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This woman has cornered the porta-potty market in central Mississippi
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Aug 21, 2017

Katie Eubanks, The Clarion-Ledger Published 4:00 a.m. CT Aug. 13, 2017 | Updated 7:03 p.m. CT Aug. 14, 2017

 

Lauren McGraw hands me a large hose. She's dressed, coiffed and made up for her cover shot, but the muck boots give her away. McGraw shows me how to use the hose to suck up the water (and whatever else) from the porta-john toilet. I've volunteered as tribute to clean a porta-potty at her business, Gotta Go Site Service Rentals, on US-49 in Madison County. And yes, she's done the honors many times herself. A few minutes later, McGraw is practically in the john with me as she explains that if I don't refill the toilet with enough water, "you get pilings. And when you get pilings is when you get flies." In these close quarters, some of the refill water winds up spraying McGraw's hair, which she has pulled to the side in a low ponytail.  "I'm so sorry!" I say.  "Girl it's OK, it's just water!"  More: Meet the Mississippi woman who won a scholarship from Beyoncé When I first contacted McGraw about setting up this interview and porta-john cleaning adventure, we were approaching Memorial Day weekend. Not a good time to try to pin down this self-described "potty queen."  "Potties (are) like gold right now. Pot of gold. Ha," McGraw had said in a Facebook message. Since starting Gotta Go in 1997, McGraw has cornered the porta-john market in central Mississippi, with sites in 13 counties using her toilets on a daily basis. "But we'll go anywhere," she adds. She established Gotta Go after failing to find a porta-potty business that could meet her needs. Subscribe: Join today and discover the benefits of becoming a member "I was over sales and events for Ameristar Casino (in Vicksburg). In 1996 I had to get bathrooms and tents for dignitaries and others who were coming in for a groundbreaking ceremony," she says.  "I couldn't find anything." She realized that a much-needed porta-potty company could be her ticket to independence. "I was just trying to find a way not to work for somebody else. I didn't care if it was glamorous." 'Bathrooms are personal.' "I would stop at job sites with heels and a suit (on) and ask, 'If I opened (a porta-john company), what should I do differently?'" The answer was surprisingly basic: Clean the toilets regularly and make sure the locks work.  She borrowed money and opened Gotta Go in July 1997 with 120 porta-johns and one truck to transport them. Join now for as low as 99¢/1st month Subscribe Now Now she has more than 4,000 porta-johns — and that doesn't include her restroom trailers, which are about as nice as your bathroom at home, plus handwashers and sanitizers.  Gotta Go has provided potties for all of C Spire's concerts in Madison — the latest one, with headliner Kenny Chesney, required 200 toilets and four restroom trailers. "Most major events in (the greater Jackson area), we handle," McGraw says.  And of course Gotta Go is on the go during construction projects, such as the recently opened Westin hotel in downtown Jackson, and unplanned events, including the Jackson water crisis. More: Tour downtown Jackson's new Westin hotel "People don't think about (having a toilet) until they don't have it." McGraw tries to be on-site herself when her toilets are present at big events.  "My daughter says, 'I don't understand why you feel like you have to do everything.' But bathrooms are personal," she says.  "You're not selling porta-johns, but service." Potties and people Lauren McGraw stands in one of her mobile restrooms at Gotta Go Site Service Rentals. The restroom trailers are becoming more and more popular for outdoor weddings and other events, she said. (Photo: Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger) McGraw's favorite part of the business is the people.  "And helping with the fundraisers," she adds. "There are a lot of ways to sponsor (events as a company). I believe you're supposed to be a good steward of what God's given you." Sometimes that means potties first, payment later. "If it's an emergency, I try not to get bogged down in contracts (right that second)." Other times it means giving services away:  "I don't like to do (events) where people don't want to get enough equipment. Then people (who attend the events) think we did a bad job. I'd rather you tell me you don't have the money and let me give you some (extra porta-johns for free)." Because McGraw has done right by so many folks, she got a lot of help this year when lobbying for Rivers' Law — a state statute named for her son, who ended a heartbreaking battle with addiction by taking his own life in November 2016. People rallied around McGraw and the bill, which Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law this spring. McGraw believes Rivers killed himself because he thought he was headed to prison for his third DUI.  Rivers' Law states that 18- to 21-year-olds who are arrested on drug and alcohol charges have the right to two phone calls, including one to their parents, and that law enforcement must explain drug courts and diversion programs "so they won't feel so desperate," McGraw says.  Rivers was 20 years old. Woman in a man's world McGraw said the hardest part of her porta-john business is being a woman in a man's world. "I'm not what you expect to see when you walk in(to my office)." (Photo: Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger) McGraw has rubbed elbows with country music stars at the C Spire concerts, and Hollywood actors on Mississippi film sets served by Gotta Go.  But she still faces a few obstacles, mostly in the form of ignorant visitors to her office.  "I'm not what you expect to see when you walk in," she says. "They'll say, 'Is the owner in? Where is he?'" At that point, the game begins (at least, if the visitor is trying to sell something to the business): "No, he's not in right now," McGraw will say.  Eventually, folks figure it out — sometimes after multiple return trips.  "If they haven't done their research, I'm not going to work with them," she says.  New employees also fail to take McGraw seriously as a boss, sometimes. "But it doesn't take them long. If they see you out there showing them how to use a pressure washer ... "If I'm having a problem with an employee, I get in the truck and go with them (to do the work). It's humbling (for me), and it makes them loyal. "You can't think you're too good to do the work, if you expect your employees to do it."

Contact Katie Eubanks at 601-961-7050 or keubanks@gannett.com. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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