Industry Leader – Lakeshore Recycling Systems, Chicago IL

Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS) is a comprehensive waste management company with 15 state-of-the-art recycling centers serving municipalities, school systems, and other public institutions throughout the Chicago metro area, greater Illinois, and Wisconsin. In 2019, the enterprise was named one of the Chicago area’s fastest-growing companies, on the renowned Crain’s Fast 50.
LRS controls nearly 2.5 million tons of waste material entering its facilities, which is around 35-40 percent of the entire stream of waste for the Chicagoland and lower Wisconsin Midwestern subregions. Of that waste volume, Lakeshore recycles or diverts about 50 to 60 percent away from routing to landfills, which is an exceptional ratio.

LRS Leadership Team

Lakeshore’s C-suite is manned by an impressive team of seasoned industry professionals, with strong academic and career credentials. The large and aggressively-expanding enterprise is led by Alan Handley, CEO, champion of the corporation’s growth-by-acquisition strategic model. Handley also lectures as an adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Before assuming his leadership role at Lakeshore in 2012, Handley was Executive VP and CFO at Aldridge Group, a national leader in civil contracting.
To name just a few other top executives at LRS with a high level of responsibility for the success of the company’s thriving portable restroom rental division:
 Brian Tibble, CMO, came on board as VP of Business Development in 2016. Tibble handles sales team development and strategic planning for marketing, sales, and customer experience across the temporary services division.
 Meaghan Johnson, Director of Marketing notes that her team “wears many hats,” referring to the fact that the extraordinarily versatile professionals are fully cross-trained in all the company’s individually challenging skill sets required in each of its complex revenue channels.
 Brian Grosse is Lakeshore’s VP of Portable Services, oversees operations of all the revenue lines in the company’s portable restroom rental services, industrial, construction, and commercial power sweeping, and dumpster rentals.

Lakeshore’s Strategic Growth Model

Founded in 1999 in a merger between two companies in Chicago, produced the entity that later, in a 2012 merger, became Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS). Five years later (2017), Lakeshore purchased Chicago’s K Holdings company, which brought new revenue lines, including portable restroom rental services, dumpster services, and power sweeping services. Just a year later (2018), LRS acquired Wisconsin’s largest dumpster provisioning and recycling company, Royal Container Service in Madison, WI, making LRS a bi-state waste management enterprise.
The company has built an outstanding record of service and has grown organically, but has multiplied the size of the business largely through acquisitions. Lakeshore continues pursuing its strategy of growth by acquisition, currently targeting hundreds of potential new assets.
Now, in December 2020, Lakeshore Recycling Systems has nearly 1,000 employees and generates annual revenues of about $240m, up from the $50m the company had been producing at the time of the 2012 merger. LRS’s portable restroom rental services line, power sweeping, and dumpster services are all thriving divisions, and the company is today’s largest independent waste hauling organization in the Midwest U.S., and one of the industry’s top 40 largest in the country.

