Article from Pumper Magazine

He’s on a Quest to Build on the Success of Michigan’s Turner Sanitation

Owner Darin Gross of Turner Sanitation featured on the cover of Pumper® Magazine

Darin Gross of Turner Sanitation featured on the cover of Pumper® Magazine

Pumping newcomer Darin Gross hurdles obstacles to refreshing an established company while striving to change industry perceptions.

Reshaping an established business sometimes is like a remodeling project on an older home: Despite due diligence, the unexpected still happens. That’s what Darin Gross experienced in early 2020 after he bought Turner Sanitation, a septic service and portable restroom-rental business based in Lake Orion, Michigan, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

Gross was tested early on when the business, started in the late 1970s, caught fire just before he was about to close on the sale. About half the facility was destroyed, including the front office, which housed reams of valuable documents and records, he says.

“It put me in a position where I almost was starting from scratch,” he says. “I had to learn a lot of things on the fly. The company does a lot of recurring (pumping) service, but now I didn’t even know who those recurring customers were.

“There were a lot of things to get organized, but nothing there to organize, if that makes any sense,” he adds. “Even with help from the previous owners, who are great people, it was challenging.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months later. That dealt a blow to the company’s restroom-rental business, which Gross was counting on for revenue. And the learning curve involved with entering an entirely new field added only more complexity to the situation.

APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED

But as a successful entrepreneur over the years, Gross, 54, has learned a thing or two about business. For starters, being both resilient and proactive in the face of adversity matters greatly.

“You have to be resourceful or you’re dead in the water,” he notes.

Furthermore, it’s also critical to create a professional image through effective branding. And last but not least, it’s essential to charge prices that are high enough to pay employees well, invest in reliable and productive equipment, and still turn a reasonable profit.

So in short, Gross found himself well-equipped to handle the forces unexpectedly battering the business, which he bought after selling a semi-trailer repair business. He’d operated the company for about 10 years before selling it to a national maintenance company. Before that, he worked for his father, who ran a similar business, as well as a semi-trailer leasing company.

When Gross sold his company in 2018, he took some time off to think about his next move. That’s when he learned that Turner Sanitation was for sale. The founder of the company, Bob Turner, had passed away about 10 years ago and his daughter and her husband, who had assumed ownership, now wanted to retire.

“The business is located five minutes from my home, was well-established and had a great reputation,” he says. “Financial records showed slow growth, but the business had been profitable every year. I sensed it was a huge opportunity.

“I found all of that very enticing — a great chance to see if I could build something again.”

EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF

To mitigate the pandemic’s impact, Gross drew on his experience with the 2008 recession, which hit about a year after he established his trailer-repair company.

Related: Product Focus/Portable Sanitation – October 2019
“It taught me how to be very proactive in finding new business,” he explains. “I got on the phone and made numerous calls to companies with truck fleets to ask for work. And it paid off.”

During the next decade, Gross built the business to more than 50 mobile service trucks serving multiple trucking companies in nearly half a dozen states. “That experience taught me how to grow a company,” he says.

In the wake of the pandemic, Gross hit the phones again. He and his office staff made hundreds of calls to both existing and potential customers to drum up business. Along the way, he secured a contract to clean county-owned portable restrooms located in parks as well as pump out RV waste tanks at county-owned campgrounds.

“That helped us a lot as far as generating revenue goes,” he says. “The main thing in cases like this is to be proactive instead of shutting down. You have to push forward and find out where the business is.”

RAISING RATES

Gross also raised rates for septic pumping. He believed the rates being charged weren’t commensurate with the value of the services provided. In addition, the rates didn’t generate enough revenue to allow the company to invest in newer equipment and pay employees better, he says.

“So I tested the market and increased rates,” he says. “And so far, it’s working the way I thought it would … revenue is up 25% more than the same time period last year, and that’s with only 50% of the business operating (the pumping business).”

To produce more revenue, Gross also added a service-call charge to his pumping fees. His rationale? Businesses that send out expensive vehicles every day that require constant upkeep and maintenance should generate a separate revenue stream to fund those expenses.

The trip fee is based on the distance to reach the customer. “If you pump 100 tanks a week, it adds up quickly,” he says. But at the same time, he also offers a discounted pumping rate for repeat customers.

The bottom line: Maintaining and investing in new vehicle and equipment must be a top priority, he says.

FLEET IMPROVEMENTS

Gross also had to upgrade the company’s service vehicles, another factor that spurred him to raise rates. He did that not only to improve vehicle reliability and boost customer service, but to improve working conditions for route drivers.

On the septic side of the business, the company runs a 2021 International HV607-H1 built out by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks with a 4,200-gallon aluminum tank and National Vacuum Equipment pump; a 2020 International CV515-4 with a 1,600-gallon aluminum tank from FlowMark and an NVE pump; and a 2007 Sterling outfitted with a 3,600-gallon steel tank from U.S. Tanks Industry and a Wallenstein pump (Elmira Machine Industries).

