RALEIGH – Greg Brown doesn't have much control over the price of steel, copper and other metals that he buys and sells from his Raleigh Metal Recycling plant in south Raleigh.
But he can control what equipment he chooses, the safety features he installs and the customer service he demands of his employees.
"Since 2008, we have become positively paranoid everyday about safety, quality, efficiency and growth," Brown says.
At his metal recycling facility on Garner Road in Raleigh, Brown says he has in the past four years invested more in safety systems, put in better processes for quality for the checking shipments in and out of the plant, and enhanced his marketing efforts.
Because about half of his customer base is made up of industrial clients and the other half is the general public, Brown decided to pave the grounds and repaint the buildings to appeal more to the public. He added lighting and weight scales to shorten the customer wait time.
All the measures combined have helped grow annual revenues for Raleigh Metal Recycling from around $20 million in 2009 to around $36 million in 2011. Brown also owns a recycling facility in Goldsboro that brings in about $14 million a year.
Both facilities accept and pay for just about any ferrous or non-ferrous metal found in junk cars, appliances, car batteries, lawn furniture, drink cans and hundreds of other industrial and household items, as well as some cardboard and paper products. They'll even send a truck out to pick up items from customers if it's a large load.
The biggest challenge to the company's bottom line, however, has been the precipitous drop in metal prices across the globe. Steel prices have dropped by about 40 percent so far this year, Brown estimates, and copper prices are down 20 percent in the past 18 months.
The drop in steel prices has been blamed on the slowdown in new construction in China, which is one of the biggest markets for the metal that Raleigh Metal Recycling sells.
Brown estimates that his company prepares at least one shipping container full of recycled metals a day that are sold to brokers from China. "It leaves our facility and goes right to the port," he says.
He has also installed additional security cameras and security measures to tackle another big issue that has been plaguing his industry: metal theft.
Brown estimates he lost more than $100,000 in revenue in 2011 due to theft, both from people trying to steal metals from his property for resale later and from customers trying to sell him metal that was stolen from other properties.
And, at the heart of his new solution is a simple ATM cash machine.
Raleigh Metal Recycling was already making copies of the driver's license and taking photographs of each customer who drops off metal for recycling, but the ATM machine also takes and stores digital photos of scrap sellers collecting their money.
"We were being ripped off a lot, but now we can give the police a picture of the bad guy, a picture of him with his material and a picture of the guy getting his money. We have a complete electronic file," Brown says.
"They aren't smart enough to realize we have their photograph." He says his system has helped the police catch about a dozen metal thieves in the past year.
Business description: Recycling scrap metal, cardboard and electronics.
Number of employees in the Triangle: 39
Top Triangle executives and titles: Greg Brown, president and CEO; David Gibb, CFO
What is fueling growth?
The company has experienced growth because of our level of service and efforts to promote recycling in the workplace and at home. We have increased the diversity of products we purchase from the general public and industrial clients, including all scrap metal, computers/electronics and cardboard from industrial companies and more.
What is your growth strategy?
Our strategy is to promote the environmental impact that recycling has on one's carbon footprint whether you are a manufacturer, home owner or business. Importantly we find ways to help companies make waste a money generator, adding profits, versus a cost to dispose.
What steps did you take to combat the economic downturn?
We weathered the storm in 2008-2010 by understanding our business environment and climate, protecting our assets, and promoting the phrase that we "pay cash for your trash." The scrap metal recycling business globally came to a halt in 2008. We increased productivity and unfortunately had to lay off key people. We now purchase computers, electronics, brass, copper, stainless steel, aluminum, steel, cars, appliances, batteries, motors, electrical cords, car parts, aluminum cans, cardboard and more so we can support our customers better than ever.
If you could go back to the start of the year, what would you do differently?
We would change our process of selling of our product to keep lower levels of inventory and process the material that we receive faster. Also, we would have added more security. Theft from our operation nights and weekends, as well as even during the day, has hurt our profits.
What are your company's goals for 2013?
To continue to increase growth and profits by improvements in customer service and support.
How many employees did you hire in the past 12 months, and how many do you plan to hire in the next 12 months?
We have not grown the team in the past 12 months. Our goal for the next 12 months is to hire 2-4 new employees.
What executive/CEO do you most admire?
Steve Jobs of Apple. He was a visionary and understood, people, products, supply chains and more.
What keeps you up at night?
Safety of our employees. We want to be the safest work place in the Triangle area. I am also very concerned about our federal government's almost reckless spending. Lastly, the lack of a clear energy policy in the U.S.
CONTACTSRaleigh Metal Recycling
Greg Brown, 734-740-9514