Looking Back at 2020 and Forward to 2021

It’s fair to say that for many of us, 2020 has been a pretty bizarre and unnerving odyssey. Even for businesses deemed as essential services, many of their customers’ businesses have spent most of the year shut down, which has impacted their vendors’ revenues and forced a rapid modification of operations and budgets. Nevertheless, across the industry, we have received positive reports of strong retention and high optimism going into 2021. November offers a good vantage point for looking back at the costs and gains resulting from the events of this unusual year and for looking forward to what business leaders are anticipating in their markets going into 2021.
The global economy shut down for most of the year 2020. That’s just not something you typically read in an annual retrospective, but there it is. It certainly makes 2020 an exception to all the rules. According to the International Monetary Fund report, “The Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression”, the loss in global GDP through 2020-2021 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis could total around 9 trillion dollars.
The onset and rapid spread of the pandemic triggered the surreal urgent mass alteration of the way people work and live in the United States and around the world. Throughout the liquid waste industry as well as among manufacturers, suppliers, and other related businesses that support it, innovations in processes for quick adaptation to the new health and safety and logistical needs of employees and customers have characterized the response to the entrepreneurial challenges of 2020.
Fortunately, the adjustments in operational health and safety protocols appear to be the extent of the impact on many businesses in the industry. This is all while many business owners throughout the larger business sector served by septic services and portable toilet providers strive to maintain profitability.

What Happened in 2020?

Portable restroom rental services operators have been impacted to varying degrees both economically and operationally by the threat of COVID-19 infection among employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. The economic relief funding through the CARES program launched by the federal legislature did not reach many of the small- and medium-sized businesses, though it is unclear how much impact that outcome of the program has had on operators throughout the country.
The good news is that many businesses, including septic equipment manufacturers and portable restroom rental services operators, report that they’ve been experiencing normal production and sales rates. While business owners in other service industries were forced to make extreme financial and operational adaptations in every facet of management, companies throughout the liquid waste management services industry have reported continuously robust operations through the 2020 health and economic crisis.
For some service sectors, financial recovery has not yet begun or is just starting, as the country has given way to economic and social pressures to discontinue the quarantine imposed in earlier months this year, officially in some states and unofficially in others. Meanwhile, the need for services in the liquid waste management sector has largely remained unchanged, by many accounts.
Preparing for 2021 now includes staffing cuts for many businesses. Alternatively, others have reported a need for hiring and running into special hiring difficulties, due to the increased unemployment benefits displaced workers have been receiving over recent months. Reductions in operating hours and other changes in services and modifications of short- to medium-range strategic plans have become necessary for some.
Industry experts discuss how their businesses and employees been doing since the onset of the virus early this year, how the pandemic has affected their operations and growth rates, and what kinds of changes, if any have they have made to their strategic plans for 2021 and beyond, as a result. They’ve also offered their impressions of the state of the industry at this time and their outlooks for it over the coming year and beyond. Entrepreneurs in the industry also share their experience of 2020 and their projections for the coming year and concerns going into the first quarter and on through 2021.

Kyle Haase, General Sales Manager, Imperial Industries
Imperial makes trucks for septic and portable restroom contractors. Kyle Haase shares his company’s experience of the 2020 business cycle:

We have had a pretty good year so far, as far as keeping employees working in-house. We’ve been doing pretty well at keeping everyone safe with masks and having the stations for washing your hands available. We’ve been doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and maintain normal daily operations and production levels.
As far as keeping everyone segregated, in manufacturing that can be hard, but we’ve been doing the best we can. We’re working with employees as best we can to let them work at home if necessary and on getting their kids and staying home and making sure to keep everyone else safe at home.
Overall, it’s going to be a great year for us. When we lose some people unexpectedly, we look at our production and have to adjust when we get a couple of people out with COVID, but it’s been a good year so far, and we’ve been keeping production where we need it.
The main thing I see in terms of how we’ve had to make changes, we normally get a lot of one-on-one time with our customers at shows, and we normally do a lot of tours of our facilities. Our mentality is now changing about how to reach out to customers.
We’re doing a lot more marketing since they can’t come to the production facilities. We’ve been really gearing up on the marketing side, through videos to show people as much of the truck and interior to the public as possible, without them having to be actually in front of the trucks.
It’s not that the business isn’t there. It’s just that a different way of having the experience of the truck and tank side is necessary now. I think it’s going to be a great year, the industry we’re in is full of great people who are optimistic. The industry is always growing, and customers are always needing more equipment.

