Kevin Atkinson, Owner of Texas Pride Disposal, talks about the waste disposal business and the impact he is having in the Texas market.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome to Texas Business Radio. Texas Business Radio dot com is the website, welcome to the show. We’re talking about dirty jobs. Dirty old money makers. I love dirty old money makers. These are jobs that you may not think of as perhaps the prettiest jobs in the world, but there’s a lot of money to be made in things that other people don’t want to do, and we have a studio full of these guys that have wonderful businesses based on dirty jobs. We’re talking trash disposal, we’re talking machine shops, things that the guys need a shower after work, not before work. Those are the guys we have in here, and we have a whole lot to talk about. 844-814-8144 is our 24-hour call-in line, get your calls in, we’re going to get the experts on here to get them to answer. We also monitor hashtag T-B-R on Twitter.
I’m your host, Matt Register. Jay Curry is sitting over there, giggling in the co-host chair, what do you think?
Jay Curry: I just love this. This is entrepreneurialism at its finest, and grab … See an opportunity, grab it, fill it, and make some money and have a wonderful life. And that’s what this program’s all about.
Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt. We have Kevin Atkinson, who’s the owner of Texas Pride Disposal, here in the studio with us. Kevin, welcome to the show.
Kevin Atkinson: Thank you very much, thanks for having me.
Matt Register: Tell me a little bit about Texas Pride. What do you do, who do you do it to?
Kevin Atkinson: So we pick up garbage. We’re a residential garbage collection company. We’re based in the Houston area, and it’s a dirty job, just like you said, but it’s a lot of fun and it does make some money.
Matt Register: Now you have gone through a little … Walk me through a little bit how you got into this business, because this isn’t a business a lot of people wake up and say, “I want to get into the trash business.”
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, no, but that actually was my story. I was the kid that woke up and wanted to be a garbage man. As long as anybody’s known me, I was the kid that chased the garbage truck up and down the street and clearly never completely grew out of that. Went off to LSU, came back home after my freshman year, I needed a job for the summer. Didn’t want to sack groceries again. Called the phone number on my parents’ recycling bin and three days later, I was on the back of a garbage truck, throwing trash.
Did that, stuck with it, got my license, drove, worked my way up. After I graduated, the company brought me on as a trainee. Eventually got to where I ran their residential division for the Houston market, and then made a change in 2013 and started Texas Pride Disposal. So started it, we bought a small little operation in Rosenberg, and grown it into what it is today.
Matt Register: And it started with a couple of trucks, five guys, and you were doing a lot of individual folks down there in your market. Give me a relative size today. 30-something trucks, you got a lot of trucks, right?
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, we went from, like you said, two trucks, five employees, and about 1200 customers to 32 trucks, 95 employees, and about 80,000 customers now. So it’s been a busy couple years.
Matt Register: What a story. And that’s what we want to talk about. We’re talking to CEOs of growing businesses. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the trash business, doesn’t matter if you’re in an accounting business. You go through growth, you have very similar issues and problems that you’re having to solve. You’re having to go from a one-man operation to a corporate structure that has systems in place, processes, and repeatable processes.
Walk me through a little bit, because I find it quite remarkable, in the four years that you’ve been around, that you’ve grown from where you started to where you are now. That is some very, very significant growth, and I would imagine a few growing pains along the way, right?
Kevin Atkinson: Oh, yeah. When we started again, it took about a year and a half, almost two years to get momentum going into … It was kind of a chicken and the egg syndrome. We needed customers to get a reputation, but we needed a reputation to get customers. So we were in a weird spot, where we continued to pick up our subscription customers, but there was really no significant growth. So our growth wasn’t necessarily flat throughout the first year, year and a half. But it wasn’t anything that was spectacular or caught anybody’s eye. It took our first small HOA, and then a MUD district at the end of 2014, beginning of 2015, to start building some reputation with property managers and attorneys.
Matt Register: And now, all of a sudden, you’re credible, right?
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, we’re credible. We can actually go out. It’s not just little one-off customers here and there, and then that snowballed. We were lucky in the sense that there were some things in the market that were positive for us, where we picked up some significant work in ’15. And then from ’15 to ’16 we doubled in size, from ’16 to ’17 we doubled in size, and it looks like this year we’re going to do the same thing. So it’s been a-
Jay Curry: It’s an amazing story.
Kevin Atkinson: … crazy, crazy couple of years.
Jay Curry: The whole thing started with you … Like you said, you had to build a reputation, you had to have a competitive advantage. In your case, it’s service, quality, and getting it out. Getting the disposal out of the way so people can … And once you built your reputation, and the word gets out, wow. We’re talking hockey stick here.
