A Advanced Septic and Construction Services

For this month’s spotlight we spoke with Joshua Guina who together with his father Andrew own and operate A Advanced Septic and Construction Services out of Washington State.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Can you say a few words about your education and training? How did you into the business? Why did you get into the septic tank and other related businesses and services? What did you do before you started your own business? How does what you did before you started your own business inform and influence your current business in the liquid waste industry?
Andrew grew up a pastor’s son and around 18 found himself on the end of a shovel learning the dirt working industry. He grew up in an era that many of us refer to the hard knocks way of learning. It was a time where in the construction world it seemed like the only way you got a lesson was from your Forman yelling and screaming at you. I find it important to note that because as he grew up in our industry he spent 18 years working for the largest company in our area doing construction, drain field work, and waste hauling. What Dad has always made clear is that we get to learn from all our experience that we encounter both good and bad. It’s in those lessons that we have built this incredibly blessed and thriving company. It’s in those lessons where he decided that we were going to have a company that our employees could “work to live not live to work”. We have a culture in our company where yelling is not an acceptable way of communicating. Dads’ education came from on the job training over the last 32 years in this industry.
He has been committed to constant personal growth through other avenues of training such as the WWETT conferences, training classes provided by our local health departments, and has traveled all over to find other areas of training. We also belong to Washington onsite sewage association where we not only participate in the classes as a company but Andrew is an active teacher in all areas of our industry.

Q. Tell us about the history of the company.
A Advanced Septic and Construction was started out of a garage in 2006 by Andrew Gunia, Joshua Gunia and my wife Michelle Gunia. Michelle was central in starting A Advanced because without her our company would not be what and where it is today. Michelle went to collage to become a contract specialist, and then got her Master’s Degree, all of which she used later on to become a prized asset to another company. Michelle put into place many of the systems upon which our company still operates. It was Michelle that helped name our company. In addition to all of her fundamental hard work in multiple companies. As far as my back ground goes I knew from the time I was a boy that I was going to be in this industry and I knew that I was going to be an owner of a company in the waste hauling industry and that I would be a leader in our industry. I like, my father, got my education from being in the trenches. I started sweeping the shop around 13 and never missed an opportunity to go to a job site or be present next to my father any time there was an industry meeting or a teaching opportunity. I started working for my father full time when I was 16 years old and never stopped since. In 06 I had the opportunity to become a partner in our company. One thing I will note in my education is that I had many leaders in our industry that have been there for me as mentors and have taken the time with me along the way to keep me grounded and have been there to mentor me and in all that I have gotten my education in a way that I may have never gotten in a traditional schooling. From the start our company has been focused primary around the onsite industry. We specialize in drain field restoration first and our company then branched out from there. We started with a few great loyal employees, got our first pump truck (silver bullet) and our first mini excavator. From there we never stopped. Our vision has always been to provide fantastic customer service at a fair price.
We have a few values that we live by in our company and it makes up the culture of our company 1) Be safe 2) do quality work 3) be happy. What we figured out was by living by those values and breeding a culture with our employees that live by those values we found that is has led to exceptional customer service. When you follow those 3 values then the profit will follow. This is our mission statement.

Q. What is your business model? How have you structured your business? What plans, models, or organizations, configurations, did you envision when you thought about how you wanted to set up your business structure?
We knew early on that our company would be a company where our employees were going to be jewels not tools. We are a family owned and operated company so we have relationships with our employees and their families. We knew in our ten year goals when we started that we wanted to be around 30 or so employees that had backgrounds and specialized in different areas of the industry. We just celebrated our ten year anniversary and have achieved those goals and many more. We envisioned a cutting edge company that would be using the best of equipment available and that attention to the customer details was going to be of the upmost importance. We knew at the time that things like GPS on all of our trucks, camera equipment for our truck’s, being well connected with our local health departments and organizations were all going to be part of long term success. In terms of business structure as it relates to services, we knew that we were going to be a emergency response type company. We put together a team that understands that when a home owner or a commercial account is out of service with a alarm sounding or a backup happening that we will and do whatever it takes to get them in service as quickly as possible. We knew in our long term goals as a company that we were going to be a full services company that could be one stop shopping for plumbing septic and construction needs to both residential and commercial accounts. We knew that to have several small excavators ranging from 4klbs to 20klbs would be needed. We bought things like pump trucks, dump trucks, dozers, loaders, street sweepers, jetting equipment, and all the tools in-between.