LRS Portable Restroom Rental Operations

Brian Grosse, VP of Portable Services, started his career in the wastewater sanitation industry, went on to own his own portable restroom rental company, and grew it into a thriving business with the kind of potential that caught the attention of Lakeshore acquisitions experts. Grosse achieved the dream of so many ambitious entrepreneurs, to grow a business to the point that it becomes a highly attractive asset and then have it acquired.
Brian came on board with LRS in 2018, as part of the transition plan. In just these two years since that time, the Portable Services division has maximized the synergistic potential of LRS with its newly acquired portable restroom rental business, and the revenue line has grown it into the region’s most formidable competitor. Today, Brian oversees a vast area of LRS operations with an inventory of around 15,000 rentable units. The total inventory includes units for construction and industrial needs, special events, and other uses. (Meaghan Johnson mentioned that the company has a total of around 650 field vehicles in its company-wide fleet.)
Brian comments, “During the COVID crisis, our units have been very helpful to many industrial companies, enabling them to continue operating when they otherwise may have been forced to shut down. The hand sanitizing and hand washing stations have been especially important for businesses that would otherwise probably never have rented these kinds of units.”
Brian estimates that the industrial-grade portable toilets probably account for about 80 percent of the department’s inventory. The company also has a large selection of about 50 luxury restroom trailer units. Those include every size in the range from 1 to 10 stalls and ADA units. The remaining inventory consists of numerous hand washing and hand sanitizing stations, etc.
He explains, “We serve the greater Chicago area. We also have a sister company in Wisconsin, Badgerland Portables, which we started from the ground up, and it’s growing well. In just the two short years since the company’s inception in 2018, it has become one of the largest in its area.”
Brian estimated that the Portable Services division has about 33 power sweeper trucks. There’s a busy team of drivers in the power sweeping department he oversees, especially during the peak period of the year. He talked about the seasonal changes in customers’ needs for portable toilets and power sweeping services that impact his employees across the two departments of the Portable Services division.
He explained, “Fall and spring are busier seasons for roll-offs and toilet rental business, and there are more events in summer for which those units are needed. In the fall, we have employees who work with those who move over to help with the power sweeping. “It helps keep guys working.”
So, the fascinating operating mode of LRS’s unique management system in its Portable Services division is to cross-train all field services employees so well that they can seamlessly switch job roles back and forth in fall and spring. All the while, of course, they must maintain seamless professional-quality of the heavy equipment operation and care and performance of services. It’s an unparalleled operational model that the company maintains, to accommodate the shifting seasonal demands between roll-offs, toilet rentals, and power sweeping across the LRS service market.

LRS Core Principle of Sustainable Operation

All the LRS management team members we spoke with, or from whom we’ve featured comments from previous interviews, here were highly focused on sustainability as the goal that shapes everything the company does. Brian Grosse commented in a joint interview for ALW and NAS magazines, “Sustainability is part of our core, and it’s what sets us apart from our competitors. Everything we do is a sustainability initiative. It’s really why I think we’ve been very successful over the last six years or so.”
He offered multiple examples of processes the company uses in its facilities to reconstitute various waste products and “give it a second life” either in the form of mulch or other valuable materials, to reintroduce it into the world as a reusable product.
CEO Alan Handley carried the message even further in his 2019 interview with Recycling Today, “We are very different in the market from pretty much anybody else you can think of. It’s mostly because from the very founding days of our company, we set that out to be our goal—that we wouldn’t sacrifice environmental stewardship or sustainability for profit. We believe in that. They really aren’t mutually exclusive—you can be profitable and do the right thing for the world.”
LRS has been recognized for its world-class technology, applied in the interest of sustainability. Handley is quoted in a 2019 article as saying, “We’re also continually looking for ways to introduce automation.” He is further quoted in the article as saying that LRS views the matter of long-term sustainability as a question of affordability, which he translates as a need “to reduce the cost of recycling going in and reducing the labor associated with it.”

LRS Marketing and Sales

Meaghan Johnson explains that the LRS marketing and sales team are fully familiar with customer needs and how the company meets those needs in its various divisions, including portable restrooms, recycling, power sweeping, dumpster services, etc.
The Lakeshore sales team is extraordinarily versatile, as Johnson reflects, “We’re very nimble in making sure our sales team can cross-sell all services. For example, if a construction company needs power sweeping services, portable restrooms, roll-offs, those are all things we can take care of for them.”
She goes on to clarify, “So, whether a construction site needs something temporarily, or a private homeowner wants to have a contract for routine service, or a municipality wants to talk about street sweeping, all our sales employees can help them get services in place to meet their needs.” Meaghan also mentioned that the LRS Customer Service team is just as remarkably adroit as the sales team.

