Family Throne

The money keeps on flowing for this portable-potty business
As seen in:

PARADISE LUA employees and family (from left): Jeanette Grace, Tanya Mason, Brandy Kahoano, Ronell Grace, Jackie Grace, Liona Spencer and Kelly Lum.

When Jeanette grace married her high-school sweetheart, George Grace III, more than two decades ago, she knew that one day she’d inherit the family throne. Literally.

In 1993, Jeanette and George became co-owners of Paradise Lua Inc., a portable-toilet company founded in Waianae by George’s father in the 1960s. The family business is run by Jeanette and George’s four children and other relatives, who oversee 2,500 toilets and 20 pumping trucks on the Big Island, Oahu and Kauai. Headquar-ters are at Campbell Industrial Park in Kapolei.

“ It’s not glamorous, but it’s a much-needed business,” Jeanette says.

Paradise Lua’s toilets can be found inside Aloha Stadium’s gates during the UH football season; at the annual St. Patrick’s Day block party in downtown Honolulu; along the Great Aloha Run’s 8.2-mile route; at Kualoa Ranch; and at golf tournaments and construction sites across the state. “It has grown to where we’re pretty much booked and people are calling a year in advance,” says Jeanette’s niece, Liona Spencer, who is the special events coordinator and Neighbor Island branch manager. “It’s first-come, first-served. Customers will fight for it, saying, ‘We won’t just send you a deposit, we’ll pay for the whole thing.’"

It’s no wonder the company last year grossed $1.3 million in sales and anticipates up to $1.6 million this year. What makes Paradise Lua stand out from its half-dozen competitors is the Prestig-ious Executive Restroom Trailer, or “PERT.” The PERT accommodates 420 men – or 210 women – per hour and boasts air-conditioning, stereo music, mirrors and sinks and a baby-changing station. Another highly sought model, the Royal Flush, is solar-powered and comes with hand towels, soap dispensers and carpet. Both put airplane lavatories to shame.

Paradise Lua even provides bathroom attendants who direct traffic and keep tabs on toilet paper. Attendants typically are family members, who, after reaching seniority in the company, pass off the duty to younger relatives. “If anyone decides to spill beer or throw up, our attendants are there to clean up,” Jeanette says.

That’s a piece of cake compared to the role of service drivers who pump toilets and empty solid waste into designated dumping sites. Paradise Lua employs six service drivers, all male. Recruitment and retention are tough “because of the type of business we’re in,” Jeanette says. To prevent surprises, the company’s Help Wanted ads are candid and up-front. Newly hired drivers are required to work with senior drivers for at least two weeks. Some quit within days, while others stay after overcoming the stench and stigma. Service drivers who’ve demonstrated years of loyalty have been known to receive monetary incentives and vehicles from the company. “For some reason, I have better luck with the older hires past age 40. I guess they’re more settled in life,” Jeanette says. It’s not that younger employees are less motivated; they just have more obligations, such as school and significant others.

In the next five years, the Grace family plans to grow the business by adding more deluxe toilet trailers to the inventory and increasing market share on the Neighbor Islands. Good customer service – such as bathroom attendants and cleanliness – is crucial
to survival.

“ This has been passed on from generation to generation, and we hope our four children grow it even more for the next generation coming up,” Jeanette says, “but we don’t force it upon them. If they want to go to school or go into another line of work, we tell them, ‘You can do whatever you like.’” In other words, there’s no pressure.