Larry Torti, Jr. Septic Cleaning, Cesspool Cleaning

Solitary Man

 

 

 

Rhode Island pumper Larry Torti
is a hardworking one-man band,
utilizing clever marketing and
personal customer care to build
a thriving micro-business.

Pumper Magazine
August 2013

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When Larry Torti contemplated launching his own business back in 2010, he had a few goals in mind. He wanted to earn a decent living, provide a valued service and work by himself.

Three years later, as the owner of a thriving one-man pumping outfit, Larry Torti Septic, he's happy to report that he's met all three objectives and is looking toward a bright future. How he reached those goals – even through some challenging times and facing stiff competition – presents some lessons that might help any pumping professional.

Larry Torti Septic is based in Glocester, R.I. It's a rural town about 35 minutes northwest of Providence, the state's capital and largest city. His territory encompasses the entire state. Rhode Island is only 1,033 square miles in area but has more than 1 million people. About half of those are in Providence and the suburbs and smaller cities clustered around it.

Glocester sits against the western border of Rhode Island. In 15 minutes, Torti can be in Connecticut. In not much more time he can be in southern Massachusetts. Yet he hasn't pursued work in either. For the moment he has all the work he wants or needs right in his home state.

 

 

Larry Torti, owner of Larry Torti Septic in Glocester, R.I., is shown with his 2012 Freightliner service truck with a 2,500-gallon tank from Imperial Industries and an NVE vacuum pump. The outgoing one-man pumping company succeeds with a carefully focused marketing plan and customer service accountability.

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Torti hooks a vacuum hose to his service rig on a job in Rhode Island.

 

 

 

 

 

Torti takes care of another septic tank during a busy daily service route. Running one truck, he pumps 4 to 12 tanks daily and gets busier all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Torti keeps a clean two-truck fleet any single-driver operation would be proud of. His main truck is a 2012 Freightliner with a 2,500-gallon Imperial Industries aluminum tank and NVE 607 pump. For backup, he keeps a 2001 Sterling Acterra with a 2,500-gallon Progress VacTruck aluminum tank and Moro AC4 pump.

 

 

 

 

 

Torti, in the office on a laptop computer, uses Pumper Plus software from Galaxy Systems to track customers and set up the next day's service route.

ALL BY MYSELF
For 18 years, Torti worked for the asphalt paving business of his father, Larry Torti Sr . Though he knew he wanted to operate his own business, Torti did not want to be an employer. He didn't want the hassle of waking up in the morning and wondering who would be showing up for work and what he would do if the crew was short a person or two. He wanted to work on his own. Also there was the question of providing consistent quality.

"I really don't want to hire somebody because I know they won't do the same job as I will," he says.

There was never a moment when he consciously picked pumping as a business. It had always been in his mind as an option.

"I just always knew if you wanted to be a one-man operation – and I didn't want to be a plumber or electrician – you could make a decent living as just one guy pumping," he says. Torti grew up in Glocester and observed pumpers working the area. He noticed the good contractors were always on the road and always working.

"I just thought if I could provide a good service, a needed service, and do it with a smile on my face, then I would be all right. And I am," he says.

Even though he's one guy, Torti runs two trucks. If one breaks down and a repair part won't be readily available, he can hop into the other truck and keep serving his customers. One truck, which he bought used, is built on a 2001 Sterling chassis. The newer truck is a 2012 Freightliner. Both have 2,500-gallon aluminum tanks. The Sterling carries a Progress Vactruck tank, and the Freightliner has a unit from Imperial Industries. Pumps move 325 cfm. The Sterling runs a Moro pump and the Freightliner a National Vacuum Equipment model.

CREATE A BUZZ
His success has a great deal to do with his father and his marketing. Those two factors are intertwined because Torti says he learned a great deal about marketing from his dad.

Part of his marketing success can be attributed to word-of-mouth recommendations. "My family has been in the construction industry in Rhode Island for 60 years in one form or another. And in a sense, it's not a very big state. Word gets around if you're not a good service provider," he says.

He also advertises. "I advertise crazy," is the way he puts it.

