The Unexpected Delights of a Portable Sanitation Career

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The Unexpected Delights of a Portable Sanitation Career

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You’ve heard the comments and assumptions about owning a portable sanitation business.

Gross. Disgusting. Who in the world would want that job?

But when you walk a mile in the boots of many portable sanitation small-business owners, a different perspective emerges.

Satisfying. Profitable. It’s a career choice I’ve never regretted.

There will always be aspects of running a portable sanitation business that make it more challenging than the average small business. Nevertheless, owner testimonials and statistics show that the business and career that seemingly no one wants to have and everyone makes jokes about is continuing to deliver career satisfaction, profitability and unexpected pleasures. (But it does help to have a good sense of humor.)

Success goes hand-in-hand with quality and pride

Why a portable sanitation career? Because success is there for the taking.

Six years ago, Brad Wilson’s cousin loaned him 50 portable toilets, supplies and his backup pumper truck to see if he would like the portable sanitation business. Today, Better Portable Toilets in Albany, Oregon, has 600 units. “Everybody told me there was no way I could do this,” Wilson says. “There was no room for my company. The market was saturated. There were large players and medium players.”

In the first five years, the company doubled in size every year. There was a point when they were turning down 15 customers … a day. Wilson’s “secret” to success is to tell new employees: “When you finish cleaning the unit, you should be willing to let your mother go in after you.”

Fairs and events are Better Portable’s bread and butter. A favorite is the ladies-only, pink toilets that feature a sink, mirror, purse hook, wastebasket and silk flowers. He approaches potential customers with the question, “Have your events ever gotten compliments about how clean your portable restrooms are?” He asks because Better Portable has never worked an event without getting compliments — and he has the letters to prove it.

“I like the industry,” Wilson says. “There is huge growth potential.”

Changing minds about portable sanitation

Some operators have an insightful understanding as to what is at the heart of the industry. The focus is not on the dirtiness. It’s on the cleanliness.

Jeffrey “Bucky” Potter, of Potter’s Potties in Catharpin, Virginia, says on his Facebook page that his mission is to “debunk the ‘dirty’ stereotypes that are so prominent in the neglected portable toilet industry.”

When he first saw the opportunity of a portable sanitation career, he realized he could differentiate his service by emphasizing a “clean” mentality. He uses the word “clean” constantly when speaking to customers and potential customers. Potter’s Potties offers “the cleanest potties around,” and they’re environmentally friendly, too.

His instincts proved to be correct. Cleanliness is a top-selling feature. Potter tells of a man, driving, who needed a bathroom break. Seeing a Potter’s Potties unit at a site, he pulled off to the side of the road to use it. He was so impressed by the cleanliness of the unit that he became a customer.

“The pros far outweigh the cons,” Potter says. Where others see a terrible career or smelly work, Potter sees the enjoyment of getting in the truck every morning and driving through the beautiful countryside. Not punching a clock. Lots of freedom.

“Portable sanitation fits my personality,” he notes. “It’s just a little different. That’s what keeps it interesting.” And with a last name like Potter, he seemed predestined to own a portable sanitation business. “The name Potter’s Potties catches people’s attention.” Because he’s proud enough of the industry to lend his name to his company, the nastier aspects of the career become a challenge, not a deterrent. He uses all the bad puns and negative comments he hears to “start the conversation.”

Potter’s Potties opened in 2017. “We’re already successful, but there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Potter says.

Good laugh, good business

PROs like Wilson and Potter take their career seriously, but when it comes to joking about the industry, PROs do it more than anyone else — and that’s a good thing. Humor is an unexpected pleasure of portable sanitation.

Many PROs use humor to introduce the public to a more positive image of portable sanitation. Others find common ground in their work. Join a portable sanitation group on Facebook and other social media sites and you’ll see humor on constant display. Much of it is reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield and his famous line, “I don’t get no respect.” Humor shows that operators are comfortable with their work and careers.

Of course, when you’re running a successful portable sanitation operation, it also helps when you can “laugh all the way to the bank.”

It’s the small-business owners who take the greatest pleasure in their business and their industry that give portable sanitation a good name. They put all the elements together to create a portable sanitation experience built on ambition, pride, service, quality, promotion and community involvement.

Numbers support portable sanitation

Many people might still make fun of portable sanitation, but the numbers reinforce what most of us already know — your public sanitation services are needed and wanted.

Based on PSAI’s best estimates, it concluded that its yearly data show the industry is healthy, serves a broad public demand and offers career opportunities for entrepreneur and employee alike.

  • Portable sanitation is big business – The portable sanitation market in the U.S., as of 2018, is estimated to be between $1.38 billion and $2.01 billion. When the portable sanitation and septic services markets are considered as a whole, the combined value is between $4.6 billion and $6.7 billion.
  • The industry is growing – From 2002 to 2019, the total number of companies in the U.S. that provide septic services and/or portable toilets has increased nearly 25% to more than 9,000. Companies engaged primarily in portable sanitation have increased more than 60% to nearly 1,200.
  • There are more people in the industry – From 2011 to 2016, the number of paid employees in the U.S. portable sanitation and septic pumping industry increased from 18,620 to 23,210, an increase of nearly 25%. Several individual states enjoyed a more than 50% increase in paid employees; employees in the state of Washington increased 127%.
  • The industry isn’t going away any time soon – PSAI estimates that there are about 2.1 million single-cabin portable toilets in service in English-speaking North America. Total receipts in 2012 (the last year for available data) added up to $2.627 billion. Receipts per establishment were $785,000.

Every successful portable sanitation business helps build the reputation of the industry. Every satisfied customer helps tilt the image from negative to positive.

Looking to take your business to the next level? Click here to download PolyJohn’s “Your Guide to Operating a Portable Restroom Business” for free.


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