David: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based right here in Manitoba. I’m David Noël-Romas. Today’s episode includes our co-host Josh McFadden as well. Josh is a great friend of mine and one of my partners at Black Chair. If you wanna hear more from Josh, you might also be interested in a brand-new show we’re starting up called the Black Chair Podcast.
I’ve had a ton of fun doing the Manitoba Business Podcast, and it’s not going anywhere, but the Black Chair Podcast has a bit of a different focus. The majority of our guests on the Manitoba Business show lead fairly established businesses and are in the later phases of their careers. In contrast to that, the Black Chair show features up and coming creators and entrepreneurs who are just beginning to make a name for themselves, or who might be in the midst of a significant transition.
If you’re interested in the show, you should check it out on iTunes or at www.blackchair.net/podcast. Now, back to the Manitoba Business Podcast. Some people might think today’s guest runs a crappy business, but we would beg to differ. He operates the largest portable toilet service in Manitoba, and they do a lot more than that, as well. We got to chat with him about culture and about the process of buying an existing business and expanding it successfully.
If you enjoy today’s episode, please tell your friends about the show. It’s available on all your favorite podcast platforms, including iTunes. And the transcript of every episode is also available on our website at www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com. Now, without further ado, here is Steve Moon.
Well, Steve, thank you so much for taking the time.
Steve: No problem.
David: Can we start by having you tell us who you are and what you do?
Steve: Sure. My name is Steven Moon. I’m president and owner of…now, called King’s Services. We used to be called King’s Septic and Portable Toilet. So, I’m actually a chartered accountant. Worked in the chartered accounting field for about six years, with KPMG. And then, I went into the banking business for three years, with Roynat Capital. And, basically, learned how to buy and sell businesses and loan money.
So, about just under…just over 15 years ago, I bought King’s, and bought it from the previous owner. His name was Bruce King. And I was, you know, it kinda was at a point where it probably needed my help. And got involved with the company. And bought him out. And we’ve never looked back since.
David: Very cool. So, I’m gonna skip all the obvious jokes that I could make. But what made you…?
Steve: I’ve heard them all.
David: What made you decide to jump from sort of accounting into this line of work?
Steve: You know what? I think I have the entrepreneurial blood in me. My father owned his own business for 35 years. He owned a tool, and die, and welding shop. And, you know, did great with it. And he’s since sold the business years ago. And I worked in it as a kid. But it just never really fit my skill set. Like, I think I was smart enough to know. I mean, I talked about going into business with him, but my dad actually forced both my sister and I to go to university. So, when I say forced, he highly recommended that we attend university.
David: Sure, I was gonna ask.
Steve: Yeah, yeah.
David: How forceful that really was.
Steve: No, no. Yeah, so it was one of those ones where…and I wanted to go to university. So, I, you know, I did my, you know, my BCom at University of Manitoba. And enjoyed that, and then got into…got a job with KPMG and did my whole accounting thing and that grind for six years, and worked a lot, and learned a lot. And then, just kinda moved from there. So I guess I always had that entrepreneurial type spirit in me.
And it’s funny. I will say, when I was going to university, I saw my dad… You know, there were some tough times in the early ’80s where, you know, interest rates were 17% and he almost lost his business. And it was a tough go. And I saw how much he worked. And I’m like, “I never wanna do that. I always wanna work for a big company.” So, I was thinking this in university, so I worked for KPMG, which is a huge company. We had, you know, 200 staff.
And then, when I started working there, it was great. We had a good time. A lot of young people. But I started to realize that I don’t think I wanna work for a big company. So, you know, I moved around to another big company, which Roynat is a Nova Scotia bank, and so you kinda get in that field. And you go, “You know what? I think…” I started half looking around. And then, it basically, King’s kinda fell into my lap.
David: Oh, really?
Steve: I actually was going to help a business broker finance another deal, because that was kinda my strong suit, was helping finance, you know, owner buyouts and stuff like that. So, when I went and saw him I said, off the cuff, “What do you have for sale?” And he showed me King’s. So, I looked at it and it was one of those things where I thought, “You know what? This has a lot of the fundamentals, when I was looking to finance a business, that I would like.”
So, I started down the process. It took about six months. And, you know, of course, I had to get my wife on board. And, originally, my parents were partners. They were partners with me for about three years. And so, they were really non-active, but they just…you know, I put in half the money, they put in half the money type thing. And, but it came to a point where I actually, about three years in, bought another company.
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: So, I bought a company in Timmins, Ontario called Roztek Environmental. And it was the same business: vacuum trucks, portable toilets. So I ran that for 10 years. We actually just sold that. I had that with a partner as well. We sold that just in November.
David: Oh, wow. Okay, so you were running both for a while.
Steve: Yeah. I was running both. And I was not active day-to-day. We had a general manager running that. I was, obviously, a lot more active here. So, but, yeah. I was traveling to Timmins probably two, three times a year and so, yeah. My schedule was full. But, you know, when I bought King’s, my son was born two months later. So, I have three kids now. So we were like, if you ever were gonna pick…and I laugh when people say this, you know, “Oh, it’s not a good time to buy a business.” Well, you know what? I’ll tell you this. There’s never a good time.
Josh: Absolutely not, no.
Steve: Like, never. You’re either all in or you’re not.
David: Yeah, it’s very, very difficult to time business decisions around family decisions, right? You just kinda have to run them both and do what you do.
Steve: I was young and owed a bunch of money on my house. I had a year and a half year old, and then, two months later, we had a second child. And we have a third as well, now. But at the time, like, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to do anything.
Josh: Right, right.
Steve: So it was just one of those ones I just knew I wanted to do it, and I did it. And loaned a ton of money. I was good at lending money. So that’s the one thing. I financed that deal. Originally, I was highly levered. So, it was one of those things where it was a huge risk. And I’ll never actually forget this. My wife was looking at the legal documents when we were getting to the final thing.
