The Year the Industry Changed? Portable Sanitation in the Wake of COVID-19

Liquid Waste Industry 2020 COVID-19 Survey Results
INFOGRAPHIC: Liquid Waste Industry 2020 COVID-19 Survey Results
April 29, 2020
The CARES Act Portable Sanitation
The CARES Act & Portable Sanitation
May 11, 2020
Portable Sanitation in the Wake of COVID-19

It looks like COVID-19 will be with us for a while, but most companies are already thinking ahead to the end game. The next phase. The business recovery that will accompany the resumption of social life and people getting together again.

Here’s what we’re hearing from many voices as to what that the portable sanitation industry should do: Raise the bar.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated two valuable lessons that every one of us in the industry have known for a long time but that sometimes are overlooked by the public. It’s time to make some changes within the industry that reflect these realities of portable sanitation.

One is the vital, everyday importance of sanitation. It really does save lives. It really does protect health. Washing your hands thoroughly and often and disposing of human waste in a sanitary manner are essential to maintaining the basic structure of our society.

Two, portable sanitation businesses and the people who work in the industry play a front-line role in public health. Portable sanitation is truly an “essential business.” Portable sanitation is indispensable. It makes public events possible and enjoyable, enables cost-effective construction, and creates a healthy work environment for agriculture. Portable sanitation connects us to the outside world around us.

What, then, is the next step forward and how do we get there? What does it mean to “raise the bar”?

Elton Tamplin, Central Area Regional Sales Manager for PolyJohn, recently posted this statement on the Portable Toilet Network Facebook group. A landslide of comments in support of his comments was the result:

I have been in this industry for 41 years this month, over 20 years on the service side and now over 20 years on the manufacturing side. I have never seen anything like this COVID-19 virus. We will all get through this together. For the 41 years that I have been in the business our industry has always been looked at as a low-level and nasty job and we have allowed it to happen, even though it is one of the most important parts of any construction project or special event. This virus will very likely change our industry for ever [sic] with the ever-growing importance of sinks and sanitizer stations on construction sites. One of the biggest problems in our industry has always been the on the street rental rate service companies get for their services. We beat up each other up [sic]. I encourage all service providers when we all get past this nasty virus, and we will get past it, that you take this opportunity to understand how important the service you provide and that you price your services accordingly. It is time to raise the bar for our industry.#raisethebar

We’ve put together a few suggestions to start raising that bar while strengthening your business for the long-term.

Review Your Business Plan

Does the focus on sanitation in light of COVID-19 mean that you should expand your inventory by investing in sinks, hand sanitizing stations and sanitizer? Or, will you want to build a larger reserve of cash, in case of another prolonged downturn? Questions such as these are why now is an essential time to review your business plan. Remember, a plan is made to be changed based on circumstances, and the situation over the past few months is completely unique within the industry. An updated plan may be key to obtaining financing if you need it in the near future.

Review how the crisis has altered your business compared to what you had planned for during this time period and how it alters your path to achieve your business goals and milestones. You will want to start with your financial information from the beginning of the year.

In looking forward, there should be some indicators as to where portable sanitation may be headed. Have you already lost business in the upcoming year due to cancellations? Are cities or organizations in your service area canceling, postponing or “reconsidering” summer events? What are your state’s plans to “reopen”? Are worksites requesting more hand sanitizer or inquiring about hand washing? Are private events or individual customers asking about enhanced sanitation services?

A good business plan relies on good information. Stay current on all aspects of this situation. Everything from international travel to toilet paper supply chains to municipal regulations may affect the portable sanitation industry as a whole, and your business in particular. Use your Chamber of Commerce as a resource for information.

Many questions will need to be answered about the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:

  • Will there be fewer large public events? Will events be less attended? Or, will public events bounce back completely and become even more popular?
  • Will public events change to accommodate more portable sanitation?
  • Will municipal, state governments or the federal government mandate changes to public events regarding the number of people attending?
  • Will there be new laws and regulations concerning portable sanitation at public events?
  • Will construction sites require more hand washing with soap and water? More units?
  • Will agricultural worksites require more hand washing facilities? Will they need to be located closer to the worksites?
  • Will municipalities increase the number of units, sinks and/or hand sanitizing stations at parks, playgrounds and other public sites?
  • Will greater public awareness of sanitation safety increase demand for more units, sinks and hand sanitizing stations at private events?
  • Should pandemic coverage be included in your service contract?

You should also revisit your business plan more frequently. The current situation is “fluid,” with new information coming in daily. With so much uncertainty at this time, your flexibility will be an advantage.

Check on the Availability of Federal Relief Programs

If you are in need of financial help during this time, you should check on the status of federal programs created in response to the virus outbreak. However, be prepared for a frustrating experience.

In March, the CARES Act was signed into law to provide financial relief for American workers and small businesses. A major program of the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP offered small businesses funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits as an incentive to keep workers. However, after less than two weeks, the program was entirely depleted. Congress restored funding in April, but there is currently a huge backlog of applications.

It’s a similar situation with the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. In response to the pandemic, small business owners are eligible to apply for an EIDL advance of up to $10,000 to provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.

However, the SBA was overwhelmed with applications and doesn’t have the money to fulfill the current backlog. Should EIDL become available again, the program is for any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by COVID-19.

