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King of the road

Headingley port-a-pottie business flush with success

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/5/2018 (815 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Much has already been written about the whiteout street parties that have become as much a part of the Winnipeg Jets’ 2018 Stanley Cup run as a Mark Scheifele one-timer, but here is a related story that seems to have slipped through the cracks, so to speak.

Earlier this month, while the Jets were battling the Nashville Predators in their best-of-seven playoff series, a young woman following the action on a giant TV screen outside Bell MTS Place paid a visit to one of the 100 or so port-a-potties set up to service hockey fans who have been gathering downtown for the Jets’ home contests.

‘The one thing I will say: If you have terrible toilet facilities, no matter what the event, you will get complaints." (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

‘The one thing I will say: If you have terrible toilet facilities, no matter what the event, you will get complaints." (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

At some point during her, uh, stay, her cellphone found its way into the portable john’s 50-gallon holding tank. Mortified, she raced out, borrowed a bystander’s phone and called the number listed on the unit’s grey plastic door. Then, like a mother bird guarding her nest, she refused to budge, politely informing revellers wanting to use that particular biffy that it was strictly off-limits.

"Our office was closed when she called, but the person who handles our hotline took down all the pertinent information, telling her we’d get somebody down as soon as possible," says Steven Moon, president of King’s Services, the Headingley-based operation that supplies the whiteout parties with port-a-potties, handwashing stations and temporary fencing.

Moon can’t say whether the woman’s phone still worked after being "snagged and bagged" by one of his employees. But he does know she was pleased with the service she received, thanks to a complimentary message she posted on his company’s website the following morning that read, in part, "You guys are the best."

"I’m not sure why she wanted her phone back so bad — maybe she thought she could save the SIM card or something — but I have to admit, if it was me in that same situation, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have just chalked it up to a lesson learned." 


MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women.

Moon, a chartered professional accountant, laughs and says, "Oh my god, for sure," when asked if he heard every joke in the book, when he announced his decision in 2004 to leave a manager’s position at Roynat Capital to go into the septic and portable toilet biz.  

"I wasn’t really looking to buy a business of my own but my dad was an entrepreneur — he owned a tool and die company on Wall Street for 35 years — so I guess it was part of my DNA, whether I knew it or not," says Moon, an Asper School of Business grad who learned King’s Septic and Portable Toilet Service, founded by Bruce King in the mid-1980s, was for sale after he offhandedly asked a business financier he was helping close a separate deal what other properties he had available.  

CLEAN UP TIME

“Think of our trucks as enormous wet-dry vacs,” says Steven Moon. (John Woods / Winnipeg Fress Press files)</p>

“Think of our trucks as enormous wet-dry vacs,” says Steven Moon. (John Woods / Winnipeg Fress Press files)

“Think of our trucks as enormous wet-dry vacs,” says Steven Moon, when he is asked the obvious question: how does one clean 100 port-a-potties, at the tail-end of a whiteout street party?

“Think of our trucks as enormous wet-dry vacs,” says Steven Moon, when he is asked the obvious question: how does one clean 100 port-a-potties, at the tail-end of a whiteout street party?

Each truck has a split tank with room for fresh water in the front half, and waste in the back, he explains. The people operating the truck use what they refer to as a wand, which they dip into each port-a-potty’s tank, evacuating the waste into the truck.

Following that, they use a pressure washer to clean each unit inside and out before adding fresh water, chemicals and toilet paper.

“Yes, it’s smelly at times — you’re dealing with waste, after all, so you can’t avoid that but it’s not like the guys have to physically touch anything,” Moon says.

“We also have a massive wash bay at our plant, where we give the units another rinse before taking them out to a different job site or event, again.”

While Moon was flushed with excitement about going into a line of work he refers to as "near recession proof," he wasn’t as convinced his wife would feel the same way, which was why he waited until they were 35,000 feet in the air, to break the news to her.

"We were flying to California to visit my sister and about 30 minutes into the flight, when I knew she couldn’t go anywhere, I said, ‘So, what do you think of this idea?’" Moon says, seated behind his desk, flanked by framed photos of their three children.

"She basically looked at me like I had two heads. At the time, we had a house in Whyte Ridge we owed a ton of money on, plus we had one kid and another on the way. And here I was, telling her I was thinking about leaving a really good job and more than likely taking a pay cut for a few years, as well."

When Moon took over in April 2004, King’s consisted of five trucks and eight employees based out of a cramped, shared space along Highway 6, two kilometers north of the Perimeter Highway.

