In Your Words: Advice and Stories from 2020’s Featured Installers

In Your Words: Advice and Stories from 2020’s Featured Installers

This industry is filled with hardworking, talented individuals who are proud of our industry, and we enjoy sharing their work with you.

Every month installers share their best advice, industry insights, the craziest questions homeowners ask them, and the jobs they’ll never forget. We hope you enjoy reading these stories, to learn from others in the industry and glean tips and tricks to implement in your own business.

We rounded up some of the more memorable stories and quotes to share with you again.

I love problems. When I say problems, I mean we get into a lot of stuff people can’t deal with, and they don’t have the equipment to deal with it, and we do. You’re a little bit prouder when you can do something that another (contractor) can’t do.
— Barney Allen Jr., Allen’s Environmental Services, Statesboro, Georgia

The job I’ll never forget: Water is always an issue here. We ran into one job where we didn’t hit any water until the very end of the drainfield, and then it started coming in. It was a surprise. We had dug all the test pits and there wasn’t any water. We had to redo the entire system. We moved it uphill. We always build a clause into the contract for these situations. It’s mostly just charging for time, it’s not throwing some massive expense on. It takes an extra day or two, and the engineer has to sign off on it and come back out and redo everything.
— Seamus Doone, Doone Brothers Sewer and Septic Services, Lakewood and Arvada, Colorado

Best piece of small-business advice I’ve heard: I’ve read in a couple business books that you should hire people based on their attitudes and whose core values align with yours versus hiring just based on experience. You can hire a guy with the most experience in the world, but if he’s got a sour attitude and bringing everybody else down, that doesn’t benefit the team.
Mike Capra, owner, Capra’s Utilities, White Bear Lake, Minnesota

I used to market a lot. But the problem is you spend a lot of money and, yes, I grew but at a rate that was hard to control. So, we quit advertising, quit spending all that money, and now I grow at a good, steady rate. We stay at a level I can control, and it’s all by word-of-mouth. I like being able to manage the chaos and control the outcome. And I like the freedom of doing whatever I want to do. I take pride in the quality, craftsmanship and service we offer, and I’m able to make sure that happens as the owner of the company.
— Brian Wakefield, B&J Wakefield Services, Waxahachie, Texas

You need to have people skills. You have to be able to recognized that glassy-eyed look that says (your customers) don’t care. My dad was good at telling stories, and I learned from him.”

Eddie Harrison, BAT Onsite, Mount Airy, Maryland

I wish I could have been more open-minded when I was younger about the educational piece to the business. If I could go back in time and change something, it would be that instead of thinking I know a lot of things, I would have listened or sought education earlier because I think that would have grown my business faster and at a younger age and changed life for me and my family. Gene Bassett, who’s been the president of National Association of Wastewater Technicians and a NOWRA member, opened my mind and pushed me in the right direction for education.
— Ralph Baker Dotson, AAA Allied Septic Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico

I studied membrane systems all around the world. I spent a lot of time traveling and looking at them. And it really seemed to me that in my life, membranes are the thing of the future. You know, we have a lot of good, open land here. But a lot of places in the world, especially some Asian countries, they don’t have the land, and so membranes are becoming really, really important.
— Ray Tebo, New Excavating Technology Inc., St. Anne, Illinois

If people tell me it’s been a long time since their tank was pumped, I can pretty much predict what the problem is. We usually take both (vacuum and plumbing) trucks with us so we don’t have to backtrack and cost customers time. If they haven’t had the tank pumped in, say, 10 years or more, they’re going to need that done anyway. I usually try to pump the tank first, and if that doesn’t fix the problem, then we’ve got a plumbing truck parked right there.

We’ve built a reputation for having the right machine for the job, which is a necessity to provide great customer service. The industry is constantly changing, so if you don’t adapt and change with the way it’s evolving, then you’re going to get left behind, plain and simple. So we try to keep up with most innovative tools and technology.
—Jeff Keller, Bulldog Contractors LLC, Jefferson, Texas

A challenge across the industry is finding people who want to do this kind of work and are good at it. When we find them, we want to keep them. We pay the pumpers and technicians well. On the aerobic maintenance side, we hire people who have some electrical experience and can troubleshoot and diagnose all the mechanical components. On the pumping side, we train people well to locate the tanks and do a good, professional job.
— Chad Van Delden, Van Delden Wastewater Systems, Boerne, Texas

We have high standards, but we’re also easy to get along with. Usually once a quarter we schedule some sort of company outing or event. For the past five years, we’ve had a day where we take all the technicians to a lake. They get paid for the day and have a chance to bond and have fun. We do that for our office staff, as well. We give Christmas bonuses. We try to provide a nice place to work.
— Courtney Van Delden, Van Delden Wastewater Systems, Boerne, Texas

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. Everybody always thinks big — ‘I’m going to make $5 million next year.’ Well, you have to start small.
— Erin Mastin, Mastin Site Services, Waterville, Ohio

I want to make sure the customers’ systems last as long as possible. The only way to do that is to use better products and better methods of putting things together — making sure everything is done correctly.
— Alan Chapin, Envirotek Septic Solutions, Camano Island, Washington

My parents believed that the personal touch was a keystone of providing quality service. Those principles remain the backbone of our company’s culture and saw us through the oil embargoes and four crippling economic recessions.”

Coleman Lyttle Sr., Stamie E. Lyttle Co. (SELCO), Richmond, Virginia

This is my outlook for the wastewater industry:

• Education is the key — this whole industry is all about education. One of our association’s goals is to educate the people involved in this industry — contractors, homeowners, regulators and legislators — on how (onsite systems) work and what it takes to maintain them. I go every year to our training conference because there are always things I pick up that are new. You need to have an open mind when you go. As far as training new people coming into the industry, some contractors think we should go back to apprenticeship programs.

• Regarding drainfield material, I think chamber systems have really been a game changer. It makes these systems more doable, gives them longer life and opens up the door for many different ways to put in a drainfield. And we’re using nature more in doing it. We aren’t doing the old rock-and-pipe thing; I don’t think we got the life out of that product that everybody was thinking we would get. And aggregate supplies in this country are showing signs of being short.

• Another issue for the future is getting new people involved in the industry because 80% of us are going to be retiring in the next few years.
— Tom Schimelfenig, Tom Schimelfenig Excavating, Bowdon, North Dakota


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