And she goes, she was signing some documents, and she said, “So, does this mean they can come take our house?” And I’m like, “They can take everything except the kids.” So, it was kind of an eye-opening experience. My wife’s family is not really from a business background. Her dad worked for MTS and sort of that had type…sort of that type of job, like…
Steve: I’m used to stability. You didn’t have to worry about where your check was coming from. So it was a little bit scary for her, but she was totally on board. And, you know, when I actually, originally, told her… I’ve told this story before. But we were on a plane flight to visit my sister in California. She, at the time, was living in California. And we got on the plane to California, and I knew I had her stuck and she couldn’t leave. And she could call me crazy or whatever, but she was stuck in her seat.
So I pulled these papers out and started showing her, and said, “What do you think?” And it was…she kinda looks at me like, “Are you outta your mind?” But once I sort of showed her the process of how this works, and what this does, and what the potential and opportunities are, you know, she was totally on side. She’s been very, very supportive of me. And, you know, I will say, you need your spouse to be on side to do anything like this.
Josh: Of course.
David: Oh, yeah.
Steve: Like, you know, in the early years, I was working a ton. Like, I mean, I worked…
Josh: It’s a huge time commitment.
Steve: Huge time. I mean, I did work a lot at KPMG. Not as much at the bank. But when you’re a young accountant at KPMG, you work 80 hours a week in busy season.
David: Of course.
Steve: So she was kinda used to that. But I certainly was doing a lot. I was highly active. We were small. Like, we only had eight employees when I bought it.
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: I mean, we’re up to almost 35 now. So, and we have managers and that type of thing now. So, it’s…we have management teams, so it’s a totally different metric where I’m not involved in the day-to-day, you know, moving stuff, and moving work trucks. They do that. I’m more of the strategic, opportunities. If you wanna grow, you have to transition to that. It was tough. I mean, for a couple years, we didn’t grow.
And the issue was not the market. It was me. I just was doing too much. I couldn’t do any more. So, I think the one thing you gotta realize, as an entrepreneur, eventually you gotta hire somebody to help you.
David: Of course.
Steve: So, that, you know, the first guy that kinda helped me do that was, I actually bought his company out. It was a small septic company. He phoned me and asked if I was interested. I was. And it was, the fellow’s name was Gerry Girardin, and he actually just retired. He worked for me for almost 10 years.
Steve: So, he sold his business. He didn’t want to sort of be…drive every day, so he helped me on the management supervisory… Yeah, he had, like, 25 years’ experience in the septic business, so he was highly experienced but didn’t wanna drive any more. You know, it’s not the easiest thing to drive, and pull hose, and stuff. And yeah, he’s…I mean, he was 68 when he retired. So, but he could outwork some of the young kids. Like, he was awesome. So, yeah.
He was my director of operations, and he was the first guy that really kinda helped us grow. And it opened my eyes to see, “Oh, wow. Look what we can do.” So then, we’ve hired, you know, more. Oh, I’ve promoted from within a lot of times, managers. And it’s created sort of a culture of opportunity, too, where people see, “Oh, yeah. He was a driver for 10 years. Now he’s managing the division.”
Josh: Right. There’s room for growth.
Steve: There’s, yeah. You really have to show people that. Like, it’s something that I don’t think enough companies probably do. And now, we’re to the size where they see opportunities, and we’ve added… We added a fencing division a couple years ago, temporary fencing. So, and it made a lot of sense. We started doing it and then we actually ended up buying out a national company that wanted to exit the market here, Modu-Loc. And so we bought their temporary fencing existing customers here, contracts, and some of their inventory. And we partner with them now. Like, I buy some fence from them.
Josh: And you’re servicing a similar customer base, anyhow.
Steve: Totally. Like, all the construction, if they rent toilets from you, a lot of times they need fencing. All the event guys, you know, they’re renting toilets, they need fencing as well. So, I mean, you guys probably…
Josh: Great pairing.
Steve: …saw us at the Jets. I mean, we had toilets and fencing down there. If you’re ever at the Whiteout Party. I mean, I think everyone in Winnipeg was down there at one point. So, yeah. So that was, you know, great exposure. And we ended up, you know, in the paper multiple times. And I’m sure that… I think that’s how you guys found us.
David: It is, yeah. You came across. I mean, obviously, I was familiar with King’s before that, but it just, you know, it was like, “Oh, shoot. I should chat with Steve.”
Steve: Well, I’m glad you did.
David: Yeah, cool.
Josh: There’s a couple things I wanna just go over really quick.
Josh: And one of them is, was there some sort of, when you first, in initially, were looking at King’s and it made sense to purchase, was there some kind of golden equation that you ran that made sense, or, like, the purchase prices made sense, or what did that look like?
Steve: Well, I think, you know, a lot of times, it’s, you know, and I looked at it from, you know, a multiple of earnings. Purchase price, I always look at from a multiple of earnings. And then, okay, well, the next thing for me was, well, how much financing am I gonna need to close the transaction and can I pay it back in a reasonable amount and still run the company? So, that was really the biggest one, for me, from, you know, sort of closing the gap point of view.
You know, when I looked at the company, you just looked at their history of cashflow, the customer they have, and they had a great customer base and it was big. It wasn’t reliant on one customer or two customers. And, right now, I mean, we have 8,000 customers here.
Steve: Yeah, we have some big ones. Don’t get me wrong, some big construction customers and other customers. But if one leaves, we’re not going bankrupt. Our Timmins company, that was a different story. We had a customer that accounted for probably 40% of our revenue.
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: They leave, well, that’s a huge risk, right? So, the risk was… And it wasn’t always like that, but it just ended up that way. We just started doing more and more work for a big public mining company.
David: And it’s tricky, because you don’t wanna say no to that work. But especially in an area like Timmins, there’s probably a limited market otherwise.
Steve: We had a lot less customers, but we had bigger customers.