Two other trucks round out the septic fleet: A 2005 International 4000 with a 2,000-gallon steel tank from Progress Tank and a Masport pump, and a 2001 Sterling with a 3,500-gallon steel tank from TankTec and a Wallenstein pump.

The company also owns four restroom service trucks: a 2016 Dodge Ram 4500 with a 550-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank built by TankTec; a 2015 Dodge Ram 3500 with a 400-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater aluminum tank, also manufactured by TankTec; a 2006 Ford LCF with a 440-gallon waste/150-gallon freshwater steel tank; and a 2005 GMC Sierra outfitted with a 300-gallon waste/100-gallon freshwater aluminum tank. Progress Tank built the tanks for the latter two trucks. All four trucks feature Masport vacuum pumps.

The business also owns about 400 standard and 57 handicapped-accessible restrooms, 57 hand-wash stations and a 14-foot restroom trailer from Satellite Industries. To transport restrooms, the company relies on three Ford pickup trucks and trailers from McKee Technologies and Golden Trailers.

REBRAND, RAISE PAY

Revamping the company’s image was another early focal point. That included building a new website, creating a new logo and developing an integrated marketing campaign where everything from brochures to invoices were uniformly branded.

“These days, it’s all about technology and image,” Gross says. “There’s no question that rebranding the image of the company was huge.”

Gross also raised pay for employees. He didn’t do it to ensure the staff, all of whom stayed on board, would like their new boss. Instead, he considered it an essential part of his business plan, which wouldn’t succeed if employees left the company. He also felt they were underpaid.

“To me, it’s all about the people,” he explains. “You can’t have a great business without great people. I certainly can’t run a business by myself. So to recruit and retain quality employees, you have to treat them with respect and pay them enough to enjoy a good livelihood.”

In early 2021, Gross also plans to offer health insurance and 401(k) retirement plans.

The investments in new equipment, marketing and employees helped ease what otherwise can be an awkward transition period between new owner and existing staff. After employees saw Gross was willing to put money into the business to make it better, morale increased, he says.

“In terms of personnel, the main goal for me is find out what our people do and what’s their expertise — really push what they know,” he explains. “I try to let them make decisions based on what they know, versus me just telling them what to do.

“The way I see it, we don’t have any bosses,” he adds. “We just try to respect everyone’s job. Everyone plays a key role. They’ve been very appreciative. And if they’re happy, then I’m happy.”

The full-time employees include septic-route drivers Mike Daly (a 20-year employee), Robert Lawton, John Bolvee, Steven Burk (also a certified mechanic) and Charles Cross; Don Siegers, field manager and certified mechanic; Fallon Eldred, accounts manager; Jim Smith, business-development representative; and restroom-route drivers Daniel Siegers, Jake Eldred and John Fowler.

The company also employs two part-timers: Shyanne Welch, accounts manager assistant, and Zack Gross, field assistant.

HIGH EXPECTATIONS

Looking ahead, Gross sums up his business goals in two words: total domination.

“That’s what I want,” he says. “In the next five years, I want everyone to know about us and use us.”

The potential for growth is high, he says, noting that in Oakland County alone, where the business is located, there are roughly 80,000 potential septic customers.

“And we currently service only a small percentage of them, so there’s opportunity for extreme growth everywhere,” he says. “We’re doing well right now, but we’re not even close to firing on all cylinders.”

Gross also believes the restroom-rental business will rebound in 2021. Currently septic pumping generates about 75% of the company’s annual revenue, but he expects sales levels to revert back to the approximately 50/50 split between septic and restrooms that existed when he bought the company.

“Despite all the challenges, I’m really excited — we’re positioned to do great things,” he concludes. “I’m very confident about what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

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Article from Corp! Magazine

Cleaning, Sanitation Companies Find Themselves in the Spotlight and with More Business Than Ever

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Cleaning and janitorial work used to be a behind-the-scenes activity. In the age of coronavirus, though, companies that provide cleaning services, create new cleaning technology and advise companies on cleaning policies are finding their services getting new attention from the public and are more in demand than ever. Lake Orion-based Turner Sanitation is a prime example. The company, which provides portable bathrooms, sanitation services and other related products, is picking up many new clients, from Amazon’s Sterling Heights facility to campgrounds to malls to churches across Metro Detroit.

These clients are interested in highlighting how they’re keeping people safe and healthy, owner Darin Gross said, as well as finding cost-sensitive and convenient ways to maintain their facilities both when people are there and when they can give their locations deep cleanings after hours. One new concern among Michigan residents was the reopening of private parks and camping facilities, Gross said. To address these issues, Turner Sanitation updated its protocols for RV parks, campgrounds and government-sponsored parks, many of which have portable facilities and lots of people coming and going throughout their open hours. “We have always cleaned portable facilities more than has been previously required, but we’ve doubled down on our efforts to make sure we provide the very cleanest options for our clients,” Gross said. “We are extremely familiar with the state laws on bathroom cleanliness, but we will be making more frequent visits to clean and sanitize facilities to put our clients and the public at ease.”

