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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 12, 2019 6 months ago

Succession, stalled after CEO's accidental death, finds happy ending

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An established Pasco waste hauler, with a colorful backstory, is now armed with a potent parent company. Its strategy to win hearts and minds starts with top-notch service.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

J.D. Parker survived a lot to grow his family-run waste collection company, from recessions to regulations to even the Mafia allegedly trying to muscle him out of business. The second generation to run the company, Parker took over from his dad, John Henry Parker. The elder Parker started the business in 1949 by taking his and his neighbor’s trash to the Pasco County dump — for 25 cents a can.  

Then, around the time J.D. Parker sought to sell the company for good, in September 2010, he died in a tragic accident on the job: a truck rolled over him while he was under it, working on the brakes.

Nearly a decade later, after some struggles of their own, J.D. Parker’s sons, Dave Parker and Jamey Parker, have followed through on their dad’s wishes. They sold the company, New Port Richey-based J.D. Parker & Sons, to Longwood-based Waste Pro. The deal closed Sept. 1, with Waste Pro, a $650 million industry upstart, taking over routes, customers and employees of J.D. Parker, which did about $2 million in sales in 2018.  Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

“We’ve never been a company to acquire a business just to add revenue,” says Waste Pro Regional Vice President for the Southwest Florida region Keith Banasiak. “It has to be something that fits – and J.D. Parker & Sons is the perfect fit.”

The Waste Pro-J.D. Parker & Sons deal, at least in the hyper-competitive waste collection industry, is also a rare example of an exit strategy where both sides legitimately claim victory. The Parker brothers remain with the business, in leadership roles and business development. Waste Pro, meanwhile, has invested more than $1 million in J.D. Parker & Sons, including a new, $285,000 truck; other trucks and equipment; software for both the office and drivers; and raises, expanded benefits and performance bonuses. The company, with about 25 employees in the field and five in the office, retains the J.D. Parker name in Pasco County, under the Waste Pro flag.

‘All the employees are excited about this change. They want to help make this thing massive.’ Jamey Parker, J.D. Parker & Sons/Waste Pro

Finally, the acquisition, to Dave Parker especially, counters the business axiom that says the third generation of a family business is the one to send it into the trash heap. Parker, 48, recently attended his first annual Waste Pro company meeting, where, in Memphis, the firm highlighted a unit that seven years ago stood the same size as J.D. Parker does today: about 14,000 homes for trash pick up and less than a dozen trucks. That unit today has 100 trucks and a gleaming new operations space.  

“I want to be like them,” says Parker, who went on his first waste pick up ride with his dad when he was four, and fondly recalls he drove a garbage truck before he drove a car. “That’s where I want to take this company.”

His younger brother, Jamey Parker, 45, in charge of building a commercial business waste collection unit for J.D. Parker & Sons under Waste Pro going forward, has a similar goal, articulated differently. Says Jamey Parker: “We want to kick every other company’s butt now.”

Roll along

Back in 1949 all John Henry Parker wanted to do was kick his trash somewhere besides the curb. Since Pasco County didn’t have a trash collection system, Parker started his own.

Mark Wemple. Brothers Jamey and Dave Parker recently sold their family business, New Port Richey-based J.D. Parker & Sons, to Longwood-based Waste Pro. They remain with the business.

First he took just his trash to the county dump, before he went to his day job, on the machines at H.P. Hood & Son, a concentrated orange juice company. He put the bagged trash in his pick-up truck.

Once word got around the neighborhood, Parker would do more work. He and his sons would load up the pick-up, and oftentimes his wife, Eunice, would drive it to the dump.

The fledgling business charged a quarter a can — with the coin taped to the lid of the garbage can. John Henry Parker put each quarter in his overall pockets, says Dave Parker, and later the family patriarch’s children would roll the quarters up. “Pretty soon he had three streets worth of garbage in his truck,” says Dave Parker. “He was leaving earlier and earlier for work.”