Steve: And they’re all…a lot of them were public. They were mining related, forestry related.
David: Got you.
Steve: So, and here, we’re just… I mean, we have some big customers that we do work for in the, you know, construction business or in the vacuum truck side. But, to be honest, if one leaves, or we lost a contract, it would not… You know, it would affect us. Of course, you don’t wanna lose customers. But it wouldn’t put us in financial jeopardy in any way.
David: Right, sure.
Josh: Cool. The other thing I wanted to touch on quickly is, you see so many businesses that are established, and they’ve got a name, and everybody knows the name, everybody knows the slogan and the tagline, all these things. You changed yours. So is that a big step, or was it something that seemed like an easy transition?
Steve: Well, it’s interesting you bring that up, because I created the logo, the original… King’s didn’t really have a logo when I bought it. Like, that’s one of the things… I mean, I had an accounting/marketing degree. So one of the things I kinda knew, it needed some marketing help. And so I did a logo. Not me personally, but I had it done. And we kept that logo for almost 14 years.
So, but the one thing you realize, after a while, is, you know, people see it, but they don’t really see it. So, it was just time to do some rebranding. And the one thing I realized, too, is we were called King’s Septic and Portable Toilet Service, and that’s all we did previous to this. Well, in the last five years, we do fencing. Now we do plumbing. So we’ve opened a residential and commercial plumbing service.
David: Oh, really?
Steve: So that doesn’t necessarily fit in King’s Septic when someone looks at it. So, King’s Services takes into account a lot of the different things that we do now. So it’s just more general, and just the branding. We just needed a new look.
Josh: Right, love it.
Steve: And so, when people see a new truck going down the road, they’ll look, like, “Who’s that?” And it’s like they actually see it and make a mental note of who it is. Not, “Oh, yeah. Just the King’s,” you know, King’s Septic truck or whatever. So, it’s just…it’s kinda reawakening either prospects, customers, and it just was time. I mean, we’ve been a long time. There’s studies that said you should change your brand every five years, or sometimes even more.
So we…14, we kinda used up our brand. And it was good. I liked it. But we just needed something different. And to be honest, I’m part of the… We were talking before about the CEO Warrior. That’s a group I’m involved with. They’re out of New Jersey. It’s a coaching, consulting company. And they’re one of the people that helped me with the branding and helped me push to change the branding.
Because it’s easy not to do it. It’s a lot of work to actually get it done. And then, to change everything over. We’re in the process of doing it now. My guess it’ll take about a year to get everything, like, trucks wrapped, and everything changed, signs done. It’s amazing when you start looking at it.
Josh: Well, each one of your products has a logo on it.
Steve: We just ordered 5,000 stickers for toilets. So, as they come back, we will change them out. Like, that just takes time. You’d love to say, “Oh, yeah. New brand. Great. Looks awesome.” Change it like that. Well, that doesn’t work.
Steve: It just, it takes too…it’s already expensive enough. I mean, my conservative estimate is it’ll be $100,000 to change the brand. Just more we have a lot of… But, you know, the thing that we have is, yes, we lots of billboards out there, i.e. toilets, fencing, signs. But trucks, they’re rolling billboards. So, to change the trucks, it’s great, but it just takes time even to get one off the road. So, you know, it’ll take some time, but I’m patient with it and I’m really happy with how the new brand looks. It’s just now I wanna get it out there but it’s, you know, you can only do so much.
Josh: You have to be patient.
Steve: Have to be patient to do it.
David: Yep. So, I have a bunch of questions that came out of what you just said. I do want to go back to the acquisition, because I think that that’s kind of…that stage of business, for a lot of entrepreneurs, is an interesting one, right, whether you’re on the buying side or the selling side. So I do wanna get back to that, but two things that come to mind really quick, you mentioned you ordered 5,000 stickers. How many porta potties do you actually have in the company now?
Steve: We have over a thousand plastic portable toilets.
Steve: And we have about 40, like, heated and air-conditioned trailers/single units.
Steve: So, and that’s not something like the trailers and single units sort of started probably 10 years ago. Kind of into the process. You know, one of the things I always try and do, even in this industry, is do something different that your competitors aren’t doing.
Steve: And otherwise, it’s just, like, how cheap are you, right? So we always try and do different things. And we just came… And also, listen to your customers. I actually remember hiring a summer student a long time ago. And he did some surveys with customers. And one of the things that they complained about, even though it was the middle of the summer, they complained about how terrible it was in the winter. So we just looked at constantly increasing, you know, heated toilet abilities. And now, we have probably three or four heated choices.
Josh: Oh, the heated ones are nice. I’ve experienced…
David: Makes a difference.
Steve: Well, yeah. You know, our climate is not forgiving in the winter, as we all know. I mean, the summers are beautiful, which is why I think we survive the winters here. But, yeah. It’s just something that customers asked for, but it was an expensive sort of transition to get some of the stuff. But you’re almost creating your own market. So I really try and be a leader on that side. I mean, all my competitors probably now have it, but I try and be the first if I can. If I see there’s a market for it and the customers are willing to pay, because it’s a lot more than a normal toilet.
Josh: It is.
Steve: So, but, you know, some of the customers have recognized, they wanna give their employees a better experience on a job, especially on a job site. So they’re willing to pay more because they’re gonna get that money back in employee happiness, culture. You know, it shows they’re willing to spend money on different things. And so we’ve kinda found that.
Josh: Well, I assume in a construction site setting as well, if the guys are really desiring to, you know, warm space while they’re doing their business, they’ll leave the site and they’ll go to McDonald’s, or Tim Hortons, or something, right? So this saves a lot of time because they’re now on site.
Steve: Hundred percent. They’ve actually, believe it or not, they’ve done studies on that in the U.S. One university did a study on if you provide better toilet facilities, how much money you can save. I can remember which university.