Q. Tell us about all of the different services that you offer. Which division is the most successful? Why do you think that is the case?
Our company took time to become full service. We now operate with many divisions in our company. Services that we provide to list a few are pumping and servicing septic systems both in residential and commercial, we are a full service septic company first so with that we risers septic systems, jett drain fields, install outlet baffle filters, repair broken septic tanks, we trouble shoot failed septic systems and alarms, we specialize in taking a 20 plus year old failed septic system and typically in one day can repair it meeting health department guide lines and give the systems another 20 years of usage without destroying their yard and can often complete a repair in one day using terralift technology and other tools of the trade. We are a bio-microbics dealer in multiple counties and offer a full range of services from trouble shooting to installation to distribution of the product to other competitors. We have a division that is dedicated to operation and maintenance of existing septic systems. We pump both commercial and residential systems for county and municipalities. We do asphalt repairs, tree removal, block wall install, water line replacement and locate of leaks, we do site development and utility installation, and a lot of other services.
The septic installation and drain field rehab division of the company is by far the most profitable part of the company specifically the rehab work has the best margins. 60 percent of the work done in our company comes from our septic related work and that’s where we focus 90% of our advertising and is the foundation that our company was built on. The construction part of our company makes up the other 40% left over and its very intentional in how we are structured it has the least amount of margins but is a necessary evil in our long term success and we separate ourselves from our competitors. We are very satisfied in the ratio and look to maintain it.

Q. What are some of the distinguishing features and services of your company that are unique and that no other local company has, so that you can deliver the greatest value to customers at a price-point cost comparable to, or lower than, your competition?
We have one main thing that separates us from everyone else. That is our drain field restoration. Most companies in our area will not repair existing failed systems. Many don’t even want to trouble shoot them to find out why they failed and if there is a simple fix. Others have chosen simply not to invest into the equipment and education that is necessary to fix these systems. We invest heavily into our employees and their education and give them the best equipment possible to perform the task and in return there happy which then results in great customer service. That in its self allows for us to be extremely competitive still allowing us to give back to those in need such as elderly widow and the single moms of the world. So from start to finish we can take a call in the morning have it dispatched to one of our 4 pump trucks and have the system pumped and trouble shot by the afternoon and in most cases have a crew performing the repair work within a few days of the initial call, the entire time leaving the customer in service and allowing them to live there lives to the fullest at the same time often saving them 15 to 20 thousand dollars in replacement of their drain fields.

