Why Creative Thinking Is Crucial for Pumpers and Installers

Sometimes, an unconventional approach can have a profound impact for the better

Why Creative Thinking Is Crucial for Pumpers and Installers

Mike Carbonneau (center left) and his team.

In the septic system installation business, the ability to think outside the box and embrace new ideas is one of the secrets to ongoing success. In the course of our interviews with pumpers and installers for Pumper magazine profile stories, we often hear original ideas that prick up our ears.

One such idea came from Mike Carbonneau of Connecticut Valley Design in Littleton, New Hampshire. While he was looking to build a customer base, Carbonneau heard about Realtors who had lost sales because they didn’t have a septic permit, didn’t understand a system evaluation or overlooked details needed for permit applications. “The state returned permits because they were missing a registry book and page for deeds, a tax map and lot number, or a copy of a tax map,” Carbonneau says.

One winter, he developed a PowerPoint presentation on what had to be submitted with septic designs to expedite permits. To market the program, Carbonneau walked into real estate offices within 50 miles and delivered his sales pitch. “Many took me up on it because they love to bring new things to staff meetings,” he says.

As Carbonneau learned more about what information Realtors needed, he developed a second presentation on 10 septic systems common to the area. In layman’s terms, he explained components and how they worked. “Once they understood the vocabulary, septic designs no longer scared them,” he says.

With encouragement from Realtors, Carbonneau expanded the programs into courses approved by New Hampshire and Vermont for continuing education credits. When the New Hampshire Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act and the Vermont Shoreland Protection Act became effective in 2014, he developed a training session on how they affected real estate and septic designs.

Teaching helps Carbonneau diversify productively. “Anybody can buy a pickup truck, a plow, and push snow around,” he says. “Higher education developed my writing and organizational skills, enabling me to focus on training programs and designing systems — areas with scant competition.”

Offering unique services

Jason Birdsong, owner of J&T Service in Oklahoma, is a great example of an industry professional who isn’t afraid to take action on a new idea. One unique service he offers his customers is something he calls a one-stop site preparation service for new homes. Partnering with UBuildIt and some other builders that have come on board since, J&T offers to clear the site if needed, pour the house pad, grade the yard for proper drainage, prepare a gravel driveway, and install the waterline and septic system. “They don’t have to wait for the plumber, wait for the house pad guy and coordinate all the different contractors’ schedules,” Birdsong says.

Jason Birdsong also offers storm shelter installations through his Survivor Shelters superstore.
Jason Birdsong also offers storm shelter installations through his Survivor Shelters superstore.

But Birdsong’s regional weather has also played a part in some unusual success he’s had providing storm shelter installations for customers, as his home state receives more than its fair share of the 1,000 or so tornadoes that strike the U.S. each year. 

He got into the business after his septic tank precaster began producing storm shelters. But he didn’t stop with just one product line. Birdsong noticed sellers of the various types of shelters — concrete and fiberglass, in-ground, in-garage, in-home — all claiming to be the best. The result was customer confusion.

Birdsong chose a different approach, launching a Survivor Shelters superstore where he offers multiple models. “If it’s made, I sell it,” he says. “Now when people come to me, I can tell them there is no one right storm shelter for everybody. I tell them the pros and cons of each shelter and help them choose one that fits their budget.”

He offers zero-interest financing arranged through a local credit union: “I even have a shelter they can get if they can’t be approved for the zero-interest loan. It’s basically a buy-here/pay-here shelter, in-house financed. As long as they have a job and a heartbeat, they can get a shelter. There is no reason anybody should leave my store without a shelter.”

The company offers Lifesaver shelters in fiberglass underground, safe room and in-garage models. The buy-here/pay-here model is by Defiance Shelters. What happens if a buy-here/pay-here customer doesn’t pay? “It’s in our contract that we will get a replevin from the court system at the cost to repossess it,” Birdsong says. “So far, we have not had to repossess any — just persuade a couple of people that it wasn’t in their best interest for us to do that. They paid.”

The shelter business goes ballistic after major storms. “A tornado hits the ground; everybody wants a storm shelter yesterday,” Birdsong says. “After the last big tornado, I literally had to turn the phones off. Within three days, I was booked for eight months.” 

The cheat code to a good business image

Computer and mobile technology pairs particularly well with innovative ideas in just about any industry, and the septic system installation business is no different.

Jon Jouvenaux — co-owner of BBB Septic in Bentonville, Arkansas — says computers and mobile devices have made the biggest difference for the company’s business. Even though neither he nor his partner are digitally savvy, they recognized the power of a fully integrated software package called The Service Program from Westrom Software that handles scheduling, routing, billing and other chores. But it doesn’t end there.

Everything is linked to technicians’ mobile devices in the field, and financial information entered there flows automatically into QuickBooks. When a service call is complete, the technician hands his smartphone to the customer and invites them to rate the quality of the call on Rate a Biz, a branch of Yodle, which hosts the BBB website and provides other business services. If a customer hands the phone back with a rating of only two or three stars, the technician is right there to ask what they can do to make it a five-star rating. That’s why BBB has only four- and five-star ratings online, Jouvenaux says.

A mobile solution to scheduling, routing and billing has been a godsend for BBB Septic.
A mobile solution to scheduling, routing and billing has been a godsend for BBB Septic.

When a customer calls for an appointment, the office staff first captures an email address. When a service call is over, the customer receives another email with links to the company’s Facebook page, and to Angie’s List and other business-rating services, and the customer is invited to rate BBB there, too. Not every customer does it, Jouvenaux says, but only a few responses on a service like Angie’s List greatly increase the visibility of the business.

For the same reason, BBB recently hired a freelance writer to produce copy for the company’s blog and other social media outlets. Again, the reason was Jouvenaux’s need to work on the business rather than in it. Analytics for the website showed traffic dropped in January when he didn’t have time to post entries, he says.

Jouvenaux talks very knowledgeably about all these technical topics and the ins and outs of social media platforms, yet his knowledge is new. It’s the perfect illustration of what someone can do and learn in a short time — if they’re brave enough to try something new.


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