Temporary Site Services firm passes from father to son to daughter.
By Angela Melero, Staff Reporter
For 65 years, the Gump family’s business has been in the toilet: portable toilets, that is.
Barry Gump and daughter Nancy Gump-Melancon are the duo behind one of the most recognized family-owned businesses in the Valley,Andy Gump Inc.
Since 1946, when Massena “Andy” Gump bought the company from a cesspool and sewer contractor for $300, the company has expanded from portable toilets to many other Temporary Site Services such as fencing, temporary power, and storage containers. With a portfolio of clients that includes KB Home, S&S Development Group and D.R. Horton, the company has weathered the tough economy.
Andy’s son, Barry, 69, and his daughter Nancy, 42, have been integral to the company’s success. Neither of them dreamed of joining the business as kids.
Indeed, Nancy endured more than her share of teasing in junior high school by classmates who poked fun of her “crappy life.” But the Gumps say they carried on the family tradition because of their inherited desire to help people.
Now, after 23 years of working together as father and daughter, Barry is looking to retire and Nancy is about to take command of the company. As a third-generation CEO, she is looking forward to carrying on the family values of honesty and integrity that have always helped the Gumps thrive.
Q: How did your family first get into the business?
Barry: Just as WWII was ending, my dad had some dump trucks that hauled sand and gravel. Those were the days before ready mixed concrete. When the war was over, he didn’t have work for his trucks so he brought some Christmas trees down from the Northwest. He went to Pacoima on a corner lot and rented some space to sell the trees from a guy who was a cesspool and sewer contractor. He took a liking to dad and dad took over his business. I think he (Andy) paid him about $300 dollars. Because he was a cesspool and sewer contractor, he got a truck to pump cesspools. An ordinance came in from the city of Los Angeles that you had to have a restroom for your workers, which opened up an arena for Dad to consider building some units. We built five units in his garage at home in Mission Hills. We built them out of used plywood. My brother and I were in junior high school and we helped. He called the business at the time, Mission Sanitation, because we lived near the San Fernando Mission. A sign painter in Pacoima suggested that he might want to use his name. Dad said he wasn’t sure he wanted his name on a portable restroom, but thought ‘Let’s give it a try.’
Q: Growing up did either of you see yourself taking over the family business?
Barry: Not at all. I spent four years in the (United States) Air Force, and I thought when I got out of there I would do something related to journalism. We had an eight-page weekly paper at the base I was stationed at in Arizona. When I came home from the service, Dad asked if I would consider helping him with the business. I’m glad I made that decision.
Nancy: If you had asked me at sixteen if I would work for my dad in the family business, I would have said “Absolutely no way.” It wasn’t because of what we did, but because of how hard I saw my dad work when I was growing up. He worked sometimes seven days a week. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, and I never thought it was possible to be working in a family business and being a mom at the same time. In the middle of college, I had some medical interruptions and I told Dad I would be able to help for a little bit. That was 23 years ago and I never looked back. I’m proud to say I’m a mom of three boys, a wife and working in the family business, as well. It’s a dream come true.
Q. Nancy, I understand you shared an office with your dad for five years. Tell me about that experience.
Nancy: It was little bit intimidating, but I was a sponge. I remember at the time he used to do the Renaissance Pleasure Fair which was about $150,000. He used to say, ‘One day, you’re going to have to do this job.’ I’d say, ‘Well I don’t know if I can do that Dad.’ He always helped me and guided me. Those five years in his office, I could ask any question and he was an open book. Those key values that I learned early on in the business have grown into where we are today. It’s about honesty, it’s about integrity. If we make a mistake, we’ll admit it, and I think that’s why we’re so successful.
Q: The Gump name is synonymous with a portable restroom. How was that for each of you growing up?
Barry: Well, for me it actually came about around my senior year of high school. I then went into the service and I wasn’t really around for four years.
