About VIP Sanitation
Isle man hopes to create a memorable flush
By Glenn Scott, Advertiser Staff Writer
In an industry not commonly known for luxury, Bert Ito is taking a portable gamble.
The owner of VIP Sanitation Inc. has shifted strategy in the past decade, easing away from the highly competitive practice of renting free-standing chemical toilets to roll out service in what he sees as an expanding niche market: the finer side of portable plumbing.
First, the 61-year-old former police officer patented a system that pumps in fresh water to flush movable toilets. Then he began renovating old truck chassis and container shells into portable restrooms with running water, sinks, soap dispensers and as many as a dozen flushing toilets in private stalls.
His latest creation, reflecting a resourcefulness with used materials, is a rolling office with a full bath that, even without an electricity hookup, can pump hot running water.
"The whole idea," Ito says, "is to provide something nice that's never been available here."
Those inventions, though, have been only the preliminaries for Ito, who is banking on the notion that his ship came in two weeks ago. It was then that his latest acquisitions arrived on a deck of the USS Stennis aircraft carrier for the premiere showing of the movie "Pearl Harbor."
Outfitted by the Disney Co. to be host to Hawai'i's elite and a small army of national film reviewers for the invitation-only movie showing, the ship carried a half-dozen top-of-the-line portable restrooms developed by Andy Gump Temporary Site Services of Los Angeles.
Some of those high-end units were so elegant - with their oak-framed mirrors, throw rugs over wooden flooring and faux-marble countertops - that reporters described them in stories to illustrate Disney's lavish treatment of a Navy warship.
Ito, whose company serviced the trailer units, was convinced they offered conveniences far more inspiring than anything Hawai'i residents had seen and would bolster his business in special events.
He bought two of them, including one of the $75,000 oak-trimmed models with porcelain toilets, and towed them to his 'Ewa service yard.
Last week, Ito began showing prospective clients his new acquisitions, suggesting that they would enhance experiences at some of the Islands' high-profile outdoor special events, from charity fund-raisers to golf tournaments to wedding receptions. "You gotta come look at this," he effused to one client, a professional event organizer, who called Ito on his cellular phone.
Another client, Sony Open tournament manager Chester Kahapea, agreed the air conditioned trailers represented the new standard for portable units on the Islands. He considered the trailers a means to increase ambience in the section where the tournament sells luxury boxes to corporate sponsors.
"They would definitely upgrade our hospitality," he said.
Ito's business strategy is built on the idea that fresher, finer restrooms are attractive especially to women. "Oh, they love these," he said, leaning against a Gump "suite" that featured four stalls for women and three urinals and a stall for men.
One of his key sales points is that his products can make the difference between customers remaining at an event or leaving early for the appliances of home.
Ito concedes that since shifting his strategy to serve the high-end market with what he calls more user-friendly products, his sales have grown 10 percent to 20 percent a year in an industry worth $1.5 billion a year nationally.
His private company remains small, with seven employees. But after struggling a decade ago to compete against larger companies, Ito said he realized he'd have to take risks on nicer products to develop a niche in the special-events market.
"If you're first, you've got a chance," he said. "If you're second, you're standing in line."