This throne's fit for a queen (June 12, 2005)
A local business specializes in portable toilets with comfort and a
By MASON LERNER
For The Chronicle
Frank Ballback, owner and operator of First Class Rentals, is doing
everything he can to avoid flushing his small-business investment
capital down the tubes.
Last January his company began renting out luxury portable toilets for
So far, it has been slow going for the company as Ballback struggles to
get the word out that there is now an alternative to the typical
Ballback first became intrigued by portable toilets when he attended an
outdoor festival for the Super Bowl in 2003.
He was standing in line with his wife as she waited with the dread
shared by all women who are forced to use portable toilets. His wife
lucked out when somebody guided her to one that had just been cleaned.
As Ballback stood outside waiting for his wife, feeling as tough as any
man can feel while he's holding a purse, he saw something that would
drastically change the course of his life.
Since 1998, he had been searching for a way out of the tool-dealing
business. At that point he had owned a Snap-on power tool franchise for
nine years, but he was constantly on the lookout for a source of income
that would free him from answering to anyone besides himself.
His answer came in the form of a little girl rapidly exiting a portable
toilet in tears.
"I saw a father come out with his daughter. She was probably six or
seven years old. The little girl was crying, and I knew exactly why,"
Ballback helpfully guided them to the just-cleaned toilet that his wife
was using. Little did he know that this was just the beginning of a
career dedicated to guiding men and women alike to the cleanest
possible portable toilet.
"If you had told me that day that I was going to go into the restroom
business, I would have laughed at you," Ballback said.
The next day he read an article about a woman up north who rented out
luxury toilets, and he knew what he had to do.
"My wife didn't think that I was serious at first," Ballback said.
But he was. He immediately began researching the idea. He began to
source products, look into legalities and figure out what he thought it
would take to make it as a toilet entrepreneur.
He unveiled his product last January at the Houston Bridal
Extravaganza, and he has been at it ever since.
'With ladies in mind'
Ballback has tried to transform a horrifying experience into a pleasant
one. His port-o-potties are about the same size as the industry
standard, but there is more room to maneuver because there is no
urinal. There is a floor pedal to flush the toilet, and a 20-gallon
reservoir of fresh water in each unit ensures that every flush uses
Ballback also had a flap installed into each bowl to cover any waste.
Ballback furnishes every one of First Class Rentals' portable toilets
with amenities such as a shoeshine kit, sewing kit, makeup remover,
purse hooks, deodorant packs, hand lotion and wet naps. The toilet
paper is plush instead of the sandpaper offered in most portable
toilets, and there are two sizable mirrors, a female hygiene box and
plastic flowers in every unit.
"All of the stuff in here is designed with ladies in mind," Ballback
Despite all of his efforts to market the perfect portable toilet, First
Class Rentals has only serviced a smattering of venues to date.
"I'm not going for the big outdoor festivals," Ballback said. "I am
going for big, private outdoor parties and events."
Of the $100,000 that Ballback has sunk into building his business, the
nearly $5,000 that he has put into advertising seems to be going to
waste, he said.
Judy Whitehurst, the director of the San Jacinto College Small Business
Development Center, thinks that there could definitely be a niche
market for First Class Rentals to fill, but she is not surprised to
hear that not much has come out of the company's advertising.
"He can't waste running general ads, hoping that his target market sees
them and responds to them," she said.
She recommended that Ballback make a personal effort to ingratiate
himself to the people in town who earn their livelihood from outdoor
"He needs to call wedding consultants and event planners directly," she
said. "He needs to prove to them that he is somebody they can trust."
Whitehurst feels that if Ballback rubs elbows with the right people and
offers a competitively priced service, he should be able to carve out a
competitive edge in his chosen market.
She noted that tenacity in making connections within the event-planning
industry is the key.
"Event planners are very careful about who they work with," she said,
"He should connect with the different trade organizations and see about
putting on demonstrations."
While a full demonstration of one of his units could be an unseemly
affair, Ballback already realizes the importance of getting in good
with the right people.
"There are a couple of event-planner groups in Houston, and I am
involved in them. There are also some catering groups that I am looking
into," he said.
Still, he realizes that he faces an uphill battle.
"We didn't just open the doors and have booming business. It's been a
slow process," he said.
Julia Stroup gives First Class Rentals perhaps the best endorsement
that a woman can give the company.
Not only did she retain their services for her outdoor wedding, she
actually used the portable toilets while decked out in her wedding
"I was wearing a long satin skirt, and I didn't have to worry about
dragging into one of them and messing up my dress," she said.
In fact, she said there were times when First Class Rentals stole the
"All the ladies just went on and on about it," she said. "One of the
band members that played at the party jumped on stage and yelled, 'How
about those port-o-cans!' "
Ballback is confident, despite the initial slow progress of First Class
Rentals, that he has a future in the restroom industry.
He hopes that his product will appeal enough to women to make it a
necessity when it comes time to plan an outdoor party.
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