Steve: Yeah, and it’s just, you want guys on-site, more efficient. I mean, to guys, leave the site, I mean, that’s minimum half an hour, right? So, you do…if you get 100 guys on-site and they all did it once a day, like, the math would be staggering of how much they’re costing.
Josh: Tons of time, right.
Steve: So, the payback on a nicer toilet, it’s huge.
David: Crazy. Very crazy.
Josh: Very cool.
David: So the other question that I have that came out of what you were saying earlier, you mentioned the expansion into the plumbing division. And what kind of brought that about? Is it a similar kind of track to introducing, you know, heated facilities and stuff like that, in the sense of just trying to capitalize on an opportunity? Because it seems to me that plumbing, you know, residential plumbing especially, there’s a lot of folks out there doing it, right?
Steve: There is, for sure. I mean, it’s a competitive business. But the thing that we found is, when you deal with waste, people think you do plumbing.
David: Oh, interesting.
Steve: So we were getting, like, you know, when you think about, you know, there’s kinda two sides of plumbing. There’s obviously the water side, but there’s the waste side, right?
Steve: So we would get a lot of calls, and we would just refer them to somebody else. And finally, I just…you know, we had a couple tough experiences with people we referred to and finally I said, “Why don’t we do this?” And, you know, it’s… You know, we thought about it for years and years. And there’s always excuses. Well, one of the things that, you know, the CEO Warrior has…it’s pushed me to just take action. Just do it. I mean, we hired… It was as simple as hiring a plumber and buying a van.
David: Yeah, wow.
Steve: I mean, he’s…you gotta find the right guy.
David: Of course, of course.
Steve: And, but, you know what? It’s really taken off now. And we just found, we have such a big customer base, and one of our, probably, opportunities we haven’t taken advantage of is we haven’t marketed enough to our own customer base. Everyone’s fighting to get new customers, PPC, you know, social media, all that stuff. You want new customers.
Steve: What about the ones you have? Like, we have a massive customer list.
Steve: And we’re just getting better at actually remarketing to other services. Because it’s so much easier to get your existing customer base to do other services with you. They already trust you. They already use you. You have credibility with them. So, you know, I think one of our biggest opportunities is just adding more services that sort of go on top of that. I mean, you know, if you’re in a house and if we pump their septic tank, I mean, you know, it’s as easy as the guy dropping off…
We have door knockers like that, that basically, you know, they have coupons on the back. Introduce customers. So you drop that on the door. Now they know you do plumbing. Like, it’s that simple. We have an outbound department that checks on most of the calls we do. We phone them and say, “How was it? Was everything good? By the way, we now do plumbing. If you ever have any issues,” like, it’s a simple as that. Just reminding people that you already do business with.
I mean, I don’t think a lot of businesses actually take advantage of that. Like, they really, they fight like crazy, spend a ton of money on marketing to get new customers. But the ones they already have, you gotta make sure, A, they don’t forget about you. Even if you do one service, they don’t forget about you. And B, you gotta make sure that, you know, you’re constantly in touch with them, where most companies don’t do it.
And, honestly, I had some plumbing work done in my house. I can’t even remember the… I’ve had two different companies. I couldn’t even remember the names of them.
Steve: They never called me back. They never phoned to check on the work. They just came, replaced the hot water tank, and that was it. I couldn’t even remember who it was.
Steve: They didn’t leave anything on the hot water tank. Like, it’s…so it’s just little, simple things like that, where I think we can take sort of our customer service focus and put it into that industry. And maybe the next one, if you’re in a house already, if you do plumbing, what about HVAC? What about, you know, all sorts of different things? You know, you wanna make sure, like I say, if they trust you for plumbing, why wouldn’t they trust you for HVAC? And just kind of move the services down.
Josh: All those other home services.
Steve: All the other home services. And honestly, we’re mostly commercial focused, but our residential will grow.
David: For sure.
Steve: And we do commercial work as well. I mean, we’ve done tons of commercial plumbing work already. Again, with existing customers. It’s just about we have regular, you know, meetings, company meetings. We just remind people, like, you gotta tell people we do this now. You know, tell them, tell them, tell them. And don’t assume you’ve told them. So, I mean, even myself, I had a general manager from a golf course call me on another issue.
And I just said, “I think I’ve told you this,” but I said, “You know, can we…just remember we do plumbing services now.” Well, the next day, we were pumping his tank, he ran out to my driver and said, “I got a plumbing issue. Can you send your guy over?”
Steve: He wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t reminded him the day before on the phone.
Josh: Absolutely right.
Steve: It’s as simple as that. So it’s getting, you know, leveraging all our staff to do that, where not just me. I mean, I can’t… I can only do so much.
Josh: You can’t be the guy that’s always reminding everybody.
Steve: Like, all my guys, they’re out in the field. They’re seeing people. They’re talking to people. They’re talking to customers. They are the ones. Everyone has to leverage it. I mean, putting yard signs out. We never used to do that. It’s just sort of leveraging, making sure people know where you are and who you are.
David: Of course, yeah.
Steve: Especially when you’re new brand.
David: Of course.
David: So, I wanna go back to kind of when you acquired the business, because I think that’s actually kind of a key moment for the business, right? Like, how did…? How should I say this? What was the toughest part in coming into an existing business as kind of the new boss, the new owner or the new boss, and all that stuff?
Steve: Well, it was… Yeah, it was challenging. And one of the things that I did, I actually met with every single staff member. And we only had, I think there was eight employees at the time. So I met with each one of them individually and just said…you know, kind of told them about myself, what my plans were, asked them what their experience with the company had been like. And it was interesting. I got a lot of feedback that said, “I’m so glad you bought this. I was about to quit. I couldn’t stand the owner.”
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: And I don’t wanna… It just, I guess it was just at a point where there was…he was exiting mentally and probably wasn’t fully engaged. And it was just one of those things like, “Oh, okay. No, like, don’t do anything rash.” And I’m trying to think… You know what? It’s funny. I think I only have one employee from that original day. I had one retire. But, I mean, people transition, but, I mean, that’s from 15 years. But we still have one employee from that original date.
