Beyond Digging Holes

Residential Sewage Treatment thrives on a complete menu of services for advanced onsite systems in support of installers and homeowners
Beyond Digging Holes

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Residential Sewage Treatment Co. has roughly 2,500 onsite systems under maintenance agreements, yet the company has never installed a system.

Residential Sewage has designed or provided advanced treatment components for nearly 7,000 systems since the doors opened in 1972. The business serves installers within a 100-mile radius of Grandview, Mo. Kathy Maguire, president, estimates that 90 percent of the business originates with 30 installers. The balance comes from a large number of smaller installers and a few do-it-yourself homeowners.

Residential Sewage is comfortable in the blended-niche market it created. Working from an office about 15 miles south of Kansas City and five miles east of the Kansas-Missouri state line, the company works with installers at the inception of their projects to assure a good match between the technology and the needs of the site. “We get the call as soon as the installer learns a conventional system will not work,” Maguire says. “This is a call for help.”

Diverse services

The roots of the company as it exists today go back to 1988 when Maguire, a banker, was looking for a career change. She bought Residential Sewage with her sister and brother-in-law, Judy and Mike Furey. The Fureys knew the industry and Maguire knew business. It was a good match. In 1991, when Maguire married Tom Fritts, he gladly gave up a traveling sales job to become company vice president.

Residential Sewage offers diverse services to installers. During construction, company personnel deliver treatment system components and install aerator assemblies. If the installer so desires, they install pumps, control systems and panels. “We buy our precast tanks from Allied Concrete Products,” says Maguire. That company and Residential Sewage share common ownership, and through the years the relationship has been strong.

“We place our equipment in holes someone else has dug for us,” says Fritts. Once the company finishes work on its parts of the system, the job is turned over to the installer, who then completes the job.

Only when the system is turned over to the homeowner will Fritts return to provide an orientation. Because most of the technologies Residential Sewage provides are considered Class I aerobic devices, Fritts sees this orientation as essential. “It is usually the first opportunity to meet with the owners,” he says. “We teach them the basic do’s and don’ts. During the meeting, we explain the initial service period and the system’s need for continuing service.” That is an opportunity for a gentle sales presentation, as well.

The go-to guys

“Before and during installation, we help installers understand the regulations and associated requirements for siting, design and maintenance,” says Fritts. “But we are not regulators.” Installers are sometimes reluctant to ask questions of regulators, but they are comfortable asking Fritts or his crewmembers.

On the other hand, regulators are comfortable having Fritts and his team help out. “Sometimes I’m not sure of the answer, so I ask the regulator,” Fritts says. “There is anonymity for the installer, who receives an accurate, regulator-validated answer. Everybody wins.”

During construction and installation, when a system requires troubleshooting at a level above the installer’s expertise, Residential gets the call for help. Fritts may respond himself, or he may call on one of the company’s wastewater specialists, Jessi Wood or Jason Vaughn. Helping the installers strengthens ties with them and increases Residential’s value.

Because of the complex systems the company provides and supports, Fritts wants homeowners to call Residential first when they have questions or performance issues. “Positioning ourselves between the homeowner and the installer makes us a buffer for the installer and a knowledgeable resource for the homeowner,” he says.

Whether for homeowners or installers, Residential Sewage has positioned itself as the go-to source for every site on which one of its systems is installed.

Supporting installers

“The installer community is both consistent and ever-changing,” says Maguire. Some businesses have been in the field for 20 or more years and have their menu of services in onsite to stay competitive. Others transition into the onsite realm as part of a diversification plan. Fritts sees his company as having a big advantage because of its institutional memory. Regardless why a business moves into the onsite area, the owners have a large body of knowledge to learn, and they must do so quickly.

Working with installers who have varying skills and knowledge brings Fritts and his team a variety of teachable moments. “Our most repetitive message to installers is: ‘Don’t cut corners,’” Fritts says. “Cutting corners may shorten time on a job, but shortcuts are not in the installer’s or customer’s long-term best interest.”

As a distributor, Residential provides an unending and uniform level of support throughout the process. The relationship is built on mutual dependence. Residential will be on the property long after the contractor moves out, and Fritts and Maguire want that contractor to be successful, leaving behind a quality installation and a feeling of goodwill with the landowner.

Resource pool

Compared to an installer’s broad equipment inventory, Residential Sewage has limited equipment. The company has no need for excavators, back-hoes or other earth-moving devices.

“Our biggest resource investments are in our employees and the technology and training that supports them,” Fritts says. “Every employee participates in task-appropriate training.”

Service technicians Alex Rice, Logan Huff and Josh Johnson, along with the wastewater specialists, have attended training sessions from Norweco, for which the company is a distributor. Residential’s preferred pump provider, Zoeller, also offers training, as do other manufacturers.

Office staff members wear many hats, including sales, customer contact and administration. In the office, the company has invested in technology that equips associates Brandi Crawford, Amanda Thornhill and Jessica Black for their roles. “We want to be on the cutting edge of emerging technology in the field and in the office, and we provide the training so that all employees can gain maximum benefit from the technologies that support them,” says Maguire.

Because the company works in two states and as many as 20 counties, every employee must appreciate the expectations of the local regulators, whether health departments, sanitarians, or business licensing agencies. The Missouri and Kansas onsite associations offer training that Fritts and the field service delivery crew take part in regularly. Employees in customer contact positions benefit from skill-building classes, as well.

The company has been part of an employee scholarship program managed by the Grandview Chamber of Commerce. The program pairs employers and student employees. “Students are guaranteed 800 hours of work per year,” Maguire says. “They gain experience that enables immediate application of skills learned in the classroom. A work ethic is nurtured, and the student earns a scholarship at a nearby community college.” Jessica Black became connected with the company through the program.

Relationships with every employee are nurtured through an employer-funded 401(k) program, fully paid health insurance and paid vacations. Field employees have been with the company, on average, eight years.

Not all residential

Residential Sewage has a long history of providing technologies and services to homes, but that is changing. State regulators are imposing stricter standards on nongovernment owners of decentralized systems, and Fritts and Maguire see a growing demand for third-party management of those systems. The company, through appropriately credentialed personnel, will soon operate wastewater systems with daily flows up to 50,000 gpd.

Regulations may be many things to different people, but Maguire and Fritts see them as income opportunities that many installers do not appreciate. The team Fritts and Maguire have assembled leaves the digging to others. They’re content to provide technology and long-term management solutions in an exciting, ever-changing enterprise.


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