Rob and Mariah Campbell Rely on a Skilled and Tight-Knit Crew at ARM Services

Extreme weather, tough topography and unpredictable soil profiles lead the list of many challenges faced by Alaskan wastewater professionals

Rob and Mariah Campbell Rely on a Skilled and Tight-Knit Crew at ARM Services

With direction from lead foreman Nathaniel Kurka, Mariah Campbell uses a Cat excavator to begin exposing a line for a new pump tank.  (Photos by Josh Corbett)

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It wasn’t a snap decision for Rob and Mariah Campbell to enter Alaska’s septic service industry. They were aware of the challenges they faced, but knew they had to try.

Rob’s career in excavation and engineering began more than 20 years ago when he served as a civil engineering general contractor in Anchorage. Through that experience, he developed a liking for public communication and project management and saw an area of opportunity to create a positive image for the septic industry.

The couple took about two years to count the cost of starting out before finally pulling trigger on a business license for ARM Services in 2013. For the first two seasons, they moonlighted with ARM on evenings and weekends while Rob continued to work his full-time engineering job. “Our goal was to make it as smooth of a transition as possible for our family,” he says.

Almost a decade later, ARM (the acronym for Alaska Rob Mariah) successfully serves Anchorage, as well as the region across the inlet called the Mat-Su Valley, making their service coverage most of south-central Alaska. 


The couple knew starting out was going to be a test. Even with more than enough business to go around in the heavily populated area, it was extremely competitive.

“It was a challenging market to break into because everything was bottom-dollar pricing. That was the value everyone was trying to compete on,” Rob says. “We had to identify rather quickly that there’s no way we’re going to compete like that. That’s where you must decide who you are and who you want to be, and hold that line, and be willing to lose a lot of jobs.”

The Campbells stood their ground. The last thing they wanted was to sacrifice quality and integrity for cost. “We are usually one of the most expensive companies, but it takes money to do good quality work and have good quality guys,” Rob says.

Recognition and success didn’t come automatically with that philosophy. It took about five years to build a name for their business, but now they are known as a company people can trust, Rob says. And consequently, they have no shortage of work.

“You have to communicate with and educate clients to understand that there are more values to a product besides price,” Rob says. “We’ve found a niche in going out there and treating people the way that we want to be treated, and it has been working really well.”


Though Rob and Mariah’s business plan, decision-making and leadership are large reasons for ARM’s success, they stress they wouldn’t be where they are without their team. From the beginning, the Campbells knew hiring employees was about more than just filling positions.

“Mariah and I came up with a very strict hiring process. During the interview process we hold no punches,” Rob says. “We let people know that this is a family company and a team of people that show up to work hard, but the reward and the return will be exceptional.”

As of now, ARM’s team is made up of Rob and Mariah at the helm managing four employees. Nathaniel Kurka is senior job foreman and septic specialist. Nathaniel Swanberg is a skilled technician, installer, vacuum truck driver, heavy equipment operator and he helps manage the maintenance and service side of the company. Aaron Elliot serves as a vacuum truck operator, excavation hand and sewer and drain technician. Isaiah Gall works primarily in the construction division.

The couple says having a team they can trust is crucial, especially during times of personal hardship which they have recently endured. “We have had a fairly rough go lately,” Rob says. “We lost three family members in the past few months and if we didn’t have the team that we have, our business would have hurt, and been hurt bad.

“I cannot say enough about the guys that work for us,” Rob continues. “They are so passionate about what they do and holding the line of integrity and quality, it makes an incredible experience for our customers.”


Besides a competitive market, the Land of the Midnight Sun creates a work environment filled with unpredictable weather, extreme winters and steep mountain terrain. Summers without darkness and winters with no light can take its toll and being successful in that setting comes down to preparation and diversifying services.

Because summer is so short, Rob says many companies tend to bite off more than they can chew and cram everything into five or six months. To avoid that predicament, they decided to diversify offerings so there is work for their crew no matter the time of year. ARM operates a service department, a maintenance division, construction division, pumping and tank cleaning services, and system installs and replacements, which currently make up about 75% of the total business.

“Depending on the year, we install 60-90 systems per year. Some years we see a much higher ratio of tank-only replacements, which are installed in less time than full systems,” Rob says. “Other years we may take on several larger systems, taking multiple weeks to complete. We probably complete somewhere in the realm of 50 repairs per year.”

Pumping also makes up a significant number of hours with roughly 35 to 40 hours per week during the winter and around 80 to sometimes over 100 hours per week during the summer.

“Of course, the summer is most efficient and we make hay while the sun shines, but we work 365 days a year,” Rob says. “It’s more expensive in the wintertime and sometimes we have to thaw out frozen ground, but we get it done.”


The timing of the thaw will vary from year to year, but ARM will have 6 to 7 months of easier digging along the coast. Rob says there can be a lull in the springtime as things slowly thaw and they wait on things such as seasonal road weight restrictions to end. “Things inevitably go from 0 to 100 miles per hour overnight in the Alaska septic industry,” he says.

When thawing is necessary, methods depend on the project and severity of the frost. If frost measures roughly 1 to 3 feet deep, they rely on a diesel-fired ground thawing unit with rubber tubing and glycol, covered with insulated blankets. If it’s deeper, a steam thawing company with a commercial unit is called in to drive perforated steel rods into the ground and blast with steam for up to 24 hours.