Contact your financial services provider or advisor for more information.

Advertise Your Availability and Expertise

As a result of current events, public sanitation is no longer an afterthought. It’s in the spotlight.

With hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer still on everyone’s minds, people should be aware that PROs like yourself have been and will be on the frontline of public sanitation. Let them know.

You may consider updating your website and marketing to emphasize:

  • That your business is open and well-stocked with all the units and supplies needed to meet your customers’ portable sanitation needs
  • That sanitation and cleanliness are more important than ever
  • That you are an expert in sanitation and clean, healthy outdoor environments

Marketing your availability may encourage customers to move forward with their planned events.

You can promote your expertise in sanitation in other ways. For example, if you don’t have one yet, you might add a FAQ (frequently asked questions) page to your website. Some topics:

Importance of hand washing

Add COVID-19 virus to the list of nasties, diseases and conditions that spread by not washing hands. According to the CDC, others include germs that cause salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus, and respiratory infections such as adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.

Difference between hand washing and hand sanitizing

Hand sanitizing is good. Hand washing is better. The CDC says that alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs, such as norovirus, some parasites, and Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea. Hand sanitizers also may not remove harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and heavy metals like lead. Handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs, pesticides, and metals on hands.

How to wash hands

It’s a five-step process, according to the CDC:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

For additional information, check the new CDC national campaign, “Life is Better with Clean Hands,” at https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/campaign.html.

By introducing your expertise, you can then include questions that highlight how your experience benefits the customer, and upsell products and supplies:

  • What’s the difference between sinks and hand sanitizing stations?
  • Does your hand sanitizer meet CDC recommendations (contains at least 60% alcohol)?
  • Can I get a porta-potty that flushes?
  • Can I get a porta-potty that has a sink inside?
  • Can I get a portable shower for my worksite?

You might even make yourself available to speak at local business or Chamber of Commerce events. An appropriate topic is public sanitation in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Upsell Ancillary Products and Supplies

Sinks and hand sanitizing stations should be at the top of every customer’s list of must-haves – and we mean all customers.

We anticipate that there will be opportunities to upsell to public events, private business functions and private parties in order to appeal to attendees’ “comfort level” with more units, more hand washing stations or more hand sanitizing stations.

A new upsell concept

Hand sanitizing and hand washing is usually tied closely to the location of the units. But for events with larger crowds and those that are more spread out, a new concept we think would become popular is to provide “hand cleaning stations” that feature sinks or hand sanitizing stations at locations throughout the venue. No units would be located at these sites. They would be in addition to the traditional sanitation areas.

Primary locations for these stations would be at each food and beverage location, beer tents and entrances and exits. This concept could also work well at large corporate events. Put this idea at the top of your suggestion list when you contact or meet with event organizers.

Worksites may be agreeable to more hand sanitizing stations, and even hand washing, which is more effective than hand sanitizer, especially on dirty hands. (That’s a selling point you may want to emphasize to construction company customers.)

Other potential areas for upselling are the public spaces of private facilities and businesses. There has been a growing market for hand sanitizing stations in lobbies and reception areas. We expect the demand will continue to grow.

The more ancillary products you offer and upsell, the more money you can earn per event. That will be extremely important for businesses to get back on their feet or make up for other lost revenue streams, such as canceled or reduced events.

Increase Prices

Time to raise the bar! Your services deserve a raise. We believe, as Elton Tamplin so keenly stated, to “take this opportunity to understand how important the service you provide and that you price your services accordingly.” In other words, sell on service.

With new customers, this should not be a problem. They will probably not be familiar with your current rates, so you can start fresh with new, improved pricing. Should the issue of pricing come up, your basic talking points should include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed myself and the industry to reassess the importance of portable sanitation services to the health and safety of the public
  • My rates reflect the highest level of service, sanitation and safety

For current customers, especially those with whom you have a long business relationship, we encourage meeting with them personally for a candid discussion. The points above are also relevant.

An alternative for long-time customers could be to offer a price discount with an extended contract. You are exchanging profit for work security.

We feel that a great majority of established and new customers will agree that your rates are justified, especially when you place an emphasis on cleanliness and the quality of your service.

In deciding to raise rates, you may want to re-evaluate your pricing structure from the foundation up. The SBA notes that small businesses make four common pricing mistakes:

  • Not having a price model or sticking to your model
  • Underestimating costs involved in running the business
  • Using only low prices to compete with other players
  • Setting a pricing model and never modifying it to suit changing conditions

A starting point is the SBA’s “Pricing Models for a Successful Business” at https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/pricing-models-transcript_0.pdf.

As always, since you’re selling on service, deliver the best service you possibly can.

Get Into Your New State of Mind

Time to raise the bar on attitude, starting with your own. If you’ve ever felt down on your business or the industry, recent events should give you a tremendous boost of self-esteem. Never underestimate the importance of your work, or the need to perform it at the highest level of service.

We’re not looking for praise. But new service adjustments including upselling products and increasing prices will help keep your business and the industry as a whole on solid footing and ready to deliver on our pledge of sustaining clean, safe and enjoyable outdoor lifestyles.

Portable sanitation. Now more than ever.

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