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, and it’s a service business. It’s no different from any other service business. It’s being held accountable by the customer and making yourself out there for them, available to them, and responsive to them. And that’s no different from any other service business.
Matt Register: A lot of our listeners, and myself and Jay included, are big fans of Mike Rowe and the Dirty Jobs Foundation that he has, and the movement of, there are very critical jobs in our economy that need to be done, that can’t be … So you can’t outsource trash collection to China, right? It’s got to be done here. What advice would you give a young person right now that’s considering careers? Because the trash business has been really good to you, and there are some great opportunities there, right?
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, absolutely. I tell everybody, and once this city turns into Detroit, I’ve got job security.
Matt Register: Sure.
Kevin Atkinson: It’s one of those things, I think you look at what’s here now and what’s going to be here in ten years, 20 years, 30 years. I think obviously, people are always going to put garbage out at the end of their driveway. It’s just something that, if you’re looking long-term basic functions of life, and everyone produces garbage. You’re not going to stop producing garbage, whether it’s your garbage or it’s recycled down the road. However it’s produced, it’s going to the end of your driveway in your trash can and your recycling bin, and that’s not going to change anytime soon
Matt Register: Sure. No doubt.
Jay Curry: Yeah, the population growth’s got to be a factor, too, ’cause in the old days, you’d have to be running between one farmhouse to the other. In today’s modern world, and the way that cities are growing, it’s becoming a serious problem for the cities to deal with and the counties and the MUD districts. And if you’ve got a good, viable solution, wow, there’s no end to what you can do.
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah. No, absolutely. There’s a lot of cities dealing with that. San Francisco has got a zero waste goal by 2020. They’re at something like 80 percent, what they produce gets recycled right now. Austin has a very aggressive zero waste program in place. We’re a little further behind here, but it really goes to the cost of land. What it costs us to put garbage in a landfill for versus what it costs on the east or west coast. It’ll be here one day, but right now, what the market wants, it’s all driven by what the customer wants.
Matt Register: Regardless of if it gets recycled or not, it still has to be picked up, right? It still doesn’t affect you that greatly.
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, we don’t do any of the processing side of it. We strictly do the collection. So we pick it up from the resident, and we deliver it to that recycling facility or that garbage facility that handles it from there. So we don’t do any of the post-collection.
Matt Register: Hurricane Harvey. Talk to me about Hurricane Harvey and how that affected you guys.
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, so very fortunate in the sense that our trucks and our office was just fine. A vast majority of our employees did just fine, I think we just had one that lost his car. So truthfully, very lucky, very fortunate from that respect. But also, gave us the opportunity to go out and try to help people with what they were dealing with. We’ve done a lot of cleanup work, in perspective, compared to what the entire cleanup process is going to be, it’s a drop in the bucket, but we’ve done a lot of cleanup work for places like the city of East Bernard, Longwood Village, a few of our customers as well. But for what the city’s going through, it’s literally a drop in the bucket.
Matt Register: Well I think everybody had to flex a little bit. All of a sudden there’s a massive demand out there that is hanging out there. And at this point, has that slowed down and almost finished, I would guess, right?
Kevin Atkinson: Yes. Yeah, the initial pickup. We haven’t done much the last couple of weeks, but I know the city’s still trying to get a lot of things taken care of. But from our perspective, yeah, that first month after September, really, was just … We were doing cleanup for basically the entire month of September.
Matt Register: Yeah, no doubt. Texas Pride Disposal. Kevin Atkinson is the owner. Thank you very much for joining us, Kevin.
Kevin Atkinson: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.
Jay Curry: Great story.
Matt Register: What’s the easiest way for somebody to get in touch with you should they want to learn more about Texas Pride?
Kevin Atkinson: Our website’s a great resource, Texas Pride Disposal dot com, service @ Texas Pride Disposal dot com, if you want to shoot us an email, and then 281-342-8178 if you want to give us a call.
Matt Register: Easy enough. Texas Pride Disposal dot com, we’re going to have that link directly from Texas Business Radio dot com, if you’re driving and can’t take notes.
Guys, we’re just getting warmed up. We’re talking about dirty jobs. Dirty old money makers, and we got a studio full of hooks that I think you’re really, really going to enjoy. We’re just getting warmed up. However, we do got to pay a couple bills ourself. We’re going to go to a quick break, we’ll be back right after that. Don’t go anywhere. Here on Texas Business Radio.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.