Making Money on Municipal Maintenance

Combo unit helps Grease Masters break open the door to municipal work and diversify its services.
Making Money on Municipal Maintenance
Suburban St. Louis-based Grease Masters, a cleaning and pumping company, used its Vac-Con PD 4212 combination truck to acquire the regularly scheduled maintenance work on about 250 area lift stations, along with utility location and other municipal work. The unit features a 12-cubic-yard steel debris tank and 1,300-gallon water tank, a 20-foot boom that swings 270 degrees and a hydroexcavating package.

Interested in Municipal/Industrial?

Get Municipal/Industrial articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Municipal/Industrial + Get Alerts

John Remstedt, co-owner of Grease Masters LLC in St. Charles, Missouri, follows a straight-forward business philosophy when it comes to diversification: If you don’t provide a needed service, odds are that some other company will.

So toward the end of 2012 when officials from a local sewer district asked Remstedt if he owned a vacuum truck that could regularly clean and maintain the district’s numerous lift stations, he pretty much said not quite yet. But he and his wife, Pam, also a co-owner, rectified that situation a few months later. In a “go big or go home” move, the couple purchased a Vac-Con PD 4212 combination truck at the 2013 Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show.

“No guts, no glory,” Remstedt says of the $336,000 purchase. “If you don’t agree to provide a service, somebody else will. The more things you can do for a customer, the more they think just about you and nobody else. And in a worst-case scenario, if things didn’t go well, we figured we could always sell the truck.”

It’s not like the Remstedts made the move rashly; the sewage district verbally agreed to hire Grease Masters to perform regularly scheduled maintenance on about 250 area lift stations. “They realized that spending money on the front side to keep the pumps running reduces spending on the back side,” he explains. “They’d rather spend the money incrementally on maintenance as opposed to an expensive emergency pump replacement in the middle of a night.”

Remstedt also did his financial homework by talking to several different finance companies to see how much monthly income the truck would need to generate to make monthly payments. He also talked to the sewage district to get a rough idea of how much business per month he could expect for his company, which primarily pumps out grease traps but also provides industrial cleaning, power washing and back-of-house restaurant services (such as cleaning exhaust hoods and inspecting and maintaining fire-suppression systems). About 90 percent of the company’s revenues come from grease-related operations.

In addition, Remstedt also considered renting a truck. But the monthly payments were almost twice as high compared to buying the truck ($13,500 versus $8,600). In the end, Remstedt minimized his monthly payments by taking on a seven-year loan. And so far, the machine has generated enough revenue each month to more than cover the monthly payments, he says.

Built on a 2013 Freightliner 114SD chassis, the unit features a 12-cubic-yard steel debris tank, a 1,300-gallon water tank, a 5,800 cfm Roots Systems blower, a water pump (80 gpm at 2,000 psi) made by Giant Industries, a 20-foot boom that swings 270 degrees, and a hydroexcavating package.

“We use the hydroexcavating function for utility location,” Remstedt says. “It’s a very useful ancillary function. Vac-Con calls this unit a ‘contractor’s truck’ because it performs multiple tasks.

“The truck also gives us the ability to pump off this tank to another truck with a rear hydraulic pump-off system that pumps 575 gallons a minute,” he continues.

“So if we fill up the tank, we can off-load water into tanker trailers or vacuum trucks while we keep on working — no need to leave the site for a disposal run.

“We usually can’t get rid of all the debris, but we can get rid of all the liquid, and that’s what fills up the tank the fastest,” he adds. “That feature by itself allows us to keep moving. Some of the disposal sites are 10 to 20 miles away from most of the lift stations we clean, which is about a 1 1/2-hour round-trip. In the end, it saves customers money because we can get more work done in less time.”

Vacuum power comes from the truck’s 350 hp engine; an auxiliary engine made by Deere & Co. runs the water pump. The unit also offers a full-dumping tilt tank equipped with an internal washout system. “That’s a big time-saver as long as you don’t have a lot of heavy debris in there,” he notes. “If there’s a lot of compacted sand and soil, you have to use high-pressure water from the excavating gun to wash out the tank.”

The blower is powerful enough to handle cleaning out the submerged lift stations, which often are 40 feet deep or more. “So far we’ve been able to do everything the sewage district has asked us to do with this truck,” he says.

Remstedt also lauds the unit’s computerized controls, which make it very easy to monitor its performance — things such as water pressure, engine speed and vacuum power levels. “There aren’t any idiot lights like on a car dashboard,” he points out. “If there’s a problem, it clearly tells you what it is. Our older operators can usually tell if something is wrong just by listening to the truck, but the computer readouts make it real easy for the younger guys.”

Overall, Remstedt says the truck has been a great investment. What else can you conclude about a machine that earned the company a customer that now generates about 25 percent of Grease Masters’ annual gross revenue?

“That truck got our foot in the door (with the sewage district),” he says. “It helped us grow and gives us a bigger presence out there. We now can do jobs we weren’t equipped to do before. We used to be limited to no more than 10-inch-diameter lines, but now we can handle up to 56-inch-diameter lines. Plus we hired two more guys to run it, so we’re employing more people. This truck has been a real game changer for us — and we haven’t even tapped its full potential.”


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.