Salinan Cole Leister is familiar with taking risks.
Leister, co-owner and operator of Salina Septic Service, bought the company at the age of 18 and fresh out of high school along with his father, Randy Leister.
“We had no history in the septic tank industry,” said Leister. “How it came about was actually crazy and I’m not sure how to describe it.”
Leister, who grew up in Salina, said during his first and second years of school: “I didn’t focus so much on school and more on the class clown.”
“I started going out with my current wife (Calle Leister) during my junior and senior years and she has helped give me a lot more direction and focus,” he said.
After graduating from southeast Saline in the spring of 2016, Leister was supposed to enroll at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
“Even though I was enrolled in college, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and the plan was to take general education courses for the first two years,” he said.
In July of this year, according to Leister, the opportunity arose to acquire the septic tank service from Fuller, which has been active in Salina since 1951.
“I put it all in and spent a lot of time reading and researching as much as possible about this business and industry,” he said. “After we got it, I started college but spent more in Salina than Manhattan until I decided to drop out before the end of the first semester.”
A growing business
Salina Septic Service provides household and commercial portable toilet and sewage services in Salina and within a 75 mile radius – from maintenance and repair to installation. Since the acquisition in 2016, the company has had new and updated equipment, increased inventory, a larger service radius and greater capacity.
Starting with 100 portable units in 2016, the business has grown to over 250 units today, ranging from standard units, units for women (pink), flushable portable toilets, wheelchair accessible units, trailer units, hand washing stations and storage bins. In addition to Leister’s wife and father, the company also employs three drivers.
Change the narrative
Members of PSAI or the Portable Sanitation Association International – a leading organization in the industry that promotes better hygiene practices – Leister hopes to clear one of the biggest misconceptions in the industry.
“People who work in this industry are seen as unprofessional or unskilled workers doing a dirty job,” he said. “There is so much science, technology, and math that goes into our work. Our industry prevents contamination of groundwater sources for 30% of households in the nation. “
According to Leister, Salina Septic also works with an increased sense of cleanliness and attention to detail in every service.
“We believe that first impressions are big and we strive to have a clean and positive appearance,” he said. “We are in uniform and we maintain new and updated equipment when we visit someone’s house.”
Education is essential
The 22-year-old Leister hopes to be able to show young people who find themselves in a similar situation after high school, in which there is a lack of orientation, that trade schools and professions for skilled workers are also possible.
“Everyone older than you usually encourages you to go to college, and there isn’t a lot of information, encouragement, or advice from people who didn’t go to college,” he said. “Nobody told me that there were other options like going to a technical school, getting a job, or starting a small business. College is also a financial burden for so many. Everyone needs to understand that it will get tougher and there will be conflict with peers and family members, but it is okay to do what is best for you. “
Leister’s lessons also extend to his customers: “We strive to offer the best service and at the same time educate all homeowners about septic tanks.”
Leister warns everyone against the use of additives or chemicals.
“Some people have been told that when they use additives they never need to do any maintenance on their sewer system, which is wrong,” he said. “Additives can be used to help keep your sewer system running, but should never be used in place of regular maintenance.”
It is also recommended to pump the septic tank every three to five years, Leister said. He compared pumping the tank to changing the oil.
“If you don’t get an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, your car engine can fail, resulting in an expensive trip to the mechanic,” he said. “The same goes for your septic tank. If you wait too long to pump your tank, solids in sewage can get into your drain field and clog the soil. This can lead to a messy sewer lock in your home and prevent the soil from properly treating the sewage and potentially contaminating local drinking water sources. “