Transforming Your Business and Industry Image, Right Now!

A & C Septic Services, LLC, has been building its upstate New Jersey family business since mid-2011. Cheri Errico runs the business office, does the creative marketing, including much of the branding design, processes receivables and payables, does all special event management, and handles much of A & C’s customer relations. We spent some time with this extraordinarily busy business owner recently, talking about typical industry topics, when it became clear that we were talking to an unique individual in the industry, in any industry—a legitimate change agent.
After 20 years with the Municipal Utilities Authority (where A & C currently dumps its septic), Jon Errico gave up his job. He and his wife Cheri then embarked on full-time management of their own business. Jon’s public works job had started his thought process toward the prospect of operating a septic services business in the area.

Inspiration — We Can Do That!
Cheri reflects on how it all started, “Jon had observed that a lot of trucks outside our area were traveling a pretty long distance to service customers’ locations near us. He realized that there must be a need, since they were coming from far away to provide service here. He was already well versed on the industry, and the whole process of waste management.
Jon had acquired a lot of knowledge in the industry and had developed a strong skill set over the years that applies well to septic business operations. Together with Cheri’s impressive range of business and administrative management skills, the move to independent business ownership in the industry certainly made sense for Jon and Cheri.

Service — We’re Doing It Best!
Cheri modestly accounts for what distinguishes A & C, “It’s just that old fashioned customer service. You get me when you call. There’s no answering machine—no push this button or push that number. And, that’s something we take a lot of pride in.” (A & C answers the business phone 24 hours per day.) “We do more for our customers than they can get elsewhere in our market. When there’s a need or a problem, we respond more quickly.”
Out on customers’ sites, she proudly reflects her husband’s quality ethic, “He leaves the tank and area in such pristine condition that customers can’t tell that the service has been performed. He takes his time with tarps—so no waste is left on anyone’s yard. No dirt from digging is ever left over. He takes a lot of pride, and he’s dependable. He’s not a 9 to 5 guy. He says his day is done when the work is done.”
In her relaxed and succinct manner, Cheri wraps up her thought on this point, “We just genuinely care about our customers’ satisfaction. And, we get a lot of feedback from customers who let us know that they notice that.”

Successfully Nurturing a Home-Based Septic Business
A & C is still a small business right now, though it has been moving forward. The company currently has 140 portable toilet units, constituting a division that Jon’s step-son now helps manage. They’ve also invested in their first luxury toilet trailer, and plan to add inventory of those units. Jon continues to do all the septic pumping. And, now A & C is looking to hire an employee to help with the septic. Cheri assess this as the business’s best year so far.

Wow! Something Actually Different!
Just take a look through the A & C Septic Services website photo gallery to see the fine touches Cheri Errico adds to the company’s portable restrooms for birthday parties and other special events. Cheri and Jon are working to remove the impression of a portable restroom as the kind of space that users have experienced in the past.
Cheri has proven that the exteriors can be presented more attractively, with little awnings, and the interiors can be made surprisingly light and charming. She adds little vases of fresh flowers and other quaint accents, to brighten up the spaces and add a surprise pop of color and interest. It’s such a refreshing change of image, exceeding all of customers’ expectations, and enhancing their events with such upgrades from the usual strictly necessary utility that people dreaded using.

Who Needs Branding?!
The special service model described in the section above has been serving A & C very well, in terms of a branding vehicle. Cheri notes that the company doesn’t spend much time on traditional physical branding approaches. They focus much more on social branding, and enhancing services, which cultivates positive word of mouth from satisfied customers. She explains, “Uniforms would be nice, and they’re less expense on the employees, but we have financial priorities in other areas at this point.” And, because the business is located on the family’s farm, they prefer not to have signage at the location, of course.
But, Cheri emphasizes, “We do maintain signage on the trucks; we feel strong about having the constant billboard effect of our advertisements on the trucks. We update those. And, I just updated the A & C logo. We want to keep it fresh, modifying it every few years or so, to keep the image looking new. I don’t want it to look too different, to keep it recognizable as ours.”

