In Your Words: Advice and Stories from 2021’s Featured Installers

In Your Words: Advice and Stories from 2021’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.

A friend recommended we raise our rates a little bit every year, rather than a lot every few years. If you wait too long, then you’re like, “Man, am I going to raise my rates that much?” or, “Everybody is so much higher than us.” It’s better to just keep a steady increase.
— Andrew McAfee, L.A. Brown Inc., Bluffton, Indiana

We are fair. We’re not out to make millions. We work for a living. We care. We’re not a big company. It’s our family working for another family. We understand that people aren’t made of money.
We’re pretty much 24 hours. If there’s a problem with the system, you call and we’ll go out. It’s not a 9-to-5 kind of gig. There are times we’ll go out to a customer’s yard three, four or five times to double-check things, answer questions, or just have a look and make sure everything is operating correctly. We don’t charge for every time we drive out.
Megan Careless, Triple C Backhoe Services, Leduc, Alberta

Sometimes I’m the second or third designer on a project because other designers said there’s no solution except for holding tanks. But in all those cases, I came up with solutions … you just have to be more creative.
I tell clients that there’s always a solution, but sometimes it requires a bit more money and some compromises. But it’s always fun — I enjoy it.
— Chad Widmer, Soilworx, Okotoks, Albert

When I’m trying to explain it to people, I use the Thanksgiving meal as a comparison. When you think about what most of us do at Thanksgiving, at 2 o’clock you fill your plate, and you can’t help but go back for seconds, and then dessert rolls around, and by the time you’re done you’re moaning and groaning, lying on the floor, trying to stay awake and watch a football game or visit. And you’re miserable because you’ve eaten so much at one time. 
If you were to take that same amount of food and start at 6 a.m. when you get up, and take a bite, walk around, come back in a few minutes and take another bite, and do that all through the day, you could actually eat more food and never be uncomfortable because your body can process little bits at a time. Microbes are the same way.
— Brian Rabe, Cascade Earth Sciences, Albany, Oregon

Never drop your prices — stick to them. I learned that at a seminar. We sell a service, not a cheap price. It’s all about selling a service, providing a good product, and your price is what your price is. 
— Chris Hodge, B Clean, Laurel, Mississippi 

Customers don’t always know what they’re really asking for but if you can keep them happy you have a friendship for life. It’s not so much a service-to-customer relationship; it’s more of a friendship relationship. They get pretty partial to you and they brag you up to their friends. That friendship is very important and if you can see that, in the long run you’ll have a successful business.
— Kelly Tucker, Anderson Bros. Electric, Plumbing, & Heating Inc., Kearney, Nebraska

We work especially hard to clean up the yard when we’re done. We want the customers to be happy. A lot of our jobs are at existing houses where the systems have failed. We have to tear the yard up pretty good, but before we leave, we make sure it’s level and compacted so it won’t settle too much. We tell the customer that if it settles, or if we leave it high and it doesn’t settle, call us back and we’ll come out and fix it.
— Gilbert Herrera, Superior Septic Service, Bakersfield, California

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: I had someone ask me if the slow toilet could be because the septic tank had septic rats — “You know, like sewer systems.”  
— Justin Wells, Best Septic, Eugene, Oregon

When starting out on a new business or new aspect of your business, ask the right questions to the right people and, just as important, be open to their answers even if it is not what you want to hear. I used to be a small-business counselor, mentoring people starting small businesses. The successful startups fast-tracked their way to having viable businesses by asking hard questions to everyone they could think of who might know something about their industry — including their competition. Most of the time, by engaging with your competition you make allies and learn from their mistakes instead of from your own. 
— Joe Karthein, Sentinel Excavating, Balfour, British Columbia

Being right doesn’t mean you win. ”

