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Weekend Warriors

South Florida’s Friendly-John Inc. hustles to serve several events – large and small – during a peak winter tourism weekend

By Rosalie E. Leposky

The Team:

Mario Verdeja Jr., executive vice president, manages the day-to-day operation of Friendly-John Inc. for his father, Mario Verdeja, who founded the company in 1989.


The family business services several events during most weekends of South Florida’s outdoor-event season — mid-September to mid-May. Friendly-John employs 35 full- and part-time workers, including Mario Jr.’s younger brother, Jorge, and younger sister, Martha.

“During the off-season, we use the same staff to maintain and organize equipment, and do other chores,” says Mario Jr. “We don’t lay off anyone, just shift them to other jobs to prepare for the next busy event season.”

During special events, the wives and adult children of Friendly-John drivers help with restroom trailer service. At the Coconut Grove Art Festival, which ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the three-day Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, two female family members of employees assisted with the women’s restroom.

The family business services several events during most weekends of South Florida’s outdoor-event season — mid-September to mid-May. Friendly-John employs 35 full- and part-time workers, including Mario Jr.’s younger brother, Jorge, and younger sister, Martha.



“During the off-season, we use the same staff to maintain and organize equipment, and do other chores,” says Mario Jr. “We don’t lay off anyone, just shift them to other jobs to prepare for the next busy event season.”

During special events, the wives and adult children of Friendly-John drivers help with restroom trailer service. At the Coconut Grove Art Festival, which ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the three-day Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, two female family members of employees assisted with the women’s restroom.

All Friendly-John event and service workers wear pinstripe-blue shirts bearing the company’s name and, on a sleeve, an American flag.

Company Stats:

Friendly-John Inc. provides portable restrooms in three South Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.



Since the early 1990s, Friendly-John has provided restrooms to special events. About 75 percent of Friendly-John’s business is construction; the rest is events of all sizes. “Most of our event business comes now by word of mouth,” says Mario Jr. “We bid on some events, but most of our work comes from recommendations. If we can’t personally provide portable bathrooms, we will not service them, although we do accept subcontracts from a few companies to maintain their trailers.

Most of the PRO’s 3,000 total units are from PolyJohn Enterprises. About 300 are from Olympia Fiberglass Industries, and about 100 handicapped units manufactured by PolyPortables Inc. and Satellite Industries. The company has 15 trailers — eight made by Ameri-Can Engineering, and seven by Olympia Fiberglass Industries — and 25 portable, four-place, PolyJohn Enterprises, hand-washing stations.


The Market:

Because so many events take place every week in South Florida during the fall, winter and spring, competition among portable restroom providers for new business is intense.

Every event is unique, and the event organizer’s requirements determine crew schedules. Friendly-John’s staff has learned to be busy and work extremely flexible hours. In season, workers must prepare for the next event, while taking down the previous one. Truckloads of equipment constantly move into the yard, are cleaned, and move out again. During the 2005 Presidents’ Day weekend, Friendly-John serviced three large and three small events in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Local community events drew hundreds of people, while the mega-events drew hundreds of thousands.



Making Connections:

“We negotiate individual contracts for each event with a committee,” Mario Jr. says. “Some charity events we do pro bono. For others, we negotiate costs.

“All of our contacts are important. During the Presidents’ Day weekend, we serviced three smaller events in Broward County. One of them, The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation — 2005 Ride for Kids, is a new local charity event for which we provided pro bono restrooms and services. Six hundred motorcycle participants raised over $59,000. It was very successful.”

Friendly-John’s connections and reputation help attract business from the film and entertainment industry. The company has serviced commercial photo shoots and major entertainment events, including the Latin Grammys, MTV Spring Break, and Video Music Awards in 2004; and two movies shot in South Florida — “Bad Boys 2” and “2 Fast 2 Furious’’ — in 2003.

Keeping Event
Organizers Happy:


At least a week before each event, Mario Jr. tries to obtain site plans and walk the event site with the organizer or promoter. Event organizers decide where the portable restrooms are placed, often yielding to vendor requests rather than attendees’ convenience. “Bathrooms have to be available, but often out of sight and be kept clean,” says Mario Jr.

Event organizers also are responsible for directional signage to the portable restrooms, after-hours security for Friendly-John equipment and compliance with police and fire department and disability regulations.
“We make sure disabled restrooms sit flat and are easy to see, enter, and leave,” says Mario Jr. “Our job at all the events we service is to provide and keep toilets clean.’’

