Ohio Couple Shares a Passion for Building and Maintaining Efficient Onsite Systems

With a personal vision for customer care, Erin and Cody Mastin pursued their small-business dream by stepping away from the family company

Ohio Couple Shares a Passion for Building and Maintaining Efficient Onsite Systems

 Cody Mastin, left, and Bryan Shank guide a 1,500-gallon concrete septic tank into position. (Photos by Lisa Goetz)

When Erin and Cody Mastin started their business in 2018, they had some pretty good credentials, with her background in marketing and his in the wastewater industry. But being a business owner is a whole different ballgame, adding a layer of responsibility, long hours and stress — but also a sense of pride and accomplishment. They feel they’ve already gained a lifetime of experience. “It was a whirlwind of a year,” Erin says.

The husband-and-wife team named their company Mastin Site Services, but everyone generally refers to it as MSS. They provide complete septic services, dump trucking, excavation and well water system services, and the company operates out of a 5,000-square-foot garage/office/storage facility on a 5-acre parcel of land in Waterville, Ohio, just outside Toledo. Staff includes two dump truck drivers, an operator and one laborer. Cody operates equipment and manages jobs and employees, while Erin works in the office and oversees operations. Their daughter Anne is focused on sixth grade and sports but their son Chad helps with paperwork when he’s home from college.

Building the service fleet

Cody and his sister Mandi grew up working in their father’s septic service company, Randy Mastin Septic Tank, a business started by Cody’s grandfather more than 40 years ago. To satisfy his aggressive approach to business development, the plan that made the most sense to Cody was to branch out and start his own company. His father and sister continued to operate the other business, which now focuses mostly on pumping and portable restrooms.

In 2018, Cody and Erin bought a 2005 tri-axle Mack dump truck with an Ox Bodies box and began offering dump truck services while concurrently working for Randy. In January 2019, they bought another dump truck, a 1996 Freightliner quint-axle with an East Mfg. box. And in March, Randy gave them a 2004 GMC 4500 tool truck; they purchased a 2009 John Deere 310SJ backhoe, added excavating services and septic installations and repairs, and officially split off from Randy’s company.

By September, the Mastins believed an investment in a vacuum truck was necessary. “We needed our own vacuum truck because you need to pump a tank out in order to crush it and install a new tank, and nobody could do it in the time frame we needed,” Erin explains. The unit is a 2012 Peterbilt 388 built out by Pik Rite with a 4,700-gallon steel tank and Masport pump.

Before the end of the year, they added a 2018 Yanmar ViO35 compact excavator to help with installations and a 2018 Mustang 1650RT skid loader to move sand and provide grading services.

About 40% of their work is new and replacement septic installations, 40% dump truck related and 20% other excavation work such as driveways and utility lines. Most of their septic installations are residential replacement systems using mound, chamber and traditional systems, which work well with the local clay and sandy soils. The company steps into a project after a soil scientist assesses the site and an authorized designer prepares the plan. Winters are usually tough — although a good time for Cody to work on equipment and Erin to do a mini bookkeeping audit — but in 2020, they were also able to do some installations with the unusually mild weather.

On the inspection side, several counties in their area require annual maintenance contracts on some septic systems.

“For instance, if we put in a mound system with a lift station, it has to be on a yearly contract,” Erin says. “In a way, it’s good for business, but in a way, it’s not. You just don’t want to put one more burden on a homeowner. I understand why they want it to be done. But why so often?” She believes every other year would be sufficient and cause fewer disgruntled customers.

Building relationships

As a long-time resident of the area, Cody has developed many friendships and business partnerships.

“We do our best to provide our customers with superior service,” he says. “If the job entails something we don’t offer, we work with other small businesses in the area to provide the service.”

While her husband manages the equipment end of the business, Erin is busy networking and marketing while handling office functions. Her previous experience included marketing positions with a general contractor and a residential appraisal company, where she developed valuable business relationships that she maintains. She’s also a member of the Toledo Homebuilders Association and the Fulton County Economic Development Corp., a civic group dedicated to the economic growth of the county.

The company advertises on Facebook and Google Ads and sends out introductory postcard mailers. To handle the bookkeeping, Erin uses QuickBooks Online. Other software includes ReachOut for work orders and status reports, FastField for inspection and job completion forms, and Google’s cloud-based G Suite for email and document sharing.