Steve: And, but yeah, no. I think that was an interesting sort of conversation. But you just… You know, I kinda wanted…I mean, [inaudible 00:26:41] there’s a new guy all of a sudden. Like, who’s this guy? So I try to want to introduce one-on-one, sort of make sure… I think that was key. And I would do that again if we bought a company.
Josh: Yeah, that’s a very cool move. And sort of understanding the culture and caring about understanding the culture. That’s a really great move from a leader. I appreciate that.
Steve: Well, it’s funny you mention the word culture because I think, for our first even 10 years, we didn’t spend enough time on culture. Like, it’s probably in the last, even, two years we’ve really pushed the culture thing here. Like, that is the most underrated thing I think most business owners don’t spend time on. Like, and really, it’s ultimately the leader’s responsibility to have a culture.
Josh: It is, yeah.
Steve: You gotta push that down to your managers, to the, you know, to all the people that are working for you. And they have to understand. And we’ve really spent lots of time on that. Like, it’s a huge focus. Like, all my managers have KPI, like, key performance things they’re judged on related to culture. So, it’s kind of…it’s one of those ones that we’re putting a focus on that type of thing. And it’s not just having barbecues and stuff.
It’s just even, like, communication, and holding people accountable, and those types of things. You know, what opportunities there are. Like I said, opportunity. It’s a culture of opportunity now. And you just gotta show people that. We’re…honestly, I did not do a very good job. I’m fully able to admit that I’m a lot… I think about it a lot more. Every management meeting, we talk about it. What did we do for…?
Like, I ask the question. I usually start our meetings by, “What did we do for culture this month?” Like, you know, things like these cards. Like, they’re just…they’re cards you give to people that, you know, thank them for going above and beyond.
Steve: You know, we have core values and they’re non-negotiable core values. So they’re on the wall in the boardroom and in the lunchroom. Everyone is supposed to know them. We spend time on them. We talk about them. And if you break a core value, it’s not a very good thing. You’re not gonna survive very long here. So, a lot of them are related to, you know, customer. It’s teamwork. It’s, you know, crazy customer service.
And that’s how we’re gonna be successful. And when people, you know, follow the core values we’ll be successful. And you wanna reward people for following them. So that’s kind of the process we… We didn’t have core values probably two years ago. So that’s just something that’s new. We probably…they were understood, but now they’re, like, you’re [inaudible 00:29:17].
Steve: Yeah, they’re noisy. They’re in your face now. And that’s part of changing the culture.
David: Of course.
Steve: Like, you know, and a lot of people have them. They have them on their website, but they don’t really live them. Like, we talk about it all the time. That’s important. That’s the biggest thing. Like, anyone can throw up core values on their wall, but are you living them? Like that’s where I think our culture has really taken off. And guys understand that.
Josh: I love that. That’s super cool. And it’s one of those things, too, where if somebody has a bad day at work, it’s not typically based on the fact that… You know, I mean, things can go wrong, but it’s typically interactions with other people, right? And if… You hear all the time, like, “Well, my boss never said… He never congratulated me,” or, “He never said thanks,” or whatever that is. And that’s the cause of a lot of people to exit the role that they’re in, right?
Steve: Hundred percent. It’s generally not money. Like, money is a symptom of it. It’s an excuse.
Josh: Of course.
Steve: I mean, there’s a ton of studies that even back that up. Like, there’s…money is not even…it’s not even in the top five. Like, it’s a lot of it is opportunity, recognition. And, you know, we actually… And you have to make sure you’re understanding what’s mattering to your culture. Like, in that box there, there’s 35…we call them culture surveys. We just did it. We had an all-company meeting this week.
And at the end, it’s… You basically, the only thing you put on it is the division you’re part of, and it’s anonymous, and it’s all about culture. And we wanna know. We did it six months ago. We’re trying to do it twice a year. We wanna see, have we gotten better? Like, that’s how you track it. And that’s a thing that I think is gonna really sort of move the needle for the company.
Steve: Because, yeah, you’re right. If you’re having a bad day, a lot of times it’s fighting, lack of communication, negative people. Like, negativity does not survive here anymore. We used to tolerate it.
Josh: Wow, that’s beautiful.
Steve: I’d be the first to admit it. But, you know what? If you’re negative, you’re not gonna survive here. Because if you’re negative to other employees, you’re probably gonna give that vibe off to a customer.
Josh: Of course.
Steve: And the amount of customer compliments I receive that say, “Your guys are so polite, and they seem so happy.” I love getting those calls. Like, I love it. Because most people, when they…you know, if they’re gonna phone you, they’re gonna complain. Like, it’s…no one picks up the phone to say, like, you know, “You have great guys. They did a great job.”
Josh: Yeah, not often.
Steve: It’s like, “You wrecked my grass. I can’t stand your company.” Like, it’s usually bad stuff. So, I actually, personally, because I’m an owner, when I have great service somewhere, I try and talk to a manager. I specifically phone and say, “You know, this guy is great, or this gal is great.” Because I know, a lot of times, it’s negative.
Josh: That’s a beautiful thing, yeah.
David: Yeah, that’s cool.
Josh: I love hearing that.
David: That’s neat.
Josh: So cool.
David: What was your…when you kinda first came in here, what did your day-to-day look like?
Steve: Wow, day-to-day. Well, it was probably… Like, you’re talking when I first bought the company?
Steve: I was heavily involved in sort of the operational side. Like, you know, especially in the summer, on the event side. I was moving toilets. Like, I was driving trailers. I was driving trucks. You know, I was involved. I was pumping toilets. Like, I’ve done it all here. I mean…
David: Was there…? This might sound like a silly question, but I don’t really know the industry enough. Was there a learning curve? Was there anything about…? Like, as an outsider, it looks fairly simple. You take the portable toilet, you put it on a truck, and you take it to where it’s gotta go. But I assume there’s sort of some nuance to it, to some extent.
