Do porta-potties have the power to save lives?
For Todd Hilde, CEO of Plymouth-based Satellite Industries, the answer is most definitely yes.
Satellite provides sanitation products, including portable toilets and hand-washing stations, to more than 80 countries worldwide. The products play a key role in preventing disease in developing nations, and also help communities recover when disaster strikes, Hilde said.
For example, if a village in India hosts a large event, the community’s population could double and all those people need a place to go to the bathroom. Without portable toilets, they’ll resort to using the ground or other outdoor areas, Hilde said.
The unsanitary conditions could cause the village to become sick for a month or two and people could die.
“We take [those amenities] for granted,” Hilde said.
The need for portable sanitation products also is acute when natural disasters strike. Satellite plays a role in those situations, as well. It recently provided facilities for flood-ridden Minot, N.D., for instance.
“Our industry saves lives and helps communities get back on their feet,” Hilde said.
Hilde’s father, Al, founded Satellite in 1958. An army veteran and a lover of outdoor activities, Hilde’s father didn’t quite invent the portable toilet, but he was the first to have a modern-day rental and service company for porta-potties.
The business has since gone global, but not without hiccups, Hilde said.
Success in the portable sanitation field is very much tied to single-family housing, he said. In the 1990s, many thought the portable sanitation market was mature and there wouldn’t be much room for growth. However, a housing boom in the 2000s created a need for more portable toilets. Contractors used to go to the bathroom in the basement of the home on which they were working, but that eventually became unacceptable, Hilde said.
When the housing market later collapsed, the company found itself digging out of a hole.
Still, with yearly revenues between $50 million and $100 million, Satellite is primed to continue its global expansion.
“Some companies our size would be afraid to go around the world — the owner doesn’t want to delegate. He’s afraid to take the plunge. … That’s our future — going global,” Hilde said.
The company doesn’t release exact figures on revenue, sales or units, but officials said Satellite employs between 75 and 100. The cost of a single unit can vary from $500 to $2,000.
Perhaps Satellite’s biggest objective now is conveying the environmentally friendly benefits of its portable sanitation products.
Hilde said portable toilets save 125,000 gallons of water a day. Plus, because users aren’t forced to hop in their cars and drive to the nearest gas station while tailgating, the toilets save gasoline, too.
Entities that use Satellite have high praise for the company.
Cat Cans Portable Services, a portable sanitation rental company in Manhattan, Kan., buys nearly all the products it rents from Satellite.
“They seem to be the best in my opinion,” said Matt Wallace, the owner of Cat Cans. “If you just compare their porta-potties to others — the way they’re put together, stainless steel, nuts and bolts — it’s stuff that’s made to last.”