By evaluating and addressing challenges as a team, focusing on being active in their communities and providing the best customer service they can, Martin Environmental Services has continued to be successful in the areas they serve.
Martin Environmental Services (Dothan, AL) began in 1999 with a pickup truck and a trailer. Owner and President, Jim Martin, went around to local business selling them on the idea of recycling their cardboard instead of throwing it away. The customers would put the cardboard in make shift bins Jim created, and he would later come by and load it up. At that time, the company was called Innovative Recycling Systems and operated that way until 2006. In early 2007 Jim decided it was time to incorporate his business and chose to use Martin Environmental Services, Inc. as the name. He felt that with such a service driven industry it was important that people knew, he was standing behind it. When Martin started his company, he had recently been let go during the merger of two large waste and recycling companies and was unemployed. When the company began, it was just Martin doing all the work—selling accounts, working on trucks and driving the route he created. During the summer months his teenage stepson, Brandon Hurst, and his stepson’s friends would come along to work. In 2006, Martin added a frontload truck for the cardboard collection. Shortly thereafter, customers started asking Martin if he would collect their garbage because of the great service he provided, so he obliged. This worked out perfectly because once Martin had transitioned to a frontload truck, it cut route times down so drastically that garbage accounts were essential to keep the truck busy every day. Eventually, this led to hiring someone to drive the truck full time, while Martin started another route with an additional vehicle. About a year later in 2007, he added roll-off to the company’s services due to many commercial customers needing that as a complimentary service. Today, Martin still loves riding the roads either on a truck or out talking to customers.
In 2009, Martin’s stepson, Hurst, after being honorably discharged from the Army, came back to work for the company again while finishing his Business Degree, starting in sales and delivering his own dumpsters, collecting money and painting cans. He has also spent time in every truck within the company, later managing routes and drivers for the company. “I am currently the Chief Operating Officer for the company, managing the day-to-day operations,” says Hurst. “I still lean on Jim many times when making tough decisions, more so just to get his perspective. Being in the 101st Airborne Division while in the Army taught me how to lead a diverse group of people very effectively. I am very active with my managers, employees and customers. When we take on a new contract, I am always right there in the middle, making sure everything is to our standard and that we are leading from the front. In 2013 we were awarded our first residential contract and have recently added another. This is a segment of the business we are actively trying to grow, especially if the town or city is a right fit for us. We focus on being the best in service, so we aren’t necessarily always the cheapest.” The company now employs 18 full time employees, runs six front loaders, five roll-offs, two rear loaders and a collection of service vehicles, bring the fleet to 19 vehicles and growing every day.
Although Martin Environmental Services is a relatively small company, it strives to provide services like a national provider. In Alabama, they currently provide services in seven counties: Houston, Dale, Coffee, Geneva, Barbour, Henry and Covington. In Florida, they provide services to Jackson, Holmes, Washington, Bay and Calhoun counties. In Georgia, they provide service in Early, Seminole, Decatur, Randolph, Miller, Clay and Quitman counties.
A Personal Touch
Hurst points out that the economy has been tough over the last few years, however, he feels that Martin Environmental Services has been blessed in their business.” I am not saying that we didn’t feel a pinch, but we worked with our customers and helped them reduce services. We took a step back and cut some things we were doing, such as the manner in which we were buying fuel and lubricants, our tire management system and even more efficient collection vehicles. Allowing us to do that for them really paid off in loyalty. Over the last two years we have seen things really start picking back up. The funny part is that the fiscally smart things we did when it got tough really prepared us for our growth over the last few years. It positioned us to be more competitive than we had ever been.” He explains that the communities they serve are very small business minded and people do business with people not companies. “We kind of created that personal touch with our customers because we were hurting right along with them when the economy was bad.”
The company became a member of the National Waste and Recycling Association in 2013, which provides numerous resources typically not available to smaller companies, so they make a point to take part in chapter meetings that typically focus on legislative action that affects the waste and recycling industry. “We use their online classes to train our drivers and mangers on safety as well as dealing with customers effectively,” says Hurst. In addition, he points out that not only does being a member pays dividends through deals such as reduced credit card processing fees, he believes that the greatest benefit is meeting other haulers in the area, and helping one another be successful. “Jim and I also make sure to attend the Waste Expo and other industry-related trade shows yearly. Jim likes to walk the floor and network with people and I spend most of my time in classes learning and networking with other attendees. This has really helped Martin Environmental Services stay current in what is happening in the industry and in tune to what other companies are doing when it comes to alternative fuels, collection processes and recycling.”
Finding a Balance
Hurst points out that the company’s biggest challenge is finding a happy median—competing on price while being committed to being the best in safety and service. “Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning and some of them have even tried other haulers. I have had many of them come back and say they can match your price because that’s easy, but they can’t touch the service your people provide. That is when you know you’re doing things right.”
Even though they are constantly facing challenges in the competitive waste and recycling industry, the company rises to the occasion by stepping back and evaluating challenges as a team and then moving forward in one direction to meet those challenges. Recently taking on a new contract that was going to require the company to place a couple vehicles in an area where we had no direct oversight daily, Martin and Hurst sat down and reviewed all of the scenarios, trying to figure out how they could execute this while ensuring the level of service was still being performed. Eventually, they put together a plan that positioned the company to be successful in that area, while allowing the new service area to increase significantly. Hurst explains that the industry as a whole is facing the challenge of increasing environmental sustainability on a scalable level. “We have been recycling since day one, though some days have been more profitable than others. We see the industry shifting towards zero waste as fast as it can; however, the reality is that there are significant capital costs associated with it and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense in certain areas geographically.” Despite this, Martin Environmental Services is always looking for opportunities to reduce, reuse and recycle. “Our largest commodity that we recycle is old corrugated cardboard. We also divert many construction materials for reuse in aggregates and for boiler fuels. We have partnered with the Alabama Department Of Environmental Management on many occasions to educate our area on recycling through outreach at local festivals and events, such as the National Peanut Festival, Bama Jam Music and Arts festival, and Toadlick Music festivals. At all those events, we have been successful in diverting between 30 and 50 percent of the waste by volume away from the landfill. This is a huge accomplishment and it couldn’t have been possible without the organizers of these events. We are moving toward zero waste along with everyone else, but I think this part of the country is moving a little slower than the rest due mostly to the difference in landfill cost.”
However, Hurst points out that business is about winning small battles every day. In 2013, Martin Environmental Services was recognized as the 2013 Small Business/Person of the Year in Dothan, AL. They have also been awarded numerous municipal and state contracts throughout the southeast. However, the one thing that they are most proud of is getting to the size where they were able to start really giving back and becoming active in the communities they serve through many charities, such as: Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, the salvation Army, Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Botanical Gardens, and many youth baseball and softball teams. They also donate roll-off dumpsters to every Habitat for Humanity home built in Dothan AL, area. Martin Environmental also regularly participates in Spirit of Service days throughout the area.
Continuing to Grow
“We have never been focused on being the largest, simply the best,” emphasizes Hurst. “Our main goal is to continue to be us. Our saying is ‘Setting the Standard in Service’ and we do that by finding and training the best people. We are always looking at opportunities to bring companies that are doing great things and have great people into our organization. We have been very successful at small scale acquisitions and look forward new opportunities as they arise. Our plan is to continue to grow at sustainable pace through strategic acquisitions, as well as organic growth through excellent service.”