Installer Profile Article
Since 1972, Ronnie Ledbetter's business, RILLCO Inc. / Ledbetters Septic Tank, has served the community and supported Ronnie, his wife, Costellar, and their four children. RILLCO installs, repairs and maintains onsite systems in its area of Southeastern Virginia. Headquarters is in Suffolk, about 30 miles west of Virginia Beach and a little north of the North Carolina border.
Last year, Ledbetter's daughter, Rosalind Lacy, left her job as a computer analyst to join the family business. "I came out of a successful career in corporate America to take a family business to the next level," Lacy says.
She came onboard with a bachelor's degree in business administration and management, received in 2003. "The knowledge I acquired in school prepared me to be more beneficial to the company," she says. It's apparent that she took her direction from Ronnie Ledbetter's life compass.
Ledbetter views his company as more than a septic system and general contracting business. "Creating jobs is important, but more important is showing employees the rewards of leadership, teamwork, and entrepreneurism," Ledbetter says.
"All of this happens through the subtleties of asking for employee input and insights while working through and solving on-the-job challenges." The business has brought countless employees into contact with his drive to better everyone's situation.
Diverse skills menu
Ledbetter holds a host of licenses in diverse and complementary fields. He is a master electrician, a licensed underground utility contractor, a licensed plumber, and a licensed onsite system installer.
In addition, several advanced technology manufacturers, including Delta Environmental Products, Orenco Systems Inc. and Clearstream Waste Water Systems have certified him to install their products. In the past, Ledbetter manufactured septic tanks. The general contracting business brings land clearing, general excavating and masonry skills to its menu of services. All told, the company's workload includes 50 percent new installations; the balance is repair, management and servicing of systems.
RILLCO has been in the pumping business since 1977. While contracts to service about two dozen holding tanks provide regular work, the pumping workload is heavily influenced by seasonal rainfall.
"We give our customers relief, and they are glad to see us arrive," Ledbetter says. He recalls a time where he needed a police escort to get his truck through the crowds at an event so that he could service the restrooms. The company also pumps grease traps.
The wide range of services lets the company serve diverse customer needs, and that keeps customers returning.
"We listen to our customers because they can tell us a lot about what is going on with their system," Ledbetter says. " That helps us diagnose the problems. Customers need to be listened to." While customers may not know exactly where their systems are, they clearly know how and whether they are performing.
Fine-tuning the vision
Ledbetter got into the onsite industry when he and a friend partnered to start the business. The friend did not care for the administrative side of the business, so the partnership dissolved and Ledbetter carried on.
Ledbetter constantly seeks continuing education, and his personal growth has led to business growth.
He encourages employees to expand their knowledge in formal and informal venues. He also uses his installation sites as on-the-job training for employees.
On jobsites, each employee is taught , nurtured, and valued. Not surprisingly, Ledbetter says, "Our jobsites have provided a training ground for many newly hired health department inspectors as well." He believes regulators and installers can and should learn from each other.
Rosalind Lacy's biggest challenge in her new career is learning to see things her dad's way. "I did not come onboard to change direction," she says. "I came to fine-tune, to tweak, to help us operate more efficiently, and to continue to grow the business."
Her dad wants her to succeed, too. "Her biggest challenge is to learn to drive the big trucks," he laughs. "She's getting the driving down quite well."
Lacy has some goals for her dad, too. She wants him to spend less time as a hands-on crew member and less time on administrative detail, and thus have more time for customer interaction, and more time for community service.
Part of Lacy's role in management is to sort through job applications. "I'm searching for those with a strong work ethic who display a potential willingness to take on more responsibility in a leadership role," she explains.
She observes that those attributes are difficult to find among the traditional employee pool for the onsite industry, which consists largely of younger men. One person who fit the bill is Bridgett Woods Thomas, age 38. "She brings dependability and a strong work ethic to the job," Lacy notes. "She really wants to work in this industry."
Ledbetter adds, "We are willing to provide the training, support systems, uniforms and equipment for them to excel.
RILLCO fields a four-member crew. Long-time employee Willie Alston is the equipment operator. Cory Muller, a laborer and electrician-in-training, is being groomed to handle the complex installation and management of advanced treatment units. Woods Thomas, while learning the field aspects of the work, is also an equipment driver. Lacy is business manager, and Costellar Ledbetter handles payroll.
"We listen to our customers because they can tell us a lot about what is going on with their system. That helps us diagnose the problems. Customers need to be listened to." - Ronnie Ledbetter
Supporting the field employees is an equipment fleet that includes a 1986 Ford 655a backhoe-loader, a 1986 Ford 550 backhoe-loader, 1994 Ford tractor (for land clearing and final grading), a 1986 single-axle GMC dump truck, a 1987 4-ton equipment trailer, a 1989 10-ton equipment trailer, 2007 Ford Econoline 16-ton equipment trailer, a 1998 Dodge 1-ton pickup, a 1999 International vacuum truck with a 2,600-gallon tank and a 2000 Ford Taurus sedan.
In a typical year the company installs more than 30 systems and repairs 30 more. More than half the company's revenue comes from repairs and maintenance. While still learning the intricacies of the field work, Lacy and Ledbetter both recognize the need to delegate leadership, accountability and responsibility.
"We delegate based on an employee's knowledge," Lacy says. This keeps the crews busy when Lacy and her dad are not onsite. It also builds employee confidence.
A confident and well-trained crew helps the company attract government business. The office is about 30 miles from the U.S. Navy's Norfolk and Newport News installations, and military contracts provide opportunities that cannot be overlooked.
Military contract work is put out for bid every year. RILLCO has worked for the military in the past and hopes to continue doing so. In addition, local government officials call on the company for occasional service and for the knowledge Ledbetter can provide based on more than 30 years in the business. Being only 12 miles from the North Carolina state line, the company also has provided onsite system service in that state.
In the future, Ledbetter and Lacy envision linking their company with the local vocational-technical school. Part of their legacy to the community will be instilling in future generations the desire to be business leaders.
A clean business record, respect for customer knowledge, employees at all levels who deliver work infused with professionalism, and the desire to make their business an asset for the community all converge in the two generations at RILLCO.
As Lacy takes on more of the workload and her dad transitions to a new role as in-house consultant, they will keep up their ties with employees and customers, and connect with and nurture new customers and new employees. Lacy's approach to fine-tuning the business is just fine with her dad, as together they move to the next level.
Being located near several military installations, notably the U.S. Navy Norfolk and Newport News installations, RILLCO Inc. / Ledbetters Septic Tank has numerous opportunities to bid on government contracts.
Businesses in area communities compete fiercely for this work, not because it is easy or because it yields a fast profit, but because it is steady and reliable, and the government pays its bills.
Federal and state governments build incentives for small businesses into the bidding process. Some incentives relate directly to the prime contractor, and others relate to the subcontractors serving the prime. Ledbetter Septic Tank, as a certified minority-owned business in Virginia, has access to those incentives.
Co-owner Ronnie Ledbetter observes, "Smart business owners should take advantage of every opportunity available to them. It is not a question of whether we agree with the way government contracting works. It is a matter of using this tool to help us compete for and win these contracts."
Article by - Gil Longwell (Installer Profile)
Clearstream Wastewater Systems Inc. 800/586-3656 https://www.clearstreamsystems.com/
Delta Environmental Products 800/219-9183 http://www.deltaenvironmental.com
Orenco Systems Inc. 800/348-9843 http://www.orenco.com