Q: How do you identify and respond to existing/new market segments that provide the best opportunities for growth and why? Tell us about the company’s growth model. What growth potential do you see for your business; for each division of your company?
We identify new markets by providing a safe place for our staff friends and family to give us new ideas. It seems simple but we learned that not all business give their staff safe places to throw out new ideas. Some of greatest moments have come from ideas that dad and myself did not come up with. We put these ideas into a think tank kind of , we bounce these ideas off of others in our company others in our industry and other trusted business owners and operators. We try to find holes in the ideas and then as a team find ways to make them work. We found a company called Valor marketing that has been incredibly helpful along the way as it relates to our marketing and new ideas to connect with our customers. Those are all part of how we have been able to maintain controlled growth at 28% growth year after year since the beginning. In order to have maintained this kind growth over the last ten years we had to put together a team that had our same core values, the team had to care about our customer, we often question ourselves when making a decision on behalf of our customer and the question is if this was our grandmother is this what we would be doing for her. When you can answer that question with yes then it’s easy to feel comfortable with the decisions we make. It applies because we use that as a reminder that we would rather make a little from every customer that we do business with and make a little over a life time then a lot in a onetime event. It’s proven it’s self over and over again. We are able to continue to reduce our advertising because our word of mouth referrals continue to grow. It’s the best kind of advertising there is, it’s what allows us to grow at such a rapid rate. When we started in 06 it was right before the recession hit. We watched companies all around us lose everything they had spent life time’s working for. It was a time that we had to make some tough choices. The choices that we made were to believe and trust in our heavenly father and to be good stewards of what we were given. Obviously we had to do our part, so we got busy figuring out how we were going to survive and thrive through this time. The answer came through diversification it was that that allowed us to grow when others around us died. I can’t remember if the saying came from one of my dad’s many catch phrase but it is something that we have lived by and that is “if you are not growing you are dying”. We have seasons to every one of our divisions, sometimes its winter for the construction side other times it’s the end of summer and who wants to spend their vacation and kids school money on fixing or maintaining their septic system. Not many. So as we study our trends we have found ways to fill those predictable times. In some cases it may be we load up that time with maintenance pumping and work maybe we stall a construction job that works for our customer and will be a perfect build thought the winter. We have learned to be flexible and to plan for the rough times of the year. Those are the things that contribute to that kind of growth.

Q: Tell us about who works for the company? How many employees? How is your managerial and employee structure organized and implemented?
We have around 30 employees. Jackie is our office manager and runs the company in our absence. Jackie is the back bone of the company. So in the end Jackie looks after the entire company. We have Lamarr who is in charge of dispatch as his primary job. Lamarr had been in the industry for over 20 years. Leanne is a CSR and is also very good at what she does. Between the three of them they answer all the calls and take care of the day to day actions. Bob Howard is our lead estimator and is our sale manager followed by Scott who is our project estimator and then Eric who is in charge of our commercial accounts. Tyson Wood is our superintendent who makes the impossible possible each and every day. Jeremiah Gunia is a part owner now in the company and is our field supervisor in our septic division and also operates our bio-microbics sales and maintenance division. Tom Armijo is an equipment operator. Jerry is a pump truck driver, Andrew Bailey is a dump truck driver. Taylor Beaulieu is the Forman on the drain field rehab crew. Aaron is the labor on the rehab crew. Tom Beaulieu is in charge of our Handy man services. Joe is a dump truck driver and moves our heavy equipment as well as in charge of our fleet maintenance, Damon is a pump truck driver, Jason is a operator in our construction division, Matt June is a pipe layer , Ian is a pipe layer/ operators, Camron is a laborer in the septic division as well as keeps us looking classy by maintain the fleet washing. Justin is pump truck driver / dump truck driver, Robert is a operating Forman for both divisions, Matt V is a pump truck driver and specializes in our commercial step pumping. Bill W is our facilities manager and Gus works in the shop and finally Dean Bogart is what keeps us running every day. Dean is the shop Forman and does all our mechanical work, fabrication work and everything in between. I hope I didn’t leave any one out. One of the things we have created in our business model is that everyone has their area of expertise and allows us to be great in lots of different areas.

Q: How do you boost efficiency in your jobs and your workers? How do you boost morale in your workers? What do you expect of them? Who trains them? Tell us about the training process for the different roles and responsibilities your employees have working for the company. What particular employee challenges do you face?
Efficiency and moral seem to go hand and hand with our company. Early I mentioned that our employees are jewels not tools and with that we pride ourselves in taking care of our employees. Our employees get paid top wages in their fields, they have medical, dental, vision, secondary insurance such as Aflac are also available to them at a highly negotiated rate for them. We match up to 3% in a simple Ira for those after a year of employment. We also invest heavily in to good quality equipment so that they rarely have equipment break downs. Our staff gets privileges such as using our equipment to work at their own homes and there family houses. Our biggest struggle with employees is hiring qualified employees. It’s brutal trying to find good drivers, operators, laborers. So we lean heavily on the benefits of working for a family owned and operated business as well as in some cases sign on bonus

