Cleanliness Counts

To maintain a stellar customer service reputation, one thriving Texas portsan business promotes restroom etiquette at construction sites

By Rosalie E. Leposky

With a constant parade of workers with muddy boots and tight contractor’s deadlines, construction site cleanliness is always an issue for portable sanitation companies — and the issue is exacerbated for Texas-based Capital Chem Can.

Serving a diverse population of construction workers — many have difficulty with both English and Spanish — the second-generation family company has had to deal with worksite communication issues in order to ensure units stay clean and customers stay happy with the service.

Capital Chem Can was founded in 1965 by Carroll F. LaBorde. It’s one of the oldest portable restroom companies in Texas and the dos and don’ts of restroom usage are critical to helping the LaBorde family business maintain a stellar reputation.

“We can clean portable toilets, but we can’t keep them clean,” says James Stapp, general manager of Capital Chem Can Austin office. “Passersby see the owner’s name on the side and assume we are at fault for dirty, bad-smelling toilets marked with graffiti. The chance is good that an earlier user of the portable restroom is responsible for it not smelling properly.’’

Some people in Capital Chem Can’s service area use portable units as trash cans for beer bottles, soft-drink cans, and other items. Such inappropriate use of portable restrooms causes maintenance and service headaches for the company — and the industry as a whole.

“We are open to learning diplomatic ways to educate portable toilet users in the proper ways to use them. It’s a challenge, because many of our users are illiterate in both English and Spanish.”

Some of the restroom abuse Capital Chem Can workers encounter is difficult for company officials to understand. James believes some of the unacceptable behaviors may be regional in nature.

“Many people — particularly where we are in Texas — do not sit on a portable toilet’s seat. They stand on it. They leave footprints on the seats,” he says.

“We’ve never figured out why some people are so destructive of someone else’s property as they are of portable toilets that they need to use today and tomorrow on construction sites,” adds Chad Laborde, president and manager of the company’s San Antonio office.

Strict usage rules

Workers on a construction site generally will listen to a strong contractor or subcontractor foreman who establishes strict portable restroom usage rules. When the foreman’s discipline is slack, portable restroom abuse increases. So Capital Chem Can shares user tips with on-site construction company leaders and encourages them to stress cleanliness with users.

“We explain to construction-site managers and subcontractor foremen that their people are responsible for the condition of the portable toilets on the site,” James says.

Women abuse port-able restrooms less than men do on construction sites, according to James. When women are present, portable restroom companies often designate a locked portable unit for their use because women don’t like to share the facilities with men.

James says portable restroom usage rules should include:
• Proper use of urinals.
• Proper disposal of soiled toilet paper down the toilets — not on floors or in trash cans.
• Proper disposal of paper, beverage containers, and other items in trash cans — not in urinals.
• Intolerance of graffiti. Construction managers have ways to determine who is writing on portable bathroom walls.

“Construction workers should pause before entering portable toilets and clean loose mud and debris off their shoes,” says James.

A family company

Construction was the first order of business when Carroll got his start in the industry almost 40 years ago. A skilled carpenter, he built his first 24 portable restrooms out of plywood in his carport while his wife, Barbara, made Christmas tree skirts. They were supplementing the family’s income from its primary business, Circle Saw Company, a saw-sharpening and power-saw distribution company Carroll’s father founded.

Carroll is a charter member of the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI), for which he served two terms as president. Now he is largely retired. In 1995, he turned over day-to-day operation of Capital Chem Can to the next generation of family members.

“I was a privileged kid in 1980 when I finished high school and asked my father for a job,” recalls Chad. “The family business seemed easy until I got involved.”

At the time Carroll built his first portable restrooms, the entire Austin area had only about 72 units. Carroll quickly expanded his business.
“Within two years I purchased the company that owned the other portable toilets,” Carroll says. He opened the San Antonio office in 1974.

At first people laughed at the nature of the family’s new business.
“It’s no longer considered a big joke, and that has made a big difference for us since society became more accepting,” says Chad. “In the beginning it was unusual to see a truckload of portable toilets. Now it’s a normal, everyday sight. Today they are as common as phone booths used to be.”

Two unit types

Like most portable restroom companies, Capital Chem Can maintains two types of units — some for rough use on construction sites and others for local special events. Both types have coat hangers, but those used for events also have small shelves for packages or women’s purses.

“Our dad and two other early portable restroom leaders — David Keeling in Minneapolis, and C. W. Harber in Arlington, Texas — were instrumental in making significant changes in the industry,” says Chad. “Their accomplishments include increasing the size of the openings in urinals to the size of a baseball hardball, changing the skids that toilets sit on from wooden four-by-fours to plastic, and making entire portable toilets out of plastic rather than wood.

“They introduced concepts that others picked up and made successful. They made the industry think,’’ Chad continues. “We watch companies try concepts that don’t work for us, but may work well for them. We’re always trying new concepts and technologies.’’

Recently the company introduced its first new service vehicle, with lighter tanks that have 3,000 gallons of additional capacity. Lely Manufacturing in Temple, Texas makes all Capital Chem Can tanks. The new tanks are made of aluminum and have a 15,000-gallon capacity, yet they weigh 10,000 pounds less than the older steel ones.

The current generation of service and delivery trucks also has air conditioning and automatic transmissions to help reduce driver fatigue. All of the trucks in Capital Chem Can’s fleet are International.

“We find it is easier not to vary the types of vehicles in our fleet,” says Chad.

Customer care

Leah Ann Stapp, James’ wife and Carroll’s daughter, says careful attention to customer service has helped the firm grow. Leah Ann serves as secretary-treasurer of the company and oversees Capital Chem Can’s internal administration.

“Our customers always know how to reach us,” she says. “No matter how big we grow, customer service will always be important to us.’’

Taking good care of customers helps stave off new competition that hits the marketplace hard with lower prices and hollow promises of quality service, according to Leah Ann. Company leaders reason that if they provide topnotch service, customers will hesitate to try a newcomer with unrealistically low prices.

“When small operators move into our market, they think that everything they make is profit. They cut prices to capture a quick market share and mess up the market. Then they lose money and go out of business, leaving a deflated, unprofitable marketplace,’’ Leah Ann echoes a common gripe among industry veterans. “We can’t afford to lose customers and are forced into an unprofitable position. It takes a while for prices to recover.”

Capital Chem Can also prides itself on maintaining a good relationship with employees. “Many have been with us for 15 years or more,” Leah Ann says. “We encourage our drivers to earn customer respect by coming to work and to the job sites on time, and by doing their job well.”

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