Business. Waste Pro
Industry. Trash collection, recycling
Key. Firm looks to accelerate growth on the Gulf Coast by winning work in Hillsborough County.
When Waste Pro won the right to pick up trash in Cape Coral in late 2010, the victorious smell of lilacs and lilies quickly evaporated.
It was replaced by a scent, and sense, of urgency. Based outside Orlando, the firm was tasked to quickly educate more than 70,000 residents on how to do automated trash and recycling pickup. The requirements: Every garbage can and recycling bin is exactly the same, and placed in exactly the same spot — every time — for trucks to pick it up automatically.
Lee County Waste Pro employees mailed educational flyers in water bills to every home. They plastered the flyers in each bin. They reached out via social media, and through local cable TV. Waste Pro Regional Vice President Keith Banasiak, who oversees the Southwest Florida region for the firm, says the intense work took six months and cost at least $25,000.
But Banasiak says it was worth it, both for the client, Cape Coral, and to prove to other municipalities and potential customers that Waste Pro can do a big job well, and fast. “It was up to us to make the transition plan work,” says Banasiak. “We believe in doing whatever we can to get the job done.”
The Cape Coral work can also now be exhibit A for Waste Pro in what is primed to become the next nasty battle for Gulf Coast trash collection. The clash will take place in Hillsborough County, where officials will open its $60 million annual trash collection contract for bids early this year.
It's the first time Hillsborough County has opened bidding for trash collection since 1997. And it comes after a lengthy public battle that pitted the trio of current contract holders against firms that want in. The contract is likely to again be split among three trash collection firms.
The bid process could be a breakthrough moment for Longwood-based Waste Pro's Southwest Florida division. The company, with more than $400 million in total annual sales, 2,400 employees and contracts in seven Southeastern states, first entered the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Banasiak got things going with the Lee County office. The company opened a Manatee-Sarasota location in 2008, and a Clearwater facility, for Pinellas County, followed by 2010. It now has 275 Gulf Coast employees.
Revenues have grown with the geography. The division's first contract, in Lee County, was worth $10 million. Now the company has $50 million in collection contracts on the Gulf Coast. The Manatee-Sarasota office surpassed $10 million in contracts last year, while Pinellas has grown to $4 million in contracts in two years.
While the growth is substantial, a win in the Hillsborough County would clearly be a big boost for Waste Pro in the region. “I think the (Hillsborough) system is broke,” says Banasiak. “It wasn't broke in 1997, but it's broke now.”
Nonetheless, the three firms that have picked up waste in the county for 14 years won't let a fix go forward without a fight. Those firms, Waste Management, Waste Services and Republic Waste Services, campaigned against openig the bid in 2011. In contrast to Banasiak, the effort focused on a “not broke, don't fix it” theme.
A Facebook page, “Leave Our Trash Service Alone,” highlighted the talking points. The site stated “slick lobbyists and expensive lawyers” want county commissioners to “do something that could ruin your service, reduce your pickups and likely cost you more money.”
Tampa public relations executive and political consultant Beth Leytham coordinated the campaign for the three companies. Leytham cited a 99% satisfaction rate in the county as one reason to not open the bidding. Also, Leytham, of the Leytham Group, pointed to several studies from other locations that show fees don't always decrease when trash collection contracts become open for bids.
Tampa attorney Steve Anderson, who represents Waste Services, agrees. Says Anderson: “We felt that long term and short term it would have been more prudent to renegotiate with the three current contractors.”
That approach didn't sit well with Waste Pro, which hired its own lobbyists to wage a newcomer-underdog fight. The issue for Waste Pro executives was simple: Let Hillsborough County residents decide — in this case through their elected commissioners.
“It's tough to break into a market when you're not allowed to do business there,” Banasiak says. “How do you show someone you're a viable competitor?”
One irony to the fight is trash haulers from both sides have taken opposite viewpoints in other contract conflicts. Sometimes Waste Pro is the entrenched company, while other times Waste Services, for instance, wants to get in. “Where you stand,” concedes Anderson, “depends on where you sit.”
Leytham says now that the bid fight is over, Houston-based Waste Management is onto proving its trash collection bona fides. Says Leytham: “With our record of service in Hillsborough and, frankly, nationwide, we have every expectation that we will remain serving Hillsborough County.”
Ditto for Anderson and Waste Services.
Banasiak and Andy Toller, a Waste Pro executive who runs the Manatee-Sarasota-Pinellas office, realize the firms are formidable competitors. But the managers like Waste Pro's chances, too. “We thrive on service,” says Toller. “We ask our people to go above and beyond.”
The firm, executives say, fosters an above-and-beyond culture partially through a series of internal bonus programs.
The base one is a Franklin Award, where an employee can receive a $100 bill for a notable accomplishment. A verified letter from residents that cites outstanding work for employees in the field has led to many Franklins. Employees who work in the offices have also won Franklins for standout work. Says Toller: “I think every human being needs pats on the back.”
The firm also gives larger financial rewards for more long-term accomplishments. For instance, four drivers who work in the Manatee-Sarasota office were each recently presented with a check for $10,000 for three years of flawless performance. The award requires drivers to have no accidents, a clean truck, no missed time and high scores with residents. A $10,000 bonus can be a 25% salary bump, given the base pay for drivers is about $40,000 a year.
“It's a significant accomplishment,” says Toller, who presented the checks to the employees at a ceremony just before Christmas.
Banasiak and Toller say Waste Pro's other strengths, past employees, comes from the firm's commitment to invest in equipment and technology — traits most trash firms claim to have.
Longtime trash collection industry executive John Jennings, who once worked for Waste Management, founded Waste Pro in 2001. Jennings says his goal was to build a company with autonomous local divisions, not a bureaucratic maze. Waste Pro has since grown through acquisitions and through winning local bids for work. It serves more than 5 million residential customers and at least 35,000 businesses.
And the commitment to local autonomy remains.
For example, Banasiak's division spent at least $2 million to renovate the Manatee-Sarasota facility, near the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, when it entered the market in 2008. In 2010 it spent even more to retrofit the roof with solar panels. The payoff: Toller says it cut the $3,200 monthly electric bills in half.
The Southwest Florida division, moreover, recently bought two hybrid trash collection trucks. The vehicles cost about $145,000, which is $30,000 more than a standard truck.
Banasiak says the firm is one of the first in the country to buy the customized clamshell-style trucks. Says Banasiak: “It shows we are really trying to go out on a limb.”