The most important asset Turner’s Septic Service offers customers is the family name that stands behind its work
Bryan Turner sees a little of himself in his son, Brandon, when they work together in the family’s onsite installation company. “I still see it in my son’s eyes when I work with him and share the things I was able to share with my dad,” says Bryan, who took over Turner’s Septic Service from his father, Bill Turner, 10 years ago.
“It’s something missing in a lot of businesses,” he adds. “Spending time with the people you care for the most and having a common goal, it becomes more than just a job – it’s your family name in somebody’s yard.”
Installations make up 60 percent of the business for Turner’s Septic, based in Bunnell, Fla. Bryan handles the installation work in four counties (Putnam, St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia) near Daytona Beach. Brandon is in charge of the pumping side of the business, which includes servicing grease traps.
Bryan still lives by a lesson he learned from his father: Always give customers a little bit more than they expect. He has passed that lesson on to his son.
“This business is all about service,” says Bryan. “When you take the 90 minutes to dig out roots from the header for someone who thinks they need a new drainfield, they remember that you just bought them another five years, and they’ll call you again.”
Bill Turner, the family patriarch, started the company in 1978 when he and wife Shirley moved to Florida from Michigan. “The firm was founded and is maintained with integrity based on Christian ethics,” adds Bryan. Bill had been in the septic system business in Michigan since the early 60s, but his experience with heavy equipment got him into the land-clearing business in Florida.
When the state started requiring septic installers to be licensed, Bill saw an opportunity and got back into the installation business. “Then this area started to grow, and with so many people moving in, we had our own little niche,” says Bryan.
The company has stayed small – just fathers and sons with a little help from the rest of the family. Bryan, who has been a licensed installer for 16 years, started taking over the business when his father encountered health problems. Bill still helps out around the office now and then.
Longevity has helped the family get through years of a weak economy with very little negative impact. Some 30 or 40 builders and contractors still call on them regularly.
There are four installation jobs in an average week, versus six or seven before the economy went soft. “There’s just enough work with service calls and emergencies for the other two days a week,” Bryan says. “We install everything from your basic gravity systems to secondary treatment and drip irrigation.”
Variety of systems
About half of Turner’s Septic’s installations are gravity systems. Normally, the decision to go beyond that is based on available land. “We have to do it because of lot sizes, setbacks, and the water table where you don’t have enough room to put in a standard septic system,” he says.
When needed, he uses several varieties of aerobic treatment units, mainly Clearstream Wastewater Systems and Hoot Systems. “Aerobic treatment makes up probably 10 percent of the business, mainly because it hasn’t been pushed in Florida,” Bryan says.
The workhorse of his equipment fleet is a John Deere 410. As the newer of two rubber-tired backhoes and the company’s fifth 410, it can handle the jungle-like terrain often encountered in the area. The firm also has a John Deere 450 bulldozer, a John Deere 444 front-end loader, and a 21-cubic-yard Mack dump truck.
Population growth in Florida has provided plenty of installation opportunities over the years. Even after the economic slump, municipalities struggle to catch up. “There will be five houses on sewer and the rest of the neighborhood has septics because the lift stations can’t handle any more flow,” says Bryan.
Turner’s installs a variety of tank styles, including poly tanks from Infiltrator Systems and Snyder Industries and fiberglass tanks from Alpha General Services. “The new tanks have come so far in the last few years,” says Turner. “They make very nice tanks now. The durability has caught up with concrete.”
They are also easier to install, especially in areas that are wet or have limited access – places where a truck carrying a heavy concrete tank can’t go. “You can take a poly tank in your pickup or hang it on the front of a backhoe and carry it right to the site,” says Bryan. “You can backfill them now without filling them with water.”
It comes down to cost and benefit. “A poly tank is going to cost you about twice as much, so if everything is right, there’s no problem with concrete tanks,” Turner adds.
He relies mainly on drainfield material from Infiltrator, especially EZflow media. He also uses a patented rockless multipipe system from Plastic Tubing Industries that uses perforated drainfield pipes in two layers, just 8.5 inches high, to provide additional capacity in less space. “It has five pipes below with four pipes lying on top,” he explains.
The top layer is the distribution line, Turner explains. The wastewater runs around and through the lower level of pipes, creating more airspace for the water. The piping is covered by geotextile to keep the sand from clogging the system. “We use it for small lots because it’s shorter and narrower than anything else, and for when people want a lower mound system,” he says.
For pumps, he favors Barnes (Crane Pumps & Systems), Hydromatic (Pentair Water), and Myers. Other favorite equipment includes CSI Control control boxes and effluent filters from Zoeller and Polylok.
Meanwhile, under Brandon’s supervision are two vacuum trucks that pump as much as 10,000 gallons a day: an International with a Challenger pump and a Mack with a Jurop pump. The younger Turner has run that division for two years, doing on average eight pumpouts a day along with inspections and repairs.
He also helps his father with installations. “I help him out when I can, but I’m doing all I can do to stay above water,” adds Brandon. Turner’s also has its own lime stabilization plant in Flagler County for treating septage for land application on 400 acres of hayfields. The company is building another in Putnam County.
Bryan Turner admits that can be an expensive proposition, but he has found ways to make it cheaper, such as trading an installation job at a junkyard for four 10,000 gallon poly-coated steel tanks for the new plant.
“The farmer next door has several hundred acres of hayfields,” says Bryan of his new plant. “His fertilizer bill will be cut in half, and he gets better soil. I don’t have to spend 12 cents a gallon to empty a 2,400-gallon truck at a wastewater treatment plant. That’s going to run me $288. Instead I can spend $36 for lime to treat 10,000 gallons.”
In part, it’s another way to help hold down costs for customers. “We’re going to be right there on price, but customers won’t find the quality of work anywhere else,” concludes Brandon Turner.
And that’s what helps keep the business humming, just as it did in the first generation. “I’m doing business with the parents of the kids I went to school with, and I don’t see myself doing anything different in the next 30 years,” says Brandon. “So there’s no doubt Turner’s Septic Service will go several more decades without a problem.”