By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Feb 27, 2016
Repurposing Building Materials
Henderson, Colorado, with additional locations in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Atlanta
After building a traditional waste business in Eagle and Summit counties, Carson says he wanted to do something other than the "traditional model of garbage in a truck where you take it to the landfill and bury it."
The experience led him to question some customers’ decisions when he saw what ended up in the trucks. "Why in the world is that being thrown away?" says Carson, noting a find of "a very nice boardroom chair" that became his office chair for years.
After selling the company to Waste Management in 2001, Carson started a business restoring kiddie rides. An employee asked him if he knew where to find an old vinyl billboard to use as a drop cloth for painting. "That was the seed of this business," says Carson of the launch of Repurposed Materials.
Six years later, the company sources obsolete materials from a wide range of sellers and donors. It's taken in everything from old conveyor belts and reclaimed wood to old hoses and cords to old sugar (repurposed as feed by a beekeeper).
Repurposed Materials has opened five locations in six years as sales have grown "30 to 35 percent a year," says Carson. The driver is largely on the supply side, he adds. "Corporate America has lots of stuff that's obsolete. They want an environmentally friendly way of handling that."
Buyers have a shared mindset that cuts across numerous industries, he adds. "It's so incredibly diverse in terms of who our buyers are and the reasons they buy. Our customers base tends to be three words: innovative, resourceful, and frugal. . . . That could be a cranberry farmer. That could be an architect."
"We don't target an industry -- we target a mentality," says Carson. "If it's a manufacturer, our stuff is used in their operations." One example: A tire plant bought some rail to repurpose as a curb to keep forklifts from hitting the wall.
Comcast recently gave Repurposed about 300 huge concrete slabs that formerly provided perches for cable boxes in subdivisions. "It only took two or three weeks and a trucking company bought them all," says Carson. "They just want weight and ballast in the truck to keep it from tipping over on a windy day. I could have stayed up late every night and never figured out that repurpose. Everybody looks at it through their own industry's lens."
Another way to put it: "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
Challenges: "Getting the word out," says Carson. "We're always looking to source more materials on the inbound side and we're always looking for more customers."
Opportunities: Continued expansion. Carson is looking at opening a sixth location in the Pacific time zone. "Our geography is our endgame," he says. "We're getting close now. . . . We want to be within a day's truck drive of most of the population in the United States."
Liquids and powders are another opportunity. "We're starting to take this repurposing concept to ingredients," adds Carson. "There are all sorts of 50-gallon barrels of ingredients sitting on shelves that's obsolete to a given industry. One example: Long after aviation paint is past the expiration date for its intended use, it's still great for painting a barn. "Most companies have to send that out as hazardous waste," he says.
Needs: "We need more companies calling us, saying, 'We got stuff,'" laughs Carson.