Success Is in Paying Attention to the Details, Says a North Carolina Onsite Professional

Shane Broyhill built up a decade of varied experience in the onsite sector before launching a business focused on system inspection, repair and replacement

Success Is in Paying Attention to the Details, Says a North Carolina Onsite Professional

Shane Broyhill cuts a length of PVC pipe during a tank installation. A Bosch laser level and Cat backhoe were used on the project. (Photos by James Nix)

Interested in Business?

Get Business articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Business + Get Alerts

Shane Broyhill got started in the wastewater industry at age 14, riding along in a vacuum truck with an uncle who had recently started a pumping business.

In the years that followed he alternately worked in the restaurant sector and learned different sides of the onsite business. Three years ago he founded Broyhill Environmental, specializing in time-of-sale septic system inspections, which often lead to repairs that include tank replacements and complete new installations.

In 2022 he and John Paul McLaughlin, chief operating officer, completed more than 300 inspections in the fast-growing greater Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina, around Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point. Broyhill plans to continue growing the business and may decide to expand into pumping, mainly to support inspections, which require tanks to be cleaned for examination.

To Broyhill, success in the industry boils down to customer service. “It’s about trying to do the best we can for our clients,” he says. “That goes across the board, whether you’re pumping, inspecting, installing or working with local government.

“What can we be doing better to help people? I’m very meticulous when installing a system. I’m not the cheapest, and I never will be. But you would be hard pressed to find somebody who pays as much attention to detail as I do. I will lie awake at night until I make sure that system will work for the customer.”

ON THE JOB TRAINING

Much of what Broyhill learned through his years in the onsite industry came from his uncle, Kevin Powell, who owned Powell Septic Tank in Taylorsville, North Carolina. While in high school, Broyhill advanced from ride-alongs with his uncle to actually helping out on job sites.

“I liked doing that more than the job I had waiting tables,” he says. “I could work during the day, make more money and have my nights free. I didn’t mind doing hard manual labor.”

Through high school and college he worked for his uncle during summers and on winter breaks.

Broyhill earned a degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When he returned his uncle was diversifying into inspections. That was Broyhill’s introduction to all sides of the onsite industry.  

“Once you start doing inspections, you’re going to find problems, and the problems need solutions,” he says. “The solution providers mostly are installers. We were still doing mostly inspections and pumping, but I got to see what the installation side of the industry looked like.”

For several years Broyhill was in and out of Powell’s business. Soon after college he moved to Charlotte to pursue opportunities in the restaurant sector. When a job there didn’t pan out, he came back. His uncle was busy running the office, so he got his CDL and started driving the vacuum truck.

“It was a little bit more freedom,” he recalls. “I got to run that part of the show myself. I like new challenges. But I didn’t like driving the truck. It was super terrifying. I had never driven a stick shift before. There were a lot of steep hills, and for someone not versed in shifting gears, that’s challenging.”

Meanwhile, he was learning to perform inspections while his uncle explored installing. After a few years, they parted amicably. Broyhill tried restaurant jobs in Charlotte, and then in Winston-Salem, where he met his wife, Ashli Thomas. In the end, he decided to create something of his own, and that was in the onsite business. He took an exam, became certified as an inspector and worked for Powell doing inspections and pumping.

TRIAL BY FIRE

In December 2020 he earned his installer certification; soon thereafter he took on his first installation, even though he had never operated a backhoe. “I had done an inspection in the Triad area,” he recalls. “The client needed a whole new system. I put together a quote and got the job. My uncle told me, ‘Give it away. That’s a tough system. I wouldn’t do it. You need to cut your teeth on something smaller, not as overwhelming.’ ”

Figuring he had to learn sometime, Broyhill took the job and told Powell he needed a week off. He rented a backhoe from the local Caterpillar dealer, climbed aboard, taught himself how to run it, and went to work with McLaughlin. “What I thought would take a week took two weeks. We ended up replacing the septic tank because it was four feet in the ground and had caved in. At the end we had installed beginning-to-end a pumped system with pressure manifolds and all.