By the 1970s, the company had some 16 trucks and was one of the leading waste haulers in Pasco County, which wasn’t yet the urban sprawl it is today.  That’s when the business took a turn for the worse: Dave Parker says mobsters, the Mafia family depicted in the Tampa-area scenes of the 1997 movie Donnie Brasco, approached J.D. Parker, who had taken over from John Henry Parker, with threats and ultimatums. Dave Parker contends they wanted kickbacks, and also sought to dictate when and where the Parkers could do business. 

It got so dicey, Dave Parker recalls, that when he was a toddler, his father was nearly assassinated by a mobbed-up hitman at the Parker’s home in a nighttime raid. J.D. Parker returned fire that night, Dave Parker says, and while he wasn’t shot he did pass out on the driveway from stress. A few bullet holes remain in the home today.

Soon after that, J.D. Parker sold a large portion of the business, to a competitor. He maintained a route for a small Pasco County subdivision, but stayed away from commercial business or anything that put the company back near the underworld.

J.D. Parker eventually grew the business, again, to other routes, and his sons joined the company. But by the late 2000s J.D. Parker grew tired of the grind. He wanted out. He’d been talking to several potential buyers when he died in the accident.

Dave Parker, choked up talking about it nearly nine years later, says the family was devastated over J.D. Parker’s death. So much so they considered simply punting the company. “When dad died it would’ve been easier for us to lock up the gate and walk away,” says Parker. “But then dad would’ve died in vain. We didn’t want to do that.”

Mark Wemple. The Parker brothers, with J.D. Parker & Sons, hope to grow the business in Pasco County under Waste Pro.

The brothers, plus their stepmom, Donna Parker, also knew without J.D. Parker at the helm, they’d be selling at a low point. They instead re-invested in the business, including buying and renovating the land on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey where they leased office and operations space, a former used boat yard. That project, in 2012, cost at least $500,000.

In January 2018, with the business growing its routes and customer base — and Pasco going through a generational population boom — Dave Parker contacted his attorney with the thought of selling at high point. While passionate, Parker, so involved he personably checks each truck’s hydraulics and fluids before it rolls out for a shift, says he was also burned out.

“I see all the growth and opportunities we have with all the people moving here, but every time the phone rang I kept thinking it was going to be something awful,” says Parker. “I was so stressed out I thought I’d be dead by the time I was 50.”

Good partners

J.D. Parker & Sons had a few offers, including one from a $4.6 billion company, Waste Connections, which also does business in Pasco. But Waste Connections, say both Parker brothers, wanted the company’s routes and customers — not its people or pride.

“Right away after sitting with Keith we knew it was going to be different,” says Dave Parker about Waste Pro’s courtship. “They wanted to hear our story. It was like old friends just sitting down and talking.”

The feeling is mutual. Banasiak, the Waste Pro executive, saw in the Parkers the same entrepreneurial spirit and dogged attitude Waste Pro founder John Jennings used in 2001 to launch the company. “Why would I want to come in and rebrand an already successful brand?” asks Banasiak.  “My plan was to acquire it and leave it alone for the people who would run it.”

Those people are eyeing expansion opportunities. Jamey Parker, for example, leads the charge on adding a commercial unit at J.D. Parker & Sons, which includes a roll-off and front load dumpster service and a new marketing strategy. Like his older brother, Jamey Parker rode the back of a garbage truck with their dad when he was a teenager.

“I feel like I am starting a whole new business,” Jamey Parker says, adding the first four months of the commercial unit have seen exponential growth, to more than 40 jobs in February, including a large apartment complex. There’s even a waiting list for customers. “I am determined to make Waste Pro the leading roll-off service in Pasco County. I love putting the pieces together, I love trying to beat my own numbers every month.”

Dave Parker, meanwhile, is back to one of his long-term goals he’s had in mind since he was a kid, working alongside his father: continuing a legacy. “I’m doing the same thing I was doing,” he says, “but without all the stress.”

(This story was updated to reflect the relatives who helped John Henry Parker with neighborhood waste collection. It was also updated to reflect the additional services J.D. Parker & Sons will offer under Waste Pro.)

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