Three Generations Keep Richards Septic Tank Service Going and Growing

Zach Rodriguez returns to what he loves best, working with family and providing comprehensive onsite wastewater service to the folks in western Michigan

Three Generations Keep Richards Septic Tank Service Going and Growing

Zach Rodriguez uses a Case backhoe to dig a trench leading to a new septic tank.

Richards Septic Tank Service is 58 and still going and growing. When Zach Rodriguez is ready to take control of the company still owned by his grandparents, he’ll have a successful venture in western Michigan.

“This year was kind of our growing year. We’ve taken on a lot of other aspects within our business,” he says.

Rodriguez has been back in the family business for only three years. Like many children from multigenerational family businesses, he grew up with the company but then left, heading for the oil fields of North Dakota. “I went out there to blossom and figure out what direction I needed to take and to step out of this a little bit,” he says. “I loved it. I absolutely loved it.”

He worked for a service company and operated equipment, so those skills remained fresh when he decided the time was right to return to Michigan. It was his grandfather, Ron Richards, who asked if he wanted to take a role in the family business. Rodriguez was ready. Time away from home was getting too long, and he had missed the birth of his nephew, among other family events.

“It was time to return,” he says. “I was out there with three buddies. We all set a date. It took us six months longer than we wanted, but we made it back.”


The diverse company is split. Rodriguez currently runs the installing division. His father, Joe Rodriguez, runs the pumping division, but when he retires, the divisions will merge. To keep everything simple for that eventuality, the website and other business services remain integrated.

Richards Septic provides onsite installing and repairs, excavation, pumping, and portable restrooms. Installations cover a range of systems. If the requirement is a conventional gravity septic system, Richards Septic’s crews can usually do four a week.

“We have a mixture of soils around our area. One week we can do all conventional gravity systems. The next week we can do two raised mound systems,” Zach Rodriguez says.

They try not to do a string of raised mound systems because of the time required to haul in material for the mounds. They are capable of installing aerobic treatment units, and have used EZflow (Infiltrator Water Technologies) on a few jobs where drainfield space was limited, but these technologies are not in demand yet in their area.

“We’re familiar with it all, and we like to stay current and up to date,” Rodriguez says.

Greenville is close enough to Grand Rapids (population 188,000) that Richards Septic can find work in the area around the city. They use the pumping business to probe new areas for business. It costs the least amount of money to send a vacuum truck somewhere compared to other crews, Rodriguez says.

First they’ll target an area with ads for pumping. If those generate business, they’ll do more ads and start promoting other services. One area not targeted with ads is generating occasional pumping business, apparently because people see the trucks and call the number written on the side, Rodriguez says.


“We’re trying to get a little more sophisticated with our customer base, finding out what areas people are located in and tracking prices so we know what works best,” he says.

What they don’t do is go head-to-head with the companies based in Grand Rapids, Rodriguez says. It’s where the work is supposed to be, but Richards Septic doesn’t agree, he says. “We’re small-town people. We like being able to tend to the people in our local spots. We hand work off to those guys, and they hand work off to us,” he says.

His most interesting job lately was a raised mound because he supervised the job himself and did the work along with a new employee. It was 25-plus feet of lift from a lake lot. “We were battling water in the tanks, and the spring rains made it a task to get in and out. I enjoy the difficult ones — the ones where you go home and don’t ever want to do it again,” he says.

The raised mound was a tough job to toss a new employee into, Rodriguez says. Finding employees is also a tough job in his area. “Putting in a system is a labor-intensive task, and it is hard to find people. It’s a younger guy’s job right now,” he says.

When a longtime employee died in 2019, Chase White, the boyfriend of Rodriguez’s sister Emily, came to help the company. “At that point, I was short a driver and he stepped up.”

“Right now we have the people we need,” Rodriguez says.

As the company grows, there will be a need for more workers. New people have options when they are hired. For example, White first did pumping, but it didn’t fit his talents, Rodriguez says. Now he’s running equipment and is doing very well.

“We’re trying to see the diversity in people and use what we have rather than outsource talent,” he says.