"You can know the most about septic out of anybody. You can know more than 12 people combined. If nobody knows that, nobody's going to call you," Torti says. That does not mean he throws money at every opportunity. He watches his results. He tried radio, but the number of responses he received was not worth the cost.

He is also careful about newspapers. Torti won't use the Providence Journal, the state's big newspaper, because most of its readership is city people who have municipal sewer service. Where he has had good responses is from advertising in three to four small-town weekly newspapers.

His ads are not just blocks of type with his name and telephone number. He gets creative with homespun messages. During a warm spring, his ad said: "Global warming has brought spring early, pump your tanks.'' Around election time, his ad read: I'm not a politician, choose me for pumping.'' For Thanksgiving, it was: "Your relatives are coming and you don't need any dirty looks for the holidays; clean your tank.'' People tell him they look at his ads all the time to see what the new one says.

The ads list not only his name but his title: owner-operator. People like talking to the owner, he says.

MAIL CALL
Another part of his marketing program is a substantial postcard campaign. It starts with paying attention when he goes on a job. If he hasn't worked on a certain street in a while, on the way out he'll write down 20 or so addresses and mail each resident a card about his business. If he's driving along a street and someone waves to him, he'll send a postcard thanking them for waving. It keeps his name circulating and increases the chance that a customer will remember Torti for emergency service.

If work is slow, Torti will focus on six or eight streets and mail each residence a postcard. That could be 500 to 1,000 cards. He also buys mailing lists. As he thumbs through a list, he uses highlighter pens to mark addresses he has contacted. For example, yellow may indicate streets he sent postcards to in the spring of 2010. Pink indicates the fall of 2010, and so on. At a glance he can see streets he has contacted recently and those he has not mailed cards to in a couple of years.

Another investment he made is buying Pumper Plus software. It allows him to track jobs and calculate the next service date. And, you guessed it, he sends out a reminder postcard. It's just like a doctor's or dentist's office sending out reminders, he says. Some businesses are switching to text message notifications, and Torti acknowledges he may do the same eventually.

Real estate listings are another reason to send a postcard. He will send a congratulatory card to someone who has just bought a home, and he may offer $5 off on a pumping job.

And here's one more touch. These cards are not printed mass mailings. Torti handwrites his cards. "I always thought handwriting was better, more personal," he says. "And it says something: 'This is me. I'm sitting here on a Sunday and writing to you while you're watching TV.' "

A sharp appearance is another calling card. Torti wears company shirts every day. "It looks more professional. I don't want to look like somebody who just got done greasing a car," he says. Having shirts printed is cheap. Add a few pairs of work pants for $300, and you have what looks like a uniform.

If he's driving down a street and sees a customer whose tank he has pumped, he'll give a friendly beep of the horn and wave. "And the customer will remember, 'That's my septic guy, not the guy in the phone book who does it $5 cheaper,' " he says.

STRESSING SERVICE
Aside from a work ethic, Torti says his dad also taught him the value of keeping your word.

"Even if that means making $4 less, you have to keep that promise," Torti emphasizes. That's part of good service. "Service has to come first, and that's it,'' he says. And you have to think long-term. "You say, 'I want to work for these people's children some day.' "

Interacting with customers means taking care how you speak, he says. You don't talk down to people unfamiliar with septic system care. In his part of the country, many customers grew up in cities and have no knowledge of how septic systems work.

Because Torti's goal is quality service, he will call a customer if he expects to be more than 10 or 15 minutes late for an appointment. And he is thanked for that. His customers say it's professional. They say other service providers don't do that.

Torti is not shy about adopting ideas that other companies use, and not just pumping companies. His cable company gives a five -hour window for a technician visit. He decided a time window was good for his own business – but he trims the expectation to a one-hour window.

SUCCESS SNEAKS UP
When he started the pumping business, the first few months were slow. Torti worked a little here and a little there, but he kept up the advertising.

"And then one day it was like, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do with all this work?' " he recalls. And that's where he still is. He's busy and exactly where he wants to be. He's not out to build an empire or change the world. All Larry Torti wanted was to make a decent living.

"If I can do between four and 12 jobs a day, one guy,'' he says, "what more do I need?"

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