An Enthusiastic Mid-Career Couple Is Living Their Dream of Business Ownership

After 30-plus years working on installing crews for others, Josh McCloud has staked his claim at Indiana’s Dutcher Trenching

An Enthusiastic Mid-Career Couple Is Living Their Dream of Business Ownership

The Dutcher Trenching team includes, from left, Jake McCormick, Jesse Gish, Josh McCloud, Brittany McCloud and Emmett McCloud. They are shown with a 2001 Freightliner from Wee Engineer and carrying a National Vacuum Equipment pump. 

Buying Dutcher Trenching Inc. about four years ago was the fulfillment of a dream for Josh and Brittany McCloud. And it was their second dream fulfilled. 

“Josh has been putting systems in since he was 16,” Brittany says. 

“Thirty-one years,” Josh adds. 

Josh says he has always wanted to run his own business. He grew up 10 miles north of Crawfordsville, Indiana, where their company is based. He has installed for other companies in every place they’ve lived, including six years in Minnesota while they chased their first dream. That was Brittany’s dream.

She is now retired from her own baking business. She started it just after their sons were born so she could work at home with them. As an older student, she attended Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis and opened her own shop in Darlington, Indiana, about 7 miles from Crawfordsville. 

“And I got osteoarthritis really bad. I needed to change what I was doing, so I had to retire from my baking,” she says. The arthritis was apparently from farm work and playing softball. 

“I can still do things. I just have to know my limits now,” she says. “Josh helped me with my goals and dreams, so now it’s me helping Josh with his goals and dreams of owning his business.”

We're a team

Whenever the installation crew needs help, Brittany will jump on equipment or climb down in a ditch. “I grew up on a farm, so I’ve been running equipment and driving tractors since I was 9,” she says. The rest of the time she’s in the office minding the schedule, marketing, taxes, phones and payroll. 

She also handles a good deal of customer education. “When people have problems with septic systems, they call in a panic. So I just try to give them a confident and compassionate voice. I can calm them down and tell them we will come and help them figure out the problem,” she says. 

Even though she isn’t working in agriculture, Brittany says, her Purdue University degree in animal agribusiness has helped her throughout her adult life. For both Josh and Brittany, education is not something they did only when they were young. They are still learning. It’s how they keep their business edge. They attend Indiana Onsite Wastewater Professionals conferences, meetings of the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association, and the annual WWETT Show in Indianapolis. 

“Any time we have a chance to educate ourselves to help our customers, and for our business to grow and do better, we take it. Plus, we like learning things,” she says. 

Growing back

The McClouds took over a diminishing business. The previous owner, son of the company’s founder, was transitioning to retirement and had been cutting back on work. Now the McClouds are growing the company, yet they don’t have a website and haven’t done much marketing with Facebook, Instagram and other social media.

Because the company was so well known, Brittany says, they were concerned about what would happen if they advertised too soon after taking ownership. They didn’t want to attract so much business that they would have to put customers off or overwork their team.

Now that they have a handle on the business and growth is more controlled, Brittany launched a Facebook presence and is working on a website. She has one app in particular that works well. It’s Nextdoor, a social networking service that allows users to trade information within a neighborhood or a similarly limited area.

Dutcher customers first created a page about the business, Brittany says, and she claimed the page and edited the information so it was correct. Once in a while she’ll add a post, publish a photo of a crew working or provide advice on how to care for a septic system. 

Brittany estimates they have about 15% of the market in Montgomery County, where Crawfordsville is located. Once they have an established customer, she’ll send postcard reminders about having a tank pumped. Simple actions like that help people become loyal customers, she says. 

They’ve also found that few new-subdivision homeowners are educated about onsite technology, Brittany says. They typically don’t understand that tanks need to be pumped and filters must be cleaned. So a little customer education can turn people into Dutcher customers, she maintains.

Full service menu

Dutcher has three main business divisions: installations and repairs of sewer and onsite systems, cleaning, and pumping, Josh says. Installations and repairs are about 35% of revenue, cleaning is about 30%, and pumping is another 35%.

A jetter came with the company, so it was easy to justify offering that service, Brittany says. Also, she says, because Dutcher does both installation and pumping, they understand how different parts of the business can work together. 

For example, Josh says, he’s advised homeowners to put a well at the rear of a property because it seldom needs attention, but to locate the septic tank near a driveway or road when possible so it can be easily serviced. Installers who don’t pump may not think of that, he says. “They’ll put tanks in places you can’t reach with a hundred feet of hose from the driveway.” 

Installations consist of about 90% replacements for older failing systems or upgrades. Montgomery County has many existing homes and little new construction, Brittany says. Most of their pumping is done in the county, but technicians drive farther for install work. They also pump in neighboring Fountain County because many pumpers there have closed shop over the last decade. 

