Minnesota family recycling operation continues to grow

IMG_7404by Mary Weaver with photos by William Weaver

Third generation Watson Recycling has expanded exponentially in the past ten years, with much careful forethought and planning. Jeremiah Watson, one of three sons who own the operation with their father Glenn, felt compelled to find better markets in the then-much-smaller operation after a particularly trying experience when he was fresh out of college in 2005.

“Three of us spent seven hours buying, processing and selling 3,000-pounds of aluminum cans for $300,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘We have to find a better way. We need to sell direct to bigger companies rather than through middlemen.’”

Jeremiah had grown up in the business, spending his time after school, on Saturdays and summers working with his Dad. Although Jeremiah had had no formal business or sales education, Glenn knew his son, and gave him free rein. Jeremiah   succeeded in “finding markets where we could sell metals direct to mills or export. Because we were making more, we could pay more, and soon a lot more customers were coming through the door.”

Watson Recycling soon outgrew its limited space that included 2,000-feet of warehouse space with another 4,000-square-feet leased. At that original location, Watson Recycling lacked the space to accept ferrous metals. They had purchased a two ram, self-tying baler, but had to put it in storage because they lacked the space to use it, so they continued to use a frustrating manual tie machine.

Because the Watsons had eight sons and wanted to make room for other younger sons to join if they wished, “We started looking for a new location in 2009,” Jeremiah continued. “Several locations fell through due to environmental and zoning issues, but we purchased our present 12 acre site with 25,000-square-feet of warehouse in 2011.”

The new site took a lot of work. “Most of it had been a corn field, so we had to do extensive grading work. Much of it needed to be raised several feet to get a level site. We also installed an advanced storm water environmental control system, including two large retaining ponds. We put in 15,000 tons of base rock, crushed concrete, and crushed asphalt to make a hard surface for our equipment.”

It worked. Even in wet weather, all their equipment can move easily on wheels. Nothing is on tracks. It was a huge step. However, the business grew along with the increased space.

“After we moved, we more than tripled our average revenue,” added Jeremiah. Currently, Glenn and seven of his sons work together in the business, including some sons who are still in school. “It’s a real family effort.”

In addition to purchasing the new site, the move necessitated the careful purchase of a lot of now-needed equipment that would not have fit at the former site. Most visibly, they a cquired two new Sennebogen Green Line material handlers, an 825 and an 830. Each unit has a cab that can raise and lower so the operator can see inside semis with high sides as he loads. Each Sennebogen can handle 14,000 pounds.

They also purchased grapples and a Magnetec Scrap Star No. 48 magnet, from Equipment International in Colorado, in addition to the Sennebogens. The owner of Equipment International previously ran a scrap yard in St. Paul, MN and was able to help the Watsons find exactly the equipment they wanted.

As we toured the facility, we saw several loaders at work including a CAT 544J with a specialized fork attachment. A KOBELCO SK250lc Dynamic ACERA excavator equipped with a LaBounty steel shear made crunching sounds as it cut oversize pieces of metal. Recently, they replaced their car crusher and they now have enough space to make use of their much more user-friendly Excel 2 Ram, self-tying baler for aluminum cans.

“The expansion has brought many additional stresses, but my Dad has been very good about letting us make our own decisions and mistakes and deal with the results. He’s very involved. He suggests, but he doesn’t micromanage.”

Jeremiah and older brothers/partners David and Jon have shown excellent judgment, and are working hard with other brothers and their Dad to make the expanded operation work. Jeremiah attributes his major successes in finding direct-sale customers to “sheer persistence. In my experience, that’s the main key. I just keep trying,” he says.

“We now sell our aluminum directly to mills, where it’s melted down and turned back into more aluminum sheet.” Different types of aluminum are sent to mills in all directions, based on the type of material that each mill prefers.

Tin and unprepared steel are sent to a shredder. Insulation is removed from larger diameter copper wire with a wire stripper by employees on site. Smaller gauge wire is sent to one of several businesses that specialize in separating copper from the rubber and plastic that surrounds it. Jeremiah has a choice of several markets for copper, including direct export to China.

Appliances go to one of several shredding companies in MN and Iowa which can separate out materials of value with several types of sorters. Catalytic converters are also shipped out. “There are lots of processors.” Watsons accept only certain types of e-scrap, selling to companies that grind and recapture the gold and silver on the boards, “although we do buy whole computer towers. If things are slow in winter, our guys separate the components.”

Watson provides high capacity hauling in their own semi trailers. They also pick up scrap vehicles with their own tow trucks, and they have a fleet of containers that they distribute with roll-offs in sizes ranging from 40 to 80 cubic-yards.

This past September, Watson Recycling purchased an established auto salvage business in Austin, MN, about 45 minutes away. “We could see that we were too dependent on the swings of the world commodity market,” explained Jeremiah. “We needed to diversify.” His Father and brothers agreed.

“Auto salvage intrigued us,” continued Jeremiah. “We buy quite a few cars at our Rochester location, but we needed more space and an inventory system.” The Austin, MN business they purchased supplies both. It currently has a full inventory of parts in over 1000 cars. “With the inventory, we can pull a part off of a car and sell it to an individual or another auto parts operation. We’ll be buying more cars from auctions, the general public, insurance adjusters, and those that come to our recycling location.

“We hired a manager who has spent a lifetime in the auto industry. We have the machines, the lifts, and the equipment. We can also sometimes repair salvage vehicles with parts that are already stocked, allowing us to sell the vehicles at great prices.”

At a second, 15 acre Austin location that was purchased at the same time as the 10 acre auto salvage yard, they are working on grading the site, hauling in crushed rock, and compacting it into a suitable base for their wheeled machines. Watsons plan to start a second recycling yard there, and are currently hauling in metal from a major demolition project just a few miles away.

Cars not usable for parts will continue to be crushed at their Rochester location, with their recently replaced car crusher, a Harris PBL with Builtrite Handler No. 1010. First all fluids are removed with a SEDA mobile drainage station. The fluids are stored in double walled steel STI Institute F921 storage tanks. Batteries, tires, catalytic converters, and any usable parts are removed before the car crusher literally makes what’s left of the car “into a brick,” as Jon Watson put it, enclosed in a netting type material.

The Watsons will often use their Sennebogen material handlers to help downsize cars and trucks to make them suitable for crushing and shipping. “The Sennebogens take a lot of stress from our operation, and have help up perfectly,” stated Jeremiah. “We’re very pleased with them.”

Glen Watson summed up the plan. “My sons enjoy working with their hands and working with people in the business. Life is too short. It’s important to find work you like. My older sons have expanded the business so we can potentially hire all their brothers. We have been blessed.”

 

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