In the Spotlight
L & M Refuse: Focused on Customer Service
Serving more 10,000 residential and 600 commercial customers, L & M Refuse stays ahead of the curve by focusing on its customers and employees.
According to Kevin Lee, president and owner of L & M Refuse, located in Sandyville, OH, the secret to a successful business is excellent customer service. Originally merged with B & S Refuse, a company that his stepfather purchased in 1979 to grow his expanding business, L &M was bought a few years later by Lee and was merged with B & S to become the company it is today. L & M has 22 staff members with a facility that includes the main offices, maintenance and a yard for all their trucks. Covering Stark and Tuscarawas Counties with more than 10,000 residential and 600 commercial customers and roll-off accounts, L & M Refuse deals primarily with solid waste; however, they do offer recycling although it is not a major part of its business because of the cost.
Customer Service is Key
Lee says that the state of the economy in the past year has only affected their business in two areas. “The past two years have actually been the best we’ve had in business. We have been keeping pretty busy, however, lately we have run into the problem of non-payment as a direct result of the economy.” Another challenge is that landfills also took a hit from the economy and have cut back two hours per day during the week and are closed on the weekends. Therefore, L & M trucks now only have certain times to get the trash to the landfills. In order to combat this, trash is picked up during the early morning hours of 4 a.m. and dropped before the landfills’ closing time. Despite both of these challenges, Lee stays positive with the fact that the company is still showing healthy signs of net growth across the board.
Lee firmly believes this can be attributed to the company’s great service to their customers. Rather than advertising their services to the community, L & M relies on word of mouth that has worked well throughout the years, as they have gained new customers and are going strong. “Our number one priority is service to our customers. We try to service them as best we can. We can’t please everyone but we do get great feedback from those that are satisfied.” However, L & M’s customers certainly know when a truck is coming down the street. By painting every truck in the fleet two different colors, Lee stresses that it helps with customer recognition, “If you see a different color truck with an interesting decal on the side of it, you are going to want to stop and look, and find out who it is.”
Even with the vehicle recognition, L &M Refuse is a low-key operation without salespeople and no company advertising. They don’t go after a new customer unless they come recommended from their last one. It is a pretty unique and successful situation. Lee stresses that they are quite proud of this fact and attributes it to their customer service. “They call us; we give them our prices. While many companies add on hidden fees like fuel surcharges, we don’t do that or price increase for three years; other big haulers raise their prices after three to six months.”
L & M Refuse’s growth occurs naturally and letting the company grow is what makes Lee most proud. “We don’t have to go out there and sell ourselves. We just do our thing and everybody’s happy.” In addition to customer service, when there are cleanups in the community, the company does participate in the event; however, since their waste district is very strong, there are not many that need to be held.
Another aspect that has made L & M successful has been the installation of GPS systems in all of their trucks two years ago. Not only has it been beneficial from the management’s point of view, but according to Lee it has also changed the drivers’ attitudes while they are out in the field since the system helps them get directions when needed. “We can always find out where they’re at and what they’re doing. We know their progress and whether or not they are falling behind,” says Lee. Although, they don’t use all the features of the GPS system, that’s okay by them because they can make upgrades as needed through the computer, receive alerts via cell phone when the truck is idling too long or when it is speeding and perform maintenance checks as well.
Not only do all trucks maintain GPS systems, but they all have air conditioners and radios for their drivers. Says Lee, “We take good care of our guys. In fact, we get many inquiries from people calling about jobs and even have a waiting list.” Lee goes on to explain that they generally leave their drivers alone, trusting them to get the job done. “Company attitude does a lot for everything; if you have the wrong attitude, then your customers will certainly know it.” Only if the customers are calling and complaining, then the drivers will hear from management. There is even a bonus program in place. In addition to the base per hour pay, every three months, drivers can earn a certain amount of bonus based on performance. “We give our guys the benefit of the doubt when there is a conflict. By having them write times down, it will indicate whether they missed a stop and what the company should know. This is also where GPS comes in handy because 99 percent of time it shows the truck was there but the customer’s trash cans were not outside,” comments Lee.
Maintaining the Fleet
While L & M is not with transitioning their trucks over to alternative fuels at the moment, it does not mean that they are not aware of the situation. “We are waiting to see how the issue plays out and what mistakes will be made during this process and learn from that,” Lee explains. By doing this, L & M can sit back and let everyone else experience the nightmare. “In a few years when all the kinks are worked out, we will begin transitioning our fleet.”
An efficient maintenance program also helps keep things in check. With their own hydraulic service tools, L & M performs 100 percent of their fleet maintenance, helping to keep costs down and truck life up—for example, all oil changes are done every two to three months. When checks are performed, everything from front to back is inspected. If it is found that a certain part is needed, multiples of them are ordered from the supplier because, according to Lee, “It is getting harder to find places that stocks parts for trucks and equipment. In this economy no one has an abundance of parts. In turn, when the part(s) are ordered, we may be waiting two or three days before they come in and during that time trucks may be out of commission.” In addition, due to the economic factors, the company now holds on to trucks for 15 years, rather than five years as was done previously. “There are not many people out there buying trucks anymore. However, on the plus side we have not needed to replace or fix engines, only body parts.”
Looking Towards the Future
L & M Refuse is optimistic about the future and is looking forward to accepting new challenges as they come along. “We are proud of what the company has become and what has been accomplished. As mentioned previously, we don’t go out looking for customers—they call us. Advertising through word of mouth works and we will continue to maintain our services as best we can, not only with our customers but with our employees as well.”
For more information on L & M Refuse, call (330) 455-0270.