We’re Looking for a Good Balance of Work and Family Life

Indiana’s Steven Shankster counts on his wastewater trade association and his right-hand man to better serve customers and enjoy business ownership

We’re Looking for a Good Balance of Work and Family Life

Steven Shankster’s big rig is a 2015 Kenworth W900 with a 4,800-gallon tank and Masport pump built out by Morocco Welding.

In States Snapshot, we visit with a member of a state, provincial or national trade association in the decentralized wastewater industry. This time, we learn about a member of the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association.

Steven Shankster: Owner

Business: Shankster Bros., Silver Lake, Indiana

Age: 38

Years in the industry: 18

Association involvement: 

I’ve been a member of the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association for 12 to 15 years.

Benefits of belonging to the association:  

It’s a great way to meet the folks who do the same things we do, a great way to receive industry news, and a wonderful training resource. I love the way the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association includes the good people of our state health department, soil scientists, distributors, local health departments, installers, and service providers, giving us all an opportunity to learn from each other’s perspectives.

Biggest issue facing your association right now: 

I’m not as involved as I should be in the Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals Association. I would think one of their greatest frustrations would be the lack of involvement of their membership.

Our crew includes: 

We have a great staff! Jeremy Holt is our main vacuum truck operator and service tech. Trevor Brovont is our job site foreman and backup driver. Tyler Brunk is an assistant to whoever needs him the most. My sister Christy Shankster is in the office answering phones and doing bookwork.

Typical day on the job: 

I do not have a typical day. Our work is driven many days by emergencies. When things aren’t flushing, it becomes a priority to our customers and therefore to us. But I spend time in the office and do service calls — if there’s a broken baffle, small repairs, jetting, drain cleaning, and so on. And I spend a fair amount of time on the phone helping customers figure out their needs. I get questions like, “We’ve got an odor in our guest bedroom,” “My kitchen sink is working fine but the dishwasher makes the washing machine pipe overflow,” and “It’s 6 p.m. on Saturday night and I don’t want to pay the emergency fee to get my septic pumped but all my stuff is backing up, so can you help me figure out what I can do?” Or if they’re thinking about building down the road, they just want to talk about the general cost. They also ask about what contractors I’d recommend since we don’t focus on installations as much as we used to. At one point we did 50 or 60 installations a year, but now we focus more on maintenance and do about 10 installs a year, mostly ones we enjoy like ATUs (aerobic treatment units) or Presby Environmental systems or if there’s something about the customer that grabs my interest.

Helping hands - Indispensable crew member: 

Jeremy Holt has been a godsend to me. I had been praying about how to balance workload and family, and a resume came across my desk. It was so complete that I almost didn’t call him. Then I realized it might be the answer to my prayers. Suffice it to say it was! Holt has as much experience as I do in the industry and is much more adept at some things. We often get calls or notes of appreciation for his knowledge and persistence.

The job I’ll never forget: 

One of the things I love the most about my work is the people I am privileged to meet. We recently did a septic system for an older gentleman and his wife, and they were so lovely to work with. They made us sweet tea a couple times and constantly told us how good a job we were doing. I thought, “Here we are, tearing up your yard, and you think we are doing a great job. You haven’t even seen the finished project yet.” I hope I can be the same way when I grow up.

My favorite piece of equipment: 

I really like our 2015 Kenworth W900 with a 4,800-gallon steel tank and Masport pump built out by Morocco Welding. We started out with a 1993 Ford with a 2,000-gallon tank, then moved to a 1997 Kenworth T800 with a 4,200-gallon tank, so this W900 really feels good. I don’t get to drive it much, but I thoroughly enjoy it every time I do. It’s comfortable, powerful, deluxe, looks good and drives nice. People complement the way it looks. It’s a truck doing a dirty job and it looks nice. It surprises people and I like that.

Most challenging site I’ve worked on: 

We did a septic system install in 2016 on a steeply sloping site with very shallow soils. The problem was there has to be a sponge to soak up the wastewater and it also has to sit on that sponge long enough to soak in. So the challenge was finding a system that would work to hold that wastewater on the hill so it would soak down into the very little bit of absorptive surface we had, plus making the drainfield large enough to absorb that water. We put in a Norweco Singulair Green aerobic treatment unit, then built a 2,000-square-foot mound on contour, and pressure-dosed the top side; and so far it’s working well. But I did feel sorry for our customers who had half their property value tied up in a septic system.

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: 

I do spend a fair amount of time counteracting bad information, like “No, yeast is not going to help your septic tank.”

If I could change one industry regulation, it would be: 

To have mandatory soil scientist evaluations on every site. No guesswork. Pay the price and know!

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: 

“Too much iron will break you.” The guy who told me this went bankrupt a few years later due in part to having excess machinery and equipment he couldn’t resist buying. I also love to buy and sell equipment so it’s been meaningful to me and I’ve never forgotten it.

If I wasn’t working in the wastewater industry, I would: 

I dream about a lot of different things. My latest kick is I’d move into rural southern Mexico and get a contract with the government working on roads. There’s nothing serious at all about that dream but I love that area in Oaxaca and I just think that sounds like fun. If you talk to me in two months, I’ll have a different idea.

Crystal ball time – This is my outlook for the wastewater industry: 

It seems to me that water quality and conservation is going to continue to become a bigger and bigger concern. How we as an industry convince the public that we are all about those two issues will mean our success or failure in the long run. 


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