“It was a pretty tight area to fit the septic tank and pump tank. We ran into a big rock vein that we had to curve the lines around. There was a big tree in the way at one point. The guys from the county said, ‘We cannot believe you did this. It is all downhill from here.’”

From that point on, he was on his own. He earned subsurface operator certification, which qualifies him to service more complex systems, such as those with aerobic treatment units and drip dispersal, which require regular maintenance checks. For installations he prefers chambers (Infiltrator Water Technologies), Zoeller pumps, and concrete septic tanks from Shoaf Precast or High Point Precast Products.

Most of the work still involves inspections, which follow a consistent format in line with guidance provided in the state-mandated class he took for certification. He offers a fixed price for a specific procedure. He inspects every component of the system, checking the drainfield with a probe rod, making sure the drainfield absorbs water, taking measurements to ensure that required setbacks are being met, digging up the septic tank and having it pumped to look for defects.

The most common problem he finds is tank deterioration from hydrogen sulfide. “Tanks go bad a lot quicker than drainfields do,” he says. “‘The gases in the tank eat the concrete. Below the level of the liquid, it looks like a brand new tank, but in the freeboard space that’s exposed to the gases, you can start to see the aggregate very early on.

“In any tank installed before 2000, you see the aggregate showing. You find cracks in the seams of the inlet and outlet lids and in the outlet walls. As long as people get their tanks pumped when they’re supposed to, the drainfield will probably last 60 to 70 years before anything goes wrong.”

IMPROVING THE INDUSTRY

One issue he’d like to see resolved is the patchwork of county-by-county regulations and procedures. He might do work in a half dozen counties on a given day, and as many as 15 in a week, and every one has slightly different rules.

“There’s one county where we submit an application for a standard tank replacement. They get back to me and say, ‘OK, call us when you want us to do the final inspection.’ They trust that I know where to put the tank and that all the setbacks will be met. They come out and inspect, we cover it up, and that’s it. The application is free.

“There’s another county where there’s an application fee. In about eight weeks they’ll come out and tell me where they want the tank, which is exactly where I would have known to put it. But I have to wait those eight weeks. I’m not against local government. I like people being able to govern in their own way, but it is kind of a pain working in all these counties when every single one is different.”

Over the years, Broyhill has learned to network and build a loyal following of real estate agents who send inspection work his way. That means cold calling, knocking on doors, handing out cards, talking in front of groups, identifying the right person in a real estate office to talk to. 

It also means projecting a professional image.

“People look down on this industry,” he says. “They think it’s dirty: Who would ever want to do that? When John Paul and I go into Realtors’ offices we’re in nice khaki slacks and a button-down short or a polo. We look very presentable. People say, ‘You don’t look like septic guys.’ And I say, ‘What’s a septic guy supposed to look like?’

“I come across as well spoken. I can be an intellectual and still get out there and do manual labor. I want to be a different breed of septic contractor. I like the look of surprise on people’s faces when I’m able to speak to them about something other than septics. I don’t have to fit a stereotype.”

Customer service includes answering the phone courteously: Broyhill Environmental. This is Shane, how can I help you? “I take time to answer questions. I love to educate. I don’t need people being ignorant of their system and treating it poorly. I want people to walk away from an interaction more educated than when they came to me.”

OFFER A HELPING HAND

“I’ve been in this industry for a long time, and it takes a lot to surprise me. But I enjoy when something comes up that I’ve never seen before. If I run into a question I don’t know the answer to, I like the challenge. I’ll call whoever I have to in the state to find out the answer.”

His psychology degree helps him understand and empathize with customers. “It does seem to help when you can appreciate that not everyone operates the same way,” he says. “Some people do deserve compassion.

“You take a lady who’s 80 years old and on Social Security, and she needs a new drainfield. She doesn’t have enough money. I’m not a charity, but for this lady, what can I do to keep the cost down for her as much as possible? Maybe ask her to try cutting back on the water usage. Knowing how to interact with different people helps me provide better service.”



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.