In the Spotlight
Apple Valley Waste: The Communities’ “Go To” Waste and Recycling Resource
In a position to execute an aggressive growth plan in the Mid Atlantic-Region, Apple Valley Waste is excited to confront challenges and are inspired by the experiences of their past that have place a high priority on doing things “the right way”.
In 2006, J. P. Phillips and Randie Lawson found that they had an opportunity to start Apple Valley Waste (AVW) (Kearneysville, WV) by purchasing Waste Management’s residential business in Martinsburg West Virginia, worth about 7 million dollars in revenue with 27,000 customers. After completing the acquisition, AVW grew at a steady pace through 2010. It was in that year that Phillips, Lawson and John Decker began talking about transforming the business. As a result, Deckerbrought Summer Street Capital (Buffalo, NY) to the table to help finance the new direction of AVW. The transaction was completed on December 30, 2010 at which time Lawson retired from AVW and Decker signed on as Managing Partner and CEO. Says Phillips, “The strategic partnership with Summer Street really gave John and I the opportunity to grow. They are a great financial resource, both from a monetary standpoint and evaluation, advice, etc. Summer Street makes the company well-balanced and financially sound, poising Apple Valley Waste for strong Mid-Atlantic growth.”
Since the partnership, the company has grown substantially, from servicing only subscription residential customers to now servicing more than 40,000 households and hundreds of commercial and industrial customers (including roll-off, commercial front load, recycling, etc.). With 58 employees and a fleet of 30 trucks, AVW provides residential collection in Berkeley and Jefferson Counties in WV and Washington County, MD with residential, commercial and industrial services in that county.
Expanding the Business
Economic conditions have been slow but steady since 2009. Yet Apple Valley has been able to take advantage of some acquisition opportunities to expand the business in West Virginia and Maryland. They have closed on four acquisitions since 2009 and already executed Letter of Intent for 2012. Managing Partner John Decker, says, “We recognized that the economy was going to be struggling or flat for a while so we knew we had to grow the business in other ways. Even though we have seen very few new business’s opening up or new people moving into our area, we have been very successful in expanding our business by introducing new products and services to our current customers.” In 2009, AVW introduced mini 15yd roll off boxes and marketed them to their customers as a solution to small construction, clean-up projects. The success of this line of business has exceeded their wildest expectations. It has now grown into a full-time division of the company. In 2011, AVW started offering 30-yard roll-offs more for commercial and industrial type customers. “It’s been a great addition so far,” says Phillips. “We are very pleased.”
AVW went on to Introduce Apple Valley’s BIG HANDY BAG™” during the summer of 2011, which offers a solution for customers which have too much material for their regular pickup but not enough to fill a roll-off box. Phillips points out that from the feedback they received during the last half of 2011, he expects big things in 2012.
In addition to having a long-standing single stream curbside program in Jefferson County, WV servicing over 12,000 homes, AVW was also the first company to introduce single stream recycling to Washington County Maryland when it started its program in 2010. Now, thanks to the help of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, in March 2012, AVW revitalized curbside recycling in Berkeley County, WV by implementing of a large-scale program that will finally give customers the ability to have their recyclables picked up curbside.
Keeping a Culture of Trust
A real challenge that AVW is aware of and that they will be facing in the future is their ability to continue to keep the same culture of company trust, family atmosphere and very strong relationships with the communities they serve as they expand our business. “JP and I are both aware that these things have been a key to our success and they differentiate us from our competitors every day. We are determined to not let our growth and/or the geography of our company be a convenient excuse to why we left these beliefs and values behind. We have both been in circumstances at large organizations where we have seen these “invaluable assets” lost in multiple layers of management,” says Decker “and we owe it to the people who rely on us not to let it happen here.”
The close relationship with the employees and the commitment to the community are two things that Apple Valley Waste never wants to jeopardize. But doing so takes work and effort. For example, the company’s annual Christmas party is a great topper to the end of each year. “This year we had 175 people attend—about half of them were kids. We pride ourselves on creating a different type of Company and Christmas party—we want the kids there. Santa attends and all the kids walk away with a gift. We figure our employees spend more time with us than they often do with their families so it’s nice to have that one time per year where their families and ours come together so we can give something back to them for all they do. It’s a really great time,” says Phillips.
All of the employees also go through Safety meetings on a monthly basis and the company holds quarterly gatherings with any staff that are in safety-sensitive roles—drivers, maintenance people, etc. Decker points out that not only has the company recently held a CPR training class that was open to anyone who wanted to attend, but they also hold offsite dinners with the team just to get them away from the shop for a while and allow them to talk about anything that might be on their minds or concerning them. “It’s a great opportunity for safety issues to be brought up and just to get to know each other better. You often find you have many things in common and these get-togethers continue to build our Apple Valley community”. Says Decker.
Decker is particularly proud that they also perform an annual self-OSHA audit, where they hire someone to come in from the outside and hold a mock OSHA audit in order to make sure everything is in the best shape it can be. “These are great check points because we get so used to our environment and looking at the same things everyday that sometimes potential problems do not catch your attention. It’s a valuable self-check for someone to point those out to you so we can provide a safe place for our people.”
