Service and Family Values Define Mr. John of Pittsburgh

When you hear of a family-owned and -operated company that has been in business for a quarter of a century and has experienced nothing but growth, you have to wonder how the recent economic downturn has affected it. Has management become complacent and, thus, ill prepared? Or, have the core values and capabilities allowed the company to hold steady—perhaps even find an advantage amid the difficulties?

Mr. John of Pittsburgh definitely falls into the latter category.

“Honestly, we turned it into a positive because…well…that’s what we do,” says Christopher McCarthy, Vice President of Mr. John. “We ran at full tilt for years, and we can run lean just as well. My dad, Michael, created the philosophy that we are careful with how we approach things, whether it’s a booming economy or a slower economy. It’s cyclical, and we have to be able to manage both.”

Michael McCarthy, Chris’s dad and owner of the family business, was working for Russell Reid when he grabbed an opportunity to buy this branch of Mr. John Portable Toilets from the New Jersey-based Russell Reid in 1985. At the same time, he acquired Tri-Boro Trailer, which places office and storage trailers on job sites; by 1988, he’d added residential tank pumping to the company’s offerings.

“Any time there’s a downturn, we focus on the fundamentals, on doing the work that we get and doing it well,” says Chris.

“We did see more calls from long-term customers who had been offered lower rates by other firms. The good thing about that was that our customers called us because they wanted to find a way to maintain the business relationship. We made some concessions, but mostly it was mutual.”

The poor economy also caused the McCarthys to look for underserved markets in their region, which covers western Pennsylvania, from Lock Haven and Chambersburg, to eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. They’ve opened a service location in Stoneboro, Mercer County, seventy miles north of the McKees Rocks headquarters. Once staffing is complete, it will provide all the equipment and services that Mr. John and Tri-Boro Trailer currently offer.

Adding skills to the family business
Chris McCarthy worked summers in the family business from the time he was fourteen years old; he’s been full time since 2002. Right now, he oversees sales and marketing programs and the process of bringing new products to the customer. He’s part of the second generation in family ownership, and he oversees a staff of about sixty, including a core group of long-time employees who also have family members joining them.

“I bring a separate viewpoint, a different outlook on things,” Chris explains. “I’m always trying to improve our systems. I challenge the established methods, but in a way that explains how it will benefit the company.” He believes his value lies in his ability to take an idea and “basically turn it into something of substance that we can implement.” It gives him a lot of creative control, which he enjoys.  “I feel my goal is to guide our company as we go from the entrepreneurial phase to a professionally managed stage.”

Besides Michael and Chris, the members of the McCarthy clan who are actively involved include Chris’s brother Alex, who recently became Division Manager of Tri-Boro, and sister Katie, who works part time in the accounting department.

Adding services to the family business
When Michael McCarthy obtained Tri-Boro Trailer as part of the Mr. John purchase, Tri-Boro dealt in larger over-the-road storage trailers and some office trailers. Today, the McCarthys offer ground-level storage and construction-site office trailers that range in sizes from eight feet by twenty feet to twenty-four by sixty.

About three years ago, Tri-Boro’s sales team began promoting the “Trifecta”—a one-invoice, corporate-discount advantage to ordering portable toilets, office trailers and storage trailers all at one time for construction projects.

According to Chris, “Toilets are extremely service oriented, whereas trailers are two calls: one to drop it off and one to pick it up.” If Mr. John is on-site every week to service the toilets, customers see what it is like dealing closely with the company in a highly demanding service industry. It creates a satisfying cross-sell.

Service finds its way into communications, as well.

“I’ve found that when you call a company on the phone, many times you won’t even reach anyone [live]. When you call Mr. John or Tri-Boro Trailer, we’re always here. We just want to take care of our customers, so you always get someone who is ready to serve you.”

One of the dramatic advancements in the industry—one that Chris has watched develop—is the ability to use the Internet for business. In fact, his first job with Mr. John was creating the company’s first website. A couple of years ago, Mr. John of Pittsburgh launched its third website version. “I keep an eye on what everyone else does. We’re just starting with the social media. Now, we have a Facebook fan page and Twitter account, and we’re slowly adding [other] stuff.”

The Mr. John and Tri-Boro Trailer site at includes a Service Request page that feeds directly into Chris’s BlackBerry® account. Chris monitors this account virtually twenty-four hours a day and immediately forwards any requests to the service department. Recently, a construction customer on-site at a project entered a trailer change order via the Mr. John website. Chris forwarded the request to service. He then called the customer, who told him, “Actually, they’ve already called me, and we took care of it.”  Clearly, Chris’s system is working efficiently.

The level of amenities in portable toilet facilities for events is an area where Chris believes rapid upgrades are taking place.  “Everyone is looking for a better experience and higher end equipment,” he explains. “People have expectations of what they want in a bathroom, such as running water and flushing toilets. And those who experience a more deluxe toilet trailer won’t be going back to [rent] a more basic unit.

“We converted our entire event service to flush units, and we’ve been slowly adding them to our seasonal units, too, for parks and recreational locations.” He notes that the technology upgrade will be more gradual for construction sites, since that is based more on price point than on the user’s experience.

“We’ve created a real market in this area for flush units; it’s what people ask for and what they expect now.”

Chris could be speaking about any of the Mr. John of Pittsburgh services when he adds, “For other companies, it may be an option, but for us, it’s standard.”


To learn more about Mr. John of Pittsburgh, visit


By Anne Biggs

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