Sustaining the company through thick and thin, Lemcor’s goals are simple: be practical, stay in tune with the customers and the community, and focus on convenience.
In operation since 2002, Lemcor Inc. is a solid waste transfer station and materials recovery facility located in Newark, NJ servicing customers bringing waste from non-flow controlled counties in Central and Northern New Jersey as well as the New York City market. Its owners, Armand Lembo Jr., President, and Robbie Donno, Vice President, have more than 75 years of experience in the waste and recycling industry between them. Lembo Jr. worked for the previous transfer station, which was closed down under an ACO (Administrative Consent Order) from the State of New Jersey and entered into a deal with Lemcor to reopen it under his ownership. Donno has been in the business for 50 years. In 1932, his father started Donno Company, as primarily a residential municipal contractor, with his brothers during the depression, serving 55,000 residents on Long Island. In 1997, Donno Company merged with a public company, which eventually merged into Waste Management. “At that time, the Freshkills Landfill in New York was being shut down and Armand came into the picture to bid on the project. That is where I met him and we developed a business relationship. He was trying to take over this transfer station that we have now and I partnered with him,” says Donno.” The previous transfer station closed down in early summer 2002 and reopened as Lemcor with Lembo Jr. and Donno as owners and operators in fall of that same year at a lower capacity. In fall 2004, Lemcor was granted a permit to run at their higher, current capacity. The facility is currently approved to accept NJDEP waste types 10, 13, 13c, 27 and 72 (non-hazardous liquid) at its facility, which operates 24/7365 days per year. Lemcor handles approximately 150,000 tons per year of material (including pulling some recyclables—predominantly cardboard and metal) and has 16 full-time and two part-time employees.
Lembo, Jr. stresses that three things have helped protect Lemcor from the ever-changing economic conditions and kept them ahead of the curve—location, location, location. “While Donno and I spend the other half of our lives as real estate investors, we do find ourselves continually comparing Lemcor’s location to the other non-waste related projects we look at. Real estate near transportation is always valuable, whether it is a transfer station, a parking lot, a railyard, warehouse, etc. and the value is enhanced if people can get in and out efficiently.” Lemcor is in a phenomenal location. A survey that was performed by a third party for the company several years ago, confirmed that what their customers like about Lemcor is its location and convenience. “We have a very efficient design for the size property that we are on and people can get in and out really quickly, so they are not burning a lot of gas and man hours waiting in line. Every other piece of property that we look at, Lemcor is the one we compare them all to. If we like a property, we evaluate if it is in an industrial section, how is it working, how people are getting there—we look at all the optics,” says Lembo Jr.
As operators, Lembo Jr. and Donno keep things very simple and try to avoid anything passing through the industry that seems like a “fad” or at all volatile. Although respectful of fuel deals and recycling technologies, Lemcor is cautious about their decisions to get into deals that are risky. “Recycling is a volatile business—sometimes you make a lot of money, sometimes you can’t get rid of it,” says Lembo Jr. “We made a smart decision to not turn our facility into an automated MRF several years ago. We didn’t want a huge debt in a business that we were new to and you want to be able to control what you can under your own roof. We can’t control what the Chinese do. This Chinese ban on recycling materials has been a long time coming with the Asian markets, particularly China; they are going through their ecology revolution like the U.S. did in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are at the point where they are so industrialized and they are taking so much of the world’s waste products that they have to start protecting themselves from an economical and ecological standpoint.” Lembo Jr. stresses that they keep things simple and convenient in their operations. While some operations have trucks sitting in line for an hour every day to dump material, at Lemcor, haulers are in and out in around 15 minutes, even at peak time. “We put these policies into place at Lemcor—a quick, simple operation cutting out all of the volatility,” says Donno. “People can count on that and that is why they do business with us.”
Lembo Jr. agrees, “Nothing hurts the industry or a market more than a bad operator. The people doing things on the cheap bring everyone down. Obviously, price fluctuations and foreign markets regarding recyclable commodities will remain an area of great focus for our industry.”
Lemcor currently uses two Caterpillar 330 high cab loaders with grapples and two 950 Caterpillar rubber tire loaders. They also have small backup equipment as well. The company relies exclusively on Caterpillar for all heavy equipment because they find that it works best in their harsh environment. Lemcor also owns four Freightliner trucks and seven MAC trailers, hauling some of our own waste at the site. The Chief Maintenance Officer monitors each machine daily as well as the company’s three operators, while rotating out loaders as needed. Says Lembo Jr., “It is always monitored with someone checking the machines daily. We are a 24/7 operation and the machines run on a constant basis, with the slow time between 6pm and 3am.”
