Russell Reid Makes Its Own Luck

It seems the only thing the folks at Russell Reid don’t plan for is good fortune. They study every aspect of the waste management industry, meet annually for a management retreat to strategize for the year ahead, carry out an acquisitions program, reinvest in the company according to long-term goals for managed growth, and carefully tweak operations and marketing to fit their business model.  As a result, the 67-year-old company enjoys a significant amount of—you guessed it—good fortune.

Maybe the lesson here is that good luck comes to those who work their tails off and leave nothing to fate.

“We are the third owners of the company, started in 1943, by the original Russell Reid,” says Gary Weiner, President and Chief Operating Officer for Russell Reid. When his father, entrepreneur Morton Weiner, acquired the company in 1981, “we were operating exclusively as a portable toilet rental company and figured it would be a good fit.”

Morton and his brother David had started Mr. John portable toilet rentals [www.MrJohn.com] in 1964. Their first unit was built of plywood, the holding tank a 55-gallon drum with a hole cut in its side. From that humble and sort of scary beginning, a company was born that now has seven locations and nearly 250 employees.

Finessing the fit
Both companies were based in central New Jersey, and, like Mr. John, “Russell Reid was a service-based company,” explains Gary. “It came with two 3,000-gallon vacuum trucks and two metal boxes of index cards that represented customer accounts. It also came with a tremendous amount of goodwill. We opted to hang onto the [Russell Reid] name and branded it. Later, we adopted and trademarked a slogan, ‘Responsible Wastewater Management™,’ because we wanted to tell our customers that they’d be in good hands. Our book of business began to grow.”

Around this time, “Another dynamic was occurring in New Jersey. New regulations virtually outlawed the disposal of septic waste on farmers’ fields or in landfills. That opened the door to a number of smaller companies wanting to exit the business.”

Over the years, Russell Reid has acquired many similar smaller scale companies that were good fits and that allowed the growing company to expand the range of services it could offer to customers.

Gary explains: “The same trucks and workers could operate in other markets, from residential to commercial and industrial work.” That includes—but isn’t limited to—pumping leachate at landfills and grease for restaurants, cleaning out a drain at someone’s home or inspecting municipal sewer lines.

Gary rattles off “tanks, pits, pumps, sewers, sanitary, and storm”—the quick list of what Russell Reid does. “We have a number of combination sewer jet vacs that are more expensive and complicated. We got into that carefully.”

He anticipates that as the infrastructure in the Northeast ages, Russell Reid may expand its services to include relining and rehabilitating sewer conduits.

Centralized for “economies of scale”
Russell Reid is a full-service waste management company providing collection, transportation, and disposal of solid and liquid waste to all of New Jersey, metropolitan New York and Long Island, Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware. 

Russell Reid and Mr. John share around 100 management and support personnel, and their 150 field service employees are co-branded and cross-trained. Of the companies’ seven locations, five are fully staffed service centers with a service manager, operational support staff, equipment maintenance personnel, and field service techs. Dispatchers and customer service personnel staff a central logistics department that pushes all work out to the service centers electronically, while financials and sales and marketing are also centralized.

“All customer relations, logistics, billing are done from a central location. We process [the work] here [and] push it out to the branches, where it is executed. Then it flows back for updating, processing, and billing,” says Gary.

Doing the right thing
Having grown up in the business, Gary likes “the change, the innovation, the challenge, being a leader.”

“I like the enthusiasm and excitement that industry professionals derive out of an industry that is often seen as mundane, obscure, and irrelevant.”

At the same time, he is realistic about the effort required to be successful. “The margins are very, very thin; the marketplace is unbelievably competitive; and there really are no trade secrets. It’s very challenging to create and build a sustainable model that allows the business to reinvest in itself. It’s not, by any means, easy. We made a commitment early on to be Best in Class, [and] we’ve been investing and re-investing from an early stage.”

He continues to be devoted to “making a not-very-sexy industry memorable. Our brand has excellent name recognition in the state of New Jersey. We have very high moral standards, a high level of integrity, and are environmentally responsible. We do the right thing. And if we don’t, we make it right.”

Find out more about Russell Reid at www.RussellReid.com  or 800.356.4468.

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Sidebar
An industry of ideas
American Liquid Waste: What’s the most significant advancement you’ve seen in the industry?
Gary Weiner: Solar light in the toilet…Actually, when we were at the pumper show [Pumper & Cleaner Expo, February 2010, in Louisville, KY], I saw a completely robotic video-inspection ’droid camera, self-propelled and wireless/cableless. I think it was mapping the sewer system. It could process everything it saw as well.

My brother Mitchell said [of the pumper show], “it’s a place of ideas.” That’s where you can really see the creativity and innovation to address the needs of this industry. It’s really come a long way.

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Story by Anne Biggs

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