Sharing Common Industry Woes
But, “finding the right fit in hiring is not easy,” Cheri reports. Not a lot of people can handle the waste part. We’re very passionate about changing the old cliché about what we do.
And, as for the customers, many see it as a very rough job, but they want to pay peanuts. We set a rate for what we do, and we don’t really provide much wiggle room on it.”
Cheri also discussed a problem we rarely hear much about in the way of solutions, “We service Cape May, Stone Harbor, Avalon, Ocean City, and other areas along the southern New Jersey coast, where a lot of construction goes on, as well as inland throughout the Egg Harbor Township. Contractors need the units, but don’t want to pay for them and don’t require their workers to respect them. We’ve had a hard time building respect, but we’re getting there.”

Educating Customers — We’re Getting There!
And, this is where A & C are proving themselves to be legitimate industry change agents. It’s hard to state anything more concisely than Cheri does, so we just listened, “We have made progress in building respect for the units and the company, by reinforcing what we expect from the customers. We have a necessary motto: There’s no humorous aspect to “portable restrooms”. We’ve found that sharing it opens the way to helping customers understand the financial challenges for this kind of company.”
Jon and Cheri have learned that the simple adjustment in communicating about the units as portable restrooms can help in making a difference in the way the users of the units on customers’ sites perceive and treat them.
Cheri continues, and we eagerly digest her professional wisdom, “The trucks are hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s no joke what we have to do to provide the service. A lot of my friends on social networks are fighting for this respect, and we deserve it.
Kids want to tip the units. It’s been almost like the units have a stamp on them,” she jokes (proving that she, in fact, does keep a healthy sense of humor about herself and her business’s problems). But we’re getting it done. After a while, if you don’t require and demand respect, you’re not going to get it.” But, she points out that they have removed units in some cases, after numbers of conversations without results.
Cheri says that most, if not all of the contractors A & C works with now do understand the kind of relationship of mutual respect that the company needs to be able to maintain with customers in order to sustain its success in the market. One contractor even fired an employee for repeatedly defying instructions on the job site not to vandalize the portable toilets. “It’s been encouraging to see that we have more and more people backing us,” Cheri noted.
And, A & C provides its customers with the highest standards of service, “You’ll never see a unit of ours in disrepair. If they don’t meet our high standards for a job site, they’re brought back and replaced.”
So, this is how it’s done by portable restroom business owners in New Jersey who know how to change the game for service providers in the portable restroom industry in their area. We’re more than a little in awe.

Where To Go From Here
We really have little interest in adding services at this point. Our future goals are currently focused on expanding in the area of expanding in luxury toilets. We do offer grease trap cleaning, clearing lines, being so small, trying to keep up with we have.
We hope to hire one or two employees over next year, and get a new and larger truck. We did get a new toilet truck at the start of the year. However, we won’t take a big leap until we see a high demand, and that, for us, has been in the portable restroom business. That service has been in very high demand in our area, so it’s the natural direction for us to grow.

Advice for Fellow Businesses in the Industry
“Be fair to yourself — Get Paid!” Cheri adds the sage words we’ve heard from other seasoned business owners in the industry, “I’d suggest to people to maintain their own personal value. Time is precious to all of us. When you’re an entrepreneur and putting your life on hold to build your business, don’t devalue yourself. Set a rate that you can grow with.
And, she jokes, “The customer is always right—but not always.” And, finally, she offers, “Customers can put some high demands on you. It’s okay to say, “No.” She says it’s one of the things she and her husband have become more confident in. “Don’t undercut yourself. If you’re willing to do anything and everything customers want, that’s one thing. But, if you’re going to do it, charge for it.”
Business owners like Cheri and Jon Errico are true industry change agents. By educating customers, they’re transforming the very nature of the way their services are perceived and used in their market, and by extension, in other markets. They’re also giving users something truly fresh and new in the experience of using the portable restroom facility in the northeast. In that process, they’re affording the users a new level of expectation of what the industry can offer and, commensurately, a new level of respect for it.

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