A Second Chance
One of Lembo Jr. and Donno’s favorite quotes is from Red Adair: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional wait until you hire an amateur.” For a relatively small “shop”, Lemcor strives to employ the best professionals in every area in which they seek advice (Legal, Accounting, Engineering, Finance, etc.). Both are proud of their recruiting and hiring methods, which are somewhat unusual. Not only do they advertise online and through local publications, the company has retained many of their employees through work release programs and re-entry programs. “One employee in particular came to us through a re-entry program, started as a laborer and is now our bookkeeper and a homeowner,” says Lembo Jr. “We have a lot of people who were looking for a place to belong and they came to Lemcor, which does not have a lot of employees and is like a family. We go the extra mile for you. We’ve helped financially, with immigration attorneys, etc. because there is a value in keeping good people.”
Donno agrees, “I came from a family business with 130 employees and most of them were there for 25 years. Our philosophy was the same: giving people second chances. The value of people, cultivating them and helping them out as much as we can is a general philosophy that we’ve had all our lives and that is what has continued with Lemcor. It is all principled on respecting the people that work for you.” As a result, the company has very low turnover with an incredibly dedicated and conscientious staff almost entirely from and residing within their host community, the City of Newark.
As far as taking care of employees within Lemcor, training and safety is monitored by all levels of management. “We constantly reinforce: ‘If you see something, say something,’” says Lembo Jr. “Our outside staff’s safety and training is monitored by our Chief Maintenance Officer and supplemented by training from outside vendors such as Smart Safety of Kearney, NJ and Training Consultants of Brooklyn, NY, an OSHA certified trading company. For workplace conduct training we use Labor Counsel (John Zidziunas Jr. Esq.) who provides onsite training. All three firms we use for supplemental training are bilingual.” Cornerstone Environmental Group, consulting engineers, also designs nearly all of Lemcor’s protocols.
Building a Great Business
Constantly changing regulation(s) in the industry as well as the marketplace are a regular challenge. Lembo Jr. and Donno continually watch the concerns over what New York City will do with its commercial waste policies. “New York City sneezes and New Jersey catches a cold,” laughs Lembo Jr. Lemcor combats this by keeping to the core principle of convenience and always working to enhance that aspect of the facility/operation. “Our customers have historically shown that they greatly appreciate our location as well as the fact that we get them through here safely and efficiently. No customer wants to sit in line waiting to dump burning fuel and man hours.”
Says Donno, “I’ve been in this business over 50 years and the continuation of overregulation and taxation on the industry remains a current and future problem. While I am hopeful, it is doubtful that the new technologies and frontiers precipitating them (food waste, bio solids) will avoid overregulation.”
Although Lemcor won awards as a facility and its owners have also won awards as individuals, Lembo Jr. and Donno point out that “whole ride” is their greatest achievement. “The friends we’ve made, the differences we’ve made through our community involvement and charitable efforts, our connection with our staff and the realization that we’ve built a good business are the most gratifying things,” says Donno.
The company is also very active within the City of Newark through many charities, including Nassan’s Place, Newark Three Kings, Newark Now, Believe in Newark and The Newark All Stars. Both Lembo, Jr. and Donno have been honored multiple times by charitable organizations. Lembo Jr. has received the 2013 Newark Now Corporate Spirit Award, 2013 NWRA Special Advisory Board Award and was Nassan’s Place 2016 Community Appreciation Honoree, while Donno received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2011—one of the highest awards a Civilian American can win—for his work as the Founder of Gift of Life International, a charity that has provided life-saving heart surgery to more than 30,000 children around the globe.
Staying in Tune
While the company recently replaced the roof, walls and put in a new floor, Lembo Jr. and Donno see the biggest capital improvement this year will be putting in new scales, in particular hydraulic ones with less wiring, newer technology and easier to lift platforms for more convenient maintenance.
However, Lemcor’s core company goals have not changed in 16 years, sustaining the company through thick and thin. They are simply: keep it simple, be practical, stay in tune with the customers and the community, focus on convenience and enhancing that convenience.
Says Lembo Jr., “A friend of my dad’s, Jerry Gottesman, was a true mentor to me in business (particularly real estate) and had built a multibillion dollar empire. Occasionally our conversation(s) would deviate from property assemblage to the waste and recycling industry and he would tell me: ‘Don’t worry about what the other guys are doing just keep polishing your little gem.’”
For more information, contact Armand Lembo Jr. at (973) 642-1212 or visit www.lemcortransfer.com.