Steve: Oh, yeah. For sure. I mean, there’s absolutely stuff. You know, and especially on even the safety side of things. But, yeah. I mean, there’s all sorts of… Like, there’s a PSAI, which is Portable Sanitation International, and they run shows, and educational conferences, and there’s a wastewater one in national that they get, like, 15,000 people at it. It’s a big…
David: Geez, wow.
Steve: Yeah. And they have educational. That’s actually how I came across CEO Warrior. He was a speaker at one of these. And I liked him so much, and I liked what he had to say. That’s how I ended up getting involved with his company. And so, I always…I mean, I’m a constant learner. Like I said, I listen to podcasts, I read, I do all that stuff. And it just… You know, you go to the shows. I take staff to the shows. Because they need to learn, too.
I mean, training is huge for staff. And if they see new things, like… And it’s not super technical, but, I mean, you know, we run software and stuff, and optimize routes, where, you know, back 15 years ago, we would just, like, get the work done. Oh my God, we’re busy.
David: Sure, yeah.
Steve: And it was sort of a different mindset, where, yeah. I mean, I was probably too heavily involved in the operations at the time, but I had to be. I just…
David: Of course, yeah.
Steve: You know, I was keeping it pretty lean. I owed a lot of money. It’s not like there was… You know, and we were putting money back into, you know, the company. And, you know, that’s another key for growth, is just piling money back in. Anytime we needed new equipment or more stuff to do jobs, I would just buy it. Like, that was one of the things that… I didn’t even think twice about it.
Like, just buy it. Buy a new truck. Buy another truck. And that’s how we grew. And we got into trouble in a few years because it was just, like, we bought so many vehicles and we got busier, and busier, and busier. Then, I had to start replacing the old ones. We were buying for growth, not necessarily replacement.
Josh: Right. There’s still maintenance that has to be focused on.
Steve: So we kinda then… All of a sudden, I had to replace a whole bunch of trucks, just even on the older side, or we ran trucks too long. And now we’re kind of at a stage where we buy for both growth and also replacements. So, it’s a very capital-intensive business. I mean, that’s the one thing. Like, buying trucks, toilets, trailers. Like, it’s capital intensive. So, you know, you’re always piling money back in.
And even in technology like software. I mean, it’s not cheap. And training. And we’re just done a… I think, you know, we do a good job of that stuff. And any time we see opportunities, you know, we, more often than not, managers will come to me and say, “We need to do this. We got this job.” Like, “Yep, [inaudible 00:35:28]. Do it.” And, honestly, I think that’s been… You know, if you sort of sit there and go, “Well, should we?” you can just get sort of bogged down in that and they’ll find someone else. So, we just go and do it.
So it’s about action. Like, most people, they have great ideas and you can read, and read, and read all these ideas. Putting it into action, like, that’s how you really get, you know, the hard growth. I mean, the plumbing thing. I should have done that two years ago. I mean, I [inaudible 00:35:55]. And sometimes, you can just get bogged down in, “Well, will it work? Will the numbers work?” Just, sometimes, you just gotta do it.
Josh: Sure, cool.
David: Very cool. What would you say…? Obviously, you’ve grown a fair bit in the past 15 years. What would you attribute that to?
Steve: Well, I think I touched on it before, is… Well, there’s two things, probably. I mean, obviously, having great people is one. And me actually letting go of some of the stuff and hiring people to, you know, do it. Like I say, there was probably three years at the beginning we didn’t grow a whole lot. And I think it was more me just not…I could only do so much. I was working so much and not looking at, necessarily, opportunities versus, you know, just actually getting the work done.
Josh: Focusing on the day-to-day.
Steve: Yeah. Less strategic. Now, you know, I’m probably 70% strategic opportunities and, you know, 30% operations or financial stuff. I mean, I’m literally not involved in the operations, you know, very much at all because you just can only do so much. Everyone’s got a role. And, you know, you gotta find the ones you’re good at. And it’s, you just…if you get stuck in the day-to-day, it’s kinda like…I think it’s common, people working in the business versus on it.
Well, the first three years, I was totally in the business. You know, and I’ve seen competitors of mine that haven’t grown. They just work in their business. And it’s not about…it’s not [inaudible 00:37:28], but you need to be able to hire people. And not only hire them but give them the tools and give them the trust to go do the job. Because you can hire as many people as you want. But if you don’t give them the proper tools and you don’t give them the trust and the ability to go do it, and coach them, then they’re not gonna take you to the next level.
So, you know, I think a lot about coaching now. Like, really, I should call myself that. I’m trying to coach managers and employees to sort of take us to the next level. Because I know I can’t do it myself. It’s a team. It’s a total team effort. We all have to be focused on the goals, and what we’re doing, and our targets. That’s where, if you don’t have that… So that’s one thing. And the one I mentioned before.
Just, I think, when we had the opportunity, just spending the money on buying equipment to do it. So, I think there’s… You know, a lot of times, you can just, “Ah, well. That doesn’t pay,” and, you know, “This doesn’t work.” Or, you know, sometimes, you just gotta go, “You know what? We’ll make it work.” So, like, you know, last year we bought this VIP trailer. We’ve had lots of trailers, but we bought a really nice one that’s, you know, you kinda go, “Oh, is this gonna pay it as the rental? You know, how many rentals can we get?”
You kinda run the numbers, because I’m an accountant still. Like, I still have that background. But, you know, eventually, you just gotta go, like, the staff saying, “No, we can do it. We can do it. We can do it.” You just gotta, “Okay, we’ll do it.” And we bought it. We went to a show and we bought it at the show. So, we picked kinda what we wanted. And, yeah, it was great.