Let’s Roll:

Six to 10 days before every event, Friendly-John’s staff prepares equipment and loads delivery trucks, which may make several trips to deliver all of the restrooms. Transporting equipment to multiple locations requires careful planning, allowing for distance and traffic congestion. Workers carry Nextel radio-telephones.

“Ideally, set-up occurs the day prior to the event, before other vendors set up their equipment, so our trucks have space to move around,” says Mario Jr. “The promoters and police know our staff is coming and who we are. We set up early and are the last people to leave. Our restrooms are available to the end. Tear-down typically occurs four or five hours after the event closes and gives other vendors time to get out of the way of our trucks.”

The Main Events:
Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail and the art shows in Coconut Grove draw large, affluent crowds.

The 2005 boat show drew 145,000 people to its multiple sites: the Miami Beach Convention Center and several Miami locations, including the Miamarina at Bayside and Bicentennial Park.

About 300,000 people visited the 42nd annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival and the adjoining 17th annual St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Art & Craft Show.

Complex Logistics:
Logistics vary from site to site, requiring a variety of solutions to deliver and service equipment. “We attach flatbed trailers to our flatbed trucks,” Mario Jr. explains. “Each truck can carry 20 toilets at a time. When necessary, we can deliver 80 to 100 portable restrooms at one time.”
At the Coconut Grove shows, major streets in the immediate vicinity close Friday at noon, and don’t open again until the show ends Monday evening.

At the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, Friendly-John provided 95 standard and six handicap units in two locations, and two staffed trailers in a third location. The restrooms were set up on Friday, and serviced on Saturday and Sunday evenings. On Monday evening, the bathrooms remained open until the vendors departed. Then crews serviced them and picked them up.

Between services, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival maintenance staff stocks Friendly-John’s bathrooms with supplies.

Two flatbed operators spent six hours setting up 109 portable restrooms at the Coconut Grove event and two at the St. Stephen’s events.

At St. Stephen’s, an old International 1,300-gallon pumper truck was parked out of sight behind a building before the artists and food vendors set up. “There wasn’t room for more toilets or to drive in a service pumper truck,” Mario Jr. says.



The boat show requires portable restroom and trailer maintenance at three locations. “We maintained two executive restroom trailers in the outdoor displays erected in the parking lot of the Miami Beach Convention Center; two portable bathrooms, two handicap bathrooms, and two portable sinks for Strictly Sail, Miami, at the Miamarina at Bayside, and three portable restrooms and a handicap bathroom at Bicentennial Park.

“This year, the event planners at Miamarina at Bayside hired a forklift and driver to help us and other show vendors transport large, heavy items through tight spaces. That made it a lot easier for us.’’

In Broward County, Friendly-John provided 12 standard and two handicap units for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation — 2005 Ride for Kids in Sunrise, six portable restrooms for the All Saints Catholic Church Carnival in Sunrise, and seven units for the St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church Carnival in Pembroke Pines.

Keeping Them Clean:

Servicing multiple locations required careful planning. At the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, show paths are narrow, lighting is minimal at night, and security is tight when the show is closed. Fortunately, two restroom sites are adjacent to main streets near the Coconut Grove Convention Center. To reach them, the service driver has to pass event guards.

To reach the third area, a pumper truck must be driven through a boat ramp parking area, over a curb, along a bike path and under the branches of a large oak tree to an area set back from the art fair.

A Friendly-John worker was assigned to St. Stephen’s during fair hours. He pumped the two portable restrooms all day and kept them clean and supplied.

“Portable restrooms at the Miami International Boat Show locations are serviced late at night or early in the morning when the show is closed,” says Mario Jr. “Show maintenance people keep the units supplied.”

Repair and Replace:

Portable restrooms that malfunction during events are repaired onsite or switched out. During a heavy event weekend, flatbed drivers are made available to transport replacement restrooms.

“If an air-conditioned trailer fails, we generally send in a technician to fix it onsite, or replace it with an alternate trailer and pull out the broken one — except during the Coconut Arts Festival, when the vendor tents and traffic restrictions make bringing in a different trailer impossible. If a trailer breaks down there, we must close it, repair it onsite, and put it back into service.”

Friendly-John constantly improves and upgrades its equipment. “For events, we purchase everything new,” says Mario Jr. “Quality service is important. We purchase the best quality, longest lasting chemicals, degreasers, cleaning agents, and perfumes and fragrance chips.” When equipment ages, it is diverted from events for use on construction sites.

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