Over the last 35 years, Russell Reid has grown from a small septic pumping company into one of the biggest waste hauling and disposal companies in the northeastern United States. The growth formula was relatively simple: Provide great customer service. Period.

But at Russell Reid in Edison, New Jersey, great customer service takes many forms — it’s much more nuanced than just showing up on time and finishing projects on schedule. It also means providing a diverse array of services to give customers the convenience of one-stop shopping, and investing in the best equipment and technology to maximize productivity and minimize work stoppages caused by breakdowns, says Devin Dam, the company’s outside sales manager.

“It all sort of happened organically,” Dam says. “When you pump septic tanks, for instance, you encounter opportunities to use jetting equipment. And when you clean sewer pipes, you realize you need cameras for post-cleaning inspections. You just naturally take on different kinds of work, or customers suggest that you start a new line of service. It’s all about customer service.”

The Right Trucks

Russell Reid was established in 1943. Morton Weiner, the founder and owner of Mr. John Company, a portable restroom outfit, acquired the company in 1981, ushering in a new era of growth and diversification. Today, Russell Reid’s primary focus is nonhazardous liquid- and solid-waste hauling and disposal. The company also performs infrastructure maintenance, such as cleaning and inspecting sewer systems, pump stations, digesters and lagoons.

Of course, providing all those services requires a lot of equipment. Russell Reid’s fleet includes about 70 vacuum trucks, ranging in size from 3,500- to 7,000-gallon capacity; two CCTV inspection trucks; and five Vac-Con combination jet/vac trucks equipped with hydroexcavating packages. All have played an important role in the company’s growth. “Investing in the most reliable equipment allows us to do jobs more effectively and without costly breakdowns,” Dam says. “Owning better equipment than our competitors have been critical to our growth.”

The Vac-Con units are spec’d for maximum productivity. Each one features an 11-cubic-yard (2,200-gallon) steel debris tank; a positive displacement blower that generates vacuum power of 4,500 cfm; 1,000-gallon water tanks; hydraulically operated, front-mounted hose reel; a telescoping boom; a hydraulically operated scissor-lift dump system; and a fully opening rear hinged door. Four of the trucks are equipped with a water pump that delivers pressure and flow up to 3,000 psi at 50 GPM through a 600-foot-long, 3/4-inch-diameter hose, while the other truck’s pump produces 3,000 psi at 80 GPM via a 1-inch hose.

“The lift-and-tilt feature is invaluable — we can’t do the work we do without it,” Dam says of the off-loading system, which lifts the debris tank high enough to dump into roll-off containers on job sites and keeps the trucks working instead of leaving to make frequent disposal runs. The tank also tilts 75 degrees, which lets gravity do most of the heavy lifting when it’s time to empty the tank. Moreover, an internal, high-pressure wash system powered by the truck’s water pump washes out any debris that’s left clinging to the tank.

“We’re usually dealing with thick, solid material, so the only way to get it out of the tank is to use gravity,” he explains. “In addition, most of the places we dump are not set up to take materials through a hose — we might be set up to dump onto a concrete pad with a sloped floor or into a landfill or into a roll-off container. We have to be prepared for all those situations, and the high-dump and tilt features give us the flexibility to do that.”

The company spec’d positive displacement blowers instead of three-stage fans for the Vac-Cons because they often must suck thick, heavy solids at long distances from facilities such as pump stations and catch basins or from heavily impacted grease traps, where the grease is solidified to the point that it’s almost like concrete. “Traditional vac trucks can’t remove those kinds of materials,” Dam says. “We need a lot of power because we’re often pulling at significant distances and depths.”

The Vac-Cons are workhorses used for everything from commercial and industrial work (cleaning process tanks in plants and factories, for example) to municipal cleaning. “We need to be able to cover the whole gamut because we serve so many different kinds of customers,” Dam says.

On The Job

One of the toughest jobs Russell Reid crews tackle is cleaning wastewater treatment plant infrastructure — items such as digesters, aeration tanks and clarifiers. That typically requires the Vac-Cons to move thousands of gallons of liquid waste and hundreds of yards of solid waste. “You definitely need a truck with a lot of power that can move a lot of air and run long and hard — sometimes eight to 10 hours at a pop,” Dam points out. “That’s where these trucks really shine.

“The Vac-Cons can suck up anything, from water to bowling balls,” he adds. “When we show up with our Vac-Cons, our customers know we won’t have any problems sucking up liquids or solid waste. It’s one of the bestselling points we can offer, especially if our competitors are running pump trucks that aren’t set up to handle things like heavy solids at great distances and depths.”

Reliable equipment also plays a role in customer service because it helps ensure that jobs get finished in a timely fashion, which minimizes disruptions for clients. It also helps boost the bottom line, Dam points out. “We call breakdowns a ‘false start,’” he explains. “You’re essentially bleeding out because you’re paying for the labor and fuel, while at the same time you’re paying to fix the truck or machine — and the whole time, you’re unable to bill the customer. All you’re doing is paying out money without getting paid.”

Keeping a lid on expenses also helps out customers, which is why Russell Reid has a team of employees, led by an environmental compliance manager, that’s dedicated to finding strategically located waste disposal sites that minimize driving times and distances for disposal runs. Liquid wastes — such as sewage, industrial process water, sludge and oily wastewater — typically go to treatment centers, while solids get taken to landfills or other facilities. “If we can load it on a truck and it’s nonhazardous in nature, we can find a home for it,” Dam says. “We always use the most inexpensive and closest disposal facility possible.”

Better Options

The company outfitted the Vac-Cons with hydroexcavating packages to add another convenience for customers. While hydroexcavating is not a huge part of the company’s overall business volume, Dam says it’s growing — and it’s great to have the capability when customers need it. It also provides safer options for employees when cleaning items like lift stations or tanks because the hydroexcavating wand can operate at a lower pressure (1,500 psi at a variable flow rate) than the truck’s water jetter.

“That makes it easier to handle,” Dam says. “And sometimes, if we’re cleaning old pipe, for instance, we don’t want to go in with the highest possible pressure and flow because it might break the pipe. The same is true for things such as sewage pumps, which have delicate parts. The hydroexcavating gun allows us to back down the pressure and flow to a safer level.”

In-the-field technology for employees also factors into better customer service. For example, sophisticated business management systems and software enable customers to perform functions such as viewing and paying bills online and placing orders via email. “All paperwork — from work orders to disposal manifests — is scanned and stored digitally,” Dam points out. “When a customer requests documents, we can pull them and email them.”

Furthermore, field technicians are equipped with hand-held computer tablets that essentially eliminate the need for paperwork. The tablets can also track jobs, take photos in the field (which can be posted to customers’ accounts in real time) and allow technicians to remain digitally connected even if they’re out of range of the company’s network, Dam says.

“We’re dealing with more sophisticated customers than in the past,” he continues. “Most of our customers are used to using digitally based systems and the internet. Even here in the waste world, we have to keep up with those kinds of technologies and bring our industry online along with everyone else. People assume that waste haulers aren’t going to be very tech savvy, so we go out of our way to be just that.

“Anyone can show up with a vacuum truck to clean something out — that’s not the hard part,” he concludes. “But being a step above our competitors in terms of customer service is what really sets us apart in this industry.”