Comeback of Santa Rosa luxury porta-potty firm signals strong local pandemic recovery
Measuring an economic recovery takes many conventional forms and factors like labor market data, interest rates and housing starts.
Then there’s the unconventional indicators. One of the better known ones is shipments of recreational vehicles. On the zany side, Alan Greenspan, the economist and chair of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, considered a boost in men’s underwear sales good news for the economy.
If the pace of RV sales is an indicator that helps gauge a national turnaround, in Sonoma County I submit that strengthening customer demand for luxury public restroom rentals can offer an economic barometer.
Let me explain. People indulge and spend more money renting such portable restrooms to enhance the experiences at outdoor weddings, winery events, birthday, graduation and corporate parties, movie shoot locations and a variety of festivals in the North Bay. They seek the lavish portaloos over the standard plastic porta-potties commonly seen on construction sites.
Husband and wife Santa Rosa entrepreneurs, Roman and Heather Seiffert, who run the aptly named business Fancy Flush, are experiencing quite a rebound in bookings for their 20 high-end portable restroom trailers.
Renting for $1,000 to $2,000 for up to a week, they are swank public restrooms on wheels. The Seifferts’ business quieted for more than a year like many in the region, when events and gatherings were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, event hosts are splurging again by adding the fancy potties with the amenities to their wedding, party and festival plans.
The signature estate portable restroom offered by Fancy Flush looks more like a powder room in somebody’s house. It features men’s and women’s sections with solar power, color-changing mood lighting, air conditioning, opulent French country wallpaper, hand towels, vessel sinks, touchless toilets, large mirrors and even background music.
The exterior is painted to look like a house and comes with wooden doors and even faux green hedges that hide the wheels.
“It doesn’t really look like a bathroom,” Roman, 38, said. “It looks more like a tiny home.
“We’ve had people come up to us after we deliver one of these and say, ‘This is better than my bathroom at home.’”
Heather, 31, explained that when these portable restrooms are sitting at an event venue, they blend in like a building on the property. Judging by their looks, I think she’s being rather humble because these lux, VIP and estate portaloo models stand out more than they blend in.
Her husband got his start in his late father George Seiffert's standard plastic porta-potty business, which was one of the originals in Sonoma County. When he died in 2007, Roman and his brother Chris inherited their dad’s company and ran it for seven years.
In 2014, Roman and Heather envisioned something grander, more luxurious. They decided to go upline and launched Fancy Flush from their Santa Rosa house with a single public restroom trailer to provide customers with luxury portable thrones. At that time, there was demand for them, but not much supply.
“We could see so many ways we could improve upon what was already out in the market,” Roman said, noting he built the company’s first portable restroom. It didn’t have air conditioning, background music or some other amenities of their grand estate restrooms today. Nonetheless, it quickly drew customers.
“When we started, we were an immediate hit,” Roman recalled.
He used his marketing expertise to develop a website for the business, design the company logos, and together they came up with the catchy moniker Fancy Flush. Heather said they liked the alliterative double F’s, the same number of letters in each of the two words and the name “describes exactly what we do.”
To their clients, the Seifferts are known as “fancy flushers.”
Now, you’ll see Fancy Flush luxury portable potties at about 500 events a year, mainly in Sonoma and Napa counties. The Seifferts employ three others full-time to help them clean and transport the restroom trailers, plus they have an office manager.
For brand visibility and a “little bit of bragging rights,” she said, this summer the couple entered their top-of-the-line estate portable restroom in America’s best public restroom competition. Hundreds entered the lone annual national contest for public restrooms organized by Cincinnati-based janitorial supplies giant, Cintas.
Recently, Fancy Flush was chosen as one of 10 finalists. The challengers include an ultramodern restroom at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, an eye-catching portaloo at Steamboat Springs Resort in Colorado and a bright modern restaurant restroom at an Asian restaurant in Atlanta.
The public can vote online until Aug. 20 and will decide the winner.
“We’re really the underdog,” Roman said, although Fancy Flush has the only portable public lavatory vying for the coveted title of “Throne of Thrones.”
In a twinge of irony, the Seifferts buy their portable restroom trailers, which typically cost $20,000 to $40,000, from manufacturers in northern Indiana and then the couple modify and upgrade them. That’s where most of the country’s RVs are made, and obviously also is a key spot for informing us about national and regional economic prospects.
Send your tips and ideas as this column chronicles the local economic post-pandemic recovery to firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or text 215-237-4448. Or you can message @BiznewsPaulB on Twitter.