Spotlight on Thomas H. Erb & Sons, Inc. in Lititz, PA

Thomas H. Erb & Sons, Inc., located in Lititz Pennsylvania, started out as Erb’s Septic Services when Thomas Erb returned home from serving in the Korean War. The company is now being run by Thomas’ son, Ray T. Erb as president, and grandson, Thomas R. Erb as vice president. For this month’s Spotlight, we spoke with Ray Erb to get his story of how he joined the family business and what they’re doing now.

Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you got into the septic business? Say a few words about your education and training.
In high school, I studied Ornamental Horticulture after which I worked at a landscape nursery for a year. My father, Thomas H. Erb, had already begun Erb’s Septic Services at the time when I made the choice to work in the family business rather than pursue a different track. In 1973, at the age of 19, I joined my father’s company where I discovered that my background in horticulture and landscaping would be a huge benefit as we became active in performing septic inspections.
Tell us about the history of the company—when it started, who worked there? What changes or modifications have you made since you took over?
After returning from serving in the Korean War, my father, Thomas H. Erb, worked for several excavating firms. In 1970, a neighbor who was going out of the business of pumping septic tanks offered my father his list of customers. At the same time, my father’s cousin sold him his International tank truck and my father was in business. Along with my grandfather, they pumped septic tanks. They dug to expose septic tanks five feet or more with a pick and shovel as their only tools. In 1972, my dad invested in a backhoe which made the work much easier. In 1977, the company was incorporated and he changed the name to Thomas H. Erb & Sons, Inc. My father retired in 2000, and my son, Thomas R. Erb has since become my partner. Since then, we have expanded our range of services and increased our volume of pumping.

What is your business model? What plans or configurations did you envision as you worked on your business structure in terms of services and equipment and employee base? What market research have you done to assist in making decisions on your business model regarding the types of trucks and equipment in which you decide to invest?
Once I became president, I committed to following my father’s business model which was, and always will be, to serve our customers with quality work and, additionally, to provide a positive work environment to our employees. Since both my son and I grew up in this industry, we have been able to add trucks and equipment as we foresee the need which has saved us from not being prepared to follow the natural course of expansion and good business decisions. Our greatest market research tool is actually the interactions we have with colleagues in our trade organizations and the information we receive from government agencies.

What are the different services you offer, and what is the breakdown in percentages for your company’s productivity?
First and foremost, we pump septic tanks. This provides our steady work and income because all tanks need to be cleaned sooner or later. This provides about 60% of our work.
We also provide inspections of septic systems for real estate transactions. We repair and install all components of septic systems and we maintain, repair and install all types of sewage pumps. These services make up the other 40% of the services we offer.

What are some of the distinguishing features and services of your company that are unique to you which allow you to corner the market for your customer base? How did you arrive at creating this image or identity for your company, and how does this make your company stand out from your competition?
Thomas H. Erb & Sons, Inc. is known among real estate agents as providing the most complete and knowledgeable reports of septic system inspections. I (Ray) am an accredited Sewage Enforcement Officer so I know and work within township ordinances. Our company works on unique wastewater treatment systems that other companies are not equipped to do. We install innovative systems, such as drip irrigation and sand filter systems. We ultimately strive for quality services.

What is your target growth percentage, and what are your challenges along the way?
We, as a family, have made it our goal to remain a small business. We feel remaining small enables us to keep tight control over the quality of our service. Our greatest challenge is in keeping the small business identity as the demand for service increases.

Who works at the company, and how many people are employed? How is your managerial and employee structure organized and implemented?
Ray Erb, the president, is the administrator. He writes the reports, the designs and the estimates. Thomas R. Erb, the vice president, supervises and works in the field. All of the men (ranging from three to five) pump tanks, work on the sewage pumps, perform inspections, and aid in installations. Because we are a small company, our field workers are flexible and can perform all the tasks… and often do. Our office staff consists of a scheduler/dispatcher who keeps everything running smoothly, three full-time and two part-time workers.

How do you boost efficiency in your jobs and your workers and, similarly, boost morale amongst your employees? What do you expect of them and who trains them?
Every morning, we meet together for coffee and discuss the day’s schedule and anything else we need to address. Both Ray and Tom take part in training the men and most of our workers have been with us 10 years or more. Our efforts in boosting morale often come in the form of simply meeting together often, supporting one another, having picnics, and surprise lunches.

Tell us about the different trucks and other equipment we would see if we looked in your parking lot.
We have 3 Peterbilt pump trucks, a backhoe, a hydraulic excavator, a trackhoe and a mini-trackhoe, a tractor-trailer, a dump truck, three utility vans and pickup trucks in our shop or our parking lot.

We are interested in your client base. How many clients would you say you serviced or pumped annually? Who are some of our bigger and important clients?
We service about 2,000 clients every year. We also service some larger companies and campgrounds on a regular basis, however our most valued clients are the homeowners.

What are the most challenging aspects of your business and industry? What hurdles do you confront and how do you handle them?
The most challenging aspect of our business is finding people to do the physical work required in the field. We have been using the internet for recruiting workers. In handling emergencies, we send someone to take care of the immediate need as soon as possible – usually that same day. If further follow-up is necessary we take care of it as soon as it can be scheduled.

Business Name: Thomas H. Erb & Sons, Inc.
Address: 268 Sego Sago Road Lititz, Pennsylvania 17543
Phone #: 717-626-5591

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