When budding entrepreneurs usually consider a business to start, they don’t think of handling human waste.
However, that is what Fred Hill III and wife Renita does for the District and the surrounding areas with his firm, Gotta Go Now LLC. Hill has managed to carve out a profitable, clean niche for his family.
“I was flipping houses in 2003-2004 when the market crashed,” Hill said. “I had bought three portable restrooms and decided to see what we they could do in terms of making money. I rented them out and a demand for them started. After that I invested in 20 and that grew to 175 and now I own 2,500 portable restrooms.”
The portable sanitation industry generates approximately $1.9 billion worldwide, according to the Portable Sanitation Association International (PSAI) website. In the U.S., about 1,100 businesses focus primarily on portable sanitation.
Portable restrooms are commonplace, whether at construction sites, parks and special events. In addition, Hill offers seven luxury trailers as well as hand-washing stations, showers, units accessible to those with disabilities, flushable units and deluxe units.
Independent of the portable restrooms, Gotta Go Now offers services in plumbing, roll-off, trash bag and receptacles, event cleanup and attendant services to its customers.
Over the years, Hill has amassed a wide range of customers such as the Broccoli City Festival, Funk Parade, the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade, events surrounding President Obama’s reelection, Savor Bowie Food, Wine & Music Festival, the National Barbecue Battle at Freedom Plaza in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, Md.
Federal sites such as Bolling Air Force Base, Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Myer, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Meade and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock have Hill’s portable restrooms.
Hill knows the perceptions that some have about portable restrooms — mainly that they’re dirty, smelly and possibly disease-ridden — but said nothing could be further from the truth.
“People have to understand how they are cleaned,” he said. “We have a 26-point cleaning process. We have been praised for our cleaning practices and for having clean portable restrooms.”
Hill’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2012, he received recognition from PSAI for having the fastest-growing portable sanitation business on the East Coast and his company was recognized as a Top 100 Minority Business by the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Center.
Hill served on the board of directors for PSAI, the first African American to do so, for one year but had to step down to pay more attention to his business.
There are few Blacks in the portable restroom business, according to Karleen Kos, a spokeswoman for the PSAI.
“We don’t keep data like that but there are a small number of African Americans in the business,” Kos said but wouldn’t speculate as to why.
Hill said at one of his first conferences in the business, only three Blacks were there — “me, my wife and the janitor.”
Hill has since become known in business circles and at the John A. Wilson Building as an advocate for small businesses to get prompt payment from the District government and contractors for work that has been done. As a result of slow payment, he has protested at the house of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), at the D.C. Council and the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
As a result of his outspokenness, Hill said, he’s faced numerous reprisals.
“In 2017, 85 percent of my work came from the District government and now, in 2019, only five percent come from D.C. government,” Hill said. “I account that to nepotism and politics. It has been said that I voice my opinion too much by some people and that I raise hell about getting my money.”
Hill said those businesses that appear to have the favor of the Bowser administration “should have to go through the process that everyone else has to go through.”
“In July 2018, I was forced to lay off 24 employees,” Hill said. “They were returning citizens and because of working for me, many of them were getting on their feet economically and I hated to have to do that. When the money that is supposed to be paid isn’t, I had no other choice.”
Hill said because of nepotism and politics, he estimates to have lost $20 million in revenue and that has cost him 14 jobs.
Gotta Go Now has 14 employees and works in a temporary office on Benning Road NE while his Southeast headquarters undergoes renovation.
Hill said that in five years, he hopes to have 100 employees and generate $40 million in revenue.
“We will do that by getting more federal and private contracts,” he said. Expansion plans include work in Fredericksburg, Richmond and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
For anyone who wants to go into business for themselves, Hill has advice.
“There is a lot of work being rich,” he said. “Find something you love to do and go for it.”