Nancy: My most embarrassing and humbling moment was in junior high school. I was at a slumber party and all I hear is ‘The dump truck is here.’ I thought, ‘Just don’t let it be a service truck with a portable toilet on it or I’ll never live it down.’ I walked out and it was a temporary power truck and I thought ‘Okay, I can do this.’ I was never introduced at school as just ‘Nancy.’ I was always Nancy Gump. And then the jokes came like, ‘Oh, pretty crappy life.’ I’ve heard them all. Once they realized we were hard working and dedicated and prosperous individuals they got past that. But I got teased a lot. What kept me going was that my grandparents were such stand up, loving, caring people. That’s why I was so proud to be a Gump.
Q: What principles did Andy instill in you that you carry on in the business today?
Barry: He always stressed to us to be honest and to have integrity. My folks were not well-to-do. Luxuries for them were being able to send us to piano lessons and put braces on our teeth. We’ve tried to carry that on too.
Barry: I think one of the interesting things we’re dealing with right now is Nancy taking over the business. We’ve got that scheduled for when I turn 70. That’s a little over a year away. She’s been dealing with issues that I’ve never really had to deal with because of the prolonged recession. We’ve got a good strong company that doesn’t have a lot of debt, and we’ll weather the storm and be there when it turns around.
Q: How has the recession affected your business?
Nancy: Construction is a significant part of our business. I want to say about 60 percent. Construction (work) is minimal, so we’ve had to significantly cut personnel, cut expenses and redefine what markets would work. We looked at the markets that were working, which were special events. We looked at where we could get price increases and where we couldn’t. We run it lean and we don’t have a lot of debt, so we’re able to be strong even in this tough economic time.
Barry: The single most difficult part of the recession is having to lay people off. We pride ourselves in having quality people. When you have to call them in and tell them that there’s not enough work for them to continue, you feel like you’ve failed and yet it’s really out of your hands. That’s been the most difficult thing. We have brought a few people back.
Q: You’ve been in the business a long time. Has this recession been the most challenging time for your company?
Barry: Sure. I think in some ways we were even spoiled. There were times in our business when people didn’t even ask how much. They just wanted to know when. Today, you work hard to find jobs to bid and then when you do, it’s very competitive. It’s hard to do it and build any kind of profit.
Q: When you started out in the industry in the 1940s, were you the first company to do portable restrooms?
Barry: No. There are a couple reasons why that’s kind of a misnomer. One is that we have good name identification, and we’ve got a lot of billboards out there. We’ve had opportunities to sell our business. The major solid waste companies, BFIs and Waste Management, came in and gave us very attractive offers. That’s not what we built this business for, just to sell it. While most of the other companies have turned over and changed names, we’ve stayed the same company the whole time.
Q: What sets you apart from your competition?
Nancy: We don’t over promise and under deliver. We would rather tell a customer ‘there’s no way we can do that’ or ‘here are some other options.’ We are an operations driven company, not necessarily sales driven, and I think that’s part of our success.
Q: What was the biggest job you’ve ever done?
Barry: The (2002) Winter Olympics. It was a challenge putting a group of five companies together. It was about a $3 million dollar project. I don’t believe any of us had ever tackled that size of a project. It ended up being very successful for us. We ended up having about 18-21 restroom trailers.
Q: Do you two ever disagree or butt heads?
Nancy: A little bit.
Barry: I don’t think so.
Nancy: We don’t always see eye to eye but we respect each other enough to work together and find some common ground.
Q: What are some qualities that each of you bring to the business?
Nancy: My dad is really on the operational side. He has the knowledge and experience because he’s an entrepreneur. What I love to do is sales and marketing. I was also blessed to come on board about the same time as our CFO, Sharon Manley. Sharon brought a method to the madness. She brought in the files and the systems and the organizations. Through her I’ve learned to respect the administrative side of what we do.
Barry: Nancy’s put a great management team together to help guide this company. As I step aside, it will never be felt, I won’t be missed. Nancy’s been around me enough to know what’s important to me and she has a lot of the same instincts.
Q: Nancy, I know you have three boys. Do any of them express and interest in joining the family business?
Nancy: It’s very important for us to let the boys grow up having their own dreams. My son Andy loves music. My son Josh is very artistic. My youngest, Cole, is very into technology. Whatever their dreams are, I want them to go find them and do what they love to do.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY BUSINESS JOURNAL – OCTOBER 11, 2011