Texas portable restroom company expands to offer more for oil, gas industry.
Rookie contractors who provide support services in the gas and oilfields learn one lesson really fast: The industry moves at lightning speed, and if you can’t keep pace other contractors are ready to sprint over to take your place.
Anyone who thinks that’s an exaggeration can talk to Kenneth Schumacher, the owner of Energy Waste Rentals & Service, headquartered in Yoakum, Texas. Starting from scratch, he has built a successful portable restroom operation that mostly caters to drilling companies. And it all started because he filled a vacuum left by another contractor who provided poor customer service.
Schumacher entered the field about 30 years ago when a friend who owned an oilfield drilling company expressed dissatisfaction with a trash-trailer company he’d hired to collect garbage at drilling sites. Schumacher responded by starting his own trash-trailer venture in 1986, and that eventually led him to establish Energy Waste.
“My friend wasn’t getting trailers when he needed them,” Schumacher recalls of his entry into refuse collection and portable restrooms. “Sometimes it took two or three days to get new [empty] trailers. And once those trailers were full there was no place to put trash … so between the raccoons and the wind, it was creating big messes. So I asked him if he’d rent some trash trailers from me if I built some and he said yes.”
A couple months later the same associate asked Schumacher if he’d be willing to provide portable restrooms, too. Schumacher complied by buying 28 restrooms and a small slide-in tank unit to service them.
Energy Waste Rentals has grown considerably since then. It now employs 70 people and owns nearly 2,000 restrooms and other equipment. It deploys 18 vacuum trucks and eight slide-in units and operates branch yards in Cuero and Cotulla in south Texas; Mertzon, Monahans and Pecos in west Texas; and New Castle, Pa.
SERVICE IS EVERYTHING
Schumacher graduated from college with an agricultural education degree and taught vocational agriculture as a high school teacher for eight years before he and his wife, Jacque, purchased her family’s office supply business, Dewitt Poth & Son in Yoakum, in 1996 (they still own the store). He had also worked many summers for his late father, Marvin, who was a heavy-equipment contractor.
But no matter what business he’s in, Schumacher follows a simple formula for success: listen to what customers want and deliver the goods.
“Even though we’ve gotten fairly large, we started with nothing – and I mean nothing,” he says. “Like any business, whether it’s in construction or business supplies, if you want to grow, it all comes down to customer service. Some people talk the game and some people actually play the game.
“If you’re supposed to have a cleaning truck out to a drilling site twice a week, it needs to be there,” he continues. “The oilfield industry is very demanding. If we get a call at 6 a.m. and someone needs a restroom by 7 a.m., we’ve got to get it going … there’s usually not a lot of notice or advance warning.
“In the end it’s all about listening to customers and providing what they need and doing what you promised you would do,” he adds. “And you need to do the little things, like being on time and cleaning the outside of the restrooms as well as the inside. It’s the little things that differentiate you from everybody else.”
FLEET AND INVENTORY
Nine vacuum trucks built by Satellite Industries Inc. on Hino chassis form the core of Energy Waste’s fleet. Four of the trucks feature steel tanks (1,100 gallons wastewater/500 gallons freshwater) and the others carry aluminum tanks (1,500 gallons waste/500 gallons freshwater). All are equipped with Masport Inc. pumps and pressure washers. Schumacher says he buys steel tanks for trucks that travel more frequently on rough roads.
Schumacher says that when it comes to tank size, he prefers to strike a balance between having enough capacity to minimize disposal runs, but not so big that they require his drivers to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
“I prefer not to run big rigs down the road,” he notes. “Our pump trucks are just the right size … they can dump in the morning and clean all day, then be ready to go the next morning. In addition, bigger trucks are harder to get around on fracking sites where there’s not a lot of room to maneuver.”
Energy Waste also runs five Ford F-550s and four Dodge 5500 trucks equipped with 700-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater stainless steel tanks built by Satellite with Conde pumps from Westmoor Ltd. To conserve truck-bed space, tanks on these trucks are mounted cross wise, parallel to the cab. With this configuration and a raised liftgate, the truck can transport four restrooms and still tow a trash trailer. Moreover, all nine trucks feature four-wheel drive and dually rear axles to better handle muddy conditions. “We operate in as tough an environment as you can imagine,” Schumacher points out.
In addition, Energy Waste also runs eight slide-in units mounted on Ford F-350 dually pickups. Made by Satellite, the 350-gallon waste/200-gallon freshwater tanks are made of stainless steel; the trucks rely on Masport pumps.
Rounding out the equipment inventory are three nine-stall and eight two-stall restroom trailers from Satellite and Rich Specialty Trailers; about 125 Satellite Breeze hand-wash stations; more than 200 trash trailers made by the local Griffin Enterprises; and eight flatbed trailers built by McKee Technologies Inc. (used for hauling up to 10 restrooms per trailer).
The company also owns about 1,800 restrooms, mostly made by Satellite and some by PolyJohn Enterprises and PolyPortables LLC. Schumacher says he prefers to buy one brand of restrooms (usually Satellite Maxims) whenever possible because it’s easier to stock repair parts; they all load and balance the same and fit on the same sized skids; and customers know exactly what they’re going to receive. All restrooms feature hand sanitizers.
EFFICIENT ROUTING COUNTS
Because drilling sites are so remote, it helps to own trucks that can do more than one job, Schumacher points out.
“We try to minimize travel time and the number of trips for deliveries and pickups,” he says, noting that most oilfield restrooms require cleaning either twice a week, every other day or every day. “A lot of times the frack moves from point A to point B and we have to go out there and move the same restroom just 2 miles down the road. So if we pick up a restroom [with a slide-in unit] we can suck it out and then haul it empty. Whenever possible, I like to bring the restrooms back to the yard to fully sanitize them, but sometimes we only have time to move them from one site to the other.’’
Energy Waste relies on GPS units to boost driver safety and increase efficiency. The company also uses TrakQuip software, made by Corporate Services LLC, to better track oilfield equipment rentals – another offshoot business for Energy Waste.
“At some point our customers asked us to supply light towers [for rent],” Schumacher explains. “From there we eased into rentals over time. We decided to become a full-fledged rental company about six years ago … when the fracking boom hit the Eagle Ford Shale, we found our customers preferred to use just one vendor to bring in the whole package.”
Schumacher says he wouldn’t have considered starting a rental business without long-standing customer relationships. “Our customers basically told us they’d use us if we had the equipment to rent … and that stemmed directly from relationships we’ve built over the years. I trust them as much as they trust me,’’ he says. “We’ve all been good for each other.”
But that doesn’t mean it was easy getting up and running. “We struggled over the years,” he says. “We had to learn the logistics of the business and deal with all the financial aspects of buying and financing equipment. It’s not all roses all the time.”
But things got easier as Energy Waste established itself. As Schumacher puts it, “It takes a while for people to see that your word is good and you’ll do what you say you’ll do – and do it for a fair price.” And the fracking boom over the last six years or so not only significantly boosted the company’s revenues but also increased route densities, which produced efficiencies that, in turn, improved operating margins.
“Our business increased a lot just because of the sheer volume of activity going on during the last five or six years,” Schumacher says. “It changed the complexion of our business and of all the little towns around here.”
Does Schumacher see more growth ahead? Definitely.
“Someone once told me that you’re either moving forward or backward, or up or down,” he says. “I’d rather be going forward than backward, or moving up than down. So far it’s been a fun ride. And as our customers continue to grow we hope to grow right along with them.”