Josh: And now your whole team is invested in not only in the process, but in the success of the whole thing as well, right?
Steve: And they have to be. So, one of the things. I actually, I started doing in the last couple years, I share our revenue numbers with every staff member. So, when we do all-company meetings, they know what the budget is, they know what we did this year in the month, our year-to-date, and then we did last year. And so, I say, “Guys, this is the goal.” So and I literally say a goal. You know, we have a revenue goal. And it’s done by department.
And it’s, you know, sometimes, some of the guys aren’t sophisticated. They don’t understand exactly. But, you know what? I’m more than happy to take questions, or the managers will explain what we need to do. And it’s been an interesting turning point. I mean, if you really wanna get somewhere, how can you tell your staff, “Well, just do your job and we’ll get there?” They need to know what the goal is, right?
Josh: Or put the blame on them and…or this accountability. I’ve actually, I’ve worked in electronic, you know, retail when I was really young. And there was all this pressure. And you didn’t know what the goal was. You just knew that you weren’t doing your job properly, right? And that’s how the management operated then. They turned on the pressure.
But where am I going? Like, what is the goal? Well, you need to hit your minimum. Well, what is that minimum? What does that look like? Right? And are you equipping me with the tools to do so, right? We know now a world that’s a little bit different. But that has, obviously, changed in a lot of workplaces. And I love the fact that you have incorporated that here.
Steve: You know, it’s a little…it was a little unnerving at first. But, you know what? And our managers are at sort of the next level, where we look at gross margins by department. So every manager is responsible for their department. And they understand what the gross margin. And they have to be. How can they control revenues and expenses if they don’t know what they are?
Steve: So, it’s the same theory. If they don’t know what they are, they’re shooting at nothing. Like, it’s like you need to have that rifle shot right at your target. And you know what? You’re not always gonna hit your target, but you have a way better chance of hitting it if you know what it is.
Josh: If you know at least where it is, yeah.
Steve: Yeah. And how do you hold someone accountable, like you said, if they don’t know what their target is?
Steve: Say, “Well, we didn’t meet our targets.” Well, what was the target? Like, how ridiculous is that? But there’s, I think, a ton of business owners that don’t actually do it. And I think, if you wanna hold people accountable, if you don’t wanna share that, you gotta find some sort of metric that works the same way, to get them to shoot to a metric. So, we’re actually just working on more and more metrics now.
I mean, you don’t wanna bog people down too much, but we’re looking at sort of more production-related stuff where, you know, how efficient were you on your route? And, you know, how many services did you do an hour? And, you know, and conversion rates on our phone. Like, that’s a big one. Like, our customer service, we just spent a ton of money. We hired a company. They listen to every single call that comes in, and we get a lot of calls. And they grade the call. And we get a conversion rate of every customer service rep in there.
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: We never did that, but we just started doing that this year. It just opened my eyes. Again, it’s something I’ve learned in my education with CEO Warrior, that they’ve actually…it’s an important thing. Like, you know, if you get… You’re fighting all this time to get new customers calling you, you’re spending money on pay-per-click, and social media, Facebook advertising, and direct mail, whatever it is to get the call. Well, that’s great.
But what’s the…how are you converting that call? So, and if you run the numbers on a 5% improvement in conversion, it’s staggering over the year. So, not only are they… Well, I’m also paying a company to actually train them. So, there’s one company monitoring, and then the training. So it sort of keeps the training company accountable, too. So, you should be improving, you know, the conversion by this much.
So, it’s sort of a new sort of thought process for our business. And, you know, I know I’m quite a bit bigger than a lot of my competitors. And I know a lot of them don’t necessarily… Like, a lot of them, it could be them answering the phone in the truck, right, driving the truck.
Josh: That’s right, yeah. That’s common.
Steve: So, from a professional point of view, that doesn’t sound very professional. I mean, we want, you know, our people that answer the phone, and they can offer other services. I mean, we do so many, right? It’s, like, you know, if someone calls for portable toilet, well, you know, “Do you need any fencing for your site?” Like, how hard is that? It’s just making that offer, right? So, it’s just stacking services. And I think our growth is gonna be related to stacking the services in the future.
David: In terms of…kind of sticking on that growth tack for a minute, in terms of actually increasing the number of calls that you’re getting, is it largely through advertising? Have you seen success with that or [inaudible 00:43:33]?
Steve: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, well, we do a whole bunch of different stuff now. The one thing I think I would give advice to business owners, you can’t get stuck in one route. Like everyone says, “Oh, this is the best. That’s the best.” You know what? We do everything from direct mail…we’ve done some direct mail postcards. We’ve done…we do pay-per-click. We do Facebook advertising. So, we’ve done…we’ve run contests. So, you know, a lot of that… I mean, a lot of it is word of mouth, too.
David: At this point, I bet, yeah.
Steve: Yeah. So, I mean, you get, you know, even, like, you know, these door knockers, yard signs. They all sort of add up. It’s kinda that one… I’ve spent more marketing the last two years than I’ve spent in a lot of years.
David: Oh, really?
Steve: Yeah. I’ve really pushed just trying some different things. I never did pay-per-click before. And there’s people talking now that it may sort of run its course and be done. But, you know, it seems to be working for us. When you get a new service, like plumbing, pay-per-click makes sense. I mean, you just wanna try and get that growth. And now, we’re finding we’re sorta getting some traction in, where we’re going back to a house a second time because they have another problem.
So, I really like the fact that, you know, it’s starting. I know we’re getting traction when they’re calling us again for, you know, another issue. So, that’s kinda what I’m seeing and liking. And, you know, we also do the drain cleaning side. So if someone has a clogged drain, you go open their drain. Well, maybe two months later, their hot water tank is leaking, or a tap is leaking, or whatever it.
Josh: Sure, providing they know that you have these other services that you offer.