Q. Tell us about your fleet of vehicles.
We currently operate four pump trucks and are looking for our fifth one with a tanker. Our first truck was purchased in 06 from FMI in Portland Oregon. Dad had this truck custom built. Ten years later and it’s still our show truck. It’s a 2000 Freight liner century class. It has a 3600 gallon aluminum Beall tank on it. Our next truck was purchased in 2011 and is a 2003 freight liner century class. It has an Erickson 3600 gallon steel barrel. Next one was purchased in 2013 and is a 1999 Sterling with a Erickson 3000 Gallon steel tank. Lastly we purchased a 2011 Peterbilt 365 with a steel 4750 gallon tank on it. We use Varco hoses on all our trucks ranging from 2inch to 6inch and we carry around 160 ft of 3inch hose on every truck. All of our pump trucks run with Masport pumps. With every truck we have added fresh on-board water after purchase. They all have 3200 psi on board jetters. We also have crust busters on all but one of our trucks.
We have grown into a large fleet of trucks, with lots of equipment, and tools. We run primarily dodge trucks for our sales rigs. For small service trucks we have 8 Dodges that range from half ton to one ton and are a mix of diesel and gas. We have 2 fully enclosed vans that are set up to perform our operation and maintenance part of our septic business. We have 4 fully enclosed 24ft long box trucks that are diesel and operate on Freightliner M2 chassis. These semis are used in the construction field and we learned early on that our equipment lasts longer. There are 3 dump trucks, Internationals and Freightliners ranging from one that is a 5 yard to two of them that are 12 yard dumps. There are some 10 or more trailers ranging from 8ft long to 30ft long trailer; some fully enclosed and others that have the ability to carry 50klbs. We have a few Fords, a 5500 mechanics truck and a 3500 Forman truck. We have street sweepers pull behind air compressors to power wheel barrows, pull behind dewatering pumps. In all we have around 32 trucks and trailers which equates to over 140 tires on the ground at any given time.

Q: We are interested in your client base. How many clients would you say you serviced or pumped monthly? Yearly? What kind of business action does each division do monthly? Yearly?
We have a great group of customers and it continues to grow. We see roughly around 3500 customers a year and haul/ pump around 2 and a half million gallons a year. Dad always said never keep all your eggs in one basket so we used that thought process to be diversified in all of our divisions so we have many ongoing contracts with both residential and commercial accounts. Some of our residential contracts are simple year to year contracts where we inspect and maintain their system. We probably have over 400 of them yearly. Our commercial contracts are with the parks departments, local counties with step systems again both in commercial and residential. One day we may be pumping 20 , 2-compartment 1000 gallon septic tanks spread out through a development and the work can be done with one pump truck, the next day we could be pumping a commercial system that is 30000 gallons and needs 4 trucks at one time pumping all the same time. It can be quite the dispatching headache.

Q: What about your revenue stream? What was it when you started? What is it now? What kind of business growth does your company experience? What about each division? How did you reach the high points of business growth and development? What about the low points? What did you do about it?
It’s taken about everything that we have made to take our company from 3 of us 10 years ago with nothing to where we are today. Our first 9 months in business we figured out how to pull off 640k and at the end of last year we managed to run about 5.7 million through the books. We measure in big windows most of the year but we have always tracked what it takes per day to keep the doors open.

Q: How much liquid and/or solid waste do you collect and dispose of? Where do you dispose it? How does the whole disposal process work in your particular municipality or state?
Our septic hauling division handles over 2.5 million gallons a year and even that may be light because some of our large commercial accounts we get paid by the gallon to haul away but the customer pays for the disposal and so it’s not tracked through our system. Our sewage goes to several locations throughout the counties we operate in. Most of our sewage gets pumped from the individual sites and then hauled to one of our two offices where we have 21000 gallon holding tanks from there we have a company that hauls for us as much as 7 or more loads a week from us and then treats it and land applies it on tree farms. We have 3 more municipal dump locations that range in price for disposal and range from 20 to 40 miles away.

You can find out more information on A Advanced Septic by visiting their website at: http://www.aadvancedservices.com

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