AVW has as one of its policies to be the best resource for its communities. A quarterly newsletter is sent out with each customer’s invoices that details service offerings, Company events and informs everyone about the things that are happening around the community. AVW also really tries to take advantage of every opportunity to listen to the communities, political leaders and solid waste authorities they serve. “Our goal is to be their “go to” resource. Whenever any question or a need pops up in the area of recycling or refuse collection,” says Phillips. “We want them to think about contacting or partnering with us. We really try to be there for them to share our experience or knowledge and provide whatever support they may need. It also is a great opportunity for us to learn.”
AVW also participates in community events and works hard to give back to local organizations. For example, when the Christmas trees are collected every year, any money made from the collections gets donated by Apple Valley to the local Boys and Girls club. A couple of years ago, AVW also teamed up with the Jefferson County Fair Association to start a recycling program at the fair. Phillips says, “Working with the officials at the fair helped that program really take off, especially this year. We have been able to divert a lot of material out the waste stream at the fairgrounds by adding single stream recycling bins.” AVW also participates in the livestock auctions for the Future Farmer’s Association. Here, kids raise cattle and hogs to sell, AVW is a regular at these events and every year purchases livestock to help continue the program. One recent example of joint success being driven by good community relationships is the work AVW and the Berkley County Solid Waste Authority have done together to provide curbside recycling collection to over 20,000 residents that didn’t exist before. “Collectively we have now been able to offer everyone in the county a curbside recycling program to go with the electronics recycling drop-off/pickup that we started last year—these are all accomplishments that have been realized in conjunction with the county,” says Phillips. “While we are a business, there are times when a Company in order to be truly successful can not be motivated by just money or profits. We do it because we believe it is the right thing to do.”
Inspired by Challenges
According to Decker, the biggest challenge that he sees in the Waste Industry today is also one of the biggest challenges that the U.S. is facing—the development of new, innovative and better ways of doing things needing to reach a point where they are as efficient and cost effective as traditional methods. “In today’s economic environment, no matter how strong your desire to do something better, it becomes increasingly difficult to accomplish when doing so simply costs a lot more. For example Waste to Fuel, Solar, Wind Power, Organics collection and processing are all great ideas to explore for our future but we have to consider how much more we can ask customers to pay to support initiatives during a time when many of them are simple trying to make ends meet?” he says. “ At AVW we are trying to be as thoughtful and innovative as we can right now, to offer our customers the services they desire supported by doing it the right way as much as possible. But you have to pick your spots. You can never be everything to everyone, especially right now. We try to offer our employees, customers, and communities all the best things we can for the best value and when choices have to be made we make those choices with them collectively so that everyone buys in together.”
Going forward, AVW’s relationship with Summer Street Capital has positioned them extremely well to execute on an aggressive growth plan in the Mid Atlantic-Region and take on the challenges of today and tomorrow. “We are excited about the road in front of us and are inspired by the successes and failures in our past, says Decker. “We know now what “the right way” is, and have made that “The Apple Valley Way”. Our goal is simple, to be the “go to” waste and recycling resource in all of the communities we serve.”
For more information about Apply Valley Waste, contact J.P. Phillips at (304) 724-8640 or via e-mail at [email protected].
Apple Valley’s BigHandyBag™ introduced in the fall of 2011.
Christmas time in Charles Town, WV.
Apple Valley rearloader in Berkeley County WV.
Apple Valley’s Mini Roll Off Service. The 15yd roll off boxes work great for homeowners and contractors alike.
Apple Valley Waste and the Jefferson County Fair Association team up to offer recycling during the 2011 Fair.
At Apple Valley’s Christmas party in 2011 Santa reads the poem “Twas the night before Christmas”.
Apple Valley rearloader in Washington County, MD.
Apple Valley Waste Headquarters in Kearneysville, WV.
Apple Valley successfully launches curbside recycling in Berkeley County WV in March of 2012.
Images courtesy of Apple Valley Waste.
“Our Community is the key to our success. Sounds like a simple straightforward comment, but when we speak of ‘Our Community’ we speak first about our ‘Apple Valley Community’ and feel very strongly that our success begins from within. Many say how important their employees are, but we make sure our employees know it. We do not take one minute of their time or one ounce of their commitment for granted. We work hard to ensure that our culture is built from the way we take care of our employees, to the way take care of each other and finally to the way we all collectively take care of our customers.
“We see our friendships in the industry as the key to our future and recognize that the relationships we maintain will lead to the opportunities that will define us. Good relationships are hard work. There are so many challenges today that require you to make tough choices about what kind of partner you are going to be. Too many people take the easy way out or find convenient excuse as to why they could not do the right thing ‘this time’. But we do not believe that you get to take a time out from your commitment as a partner. We understand that our partners (our employees, vendors, regulatory agencies and the communities we serve) are relying on us as much if not more so then we are relying on them. By delivery on their expectations each and every time we create a loyalty that will lead to new opportunities.
“At no other time in the many years we have spent in this business has innovation played such a key role. From the efficiency of our collection and processing equipment to the transformation of our waste stream into new resources, ideas our defining the way our industry will look tomorrow. We believe that the ultimate level of our success will be directly influenced by how innovative our people are. But we also believe that innovation begins with leadership. Too many people measure themselves as leaders by the titles that they hold or their span of control. Our view is very different. For us we feel that as leaders we must lead by example, but must also recognize that we become true leaders when we really serve those who rely on us. When our people completely trust us as their leaders, then they will be comfortable enough to become innovative and take risks.”
—John Decker, Managing Partner and CEO of Apple Valley Waste