Smart sanitation

Businesses that are going back to work, planning meetings or large gatherings should think about how they clean, how often they clean and how they communicate these practices to everyone around them, said Dr. Richard Arriviello, who has been the CMO for InHouse Physicians for more than 15 years, helping provide employee health services to some of the largest corporations in the world. Most recently, Arriviello has spearheaded InHouse Physicians’ COVID return-to-work program for employers. In that work, he has focused on how prevention is a key part to avoiding illness at work or at meetings. Prevention includes seating configurations that allow for social distancing, sending out communications about all the protocols, encouraging frequent breaks for hand washing and disinfecting surfaces more frequently in heavy-traffic rooms, Arriviello said. Also, “Hotel staff should guarantee the cleaning of each meeting room between each meeting, including the cleaning of all chair/table surfaces and spraying the room before the next group arrives,” Arriviello said. “You need the ability to provide PPE or work with a vendor to procure masks and gloves for those who will still be on edge about attending.” Hotels also are offering their own thoughts on how they are responding to the cleaning demands created by the coronavirus for sites and patrons. The American Hotel & Lodging Association recently released the “Safe Stay Guest Checklist” for guests on how to travel safely while also creating a standardized safety experience nationwide. This checklist is part of AHLA’s Safe Stay guidelines, an industry-wide, enhanced set of health and safety protocols designed to provide a safe and clean environment for all hotel guests and employees. “Businesses and organizations across the country are trying to figure out how to reopen safely. We have seen what happens when proper safeguards are not in place. Business owners recognize that they have a responsibility to protect employees. Employees should not to have to choose between their job and their health. We can have safe workplaces,” said Joe Caldwell, the co-founder of Sentry Health Kiosks. Caldwell said he sees a huge increase in companies’ interest in touchless technology given the challenges of the coronavirus and how it spreads. His kiosks, which are free-standing touchless scanners that screen employees and customers at the door for signs of COVID-19, are being using in Michigan with recent purchases by the Detroit Regional Chamber and a court system, Caldwell said. “Although coronavirus is primarily spread through the air, droplets that spread through the air also land on surfaces. There is always the risk of coming in contact with the virus by touching something immediately after an infected person,” Caldwell said. “This is particularly true in an office setting where numerous people are passing through an area in a short period of time. The Sentry Health Kiosk avoids this risk.”

A public good

Many parks and RV parks are re-opening on a staggered basis because of the work that’s needed to bring their facilities up to a post-COVID level. Cleaner bathrooms will also encourage people to come back to the parks and campgrounds, with some potential visitors concerned about the continued spreading of COVID, Gross said. “Our services have really put RV park owners and those running government parks more at ease,” said Gross. “If the openings aren’t done properly and not meeting state guidelines, they can be heavily fined. That’s where we come in.” Turner has been providing portable bathroom facilities in Michigan and has been called upon to clean RV park and campground facilities for more than 40 years. It is finding in the last six months that demand for its products and services has been huge. One such product is its hand-wash stations, Gross said. Turner Sanitation has 57 hand wash stations and they are currently rented 95% of the time. Some of its new renters include distribution facilities for Amazon, Target and Walmart, Gross said. Additionally, construction sites, weekend events, grad parties and weddings are the typical renters. “The new business from these distribution facilities has definitely helped us maintain Turner’s business. In addition to hand wash stations, portable toilets are also being rented,” Gross said. “Most businesses we deal with are setting priorities on employees health. Hand-wash stations are being used regularly and portable toilet weekly cleanings have doubled.” Turner’s business strategy and service offering has been adjusted to focus more on the septic cleaning and pumping during the pandemic. Turner’s customers have been reluctant to schedule septic cleanings because of the added expense along with uncertainty of the pandemic. We’ve been proactive on calling reoccurring customers over the phone and offering discounts to offset some of that expense. By being proactive we’ve increased our septic cleaning revenues and is up 35% from this time last year. Turner has also secured several large contracts with Oakland County Parks to provide sanitation services to their facilities and also to provide septic cleanings to their RV camp site customers. “This is a new service we are offering to help offset Turner’s lost revenues and to our surprise is quite lucrative. We will continue this service after the pandemic is over,” Gross said. Cleaning and communicating those protocols is hard work, but these changes are necessary in today’s environment, Gross added. “My advice to other business owners is to be proactive on what is working. Pick up the phone and start calling your customers. Let them know you’re open for business,” Gross said. “By doing this, it will open the door to new opportunities. It has for us.”

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