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Young Entrepreneurs Do Not Waste Recycling Opportunity
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Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman hopes to begin rolling out his city-wide curbside recycling service in the spring. But there’s a group of people who will be left out of that: those who rent apartments. WOSU talked with two young entrepreneurs whose business caters to the very ones the city excludes.
Columbus’ proposed curbside recycling plan does not include apartment complexes. But that’s created an opportunity for a couple of young entrepreneurs.
Some renters already have their recyclables picked up. And they don’t have to walk to the curb, it’s picked up at their door.
“We have over 3,000 units. As you can tell that’s a lot of recycling. So what we do is we spread it out over a week’s period of time, and each apartment complex has a night where they get their stuff picked up,” 24-year-old Travis Smith said.
Smith is a Florida native who went to Cedarville University about an hour southwest of Columbus. That’s where he met his friend and business partner 24-year-old Jesse Lear. Smith returned to his home state after he graduated, but he soon moved back Ohio, this time Columbus, for a door-to-door sales job. The men rented an apartment together to save money. And last winter, their garbage and recyclables began to accumulate.
“Well one day we were sitting in our apartment, and obviously it’s like zero degrees outside, a normal day in Columbus, and the trash and recycling is piling up there at the door. And we’re like, man, wouldn’t it be awesome if somebody would come pick-up our trash for us?…And one day I think I had said something to Jesse, dude, if we feel this way there’s got to be like hundreds of other people who feel the exact same way,” Smith said.
And so VIP Waste Services was founded. Smith and Lear began pitching their trash pick-up business plan to apartment management companies, and the reception the men got was not exactly what they expected. Here’s Jesse Lear.
“It probably took, I don’t know, 10 or 15 sales calls of talking to these people about trash and everything before it got through our thick skulls that these people were continuously saying can you do recycling only? You know, will you do recycling? Will do you recycling? Will you do recycling?”
Neither Smith nor Lear grew up in a so-called recycling home. After doing research for his business, Lear said he became, in his words, even more convicted about its benefits. In an effort to generate some business, Smith said they set up a booth at the Columbus Apartment Association Expo.
“Our display was an X-Box 360 game called Dance Central. So basically people could come up to our booth and start dancing on the screen and all this good stuff like that. And we had these management owners dancing and having a good time with us, and we sprinkled in, hey, we’re a new company. We do this recycling program. And one company, Oakwood Management, they gave us a chance,” Smith said.
VIP Waste Services is heavily promoted on Oakwood Management’s website. The company heralds the doorstep pick-up service as an environmental-friendly amenity for its renters, and it lists the different complexes where the service is available. Residents are provided bags for their recyclables free of charge. Smith and Lear pick up the bags at night and drop off the recyclables at Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio bins.
Lear said individual property managers were skeptical of the recycling service at first.
“Nearly every one of them says, yeah, but you don’t know our residents, you know, they’re not going to get that involved probably. Within several weeks their tune has completely changed. They’re saying things to us like ‘our residents love this program; they’re coming in everyday to get recycling bags,’” Lear said.
So far, Smith and Lear have ten properties they serve. And they’re adding one new property each week. They are also in talks with other management companies to offer the same service.
Smith and Lear said their first employee was the truck they bought, but they actually hired a worker who started this week.
And what about those door-to-door sales jobs?
“It feels so good to be able to quit our jobs and just go full-time with it and throw our energy into something we’re actually passionate about,” Lear smiled.
The start-up company was self-funded without any debt, but the men declined to reveal income or profits.