Jump ahead to 2018 and the operation boasts a fleet of 25 trucks and 35 employees housed in a 13,000-square-foot facility in Headingley that Moon built from the ground up four years ago, on a four-acre parcel of land he also owns.

"I think the reason we’ve been able to grow the way we have is a combination of taking lots of risks, and always buying new equipment when needed," he says, guessing his is one of the largest, single-location businesses of its kind in Canada. "We’ve never said, ‘Oh, we can’t afford that’ when something new and better comes along. Instead, we’ve figured out a way to just do it."

Moon with the Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Moon with the Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

One of those "new and better" things Moon refers to is an upscale portable toilet dubbed the King Jon that would put most people’s home restrooms to shame. Manufactured in the States, the five-metre-long trailer unit — let’s call it his pee-de-resistance — carries a US$50,000 price tag and features five individual stalls, a granite countertop, gooseneck faucets and porcelain sinks. Oh, did we mention it comes with air conditioning and stereo speakers, to boot?

"When I first started we only rented plastic toilets but more and more, because the market demands it, we’re adding ones that are basically like going to the bathroom in your own house, with running water and flush toilets," he says, touring a guest through the King Jon and its "little brother," the King Jon II, which also offers separate, his and hers stalls.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Elite V, a deluxe unit that comes with a granite counter, air-conditioning and individual, wooden stalls for both men and women.

"They’re great for corporate events or golf tournaments, plus there are a lot of wedding planners who put value on having great toilets, if the couple is getting married outside or in the country or whatever.

"The one thing I will say: If you have terrible toilet facilities, no matter what the event, you will get complaints," he goes on. "So when you give people the option of models that smell great and aren’t as hot as a greenhouse, they’ll see the value in paying five-times the cost of a plastic toilet to rent it."

When the powers-that-be at True North Sports and Entertainment contacted Moon at the start of the playoffs, asking him to supply the port-a-potties for the street parties, he donned his accountant’s hat in an attempt to figure out how many units would be necessary.

There is a formula he’s devised that measures variables such as how long an event is, how many people are expected to attend and whether alcohol will be available. You can add 15 per cent "right off the top," if booze is a factor, he says.

“We’ve never said, ‘Oh, we can’t afford that’ when something new and better comes along. Instead, we’ve figured out a way to just do it.”

"Sometimes organizers don’t want to spend the money (for extra port-a-potties) and what we tell them is, based on our experience, it’s going to turn out bad. Speaking from experience, I’ve been to events where, because there weren’t enough toilets, the ones that were there were literally filled right to the top. Let’s just say that’s never a pleasant experience," says Moon, who has supplied port-a-potties to events as diverse as Dauphin’s Countryfest, the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the Teddy Bears’ Picnic and the Manitoba Marathon. (With close to 200 toilets lining the marathon’s 26-mile-route, the annual Father’s Day race is Moon’s biggest undertaking, year in, year out.)

Moon's operation boasts a fleet of 25 trucks and 35 employees housed in a 13,000-square-foot facility in Headingley. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Moon's operation boasts a fleet of 25 trucks and 35 employees housed in a 13,000-square-foot facility in Headingley. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Moon, who recently added a home plumbing division to his list of services, admits his line of work isn’t for everyone. With that in mind, he makes sure potential employees know what they’re signing up for, during the interview stage.

"Honestly though, my guys are probably making more money than some of the people laughing at them. We pay them well, we provide tons of benefits and the fact this business supports 35 families… well, that’s definitely what I’m most proud of.”

"It’s a necessary service, but it’s certainly not glamorous, we tell them. Our guys get (teased) sometimes when they visit construction sites to clean out the johns and the workers there needle them, saying what a crappy job they have. Honestly though, my guys are probably making more money than some of the people laughing at them. We pay them well, we provide tons of benefits and the fact this business supports 35 families… well, that’s definitely what I’m most proud of."

Lastly, Moon recalls something his mother, a retired nurse, told him, not long after he informed his parents of his plan to purchase King’s, 14 years ago.

"She wasn’t really that keen on the idea at first but in the end she said, 'you know what, when you work in a hospital for 40 years as a doctor or nurse, you have to deal with a lot of (feces), too.' But at least I wouldn’t have to touch it the same way she did."

Moon was flushed with excitement about going into a line of work he refers to as “near recession proof." (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Moon was flushed with excitement about going into a line of work he refers to as “near recession proof." (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric businesses and restaurants.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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