An Interview With Kathy-Rae Emmi
Can you tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you got into the septic business?
My father, William “Bill” Presby had started an excavation company in 1948, when he bought his first bulldozer. The construction company with an emphasis on septic installations was how my three older brothers and myself were raised. All of us learned to drive construction equipment, work a shovel and pump septic tanks. So I grew up in the septic business.
In 1980 I graduated from high school and earned an athletic alpine ski racing scholarship to Western State College of Colorado, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. After college I worked some more in the family business and took a job with a computer company thinking the last thing I wanted to be doing was construction or septic tank cleaning. After moving to Maine I met my husband at the Mexican restaurant that he owned. In 1996 as a side business I started selling the septic systems that my brother, Dave Presby had developed with Presby Environmental.
How is your business structured?
Our business consists of three entities – product sales, septic tank servicing and septic inspections for realty transactions. My husband sold his restaurant in 2000 and joined me in growing the business. Our plan was to always keep it small so we would manage it without a lot of employees to direct. Currently we work with two part-time employees and we run hard all spring, summer and fall, with winters being used for maintenance and to fuel our skiing desires. Currently, we have 35 dealer locations that we have established to resell the Presby Environmental Septic Systems throughout the state of Maine and we have two pumper trucks to service our client base of over 5300 residential and commercial customers.
What marketing research do you look towards in deciding what kind of trucks to buy?
Good old fashioned hands-on and in-the-trenches daily coupled with online research, reading the trade publications, attending trade shows and talking with others in the business has been very beneficial in our decision making process.
What is the percentage breakdown on the types of services you offer?
Our company consists of three income sources. Sales of the innovative septic systems from Presby Environmental is 70%, septic tank cleaning is 28% and the other 2% comes from our septic system inspections.
What are some of the distinguishing features and ways your company’s service stands out from your competitors?
Our company has always been about providing an education to our customers, coupled with the very best service that we can offer for a reasonable price. Taking the time to talk with our customers to listen to their concerns and providing them with solutions to resolve their issues really sets us apart from the competition. Attending training classes to learn more about the services and products we offer has been a priority over the years. The education that we have obtained has allowed us to stand out from our competition with a knowledgeable and professional image. Arriving at this identity for our company was not something we needed to attain but what we had planned from the moment we started this business. Realizing that customers really have no idea how their septic systems worked gave us the green light to offer this education and become the go-to company for answers and/or solutions.
What is your target growth look like for this year so far?
Our target growth is always to exceed the previous year’s numbers. Challenges along the way have not been anything more than growing older and wishing we had younger bodies to do our jobs. Always day to day challenges but those challenges keep our job interesting.
Who works at the company with you and your husband?
My husband and I with two part-time employees are employed by our company. My husband and one part-time employee are on the trucks day to day. In the office, myself and my part-time helper are handling the calls, scheduling jobs and updating the customer information in the electronic files.
How do you boost efficiency in workers and how does training work for your company?
Efficiency comes with the latest technology in either our tools or our software. Boosting morale is being flexible with their time so they can have time for their families or themselves. We expect our employees to have the same level of professionalism that we do and to become as knowledgeable. Training is a daily process and making them feel welcome to ask questions is key.
Tell us about the different trucks and other equipment we would see out your office doors?
Our trucks are older models but are well maintained. We have a 2004 Peterbilt with a 4500 gallon tank and 2000 GMC with a 2500 gallon tank. Also in our lot is a stock of our septic systems – our new EnviroFin Leaching System – smallest leach bed available in Maine. The Enviro-Septic leaching pipe and the fittings. Also we carry plastic septic and holding tanks. Also we have a small tractor for jobs that require digging with trailers for delivery of pipe or tanks.
We are interested in how many clients you have and name some of your contracts, if you don’t mind.
We service about 800 residential and commercial customers annually. We have special needs group homes that are one of our bigger clients, several commercial accounts from state parks, Dunkin Donuts, shopping malls etc.
What are the most challenging aspects and hurdles of your industry specifically?
The biggest challenge is the rising cost of the disposal of the septic waste. If I was about 15 years younger I would make a big effort to have my own treatment facility for composting the waste. In our product sales division we always have competition and again, we try to spend as much time educating the designers, installers and code enforcement so they can recognize the differences.