Glacial activity in south-central Alaska left moraines, valleys and plateaus throughout the region, creating glacial till soil with consistency ranging from coarse gravel and large river rocks to finely ground silts and clays. “Our soil types, groundwater levels and overall site conditions can vary completely from one property to the next. This might even include when the lots are next door to each other,” Rob says.

Inconsistent soil types and steep, mountainous terrain puts more wear and tear on trucks and machines than usual, according to Rob. He says towing and working on steep terrain is harder on transmissions, engines and brakes. Though harsh, Alaska’s weather and terrain isn’t their greatest strain.

“The biggest challenge is balancing a good marriage, a healthy family life and a successful business,” Rob says. “What good is it if our septic business is the most successful business ever, but we run our marriage or kids into the ground? That’s a total failure by my definition.” Holding it all together and growing the business is all about using the combined strengths that Rob and Mariah offer. “We seem to do it a lot better when we are working together, that’s when we notice our business thriving, when we are working alongside each other,” Mariah says.

Rob agrees that their relationship sets the foundation of a good business. “I would say the success of our business hinges completely on Mariah and I being in unity and putting our marriage and family first,” he says. “Everything else seems to follow suit after that.” 


Their geographical location also limits options for supplies and materials. “Material pricing, shipping and availability are all extreme factors in Alaska,” Rob says. “We are subject to shipping constraints via the barges traveling the Alaska Marine Highway and trucking up the Alcan Highway through Canada. “Depending on what side of a municipal boundary line you’re working on, our tankage options include plastic and poly tanks like Infiltrator or Alaskan-made poly injection molded tanks, fiberglass tanks, epoxy coated and cold-tar pitch coated steel tanks,” Rob says.

ARM utilizes plastic and poly tanks roughly 95% of the time for their installs and for drainfield media, most of what they use in the area is made up of 1.5-inch clean-washed drain rock.

The COVID-19 pandemic made for serious shortage challenges and shipping rates skyrocketed. Alaskan contractors are subject to extreme shipping rates for a rush load of materials leading ARM to rely heavily on local suppliers.


Things are going well for ARM and expansion is right around the corner, but Rob and Mariah are careful not to get in over their heads. “I think we are right on the edge of explosive growth, but we are very carefully pumping the brakes to make sure it’s stuff that we and our team are ready for,” Rob says.

With the phone consistently ringing for service in all areas of the company, another issue emerged. “We have had to incorporate knowing when to say no,” Rob says. “That’s probably been the most important thing for us in the past two years.”

Honesty with customers is important, even when you have to turn down work.

“There are times in the heat of the season when we’re booked out six to eight weeks and we have to tell people, ‘We would really like to do your job, but if we commit, we are not going to be able to follow through,” says Rob. Mariah’s experience in the office and talent for talking to people helps them sort out calls and focus on customers that have similar values.

“If we can’t build a relationship with our clients, then it’s not the type of job we want,” he says. “Mariah has really grown into a position where she’s the quarterback, and when these calls are coming in, she has the level of intuition to know what clients are going to appreciate us and what type of clients we want.” 


Equipment needs differ in Alaska. Freezing conditions make getting to and from the job a challenge as well as a safety issue. “We invest a lot of money into the best tire chains available,” Rob says. After trying numerous brands, Rob and Mariah settled on Pewag tire chains. “When my guys are hauling around a mini-excavator with an F-550, you can’t compromise on safety.”

Along with quality tire chains, ARM trusts a fleet of heavy machinery to get jobs done. They have a 2020 Caterpillar 308 mini-excavator, a 2016 Caterpillar 305.5 mini-excavator and a 2004 CASE 580 Series 2 extended hoe backhoe they affectionately refer to as the “Swiss Army knife.” They have a longstanding relationship with NC Machinery, a Cat dealer in Anchorage that supplied the excavators.

Equipment gets to job sites on a Big Bubba gooseneck trailer with Dexter axles, pulled by a Ford F-550 as well as a Ford E-450 diesel van with a Quigley 4x4 conversion that pulls a Diamond C trailer.

For their pumping services, the team relies on a 2004 International HT530 with a 4,000-gallon aluminum tank and Wittig vac pump, a 2007 Freightliner Columbia with a a 3,600-gallon steel tank and Jurop XR 260 pump, and a 1998 Mack with a 3,600-gallon steel tank.


Life in Alaska’s septic industry has brought ups and downs, but Rob and Mariah are proud to be a part of it. For both, ARM’s success is about much more than making a living.

“I love interacting with clients,” Mariah says. “I enjoy building a relationship with people in our community. It’s not just about making money, it’s about that strong community that no matter what happens, ARM is going to be there to help. And of course, I also like running the excavator every now and then.”

Providing for the community is also a big part of Rob’s passion and beyond that, he takes pride in providing opportunities through employment. “My favorite part is empowering young people and seeing them rise to their full capability,” he says.

The Campbells hope that they can be an example for doing business the right way and inspire others to start businesses that endure for generations.

“Mariah and I have a deep desire to impact other families in business and be an encouragement to them,” Rob says. “A small percentage can successfully hand that business off to the next generation. It takes a strong family network to do that.”


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