Danny Schaver, Marketing Director, PolyJohn
PolyJohn is one of the industry’s premier portable restroom manufacturers. The organization’s Marketing Director, Danny Schaver discusses the mixed positive and negative impacts of the 2020 pandemic on PolyJohn:

It has affected us in good and bad ways. We’ve been able to keep really busy because of the demand for our products. The hand sanitizer stations, chemical line, and soap dispensers have really taken off. Those have normally been our auxiliary product lines, but this year has put such a demand on our products that it’s been difficult to keep up.
We haven’t been as detrimentally affected as some businesses have been. From the manufacturing side of the industry the products we produce, such as the sinks, require a larger amount of tools and labor. Due to the labor and parts that go into it, we’ve had to focus on labor and hiring, which I think is a challenge everybody in the industry always deals with.
I think we’ve realized what our areas to improve are more than ever. It just further increases our potential, knowing even more clearly what we need to do to compete better with our products and services in the future.
Mostly being able to streamline a lot of our processes to make manufacturing quicker — things like making work stations easier to work with, getting more molds, up-keeping molds better, upgrading machines, improving hiring processes and practices to get more people all help increase our capabilities for manufacturing. We’re the best at what we do. We control everything in house, so our quality is pretty good. But, now we know what we have to do to improve.
I think one of the biggest positive things that’s happened has come from our customers in the industry. We manufacture the products our customers use to make their living with. I think our customers are realizing more and more that their services are one of the utmost essentials to everyone. They’re realizing they’re essential, and that their services and pricing need to reflect that.
They’re coming to see their businesses as not just this secondary thing that they should negotiate the price down on. They’re learning that they need to get more for it, instead of people skimming off the price for portable sanitation because portable sanitation is what is going to make everyone else’s businesses run.

Harris Septic Plumbing & Haulage, Marmora, ON, Canada
Harris is a small family-owned septic service, portable restroom rental, and metal storage container rental business located on the north side of Lake Ontario, Vermont in Ontario Canada is Harris Septic Pumping and Haulage, owned by Ray and Terri Harris.

Harris has been operating in the lake area since 1975, serving Marmora, Peterborough, and surrounding communities. The three-person team consists of the owners and their daughter. The Harris company reports that they have had to “take special measures” to help ensure health and safety for their customers and themselves when performing their work.
Like so many companies in North America and around the world, the Harris group has been managing their service contracts by phone and email, and performing equipment deliveries, and completing servicing work while maintaining a distance from their customers.
Fortunately, however, the Harrises reported just this month (October 2020) that to this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, the new health and safety concerns and precautions have not slowed their normal flow of business or service operations at all.
The company understands its role as an essential services provider, though it may not have been officially labeled as such by local Canadian authorities. The business owners have continued experiencing strong demand in the area for their products and services, throughout 2020, and the company appears to be heading into 2021 largely unaffected in terms of revenues and market position.

The Look Back at 2020 and Forward to 2021

As we do every year, American Liquid Waste magazine has interviewed numerous owners of septic and portable restroom rental services businesses and septic services companies in 2020 and spoken with many suppliers and other industry participants. Responses have varied on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.
The above examples of reports regarding business performance and operational adaptations during 2020, since the onset of the pandemic and the economic shutdown represent the general impression obtained from speaking with so many business leaders whose companies continue to do well financially, and who have managed well in implementing the necessary protocols to manage health and safety in their workplaces and on customers’ sites.
As the pandemic is currently reaching new peaks in many areas and the winter going into 2021 remains an unknown, in terms of what can be expected in the continued spread of the virus, the liquid waste management industry as a whole is necessarily positioning for an uncertain future going into 2021.
On the upside, even in the aftermath of the 2020 economic shutdown and global health crisis, this industry has, by virtually all accounts, fared exceptionally well. As septic and portable restroom and sanitation station services are clearly recognizable as essential, the industry is one particularly suited to respond to B2C and B2B needs in the particular kind of crisis presented by the pandemic. The nature of the services the industry provides places it in an overall very strong position to project continued growth in 2021.
One point that does stand out as abundantly clear going into 2021 is the consensus that there is a need for greater agility in operational adaptation across the industry. Business owners should look to implementing agile policies and practices and training, to allow company owners and their teams to function routinely in a state of preparedness for rapid market changes or other unexpected events of any kind that can impact the long-term health of their business.

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