Targeted Marketing and Customer Service Fuels Growth

Using the right mix of customer service, business diversification, and marketing savvy, Service Pumping & Drain (SP&D) has posted steady growth annually. Dick Mottolo purchased the North Reading, Massachusetts company from the Hewitt family in 1972.

At the time of purchase, SP&D had two pump trucks. Mottolo learned the business from the ground up, eventually bringing in his wife, son, daughter, and daughter-in-law to contribute to the business. The family has grown the company and its services, offering grease trap maintenance, septic system maintenance, catch basin and storm drain cleaning, pipeline video inspections, and high pressure water jetting, as well as a treatment plant to treat their FOG. Today, the company employs 21 people, has 16 trucks, a variety of other equipment, and approximately 15,000 customers.

Branding and Marketing

“Our website is our calling card,” says Lara Mottolo, office manager and Dick’s daughter. “I can’t tell you how many customers we’ve gotten because of it, but it has brought in a ton of business. It gives the impression that we want to portray to our customers. We all felt strongly that we needed to get the information to our clients in a clean and organized way.”

Clean and organized it is. Lara’s brother, Anthony Mottolo, and his wife, Mary, were the driving force behind the company’s marketing and branding. Approximately 10 years ago, the company began transforming the way they attract customers. They hired Thomas Net to build their website with Anthony and Mary providing the ideas and pictures. The result is a beautiful, easy-to-navigate site that gives a customer the impression of a top-notch, well-run company.

SP&D also hired Super Media to send out reminder cards to existing clients letting them know that it’s time to pump their septic. The cards carry the company logo and verbiage on why septic maintenance is important. “People always respond well to those cards,” says Lara. “They call and thank us because they didn’t remember.” Super Media also handles their other mailings—sending out discounts and coupons to existing and potential new customers. “After we do a blanket mailing, we get a lot of calls in,” says Lara.

When it comes to commercial accounts, they have a different approach. “We have a marketing packet with folder inserts that go over the services we provide,” says Lara. “They also get a magnet and pen to keep on their desk. We try to send five or so out every week and target different restaurants or hospitals in the area. They really do work. I got a call from a commercial customer saying that they got the packet last year. So, people do come around even if it isn’t immediate.”

Lara says there is a noticeable difference when they are making a marketing effort. “The benefit is worth the cost,” she says. “A lot of marketing can be done through the Internet and cheaper channels. Our marketing costs are less now than when we were advertising through the yellow pages.”

They also have Super Media update their Facebook page with posts every two to three days. The website is linked to their Facebook page and vice versa. Their Facebook page also features a mini commercial about the services they provide.

All of their marketing materials contain pictures of their trucks. “We normally build our heavy trucks,” says Lara. “Lately, we’ve been buying used Mack trucks and ordering the tanks from either Tank Services, Inc for aluminum or Andert for steel. We buy the pumps from National Vacuum. Our newest truck, a F550 with a 1,200 gallon tank was bought as a package from Tank Services, Inc.”

Services

“Our approach to septic and grease traps is the same,” says Lara. “We fully evacuate the contents and look for any signs of problems.”

For particularly heavy and neglected grease traps, they recommend Bio-REM E-D. “We just used it this weekend with great success. We applied it to a neglected trap at a supermarket. You mix the product with warm water to activate and apply directly to the trap three days before pumping. It helps break down hardened grease and makes the trap more ‘pump-able’. In terms of tricks to deal with neglected traps, we do use mixers as well, but it mostly comes down to the hard work of our technicians. They need to really ‘work the trap’ and we sometimes need to send two people. We often recommend multiple pumping to get a trap back in shape, especially if the trap has deep risers or limited accessibility.”

In addition to grease trap cleaning for approximately 6,000 restaurants, they also take care of scheduling, grease logs, and disposal receipts. “More and more restaurants are asking us to do a report. So we created a template that has the date, account, date of service, gallons of grease removed and the technicians sign it. We typically post it on the grease trap so that whoever is inspecting it can see the history. Some cities have started requiring monthly or quarterly reports on which restaurants we service and how often. Receivables Management for restaurants is especially important and our Accounts Receivable Manager is great.”

Disposing that grease can be a headache to many pumpers. SP&D solved that problem by building their own treatment plant. This not only negates their cost of disposal, but it’s also a profitable, earth-friendly option. “Shipping our separated FOG to the dairy farm digester in Maine, who uses it to produce electricity, is the highest and best use of the waste,” says Lara. “When added to cow manure it doubles the amount of gas produced.”

The company also performs video inspections with their newest camera, a Rigid G Vision S/3300 with a 10.4″ LCD screen. “We use them to troubleshoot main lines and for Title V inspections in MA. When someone is selling a house here with a septic they have to have it inspected in order to sell it. We can sync the video to our iPhone 4, upload the video to YouTube, and email the link to the customer. We also have customized USB flash drives.”

Service With a Smile

“At this point we would like to continue to grow,” says Lara. “There are a lot of details in the every day and the biggest concern is maintaining a high level of customer service and retaining our customers and technicians. We have little turn over, and grow steadily each year. We want to stay small enough to know all of our customer managers by name, but be able to jump 24/7 if someone needs something.”

The company goes the extra mile and is known for working in tight spaces. “One parking garage that we’ve been servicing for many years has sand traps six stories down. We use one of our F350 500-gallon vacuum trucks with low entry to go down into the garage. It ferries the waste up to our Aquatech. We also service a large outside grease trap on an island off of Boston. The bridge going over has a weight restriction of 20,000 lbs, so we use our small trucks again to go over, and ferry back to our big truck.”

Lara is quick to point out the tireless efforts of their technicians, whose average tenure with the company is between 5-10 years. “It’s early on a weekend night and I have three trucks out on emergency calls,” says Lara. “We try to provide the best level of service and have our technicians to thank for that. I’ve gotten many compliments from customers commenting that our technicians take the time to explain things thoroughly.”

The company also had a residential customer that called because a child had accidentally dropped an engagement ring down the drain. “We pumped out the tank,” she said. “One of the technicians used a flashlight and caught sight of something shiny down in the sludge. He scooped it out with a shovel and was able to recover the ring.”

Keeping commercial customers on a regular maintenance schedule can also prove difficult. “So much of it depends on their budget, and maintenance pumping can fall by the wayside,” says Lara. “So, we are in constant contact with our customers and try to explain the benefits of maintenance pumping versus emergency pumping. Most of our business is repeat business.”

Customer retention is dependent upon customer service. “When I first started as dispatcher, I was still learning the business,” says Lara. “It was easy to get defensive. In the beginning, I tried to get my point across without having all of my ducks in a row. But, I learned that the best way to defuse someone is with information. You just need to listen first. I learned from my dad that you don’t need to have all the answers right away. You can listen, and let them know that you will call them back giving you time to contact the technician that was onsite. It’s most important to convey genuine concern and confidence that you can do something to help. Then I always call them back when I say I will.”

With the number of customers and their varied needs combined with the number of trucks they have on the road, efficient dispatch is key to profitability and good customer service. Much more office support is required today compared to when Dick started SP&D.

Story by Jennifer Taylor

Resources

For More Information
—SP&D, visit www.servicepumpingdrain.com
—AquaTech, visit www.aquatechinc.com
—Rigid, visit www.ridgid.com
—BIO-REM E-D, visit Cape Cod Biochemical at www.septiconline.com
—National Vacuum, visit www.natvac.com
—Tank Services, visit www.tankservices.com
—Andert, call 860-974-3893

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