Advanced Septic: Getting Ahead in a Tough Economy

Advanced SepticIn 1998, Chris Bryan was working under fluorescent lights pouring over tax returns and loan applications. As a Florida bank underwriter in the management training program, he reviewed profit margins for a wide variety of businesses. Fed up with being confined in an office and ready to think outside the box, Bryan decided to start a business in 1999.

“There are good margins in septic,” said Bryan. “Everyone is going to continue to go to the bathroom and need to dispose of it so it seemed like a good idea. Plus, I like being outside.”

Bryan started taking classes and learning everything he needed to know to become a good septic professional. Then he started Advanced Septic in Clermont.

Not long after that, a local builder had a problem in a community with 1200 homes–the 18-month-old septic systems were failing at a staggering rate. The builder contracted with Bryan to fix the systems. Someone else’s failure became a building block to Advanced Septic’s success.

“During a five-year period, we replaced between 400 and 500 systems,” said Bryan. “That really got us up and running. We also pumped between 1,000 and 1,200 tanks for them, and every time a drainfield failed, they would call us to fix it. It was really good for building the business, because the homeowners got used to having us. Many of them continue to use us religiously because of the service we have given them over the years.”

In addition to that nice customer base, Bryan built his company on new installations during the housing boom. “We gave a packet to builders to give to new homeowners that told them about their system,” he said. “It gave them everything they needed to know as well as our contact information. We picked up a lot of additional business that way.”

Advanced Septic installs, almost exclusively, chamber systems. “We’ve used Infiltrator and ADS,” said Bryan. “We paper all of our products. We haven’t seen any soil intrusion doing it that way. I like the chamber system because you don’t have as many problems with roots. One of the benefits you have is that if you do have root intrusion, it still won’t stop the flow of water.”

Since the housing bubble burst about six years ago, Advanced Septic has looked for ways to diverse their revenue stream. As a result, they’ve done more inspections. Then people started losing their homes to foreclosure in 2006, 2007 and on. “We ended up seeing a lot of empty homes,” said Bryan. “I bet out of the average 15 homes we inspected, about half of them were empty. So, if you just do a basic water test, it will soak it up with no problem.”

The other problem they faced was a single person living in a four bedroom house. “In those instances where the house was empty or not at normal capacity, we told the potential homeowners what capacity their system was designed for when it was new,” he said. “Then we look at the age of the system, the current water usage, type of soil, the size of the family looking to buy the house, and the results of the water test. Based on that data, we made calculations on how the system would perform once they move in. Sometimes, it didn’t make the realtor happy, but we had to do what’s right for the buyer. They usually wanted to know what it would cost them down the road so we provided an estimate on that as well.”

When several hurricanes tore across Florida in 2004 and 2005, and many people lost their homes, FEMA contracted with Advanced Septic to install and pump the three to four gallon holding tanks at their trailer parks. “We were all over the state from Pensacola to Fort Pierce pumping out tanks every day,” said Bryan. “We did that for about a year.”

During that time, they had six trucks running. Now, they are back to one Jurop vacuum truck that has a 2,500 gallon tank. “We found it better and more fuel efficient to have a smaller truck,” he said. “It’s easier to maneuver in tight spaces where big trucks can’t fit. We will only travel about 45 minutes from the office so we don’t need a lot of capacity. Any further, and it just isn’t worth it.”

Since the hurricanes, Bryan has fielded calls from emergency workers asking him to be ready when a storm is likely to hit. “You learn that there are a lot of logistics that you need to know before going down there,” said Bryan. “It’s like going into a third world country. You need to know where you are going to stay, and where you are going to get fuel when the gas stations run out.”

Advanced Septic added another service to their repertoire–Storm Tech Systems, which takes the place of a retention pond. It can be the perfect solution when you are building out a small lot because it fits under a parking lot and collects storm water. “It’s hard to get into that business though,” said Bryan. “We subbed for a another contractor, but more and more are figuring out how to do it for themselves.”

Bryan has decreased his advertising budget each year he has been in business. “I know it’s a cliché but the best business is referral business,” he said. “When you have good customer service and build a good customer base, it’s the key to longevity. Building those relationships has been what has helped us through the rough times.”

They also pump grease traps for area restaurants. In their area, restaurants are fined if they don’t get them pumped on schedule. So, restaurants call them.

Advanced Septic also started offering BioActive, a 12-month dissolvable pack that gets flushed down the toilet once a month, to his long-time customers. “We are trying it out to see how it works,” said Bryan. “We make sure to tell them that this does not replace the need to pump on a regular schedule, because I’ve seen systems where people did that and those are some of the worst.”

The good news is that building in Florida is up and new installs from builders now make up about 40 percent of Bryan’s business. But, he isn’t complacent. “We try to be a complete service provider for a customer,” he said. “We just did a job where we fixed their irrigation, removed a tree and re-sodded. That way, when we leave, they don’t have to call two or three other people to finish. They really like that.”

Thinking outside of the box, good customer service, and a job well done continue to propel Advanced Septic to success and position them to come out ahead as the economy starts to rebound.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Resources

For more information:
Advanced Septic, www.advancedsepticsystem.com
Jurop pumps, www.jurop.it
ADS chambers, www.ads-pipe.com
Infiltrator, www.infiltratorsystems.com
StormTech, www.stormtech.com
Green Earth Bioactive Solutions, www.betco.com

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