WASHOUGAL, Wash. – Family-owned Green Flush Restrooms builds flush restrooms in efficient, environmentally sound, accessible modules. Over 10 years, father and son Ken and Kyle Earlywine likewise have fashioned the components of good business practice into a company that continued to provide work for its three employees and associated supplier businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic and has already doubled annual revenue in 2021 with sales exceeding $2.7 million.
“Our explosive growth is the result of putting together many little things done over time,” said Kyle Earlywine. “Every day presents a challenge to progress.”
Helping assemble this progression are Buck Heidrick and Jerry Petrick of the Washington Small Business Development Center, a network of more than 30 advisors in more than two dozen communities across the state working to help owners and entrepreneurs who want to start, grow or buy/sell a business. SBDC advising is confidential and is provided at no cost to the client.
Reassurance in pandemic uncertainty
Petrick has advised Green Flush since Heidrick retired three years ago from the Washington SBDC office in Vancouver, Wash. On Petrick’s recommendation, Green Flush applied for Covid-19 small-business relief through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Kyle Earlywine said he was hesitant to pursue the money because he thought others might need it more. But as Petrick affirmed, applying wouldn’t guarantee Green Flush got the assistance; and getting it wouldn’t mean the company must accept or use it.
“And we went for smaller amounts, to not take too much out of the pot,” Earlywine said.
As it turned out, the small amount they did use allowed Green Flush to provide work for their own employees and associated supplier businesses through the pandemic. The need for sanitary restrooms only increased with Covid for essential workers like transit and parks/grounds employees, Petrick noted. And people seeking solace outdoors increased demand for restrooms in recreation areas.
In the end, Earlywine said he is thankful for Petrick’s counsel to have the relief funds just in case: “That money carried us through the uncertainty.”
Ongoing focus on what’s best for business
Beyond the existential uncertainty of Covid, Petrick’s pragmatic guidance is available as the Earlywines navigate day-to-day fluctuations with customers, contracts, operations, suppliers, hiring and more.
Green Flush just hired its third full-time employee, bringing the total to seven with Ken and Kyle; Kyle’s mother and his brother Kip help out part-time.
Perhaps most critical for a family business, the Washington SBDC advisors “have been invaluable as mediators between Dad and me,” said Kyle Earlywine. “Our business is better because we are father and son. We are candid with each other; we can say anything. We don’t need to hold back our ideas.
“But that can end in a stalemate,” he said. The Washington SBDC advisors “don’t take sides, but guide our conversations to focus on the most relevant information. So we don’t get stuck in debate mode but instead focus on what’s best for our business.”
Foundation set, piece by piece
That business began with a prototype in 2010. Engineer Ken Earlywine was retired from the National Park Service, where he had directed design and construction of portable, self-contained, flush restrooms for the fragile environment around Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah.
An acquaintance suggested Ken start a business with his son Kyle, a 2008 college business graduate. The Earlywines first tried to sell their proprietary information to other restroom companies. The one low offer was unsatisfactory.
“We realized that, if we make this happen, it had to be something we make, market and sell ourselves,” said Kyle Earlywine.
Doing so took them two years: “Our first sale was the biggest challenge we’ve ever had,” said Earlywine. But shortly after that 2012 installation, a manufacturing consultant put them in contact with Heidrick.
He assisted Green Flush Restrooms through the many variables of its early sales: “He guided us through the different business aspects, project to project,” Earlywine recalled. “With each one, it was like ‘Story Time with Buck.’ ”
Heidrick also provided expertise for establishing foundational aspects of the business, including guiding the Earlywines’ searches for a trustworthy accountant and lawyer, and counseling them on setting up payment terms with customers and factories that have continued to serve all parties well for years.
Communicating for good dynamic
“Green Flush is a superior alternative to the traditional porta-potty solution,” said Petrick. “Two people with a great idea and passion deserve a lot of credit for graduating Green Flush essentially out of a garage and into a real business.”
“Dad is the operational side of Green Flush,” said Kyle Earlywine. “He IS the product, in some ways. But there’s no doubt we needed each other to make this work.”
“They have good family dynamics,” said Petrick. “But to succeed as a business, they look at function and process, not just people.”
“We want what’s best for the business,” agreed Kyle Earlywine. “So much of what is best involves attention and work on communication. We do that better, and have made better decisions, thanks to Buck and Jerry.”
By Cynthia King, for the Washington SBDC
Learn more about Green Flush Restrooms at greenflushrestrooms.com.
The Washington SBDC is administered through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Washington State University. About half of SBDC funding comes from local and state sources, including institutions of higher education, economic development agencies, civic and business groups and municipal governments. The other half comes from the SBA. Learn more at wsbdc.org.