Erin designed the company’s logo with noticeability in mind. She says Cody likes black with gunmetal gray so they decided to go with those colors on a white background. It makes for good advertising on their trucks. “You can see it from miles away,” she says.

Major challenges

Permit fees. The Mastins are concerned a 2020 increase in homeowner permitting fees by a number of nearby counties may reduce the number of septic systems being installed. They are keeping an eye on the situation and thinking about how they can diversify in other ways if necessary.

One county increased fees by $200. “It doesn’t sound like a lot,” Erin says, “but then you’re looking at almost a thousand dollars just [for the permit]. Then there’s the doing it. And you have to pay for a designer and a soil scientist, all before you can even put your bucket in the ground.”

Labor. The company posts job openings in the local newspaper and on Indeed, an employment website. But the couple says it’s hard to find CDL drivers with experience. And the pay rate is high.

Disposal. When the local treatment plant is running at capacity or a digester tank is down, the company runs into a problem. “They won’t let us dump,” Erin says. “Then we have to drive all the way to Napoleon or Defiance (30 to 45 miles away) — which are both along the river so when it rains or snows, they also end up at capacity because of the water. There’s a desperate need for another plant, particularly because the new-home population is going up and up.”

Wish list 2020

Hiring. Erin is hoping they can soon hire part-time office help to free her up to do what she loves — networking, marketing and bidding. “The paperwork piece of it is not my favorite thing,” she says, “But it does give me a good idea of where our business is and where it needs to go, so it’s a necessity as this point.” 

Purchases. Cody’s been going to the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show nearly every year since he was a child and still talks about almost winning the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association Roe-D-Hoe challenge one year. Every year he buys something new. On the shopping list currently is a camera and locator, as well as new field software and another dump truck.

New services. Right now the company uses its vacuum truck just for its own needs, but MSS may start offering maintenance pumping for its customers, at least part time. They also want to add drain cleaning for sewers and utility lines.

Women’s Business Enterprise. The Mastins have applied for certification as a woman-owned business and hope to start bidding on contracts for Department of Transportation highway work and municipal sewer projects.

Holiday party. The couple plans to end the year with a holiday open house. They enjoyed a visit from Santa Claus in 2019 and hope he’ll stop by again in 2020.

Words of advice

In setting up their business, the Mastins sought guidance from the family accountant and took advantage of numerous resources available from the Small Business Administration including SCORE (formerly known as Service Corps of Retired Executives), which helped answer many questions. They also looked into grants and loans available for new businesses.

“There are small-business loans, U.S. Department of Agriculture loans to help smaller companies in rural areas, development grants and employment grants if you employ people in certain areas,” Erin says. They ended up not needing those resources since they chose to buy equipment gradually as they built up savings, but she recommends that people look into it, although she cautions that the process can be daunting.

Erin offers encouragement to anybody who wants to start a business. “One, you can do it. You just have to put in the work. And, two, get out there and meet people.” Once the decision’s been made, she says her biggest piece of advice is to have a plan.

“It doesn’t have to be a five-year plan or even a one-year plan, but have a weekly goal, a monthly goal, just to make sure you’re staying on track and to keep yourself accountable. A lot of people say they have a business plan in their desk drawer somewhere, but it doesn’t work unless you use it.”

She also warns against having unrealistic expectations. “Everybody always thinks big — ‘I’m going to make $5 million next year.’ Well, you have to start small.”

And when you get to the stage where you need employees, don’t take them for granted, Cody adds. “You have to treat them like family. You have to include them and try to grow them. We couldn’t do it without them. They’re not disposable.”

While the hours can be long and work-life balance was way off in the beginning, the couple is glad they made the move. Cody loves digging in the dirt and working with the equipment, and Erin enjoys working with customers and networking.

“I love meeting new people, hearing their stories and being able to help them,” she says. “I couldn’t see it any other way.” 

Share the wealth

Erin and Cody Mastin are an active part of their small Waterville, Ohio, community and want to make sure they find opportunities for their company, Mastin Site Services, to give back in some way. In 2019, they were happy to provide partial sponsorship for a couple of large dirt bike races in the area, a sport Cody used to be involved in.

They are also in the process of setting up a small scholarship fund. When their son graduated from high school, they saw firsthand how difficult it was to secure college funding, so, in thinking about what they could do for the community, they contacted the local high school and discussed funding a small needs-based scholarship. The school will handle all the administrative aspects of it. “They’ll decide who gets it,” Erin says. “They have an algorithm for it. We didn’t want to have to make those decisions.”


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