A diverse business like Richards Septic needs a variety of equipment. The company has:

- Four vacuum trucks, all with steel tanks: a 1994 Kenworth with a 2,300-gallon tank and Masport HXL400 pump, a 1999 Sterling with a 3,600-gallon tank and Fruitland pump, a 1995 Kenworth T800 with a 4,000-gallon tank and Masport HXL400 pump, and a 2014 Kenworth T800 with a 5,000-gallon tank and Jurop/Chandler pump. They also have a 6,000-gallon tank trailer with a Challenger 607 pump (National Vacuum Equipment) and a 1994 Kenworth semitractor.

- For dirt work: a 2000 Case 9020B excavator; Case 450B bulldozer, 1994 Case 850G dozer, 1999 Case 1150G dozer and 1986 Case 1450B dozer; 2016 Bobcat T650 skid-steer; and 1997 Case 580 Super L backhoe loader.

- For the portable business: about 230 units to rent, all of them from Satellite | PolyPortables and Five Peaks.

- Two trucks for the portable restroom end of the business: a 2000 Chevrolet 3500 with a 275-gallon waste and 80-gallon freshwater tank and Conde pump (Westmoor) and a 2003 Chevy C4500 with a 400-gallon waste and 165-gallon freshwater tank and Masport HXL4 pump.

All trucks were built in-house with the exception of the 2014 Kenworth, built by U.S. Tanks Industry. In many cases, they repurpose chemical application tanks from the agriculture industry for their vacuum units.

- MyTana jetter.

- Trojan Worldwide camera and locator.

They don’t have a mini-excavator yet, but they’re working on it. Their installation work is changing in a way that would make a mini-excavator useful. There are more jobs at small lake lots where a zero-swing excavator would be ideal, Rodriguez says. “We’d rather do 10 reasonably priced jobs instead of one high-priced job,” he says of the trend toward smaller projects.


Aside from installations, other parts of the business are growing. In 2019 the number of portable restrooms exceeded the 200 mark. They also acquired a Satellite | PolyPortables urinal unit, and that has helped at events where beer is served and the amount of liquid waste would rapidly fill standard units. It also means women are not competing as often with men for standard units, and it allows two standard units to be rented elsewhere.

Rodriguez’s aunt, Becky Richards, handles that part of the family company. She’s constantly communicating with customers to improve service, he says, and part of winter maintenance is to overhaul units so they stay clean. “We get a lot of compliments on our portable restrooms. That’s what pushed us to grow. We don’t really advertise them, and they’ve grown on their own.”

“We don’t want to take over the area. We just want a good quality product going in,” he says.

“I built the whole portable restroom truck myself — designed it from the ground up and stuck it together,” he says. He powder-coated all the pieces for longevity. “That consumed a lot of my after-hours time — lot of weekends, late nights.”

Richards Septic has always done inspections, and in 2019 it invested in a camera and jetter. There has always been a demand for jetting, and until 2019, the company outsourced that. But the steady business convinced them having a jetter would be useful.

“In the last 1 1/2 years, we’ve really stepped up our pace. It gets a little overwhelming on some days, but you can’t give up,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez has a rough plan in his mind for the next 10 years. Within that time, his father plans to retire. Rodriguez sees a limit on growth.

“I wouldn’t really like to be a big operation. I’d like to offer good quality — what my great-grandpa started with, how my grandpa ran it, my dad — and maintain the same values. I surely do enjoy what we do here.”

Word-of-mouth won’t do it all

“We were quite sought after to do a lot of work. We didn’t have to advertise too much. Now it seems like a lot people have machines, and people are leaving companies and buying machines,” says Zach Rodriguez, installation supervisor for Richards Septic Tank Service.

That means more competition in an area that once didn’t offer much competition to the 58-year-old company. Referrals from satisfied customers aren’t enough to keep up with the competition, so Richards Septic has changed its strategy and implements more advertising plans.

The company still uses the local phone book, but it also uses Facebook, Rodriguez says. They have turned to Google Ads, and those have generated quite a bit of business. This is required to capture the younger generation, he says.

“I’m 27 years old. When I go to look for something, I search for it on Google,” he says.

Rodriguez manages marketing for the company, and he takes as many photos as possible of the company’s work to post on Facebook. A post from last summer shows portable restrooms lined up and the text, “Portable restrooms are set up for Lakeview Summerfest. Make sure you get a chance to stop by to enjoy all of the festivities!”

So much is new in the business that it’s a challenge for Rodriguez to keep track of where everyone is so he can take photos. “I do a lot of weekend activity. My girlfriend puts up with a lot.”


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