Justin Wells, Best Septic, Eugene, Oregon

A customer told me to raise my prices and weed out the high-demand people that do not appreciate what we do. We have been very lucky here since we form personal relationships with almost all of our customers. We do a homeowner walk-through with all new installs. Literally over a thousand people have my cellphone number. It’s rare for us to lose a customer for any other reason than they are looking for someone cheaper or one or two from personality conflicts. Treating your customers with respect will earn their respect in return. They are not just a dollar sign. 
— Vonda (Sissy) Bob, South Texas Aerobics, Caldwell, Texas

I assess risk as: Here’s the opportunity, I know the opportunity is going to come up again. If I have the equipment, then my guys know we can promote that service. I’ve never bought a piece of equipment and then said, I should never have bought this. Every time we bought something, it was to either expand our services or to make the services that we offer better.
— Dervin Witmer, Dig-It Excavating, Cassopolis, Michigan

Rich Herr, owner of our company at the time he hired me in 1989, said, “Any work you do, do it as you would want it done at your own home. Think every job is your own house, do excellent work and don’t skimp on any facet of what you are doing.” Everyone at our company lives that advice on every job. 
— Todd Stair, vice president, Herr Construction, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

As an owner of the company, you become the fixer — chasing all the problems and not being productive. With subcontractors, I haven’t had any problems with loose ends or screwups. They want to do an excellent job because they’re not just a guy on a payroll. I’d rather have lower margins than refer jobs to someone else or not finish a job on time and have a dissatisfied customer.
— Joe Bruening, Bruening Excavating Corp, Wickliffe, Ohio

Be honest, admit your mistakes and try your best to help people. That usually opens the door for opportunity and allows you to have some fun at work.”

Travis Wolfe, Anderson Pump House, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

When we leave a job, the people are happy. We guide them through it right from the beginning so they’re not afraid of what’s going to happen. We tell them we’re going to blow up their yard today, and tomorrow we’ll put it all back together, and all they have to do is wait for the grass to grow. We can install a system in a day. Once they see that everything is all smoothed out and see our guys putting the grass seed down, they are very happy about that.

— Jay Daymon, T.M. Wright Excavating Inc., Orange, Connecticut

The craziest question I’ve been asked by a customer: “How many holes should I shoot through the 55-gallon drum I’m installing as my septic system for my hunting cabin up north?”
— Todd Stair, Herr Construction, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Hopefully the day goes: get up, coffee and eggs, get to the job, repair goes perfectly, get home in time for dinner — but that’s never how it goes. Each day has challenges. Like the Marines, you need to adapt and overcome. And that’s precisely what it takes — the ability to remain calm, come up with good solutions and make repairs the right way. You may need to keep someone on site running things manually until a part can be obtained, you may have to be there overnight. Don’t leave the site until things are under control and running correctly. You sleep better when you’re sure your repair will hold.
— Dave Bartholomew, Bartholomew Water Services, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona

You shouldn’t sell yourself short for customers just to get their business. If you price a job too cheaply, then you’re aggravated while you’re doing it. At that point, you’re better off going hunting or fishing. I’m glad I learned that lesson when I was young, rather than now, when the financial stakes are a lot higher.
— Mike Camarota, Camarota Sanitation & Excavation LLC, Gilford, Connecticut

There’s a hope I have for the industry, and I sometimes bring this up in my educational classes as a challenge. It breaks my heart when I hear, “I wish I was on sewer,” or, “I’m not going to buy this house because it’s on septic.” I want us to look at the end user more with our innovations. We have innovated our way out of so many issues, but it typically involves regulations. We have made unbuildable sites safe to build on and have an onsite system. But people still are told the do’s and don’ts of septic — don’t do your laundry all on Saturday, don’t flush wipes, don’t have a garbage disposal, don’t use those products — don’t, don’t, don’t. “Live your life around your toilet,” is what they hear. So my hope is that we can start to innovate and regulate in a way that people can live their life the way someone not on a septic system can and not pay the price for doing so. I believe if we try, we can achieve this. 
Justin Wells, Best Septic, Eugene, Oregon


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.