A job-hunting trip last spring with his brother up to the North Dakota oil patch turned into something very different for 18-year-old Evan Jensen – a business venture.
Jensen was still in high school, just finishing his senior year back in his hometown of Lake Preston, S.D. His older brother, Justin, was hoping to find a job as a semi driver somewhere around Williston or Stanley in northwestern North Dakota. In their search, the two had driven there in the family pickup with their father, Lynn Jensen, one weekend in April.
They hadn’t bothered to book a motel, sleeping in the truck instead. But when morning rolled around, they longed for showers. The line was too long at the only nearby truck stop equipped with showers. So they went about their day and returned at 1 in the morning.
“They were open at the time, and they were disgusting,” Evan Jensen says. “We showered up, and that’s when the idea hit.” What if they could set up portable showers somewhere in the vicinity?
“We’d get everybody and their brother. We’d charge the same price as other truck stops, offer more time and we’d clean up after every use.”
Back home in Lake Preston a week later, Jensen found the idea wouldn’t let go. So he took $15,000 and used it as a down payment on a loan to buy a used semi-trailer and outfit it as a rolling shower house. Jensen had saved the money from selling muskrat pelts he trapped, at $10 a pelt; China does a brisk trade in buying the fur, used to trim clothing in that country, Jensen says.
His father co-signed for the $70,000 loan through the local bank. When it came time to find the trailer, they tried auctions but found the stock overpriced. Instead, Jensen bought a used Fruehauf trailer his father owned and was using for storage.
Over three and a half weeks, paying themselves $8 an hour, the two brothers, their father, a cousin, and Jensen’s best friend renovated the trailer into a five-stall shower house. Jensen and his father drew up the design largely by themselves, aided by the blueprint-generating program Google SketchUp. His business, Better Showers, was born.
A business is born
They bought the plumbing fixtures and shower assemblies from Frisbee Plumbing in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sterling, a brand of Kohler, supplied the shower assemblies; Delta the faucets, handles and shower heads; and Kohler the sinks. They added a Samsung washer and dryer to clean towels, installed Haier Water instant heat water heaters, and powered it all with Pacer pressure pumps.
Jensen acquired a Butler 8,000-gallon tank trailer divided into two chambers: one for freshwater, the other for graywater. He also equipped the shower trailer with a 1,000-gallon auxiliary tank so users can still take showers while the tank trailer has gone to be refilled.
“It’s completely mobile,” Jensen says of the system. Two semi-tractors haul the trailers to wherever they can park them to operate. “All it requires is propane” – and a water supply near enough to refill the tank trailer from time to time.
When the unit was complete, Jensen tried selling it on Craigslist for $95,000, which would have got him a quick $10,000 profit on his investment after paying off the loan and recouping his down payment.
But when he didn't find a buyer within a month, he couldn't wait any longer. “I got impatient,” he says. He drove back up to the Williston area, set up shop in an RV park and hired a local resident to manage the operation.
The unit charges users $10 for a shower that lasts up to 30 minutes – a price Jensen says matches the rate at local truck stops while being more generous with the time. Users enter the facility via an office cubicle where they pay. And Jensen says whoever is running the unit cleans the showers after each use.
Jensen’s business savvy seems to have come naturally. He credits his father, a farmer, entrepreneur, and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, with having been a role model. “My mother has a master’s degree in business,” he says. “I’ve gotten lots of help from them – not a financial giveaway, but financial advice.”
Now with the season nearing its end, the shower house will be shut down for winter soon. “It’s hard to keep a camper alive up here, let alone a 53-foot trailer,” Jensen says. Once again he’s seeking a buyer on Craigslist – but this time he’s asking $150,000 – a price he considers reasonable for a total turnkey business. Properly marketed, he thinks it could clear $4,000 a week in rentals, although its best week in his first year was about $1,000.
If he gets no takers, he’ll open it back up next season, once again under the supervision of a hired manager.
And if he does find a buyer? Jensen expects to reinvest his earnings, but probably not in another business right now. He’s leaning toward something less time-consuming, such as gold that doesn’t require him to drive so much each week.
Jensen, you see, is busy as a college freshman at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minn. A drummer, guitarist, singer and writer of indie folk music, he’s majoring in composition. Lately, though, he’s envisioning a future in which he might be the off-stage writer who splits the profits from his songs with the big-name performers on stage.
And he’s considering a slight change in his college program.
He adds: “I might switch next semester to major in music business, and minor in composition.”
About the Author
Erik Gunn is a magazine writer and editor in Racine, Wis., where he operates Great Lakes Editorial Services, consulting for businesses, nonprofits and individuals. Readers may direct inquiries to him by contacting this publication at 800/257-7222 or emailing email@example.com.