobson, bought more units, reinvested in her business and even bought her own house this year. 

“It’s been profitable; even though I have debt, I plan to reinvest.” 

Collinson doesn’t know what the future will hold for Cassie’s Cans, but she says, “I want to make both my parents proud; I want to be able to come into the industry and say, ‘Yes, we did that.’"


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