Party feature: The portable services niche

Event Restroom offers luxury, disaster response and more

Editor’s note: Almost seven years ago, Steven W. Young started a restroom rental business in Gretna, La., in his brother’s warehouse. On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm, drenched Louisiana, decimating much of the New Orleans area. Emergency crews descended and Young’s restroom trailers became a necessity. Today, he is president and CEO of Event Restroom, a division of Elite Portable Restrooms, an established business on seven acres in Gretna with rental yards in Lafayette and opening soon in Baton Rouge. He continues to work with nearby Event Rental, owned by his brother, G. Richard Young. The business rents all types of restroom and shower trailers for disaster response, military training, camps, fairs, festivals, sporting events and the film industry, and is ready to do more. Event Restroom and Event Rental were part of a tour hosted during The Rental Show 2012 in New Orleans. Young recently talked with Rental Management on how Event Restroom’s business has grown since 2005. An edited version of that interview follows.

RM: What did you do before you started this business?

Steven Young: I grew up in the rental business and it’s all I really know. My brother is in it, my sister is in it and my father owned a general equipment rental store. It is there that I honed my skills as a rental manager. I took that knowledge when I was in my 20s and started a tent business that is now known as Event Rental, which my brother, Richard, manages. He has taken the business to a whole new level. He has expanded into multiple markets and grown the inventory by astounding numbers. I learned a lot about the party rental industry and the one thing that really hit me was that I did not want to be in the party rental business. It was the massive number of pieces and parts as well as a large number of laborers needed to manage a successful party rental store. I was ready for a change.

I sold the business in 2001 and took a couple of years off. Then I went to graduate school in North Carolina at Western Carolina University and UNCA. I found a program that was solely focused in entrepreneurship and in 2005 I received the first Masters of Entrepreneurship degree. It is there I learned a great deal more about business and realized that I knew a lot about the rental business, but knew very little about business as a whole. The degree gave me a whole new perspective on how to run a business and the tools I needed to make my next venture a huge success. I sought the advice of a mentor, my father George, and he gave the best advice of my life. I was undecided after graduate school about what I wanted to do with my new understanding of business and thought about going to work in a convention center in a major city, but my father advised me to do differently. The advice my father gave me was to “leverage what I know,” to use the wisdom, experience and street smarts I had culled, and go back to the rental industry. The advice he gave changed my life in so many ways and I now have the largest restroom and shower trailer business in Louisiana and possibly the South.

RM: How did you get started?

Young: I came back to New Orleans in 2005 to be with my future wife, Robin, and I enlisted the knowledge of my brother. I picked his brain about the rental industry and where he saw weaknesses. Richard told me that the restroom trailer business was still average at best, as no one had any really high-end trailers to rent. That was it. I told myself I was going to take a market that was not yet developed, build a new product and make it so over the top that no one would be able to keep up with us. I also was aware of the film industry and how it was becoming a powerhouse in the state. The idea was always in me, but it was my father and brother who steered me in the right direction. I saw an opportunity and I went after it.

RM: How long did it take for the business to become self-sustaining?

Young: I was fortunate that I came back to New Orleans about four months before Hurricane Katrina hit. I bought my first two trailers in
July of 2005. When Katrina hit, my business model to build luxury trailers and build a film industry fleet was immediately changed. Instead, I became a disaster response company. Over the next six months, I was able to triple my inventory and add a truck and other supporting equipment. I used the Event Rentals offices and space to build the business and within a year, I was turning a profit and building a company.

RM: What compelled you to expand?

Young: It was really the demand that made me keep expanding and driving me to build the best brand in the portable service industry. We kept giving customers what they wanted and more. We offered options that were just not there in the industry and we kept pushing the edge after each trailer and taking it a step further. For instance, in the movie industry, they were so used to using the same old junky, leaky trailers. When I started to offer them brand new, private stall trailers, the location managers and film crews appreciated it.

I never wanted to build a big company. I wanted a simpler life and fewer headaches. The truth is, it’s easier than the party rental business at times, but I have some projects that have challenged me and pushed me to a place I did not want to go back to. It started with Katrina and continued with the BP oil spill, and now to one of the largest events in the U.S. — the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, which we just signed the contract for.

RM: You custom-design some of your trailers. Do you handle or oversee the construction as well?

Young: I do work very closely with Charlie Senecal over at JAG. He has done some amazing things to our trailers and it’s really not me, it’s my wife who did all the design work. She worked for six months on our first “Boutique Series Trailer” and talked to Charlie at least 10 times a day. I don’t oversee all of my trailers, just those in our luxury line. For all of the other trailers, we buy stock and add options as we go. I am very proud of our Boutique Series. We have worked night and day to make our trailers one of a kind because it is so important to me and our brand.

RM: What are your biggest challenges?

Young: Honestly, managing people. I do not fit the role of a human resources manager and unfortunately it is a big part of my business and of any business. You have to hire, you have to deal with issues between personnel and you have to fire. This is a challenge for me. I am not always the easiest person to deal with. I’m human and I have faults, but being a perfectionist and a person who likes control is not always the best person for managing human resources issues. I established an employee handbook with guidelines, which has helped, and I have hired a person to help with human resources, so now she is the bad guy. The next biggest challenge is trying to reshape my company after the BP oil spill. We went from generating $2 million a year to $15 million a year in a blink of an eye. It has been very challenging to get the operations slimmed down and operating efficiently. We have cut back in a lot of areas and have learned to adapt back to old ways. You also have to keep the machine operating at a low rpm and be ready kick it up to a high rpm when the next disaster hits.

RM: What have been the biggest successes for the company?

Young: Two words: oil spill. It made a lot of people millionaires overnight and now they are getting ready to make a lot of attorneys more money than I will ever see in a lifetime. The oil spill has changed so many people’s lives. Some areas were desperate for new industry and workers needed hiring. Then the BP oil spill brought thousands of people new jobs and money. However, it was bad for the environment and we will be recovering from that for many years.

The other success story is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I have been going to the festival for years and knew when I built this company that this would be the one job I wanted to make mine. It requires more than 500 toilets, 100-plus holding tanks, 10-plus restroom trailers and custom semis I built for them. It is an operational challenge on every level. We will have to ramp up to numbers that are far more than what we had for the oil spill for a month and ramp back down. It’s a challenge, but one I welcome.