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Dryden rental business stakes its claim

It may be crap to you, but it's Norm Balla's bread and butter. The Dryden entrepreneur is out to change the public's perception of portable toilets.
Norm Balla_real
Renting, setting up and servicing portable toilets and tents has been a fast-growing event business for Dryden entrepreneur Norm Balla.

It may be crap to you, but it's Norm Balla's bread and butter.

The Dryden entrepreneur is out to change the public's perception of portable toilets.

His growing toilet and tent company, Balla Brothers Rentals, has flourished since launching his home-based business with his brother, Kevin, three years ago.

If people at a wedding, corporate gig or festival come away remembering the cleanliness and amenities inside his toilets, then he's done his job.

“It's a shitty business, but it's my business.”

The five-employee company supplies construction sites, festivals and special events in a coverage area of northwestern Ontario that stretches from Red Lake to Ignace.

Balla knows from his ball tournament organizing days that a stinky portable can drive away patrons, and revenue, from any outdoor event.

He stakes his reputation on providing quality portables and exceptional on-site service.

“The first toilet I ever cleaned, I smelled like a toilet. Now I can clean that toilet in a suit and go to a wedding. Tricks of the trade.”

Balla began leasing toilets in 2008 as a way to keep Kevin busy after he lost his mill job at Domtar in Dryden.

It turned out to be a fortuitous move for Balla who was working for Mintech, a local forestry service company. He had an inkling more tough times were coming at the mill.

As the fine paper machines began shutting down, Balla was among a half-dozen employees who were given pink slips.

Years earlier, Balla had started a small storage unit business on his 80-acre spread east of Dryden, but he had the foresight and instincts to see a bigger niche opportunity ahead.

The brothers picked up some portables from another rental company that was going out of business and bought a couple of 24-by-32 foot tents in catering to sports tournaments and outdoor gatherings.

The company quickly expanded to 40 toilets and the brothers made extra money by getting into on-site service contracts for customers with regularly-scheduled pump-outs, disinfecting and toilet paper restocking.

By the fall of 2009, Balla had 86 service contracts, many with highway contractors.

Last year, he called the Vancouver Winter Olympics organizing committee and picked up two truckloads of slightly-used portables to bring his inventory up to 100.

When Dryden staged its 2010 centennial celebrations last year, Balla Brothers landed the exclusive supply and service contract.

In early June, they returned from staging their biggest event yet.

At a large gathering of Goldcorp employees at a function in Red Lake, Balla pitched his cathedral-like 40-by-240-foot tent and got an 'atta boy' from one of the senior managers.

Balla said work only stands to get busier heading into the summer months. “I'm swamped right now.”

While his mind is always turning in finding ways to evolve the business, the company has gone decidedly upscale. The brothers now build their own portables including a heated 'Butt Warmer' mobile unit for winter construction sites and the 'Royal Flush' for weddings, furnished with counters, sinks, hot water, hand sanitizers and quality fixtures. He's also gotten into providing toilet supplies, ice machines and plastic cutlery.

Pride in his work is what drives Balla.

“I like to take care of my units and the product is most important. It's got to be done right.”

Nothing enrages him more than someone damaging or defacing his property. He once threatened to pull out of a company function until the abuse was stopped.

“I spent a dollar and I take care of that dollar, and I expect everyone else to take care of that dollar.”

Toilet rentals are 70 per cent of the business, but he expects it won't be long before tent leasing takes an equal share.

Among his future goals is to eventually sell portables to cottage owners with a service contract package.

“It's all baby steps for me in controlling how this company grows and how the company is perceived.”