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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 3 years ago

Game of thrones

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Renting portable restrooms is a tough job, but Robin Youmans is one of the best in the business.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

When Robin Youmans quit a hairdressing job to become a portable-restroom saleswoman in 2001, her friends didn't go easy on her.

“I caught hell when I started doing this,” says Youmans.

But you can't argue with the one big reason Youmans got into the port-a-potty business: “It's never going to be replaced by a computer,” she reasoned.

Fourteen years after she got started in the business, Youmans helped build two portable-toilet powerhouses in the region, making her the indisputable leader in the industry in Southwest Florida. Most recently, she grew Allied Portables to 4,000 portable toilets serving construction jobs and special events throughout Southwest Florida.

Youmans recently was appointed to lead the operations of Garden St. Portables, partnering with the owners of Garden St. Iron and Metal, a giant recycling operation in Fort Myers. Already, the company has 1,000 portable toilets and eight trucks to serve customers from Sarasota to Marco Island in the areas of construction, special events and agriculture.

This is serious business. A portable rents for about $110 a week, including two cleanings. It's tough work and Youmans knows how to operate every piece of equipment. “I'm not opposed to getting dirty,” she says.

But Youmans also wants you to know this: “I'm not a weirdo,” she says. “I know how to order red wine and wear heels.”

And Youmans doesn't subscribe to the theory that potty humor will bring her more business. The trucks and portables won't sport any lowbrow humor referring to certain bodily functions. She reluctantly agreed to the company's phone number, 844-WE-POTTY, though she still winces at the idea.

One of the keys to selling the service is reliability and cleanliness. “I'm never the cheapest. We're better than that,” Youmans says. “What I sell is the service behind it.”

She pitches the fact that the uniformed Garden St. Portables drivers are routinely drug tested and competent, an important factor when they're driving a 26,000-pound truck around a construction zone. Sanitation is especially important in the agriculture business, for obvious reasons.

Youmans says the first thing she does when she calls on a customer is be considerate. “The first thing I always ask is 'Do you have a moment for me?” she says. Although that gives a prospect a way out, she says that courtesy ultimately improves her chances of making a sale. “You've got to be patient with sales,” she says.

“I'm not pushy,” Youmans says. She uses her own experience as a consumer, aiming to match the customer service she gets in stores such as department store Nordstrom. “I hate pushy,” she says.

Youmans says being a woman in a male-dominated industry is an advantage, especially when contractors need to hire women and minority-owned businesses to satisfy the requirements of government work. “It does give you a competitive edge,” she says.

Youmans says that's one of the reasons she puts her photo on every email she sends. Initially, her friends gave her grief about that. “Only Realtors do that,” they told her.

A former state softball-pitching champion, Youmans says she isn't shy about walking up to anyone wearing a contractor shirt and asking for his business, even if she doesn't know him. Many people are taken aback, she admits: “I get the RCA dog look.”

Youmans says her outgoing personality is a key to success. She networks at industry events and prefers to meet customers in person and make personal connections before pitching the service. “You've got to get out the door,” she says, often punctuating her conversation with terms of endearment such as “babe” and “pumpkin.”

That outgoing personality has helped Youmans overcome the inevitable setbacks. For inspiration, Youmans says she reads books by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.

When the holidays approach, Youmans takes special care to thank customers personally. “I handwrite all my Christmas cards,” she says. “I like to do personalized things.”

Commission-based work is often tied to generating new customers, but Youmans says employees should be equally rewarded for customer retention. “They're the ones who put food on my table,” she says. Besides, she adds, “It's a lot harder to get a customer back once you lose them.”

— Jean Gruss, Editor/Lee-Collier

SalesTips
Don't speak ill of your competition. “You never put down a competitor,” Youmans says. “Ethically it's wrong and it makes me look bad.”

No one likes a pushy salesperson. “I get people to like me,” Youmans says. That could include sending a handwritten Christmas card or surprising a customer with a golf outing.

Small courtesies go a long way. Always ask if someone has time to speak with you when calling on them because they'll appreciate it. “I'm very cognizant of people's time,” Youmans says.

Get out of the office. Meeting people at industry and other networking events is a key to success.

Make sure people remember your name, face and voice. Youmans puts a photo of herself on every email she sends.

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