Failing venture starts to succeed
In this excerpt, Poole continues to describe his slow progress towards a successful waste management business. Poole convinced his former employee to rejoin his venture and soon he was meeting the goals of his original business plan, formed nine years earlier.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
JM: Right. But you said that you weren't making money early on in these landfills, the first couple of years, eh?
LP: Well, that brings you up to about the end of--those contracts were put in '71, we did little or nothing except the management contracts. Those contracts were put in in '72. By '73 we were operating actually five landfills: two in Wake County, one in New Hanover, one in Vance, and we were doing one kind of on the side for the town of Wake Forest. We were not making any money. The rate that we could charge at the gate was not enough to support the cost. So we bought the trucks. By 1979, we still were not making very much money in the landfill business. By that time, the EPA had been formed. RRCA, which was one of the driving pieces of legislation, was passed in 1976 by the Congress, Federal.
LP: RRCA, Resource Recovery and Conservation Act of '76. We had seen the first drafts of the regulation, which was not actually promulgated until 1980. But it had a substantial amount of risk associated with operation of landfills. So what little money we were making was not consistent with the degree of risk. So at that time, we got out of the landfill business and concentrated totally on our collection business, which was doing quite well and making money.
JM: Yeah, can you tell me about the transition or the thought process the step through into purchasing the trucks and going the direction of collection?
LP: We bought the first trucks in '73, and we started with six. That probably, if I had it to do over again, I would not have done that. We went into three markets simultaneously, quite remote from each other. But anyway, Jim was at that time running New Hanover County. That was an interesting dinner convincing his wife that he should give up his job with the Credit Union and come back to work for this garbage company that may be successful. But anyway we took her out to a nice Italian restaurant--.
JM: And won her over.
LP: And we were persuasive. I was persuasive. So that involved Jim not only giving up his job but he gave up his job and he moved. He did New Hanover County contract, which was to find a site and get it up and running. Then I did the Wake County sites. Then I acquired a small grading company business, and the guy brought his equipment and everything over to Henderson whole dump and cleaned it up. He became--we bought his equipment, and he became the manager. The thought process at that point was to put in three garbage trucks or two garbage trucks in each of those places. One that picked up the dumpsters and the other one that picked up the big containers that we call industrial. To not only have a landfill to take it to, but to have trucks that could go out and get it because at the time if you charged fifty-five cents, a lot of people would drive their trucks fifteen or twenty miles to avoid having to pay the fifty-five cents. So we decided that what we were going to have to do was get our own trucks and pick it up and we could , since we were closer at hand, we could make it up on the transportation. Anyway, that's the way we did it. The landfill wasn't making money and the collection was, so we just kept adding trucks. Actually we made a goal to open one new collection operation per year. We pretty much stuck to that plan until we went public in 1997. We opened up one new market every year.
LP: The business plan that we started with in 1970, except for the fact that we discontinued landfill and we added in trucking, we pretty much at the end of the fifth year had gotten to where we wanted to be dollar wise. Maybe we were a little behind on the bottom line. We did another five-year plan, and then we did another five. We just keep doing fives, and then fives turn into twenty, and now here we sit. Our company's twenty-nine years old.