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.
No one else wants to do it
Fox's animated TV program King of the Hill saw humor in the contrarian road to riches. A 2006 episode called Business Is Picking Up has Hank Hill distressed because his son Bobby has taken an internship picking up dog droppings when he could be working for his dad selling propane and propane accessories.
When Bobby visits the home of his new boss, Peter Sterling, he finds him living in a mansion with a girlfriend more drop-dead gorgeous than Betty Rubble on her best day. Sterling gives Bobby this advice: "You don't get rich doing what you love. You get rich doing something no one else wants to do."
Jacob and Susan D'Aniello, both 30 and graduates of the University of Virginia, are finding this King of the Hill advice on the road to success is right on. In 2000, they started DoodyCalls, which polices yards for dog poop for about $15 a month. Susan thought nursing was her mission. But when the calls poured into her new husband's business, "I felt like I was missing out on so much."
Susan grew up in Great Falls, Va., where the median household income exceeds $170,000. It took two years before her mother told anyone that Susan dropped a nursing career for doody. DoodyCalls started franchising in 2004. It has expanded to 26 franchisees and will take in more than $2 million in revenue this year. That's only the beginning, Jacob says. There are plans for 275 franchises by 2011.
Forty percent of households have dogs. "They're all pooping. Nobody wants to pick it up. We're going to blow this out of the water," says Jacob, who was an information technology consultant before nature provided a fresh calling.
Chris Decastro doesn't have the $50,000 yet to start a DoodyCalls franchise, but that's his goal. He left a job managing a lumber store in Maryland and is an operations manager for a DoodyCalls franchise. "I want to be a part of history," he says.
DoodyCalls franchise owner John Bright says the modern-day alchemy is turning "poop into gold." A native of Britain, he developed the Gladiator receptacles for river walks, apartments and homeowners associations in the United Kingdom so that dog excrement can be deposited away from rats and the like. He has brought the invention to the USA, where revenue grew 80% last year and 50% more in the first half of this year. He says it's made him a millionaire, and he now has aspirations of joining the very rich.
Although iPhones aapl make headlines, a far better investment than Apple over the last year and last three years has been Potash POT, a giant fertilizer-mining company in Saskatchewan, Canada, with $3.8 billion in revenue. The price of its stock has risen from $32 a share in September 2006 to $110 today, a 244% climb that CEO Bill Doyle says is due to a growing middle class worldwide eating meat rather than rice, plus increasing demand for biofuels. More agriculture means more fertilizer.
Doyle was a government major at Georgetown University, but after graduation, he took a 60,000-mile worldwide trip alone on a motorcycle. He drove back roads where he saw farms everywhere. When he went home, he took a job in the fertilizer industry. That was 33 years ago. Last year, he made $1 million in salary and has stock and options in the company worth more than $50 million.
A hose is a hose is a hose
Not everyone is sold on the marvels of the mundane. Steven Barnhart, CEO of online travel company Orbitz Worldwide oww, started his career as an economic analyst in polyurethanes. Sounds boring, but it was interesting, he says. The big difference is that the polyurethane products he worked on were in development for a decade. Now, he can have an idea launched online in an afternoon and says he doubts if he could ever go back to the slower pace.
Chris DeWolfe, CEO and co-founder of the top Internet site MySpace nws, says the difference between the culture at his company and one that makes toothpaste is that his employees are passionate about the product. He speculates that those working at a toothpaste company "don't feel it in their gut if the toothpaste isn't working perfectly," he says.
No business is more glamorous than show business. John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, who wrote the Business Is Picking Up episode for King of the Hill, found themselves envying those with outdoor, pressure-free jobs like picking up poop. In TV, the vast majority of projects are money losers, they say, and the best projects often pay the worst. The smart money is chasing potash, they sigh.
"Let's face it, hoses are not glamorous," says Gwyn O'Kane, vice president of franchise development for Pirtek USA, which delivers industrial hoses 24 hours a day to companies that need quick replacements when their equipment breaks down.
But the company, started in Australia in 1980, has expanded worldwide with 2006 sales of about $250 million. Many Pirtek franchisees will become millionaires, O'Kane predicts, largely because, he says, there have been no others competing in the space for 25 years. Yet, as lucrative as a Pirtek franchise can be, O'Kane says, there are a limited number of people with $350,000 to invest in a franchise. So he says he must compete against those selling franchises for the latest coffee chain and its "lovely decor and the intoxicating smell."
"A hose isn't a bagel," he laments.
A common theme
CEO Ken Camp agrees to an interview but doesn't appreciate that Batesville Casket is being lumped in among the boring. His company has won awards for manufacturing excellence, and Camp is proud of its creativity, such as caskets with camouflage interiors for deceased hunters. Batesville may not be Google, he says, but the casket industry is not stagnant and styles change.
Still, he remembers 27 years ago when the company wanted him to fly out for a job interview. He had no interest in caskets, and they had to do a lot of coaxing to get him to go, he says. Today, when he recruits against the likes of General Motors, he tells engineering graduates that in 15 years at GM they can be working on a car latch all by themselves, but at Batesville they could be working in robotics in six months.
That is a common theme among those getting rich off the mundane: The job isn't that bad. Doyle says potash may sound boring but asks what career is more important and fulfilling than increasing the world's food supply.
But even those getting rich off the mundane draw their own line. They say that there are jobs they will not do, industries they will not enter, because they will not stoop that low. For example, Spring-Green Lawn Care president Young likes to point out that his company does fertilization and insect control. "We don't mow lawns," he says.
And Dillard, who once rolled a truck full of you-know-what, says he "takes pride" and draws the line at portable toilets. There's a lot of money to be made, he said, but he won't be making it.
"That, to me, is a nasty job," Dillard says.
One man's doody is another man's booty.