A Family Affair

Steve Meeks’ business education began early. By nine, he began accompanying his dad on jobs. By 12, he spent his summers working with his dad. After high school, he went straight into the business.

Even when he was at home his education continued. His mom would answer the business phone with one hand while cooking dinner with the other. He listened and learned how to interact with people and how to be a good businessman.

Back then, they were primarily a residential company. “I’ve always been able to meet people and start conversations,” says Meeks. “That’s one of the best things about being in this business is all of the people I’ve been able to meet from all walks of life.”

Meeks’ dad was also a founding member of the Alabama Onsite Wastewater Association. “It got started in the 80s as a result of a problem a company was having in our state,” says Meeks. “My dad and four other men worked with the state to address the problems and felt that an association would give us a voice. When I took over as president in 1990, I was following some really good people. I’ve also served on the board and as a representative.”

Meeks says that the association has grown and become a great resource for the industry. “When I was president, I worked on my own PC and took things to Kinko’s,” he says. “Now, there are three paid employees that are dedicated to the industry and some of the best from a business and industry stand point.”

Meeks’ business has grown as well. Residential pumping now accounts for about a third of the business, grease trap pumping accounts for a third, and municipal and light industrial make up the other third. “The diversity has been a blessing,” says Meeks. “It keeps us busy because it doesn’t all slow down at one time.”

Meeks Environmental runs seven or eight crews with his nine pumper trucks, most of which are Keith Huber. They also have a Guzzler combination that they use for hydroexcavating and cleaning deep lift stations, peat moss systems, and other heavy materials. Their 5,000 gallon Pres-Vac is used for municipal sludge hauling or the larger 30,000 gallon septic tanks.

When Meeks Environmental is on the job, they use a push camera for video inspections. “We’ve had push cameras for a dozen years,” he says. “MyTana is our third brand and we’ve been very satisfied with it. They are simple cameras on the end of a flexible rod. Mine is color and a built-in locator, but is not self-leveling. If I’m in someone’s basement, I can push through the pipe to the street and then use the locator in the yard to pinpoint where the problem is. A residential job can typically be done in an hour where a commercial job can take 4-5 hours.”

When Meeks is cleaning grease traps he says the best thing you can do is to, “keep your mouth closed and practice shallow breathing.”

“Grease traps are a national problem in a lot of areas because the ability to treat it is such a hard thing for municipal plants,” says Meeks. “Most of what we pump, the county wastewater treatment plant will accept. Anything outside of that, we process ourselves through dewatering. We have a dewatering box where we stabilize it and add polymers that allows for separation. The water goes down the sewer and we take the dry grease to a landfill. We would love to find a market for it, but no one has come to give us a check.”

Meeks shares his experience with others by teaching a lot of the pumpers throughout the state. “I tell the guys that whatever business they are in, if they do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it and at a fair price, then they will stay busy,” says Meeks.

Sticking to that philosophy has worked well for Meeks—most of his business comes from repeat customers. He also runs his guys on what he calls a soft schedule to accommodate emergencies. “We drop everything when someone says that they have a back up or sewage on the ground,” says Meeks. “So we give our customers a 2-hour window. The soft scheduling allows us to respond to those emergencies while still meeting our scheduled customers’ needs. If we can’t make it during that window, then we call. I learned from my mom how frustrating it can be when a serviceman doesn’t show.”

Meeks also believes in doing what is right. “An elderly couple called us out because they were having problems and wanted their tank cleaned,” he recalls. “We soon discovered that they didn’t need their system pumped. It had been pumped recently. We fixed the problem and instead of a $200 bill, they had a $90 bill. They were so happy, they told everyone to call us.”

Meeks’ office staff, which is managed by his sister Mary Kay, cares about the customer’s problem and works to educate customers about their system. Meeks receives numerous compliments on the ladies in the front office and the guys on the job. Meeks’ employees make customers happy and Meeks keeps his employees happy.

He offers his 20 employees health care insurance, 401K matching, and vacation time. They also have workers’ compensation and an agreement with a local clinic to get workers there in case of a minor emergency. As a result, many of the people who work at Meeks Environmental have been there for decades.

To remind his customers that they are due for pumping, they use Ritam’s Summit software to keep up with their customers’ schedules and produce reminder cards. “Sometimes, we’ll mail out 30 cards in one month, other times, it’s 90, but we just do it for our repeat customers,” he says. “It only takes one or two jobs to pay for the mailout. We also have a profile on Angie’s List and have gotten business from there.”

Growing up in the family business has been a great experience for Meeks from meeting new people to getting to hold a baby gorilla at the Birmingham Zoo when they were there for a job to sharing his expertise with other pumpers. For those that have the pleasure to meet Meeks, his stories are fantastic.

Story by Jennifer taylor

For more information, visit:
Meeks Environmental Services LLC,
visit www.meeksonsite.com
Keith Huber, visit www.keithhuber.com
Guzzler, visit www.guzzler.com
MyTana, visit www.mytana.com
Pres-Vac, visit www.pres-vac.com
Ritam, visit www.ritam.com

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