Company Culture at Lakeshore

There’s much to be learned by newcomers to the portable restroom rental services industry from a study of the LRS internal culture. In 2016, the company was listed among the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® as well as receiving the BBB’s award for ethics in the marketplace (2018). Alan Handley expressed in the previously mentioned interview that there are three priorities that define the LRS company culture:
1. People — Alan explained, “We’ve spent a lot of time and focus effort and energy into really developing our people. I think it’s key to the future.” He went on to say, “It’s hard to find good, qualified talent. When we do find them, we want to make sure they have a good, meaningful career with us and that we provide an opportunity for them to grow with our company.” (2019)
Brian Grosse told ALW, “We want to make sure all our employees have the tools and resources they need to succeed, and that they’re learning about the industry, and are up to speed. Meaghan Johnson reflected, “This year (2020) has, of course, been a little different for all of us (in terms of events the company normally holds to express appreciation for employees and to celebrate individual achievements).” Then, she went emphasized what the whole management team makes clear is the key message of LRS’s leadership philosophy, “What makes Lakeshore succeed is helping the employees succeed.”
2. Safety — No matter who you speak to on the LRS C-team, safety always appears to be top of mind. Management staff clearly sees focus on safety as the company’s deepest core commitment. Meaghan emphasized in the joint interview, “Everyone needs to know best practices, safety protocols, practices, and industry standards.”
Brian Grosse reinforces that message, “We’re very much safety and maintenance focused. The newest focus has been on upgrading equipment and materials, to make it safer for drivers and technicians. He reflected, “From PPE to material handling, to replacement pumps, to changing hoses, to switching out schedules, we’re good at our preemptive maintenance. We’re more about being proactive than reactive with maintenance.” In 2017, LRS received the award for the Biggest Safety Improvement, from the Solid Waste Association of North America.
3. Innovation — In his October 2019 interview with Recycling Today, Alan Handley expounded on the LRS “culture we’ve developed of trying to be as innovative as possible, embracing new technologies, listening to our customers, and making sure that you don’t just do things the old traditional way. Our entire corporate DNA and everything we talk about is how we keep material from going to the landfill. I’m pushing to try to find end products for about everything we possibly can.”

From LRS VP of Portable Services, Brian Grosse, Chicago IL

Brian Grosse, “We’re a company that has grown organically and through acquisitions. With each acquisition comes new dynamics that you’re trying to put together. We do tend to blend and learn from newcomers in new collaborative efforts.”
To how LRS has parlayed the synergies gained from the mutual sharing and learning between existing LRS departments and newly acquired companies merging into the Lakeshore operational system, Brian looks back, “I learned when I built my own business that anybody can go out and buy porta-potties and start a company in Chicago or Madison Wisconsin, for example. But, it’s about the level of service, the constant working goal is that people have a uniform quality of work that is expected wherever they are. It’s that our quality of service is consistent anywhere across our system that people are working. Though we’re never quite going to get that goal, the point is always to hold it as ours, and keep striving for it.”

Comments on Lakeshore Recycling Services

Between its portable restroom rental revenue channel, other provisioning of portables, and recycling, Lakeshore Recycling Services provides waste management services to many thousands of municipal, industrial, construction, commercial, and private residential customers, including the 642 locations in the enormous Chicago Public School system.
As the LRS enterprise continues its steady and successful march to greater expansion through acquisition, the organization certainly appears to be on track to meet Alan Handley expressed goal, “to be a progressive, recycling-first, diversion-first, customer-focused independent recycling and waste company, and then be a dominant player in the markets in the greater Midwest.”
Brian Grosse paints a good picture of how the company is achieving that, “We are an example of a snowball effect: Brand awareness occurs when people are seeing one of our recycling or other units on a block, and people think, “They must be doing a good job because the neighbor keeps using their service. Then, maybe soon they’re seeing two or three of our units on the block, and the number can keep growing.”
In addition to its core commitments to employee development, safety, innovation, customer experience, and its over-arching principle of sustainability, it appears fair to say that another defining quality of the LRS corporate culture appears to be the social impact. As Meaghan expressed, “We’re very vocal in the community. We always love to give back as much as possible, through sponsorships, and partnering with organizations like the Lupus Society, and others.”
The LRS company’s executive team share a deep devotion to the organization’s grounding beliefs in the above list of commitments. What also stands out in talking with multiple members of this exemplary leadership team is a unified message and insistence on a supremely efficient and agile approach to everything they do. Undoubtedly, this rarified combination of exceptional will and skill are to be credited for the brand’s outstanding reputation with the many authorities on quality in the industry that has honored LRS with awards for excellence in every facet of business operations and ethics.
Based on all these factors, it does seem that the top leadership of LRS is right to be confident in its ongoing drive to further scale the enterprise. It’s truly too difficult to imagine any extent to which the team’s efficiencies and its genuine and contagious sense of caring for people and the environment could not reach and function with ideal effectiveness.

For information about Lakeshore Recycling Services, call (630) 377-7000 or go to the LRS website at https://www.lrsrecycles.com/.

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