James Dillard, owner of Dillard's Septic Service in Annapolis, Md., once rolled his company truck loaded with wastewater.
In the septic business, that's about the worst thing that can happen, a Houston-we've-got-a-problem moment. He was fortunate. The front of the truck wound up facing uphill in a drainage ditch so that the load drained out the back and not into the cab.
Dillard goes most days without getting a splash on his clothes. "The only odor you catch is when you take off the cap and agitate the solids," he says.
Dillard runs a business that most others consider beneath them. Dillard knows that, but he takes it to the bank. He understands the attitude. His father was in the septic business, and when James was in school, he was a little embarrassed of him. James tried other occupations, including managing a furniture store. But he has circled back to septic, where he charges $200 to $300 a visit. At about five stops a day, his annual income passes six figures with months to spare.
Turns out there are a lot of people doing well and getting rich running businesses large and small that others consider mundane, boring, beneath them or downright disgusting. Their success flies in the face of perhaps the most pervasive piece of career advice out there that goes something like this: Do something you enjoy, and the money will follow. Or, work at what you love, and you'll never feel like you work for a living.
When USA TODAY asked CEOs last spring what one piece of counsel they would give to their own graduating child, Dan Amos of Aflac afl, Brenda Barnes of Sara Lee sleand Dan Neary of Mutual of Omaha all said that if you pursue passion, treasure will follow.
The irony is that Amos and Neary sell insurance, and Barnes sells hot dogs and coffee cake. Warren Buffett brka became the nation's second-richest man investing in insurance and industries such as carpeting and roof trusses. Forbes magazine last month released its list of the 400 wealthiest people in the USA. It's peppered with those such as Herbert Kohler, worth $4 billion from plumbing fixtures. Wayne Hughes psa is worth $3.7 billon from self-storage; James Leprino, $2.1 billion from mozzarella cheese; Dean White, $1.7 billion from billboards; Christopher Goldsbury, $1.5 billion from salsa; Dennis Albaugh, $1.5 billion from pesticides; and Leandro Rizzuto, $1.4 billion from blow dryers.
Portable toilets are lucrative, so much so that they have a trade association called the Portable Sanitation Association International, which says the industry brings in $1.5 billion a year servicing 1.4 million portable restrooms worldwide with a fleet of 9,400 trucks. Most anyone can clean, but more and more don't want to, and so the commercial and residential cleaning services industry grew to $49 billion in 2005 from $29 billion in 1998, says John LaRosa, research director of Marketdata.
Thomas Stanley, author of the best-seller The Millionaire Next Door, made a fortune himself by pointing out that the rich are often in mundane businesses and usually aren't the guys walking around in suits or at country clubs. They are scrap-metal dealers and dry cleaners, he says. They read trade journals such as Poultry Times and Water and Irrigation.
Franchisees of Spring-Green Lawn Care look tan and weathered, says company President James Young, but have second homes on the ocean. He knows of one in the Chicago suburbs who adds a new Corvette to his collection each year.