Some things — like oil and water or cats and dogs — just don’t mesh. Add to that list unsightly port-a-potties and well-manicured, ritzy neighborhoods.
The indisputable fact is, necessary though they are, port-a-potties rank pretty low on the list of items people want to gaze upon, and the idea of camouflaging them has turned into a rental enterprise with serious legs for some entrepreneurial North Carolinians.
“It started with my business partner, Fred Wagner,” says Patti Whittaker, owner, Cardinal Rents, Charlotte, N.C., who also serves on the ARA of North Carolina board of directors. “He lived in an upscale neighborhood of Charlotte. He kept seeing this port-a-potty while pulling out of his driveway and thought it looked so tacky in that well-to-do neighborhood. He called his neighborhood association to ask if they had any ordinances or bylaws regarding port-a-potties. They didn’t. Fred is an inventor and came up with the idea of a port-a-potty cover. He was looking for someone to partner with, so he asked me to look at the product. I loved the idea.”
The port-a-potty cover, patented and branded as A Prettier Potty, was introduced in 2018 and has become the flagship product for Cardinal Rents. Whittaker, who had previously served as a regional director for a rental company, immediately saw its potential for the rental market.
“The main reason we did the project is that homeowners are embarrassed by the potties. In upscale neighborhoods, there can be up to a year and a half [for building projects] where neighbors get irritated about having to look at port-a-potties, and the homeowner associations have to field the calls about them. And the builders can’t just hide port-a-potties behind houses because the cleaning techs for the units can’t maneuver their trucks and hoses to the back of the house. So, really, our covers help everybody,” Whittaker says.
The potty covers are available on a rental basis to custom builders who also have the option to have their business’s custom branding placed on the exteriors. While the practical and promotional aspect of A Prettier Potty may seem like a no-brainer for builders looking to generate good PR, Whittaker says it was a tough sell at the outset.
“The first year, I got a lot of resistance because no one had ever done this. Builders were saying, ‘I'm not spending money on this. In 40 years, I've never had to cover a potty.’ But there was a need because homeowners were always trying to get them hid. People really don't like change and they don't like spending money unless they need to, but then they realize the benefit of something like this, and it just grew from there,” she says.
Whittaker says that today, Cardinal Rents works with around 85 custom builders who have seen the value of A Prettier Potty, “and that is growing every week. Some commercial builders also use us. It's just good PR. Our clients are telling the people around them and in neighborhoods, ‘Hey, we care about you. You don't need to look at these port-a-potties.’”
It’s not just builders who have discovered the advantages of A Prettier Potty, either.
“I do weddings and events as well,” Whittaker says. “We saw a big uptick in events and parties this past summer. I really didn't advertise for that. It was just people seeing them in their neighborhoods and saying, ‘I've got to have that for my wedding,’ or, ‘I've got to have that for my party.’”
When Whittaker and Wagner first launched the potty covers, the business was operated as Cardinal Covers d/b/a A Prettier Potty. However, as time went on, they saw other opportunities on job sites and went on to expand their offerings beyond port-a-potty covers. A company name change was in order.
“We knew we needed to change the name, because we created more products that were not just covers. That's why we changed to Cardinal Rents,” Whittaker says. “A Prettier Potty is our biggest product, but our Mud Rolls are second. The Mud Roll is great because here in North Carolina our dirt is red clay, and that red stains very easily. The Mud Roll not only covers mud puddles but it's also a great way for builders not to track that red mud into houses.”
In addition to A Prettier Potty and the Mud Roll tracks that keep job sites clean, Cardinal Rents offers the WindWall fan stack that provides constant air flow and cooling on site; decking; the Insta Pavilion mobile, mini-pavilions; and short- and long-term rentals of complete port-a-potty units.
As Cardinal Rents continues to branch out in its offerings as well as its geographic service area, Whittaker is proud to claim that the company remains a local, woman-owned organization that actively gives back to its community.
“Volunteer work is near and dear to us,” she says. “We perform an educational, job training career center for those whose path has not always been easy. Two of my own guys have gone through the program. We provide on-the-job skills as well as other life lessons and soft skills, like time management. I used to be a contracted trainer for corporations, so I try to impart some of that type of knowledge, where we give people a leg up and career training. We want to give back to the community and we have had some really great people participate.”