Steve: Well, that’s…again, that’s all about, you know, our guys when they’re there doing one thing, saying, “You know, if you ever have any other issues,” and, you know, we always offer, you know, can we look at your hot water tank? Has it been inspected in a while? Like most people don’t even think about it. Like, have you drained it? Like, a lot of times it’s there’s so much crud in the bottom and the water quality is terrible. I mean, it should be drained, like, yearly. Like, there’s so much sediment and stuff in there. Nobody ever does that. I mean, it’s just… Well, I shouldn’t say nobody.
Josh: But it’s often the case.
Steve: Yeah. So it’s just us reminding, saying, “You should do this. We can do it for you if you want.” Or, you know what? You can do it yourself. I mean, we don’t mind. But it’s just reminding, and adding value, too, right? It’s trying to add value to that stuff. But, yeah, that’s kind of… So, for our marketing, we do a whole bunch of stuff. And the branding helps. Like I say, I spend a lot of money on, like, we’re wrapping some of the vehicles. The stickers on our toilets, I buy the biggest possible stickers. Like, I laugh at my competitors. They’re tiny.
Josh: Right, you can’t even tell.
Steve: How do you read them from 50 yards away? Like, I wanna be able to read this thing when you’re driving down the highway at 50 kilometers an hour. So, yes, it costs more. It’s probably two dollars. Like, if you got one extra call out of that, like, how ridiculous?
Josh: Worth it, of course.
Steve: Yeah, totally worth it. So, it’s sometimes people spend money to spite themselves. But sometimes it makes sense to spend more upfront, because you know it’s the long-term game. It’s not like, “Oh, my God. This is expensive now.” Well, it is, but if we get three more customers a year out of this, it just pays for it. You know, that type of attitude.
David: Cool. Well, we’re kinda coming up on time and I want to be respectful of your time. I have two questions that I generally ask most of the guests. And so, one of them is, who have you kind of looked up to, either from afar or someone you’ve known directly, that you would consider either a mentor or someone who’s influenced your approach to business?
Steve: Well, probably my father. I mean, he was in…he was probably the main one. He’s been in business…or, he was in business for 35 years, had no formal education. He was a tool and die maker by trade and ran a, you know, a great company for that many, and then sold it, and got a nice…you know, a nice payday out of it, at the end of the day. And, but just the way… I think the way he treated people, the way he treated employees.
And, originally, he was a partner in this. Why he’s…he wasn’t, you know, after three years. It’s funny. Because my dad takes quite a few risks. My mum’s pretty risk averse. So, it was kind of a combination where… So, when I went out and bought Timmins, my mum was concerned there was too much risk for her liking. And that was fine. It was the best thing and the timing worked out where we just bought them out. And the timing was probably good for all. But…
David: Complete retirement, then, for your parents.
Steve: Totally, yeah. I mean, they just didn’t want to be worried about it, and that’s fine. So, I mean, they made some money early. And, you know, it just, the timing was probably good for that. But, no. He’s been a nice mentor. You know, lots of, you know, just the way he dealt with customers and people. And he was successful, and just well-liked, and well-respected.
David: Cool. Very cool. The final question, and I think you’ll have a good answer judging on kind of what you’ve said so far. You seem like a reader. And a lot of the listeners are readers as well. What are kinda some of the, you know, one or two top books that you would recommend to anyone listening?
Steve: Okay. Yeah, no. I do read a fair amount. You know, one of the things, I think, as any business owner, it’s easy to not educate yourself because you’re in the day-to-day grind of this. But I think it’s probably more important than anything to make sure you educate yourself. And I’m actually trying to push this down to my staff. I’m getting off-topic a bit. I’m trying to push this to my staff, where I want them to be, basically, self-improving.
And that’s one of the things. You know what? Sometimes, I get a little bit of grief but, to be honest, it’s going to improve… I want somebody who works for me to improve their life. So, you know, I’m trying to get them to read or listen to podcasts. But, yeah, I try and read every day. I mean, I don’t all the time do it. But, you know, probably, the two books that I’ve read recently that I quite like is, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk.
David: Absolutely, yep.
Steve: So, I got…when I started listening to podcasts, probably it’s been about a year, and I really quite liked his, so I bought his book “Crushing It!” and read it. And I think it’s a good read.
David: Absolutely. Yep, that’s a good one.
Steve: I don’t know if you guys have read that one.
David: Yep. Yep, that’s a good one.
Steve: Yeah, I’ve seen you’re in that business. I kind of assumed you’d know that one, but yeah, love his stuff. And another one that is called “Relentless,” which is by Tim Grover.
Steve: So, he was the trainer for Michael Jordan.
David: Oh, wow.
Steve: So, very interesting guy. And I actually just saw him speak not that long ago and was a great public speaking guy. And so his book talks a lot about different types of people, and work ethics, and it’s related to athletics, but also to business.
Josh: That’s very cool.
Steve: Yeah, so I would highly… Those two reads are really good. I mean, you’ll see… Actually, you know, we have these wristbands right here, and then we have King’s Services wristbands. And on the inside, it says, “Relentless commitment to customers.”
Steve: I use that word a lot. Like, we wanna make sure our staff, they wear these, and they’re focused on relentless commitment to customers. So it’s just kind of that sort of mentality of you’ve gotta keep going, even when the time is getting tough and you don’t wanna do something. We gotta commit to the customers. And that’s…they understand that that’s gonna carry us forward.
David: Very cool.
Steve: So, those two books are good reads.
David: Awesome, yeah. I haven’t read “Relentless” so we’ll have to check it out.
Josh: Yeah, that’s very cool.
David: Well, Steve, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Steve: Well, thank you, guys. I appreciate you calling me up and more than happy to do it anytime.
David: That’s it. Thank you for listening to the Manitoba Business Podcast. Once again, this episode was brought to you by Black Chair Consulting. We use social media to help businesses sell more. If you wanna find out about Black Chair Consulting, go to www.blackchair.net. Thanks so much. Have a great day.