Even though their county makes up one edge of the Indianapolis metropolitan area, the McClouds are not trying to find new install customers in the growing areas around Indiana’s population center. “We had all we could get done [in 2020]. We were just finishing up at the end of December and first of January,” Josh says. 

“Which is unusual,” Brittany adds. “We were blessed with good weather.” 

Sand solutions

Most of the systems they put in use sand beds for final treatment. It’s a technology Josh hadn’t installed until he took over Dutcher, but he’s come to appreciate the solution. 

“Yards sometimes aren’t big enough for a conventional system,” he says. That’s true 90% of the time in their area, and in parts of the county the soils are also not good, he adds. 

Most customers like a sand bed because it doesn’t need a vent. That means there is no pipe sticking out of the ground and limiting use of the space such as at a golf course, Brittany says. 

The company installs frequently for the Indiana Department of Transportation. A recent job at a state highway garage in Rockville, Indiana, required a 386-foot run of pipe. “We had to pump wastewater basically from one end of their yard clear to the other because that’s the only place they had left that was virgin dirt for the septic,” Josh says. A high water table complicated the job as well. 

The state has been a good partner for Dutcher, Brittany says. There’s more paperwork involved in government contracting, but a good relationship brings in regular business, she says. “We bid the jobs, but they know our work well enough now to know that they want to use us,” she says. “They also like to use local vendors.” 

This relationship began with a clogged sewer at the department’s maintenance garage in Crawfordsville. “We went out there with the rooter, and they had two or three other companies that said they couldn’t clear it, and I just did a little more digging than everybody else and found a cleanout,” Josh says. 

Indiana law allows Josh to design systems, too. He says he prefers to design onsite, laying out a system to fit what he sees and making the drawings later. For commercial systems, he prepares drawings in advance as the state requires.

They have good relationships with their consulting soil scientist and the local health department, Brittany says. It’s common for all parties to show up for soil borings, Josh says, and by the third bore everyone generally agrees on how a system needs to be positioned.

Septage woes 

Septage disposal is a challenge for their pumping operation. The local wastewater plant won’t take it because of capacity limits. For the team at Dutcher Trenching, the solution for the moment is a pair of 6,000-gallon tanker trailers. One is insulated. The other is uninsulated.

Septage is unloaded from the vacuum truck into the tankers, and those are hauled to the wastewater treatment plant in Indianapolis. In the cold off-season, there’s one trip a week, and the insulated tank keeps the septage liquid. In the heat of summer, both tankers are in use, and there are at least two trips per week. It’s a 104-mile round trip.

When they first took over the business, it was a shock to learn the local plant was unable to accept rural wastewater, Josh says. But after they attended National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association workshops on plant operations, they understood the reason. Now their goal is to solve the problem themselves. In five years, they hope to have their own wastewater treatment plant up and running. 

Machine matters

A diverse company needs a diverse selection of equipment to get the job done. These are what the Dutcher team depends on: 

- A 2001 Freightliner vacuum truck with a Wee Engineer 3,500-gallon steel tank and NVE 367 pump (National Vacuum Equipment). 

- A 1998 Freightliner semi-tractor to haul septage in two 6,000-gallon trailers with Brenner steel tanks (Wabash National).

- A 2012 CornPro trailer, 24 feet with a tilt top, to move a 2012 Kubota KX057-4 mini-excavator. 

- A 1999 New Holland 665 skid-steer on a Cronkhite tilt-top trailer.

- A 2006 1-ton GMC 3500 to pull the excavator trailer.

- A 2004 Ford F-250 to pull the skid-steer trailer.

- A 2001 Ford E-150 van for service work. 

- A 1984 Sewer Equipment Co. of America trailer jetter with 600-gallon tank, a 4,000 psi pump and 300 feet of 3/4-inch hose. 

General Pipe Cleaners’ Gen-Eye locator is fantastic, Josh says. “I wish I would have had one of them three, four years ago when I started full time.”

The Dutcher Trenching team that utilizes all this equipment includes — in addition to Josh and Brittany — their oldest son Emmett McCloud, 21, Jake McCormick and Jesse Gish. Their younger son Dawson, 19, is in college and works with the company when classes aren’t in session.

Looking down the road

Brittany says they hope their older son will become the full-time vacuum truck operator because he works so well with customers. That would allow them to hire more installation crew members, and it would mean both types of work could occur simultaneously. As it is, Emmett is sometimes shifted from pumping to help with installations.

The McClouds are also looking farther ahead than the few years it will take to start running a treatment plant. Josh is 47, and Brittany is 45. In other words, they have a good 15 or 20 years before they will want to step out of the business. 

“Right now, with our ages, we want to make sure we have an exit planned and retirement planned,” Brittany says.

They have a good dream, but the dream won’t last forever and will have to be passed to another generation. 


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