Waste Disposal Opens New Market For B&J Vacuum Services

Mississippi contractor takes a sharp turn and ventures into vacuum and disposal of waste products for new client base.
Waste Disposal Opens New Market For B&J Vacuum Services
The B&J Vacuum Services crew includes (from left) mechanic Terry McIntyre, operator Richard Begnaud, owners Brenda and John May, John May Jr., and plant manager Gregory Shavers.

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John May and his wife, Brenda, spent years installing septic tanks and handling portable toilet rentals before their concerns for proper waste disposal led them in an entirely different direction with the opening of B&J Vacuum Services in Gulfport, Miss.

“Through my lifetime, since I was 8 years old, I have seen the issue of proper disposal become more sensitive and the environmental effects and related issues becoming more ugly, particularly in the 1970s and ‘80s,” says John May.

“When we started B&J we believed that by changing our focus in the industry we would be in a position to find answers to the many problems related to waste. We wanted to be problem solvers. We knew there was a need for more regulation. I told my wife we would start the business and if we couldn’t do it right, we would just not do it.”

Their objective was to provide waste material collection for a wide mix of municipal and industrial clients. Working closely with Keith Huber, May sought to develop a vacuum truck that would directly meet his needs and help him achieve his goals.

“I had worked with Keith over the years,” May says. “He built the first portable toilet truck I had — other than those I built myself. Together we could figure things out. He had an analytical mind as to how to make things happen. When I came up with the idea, he said, ‘Let’s put it together.’ We did that and it became the Dominator, his primary seller through the years. We put the vacuum and jet together. That’s what made it so valuable.

“We started out in industrial plants such as DuPont and Chevron,” May says. “We were collecting chemicals, liquid waste, semiliquid waste. The customers were very impressed. They were ecstatic at what we were able to do with that truck. They had spent months trying to determine how to handle this waste. We got jobs that had taken 36 hours to accomplish, and we did it in eight hours. We were saving them lots of money.

“But we also had some problems when they would run out of money to bring us in,” he continues. “We would be working 24 hours a day, and suddenly — Bam! — we would be told we had to stop because of the money. That is when we realized we needed to be more diversified.”

May continued to have concerns about proper disposal, noting that if there is no place to take the waste there is no sense in having the truck. After talking with various communities he was able to locate suitable sites for disposal. “The truck is no good without disposal. But you have to take care of the environment as well.”

When local authorities began setting up regulations in 1990, they encouraged May to open a pretreatment plant, which he did. By that time, the landfills were no longer accepting liquid waste. All material had to pass a tank-filtered test.

“I had no idea at that time what I was getting into,” he says. “But it has worked out very well.”

Proper treatment

A contract with an industrial, government or municipal customer will generally require that they collect the liquid or solid waste and bring it back to the plant, where May determines what it is and how to properly dispose of it.        

“What we do is separate the waste and neutralize it. We check the pH. I can tell if the pH is a 5 or a 7 by the smell. We sometimes have to bring the BOD down and get it where it will pass into the collection agent. I have brought it down to the point where it is as clean as drinking water.”

In one month in the summer of 2014, they had 80,000 gallons in the treatment plant. But nothing leaves the plant until May says it can go. It is then tested by a laboratory, confirming his assessment. B&J holds local, state and federal permits for the pretreatment plant, which is monitored and regularly inspected. Waste is taken to the Harrison County Utility Authority, the Harrison County Development Commission and the Pecan Grove Landfill.

“We pretreat the waste. Liquid waste goes to the treatment plant. My solid waste goes to the landfill. That includes grease, dirt and rocks. We have enough containment space that we can sit on it until we get it right.

“If you don’t know what you are doing, it can be very expensive. It has to be right.”

As a rule, May does not take waste from outside companies, but does make an exception with contractors he is familiar with. “I don’t consider them as competition, but as ‘co-business owners.’ I will work with them if they have problems, and I’ll help find solutions. I will help.”

Diversify and conquer

May has diversified into CCTV and cleaning of storm drains, grease traps, drainfields, car wash facilities, elevator shafts, fuel tanks and gas wells.

The menu of services has also expanded to include line repair using the QuickLock Pipe Point Repair by Rausch USA. The system can be sent into the exact location of a problem and locked in place, covering from 6 to 32 inches of pipe. May has become a QuickLock distributor in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

At one time they offered confined space entry and dealt with hazardous waste, but it wasn’t profitable and after 10 years they got out of that end of the business.

Equipped for business

May believes people sometimes get into this business without realizing what it takes to make things happen. “If you don’t have that disposal, you will be parking your truck. You cannot unload without having a place to dump.

“I’ve had some of my co-business owners [other contractors] ask me how I get results,” he says. “I have been fortunate enough to be able to get water out of the ground with my Dominator from 140 to 200 feet deep. Most people cannot do this at 30 feet deep. I just say I’m not in the teaching stage. I’ve done it.”

Equipment includes a 2000 Vac-Con with a Bean high-pressure pump (3,000 psi/50 gpm) and two Keith Huber Dominator vacuum trucks with Myers high-pressure pumps (2,000 psi/35 gpm) and Battioni vacuum pumps. The company also has a truck-mounted jetter with a Myers pump producing 2,000 psi/65 gpm.

Their CCTV van is a 2006 Dodge Sprinter equipped with a Cyclops inspection camera and software. May runs the CCTV van, along with a helper. He says his employees work hard and he can depend on them to do their job according to company policy.

Get it done right

B&J’s workload sorts out to about 25 percent municipal work, 35 percent government and 5 percent residential, with the balance in industrial jobs. All of this can fluctuate, however, depending on circumstances.

“That is the reason for diversification,” he says. “In one year to the next, 25 percent can jump to 75 percent. You never know from one year to the next how it will break.”

There is no typical time frame for jobs, but May says they can generally plan a week ahead with the awareness that emergencies can require adjustments.

“We know what we will be doing, but at the same time people get in trouble all the time with sewers. That includes the cities and the mom-and-pop operations as well. We have to keep these events in mind and have a plan. We want an employee who knows what to do to help people. That is critical. Always have one man sitting there with a smiling face to answer the call.”

On scheduled jobs, they can handle three to five projects per day. May says when an emergency requires immediate attention, he can sometimes handle it with a phone call. But his customers know that if he cannot respond he will recommend another contractor to handle the situation.

“Our philosophy is get it done right,” he says. “Sometimes I lay awake at night and think that I sure need to take care of these good folks. Our customers know that if B&J cleans their tank, there is a very little chance there will be an emergency service required.”


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