Doing it Their Way

After more than 60 years in operation, Walton, Ky.-based Bavarian Trucking Co. Inc. has quietly made a name for itself in the waste management industry. Indeed, by bucking trends and sticking to operating basics, the full-service, family run waste management company has become a highly successful business in the region. This success has translated into annual revenues exceeding $9.7 million, earning the company the 69th spot on this year's Waste Age 100. Moreover, these combined successes are what company officials hope will carry the company on the same course through the new millennium.

A Family Affair Perhaps nothing defines a company more than its history, and this is certainly the case with Bavarian Trucking. Originally founded as Brueggemann Trucking Co. in 1901 by family patriarch Ben Brueggemann, the company started out as a horse dray line operation in Covington, Ky., hauling lathes and coal to the city's rail freight depot. When Ben died in an influenza epidemic in 1917, his eldest son Lawrence took over the company, which continued as a small hauling operation - through the advent of solid tire trucks replacing horse-drawn rolling stock - until 1934, when the present title of Bavarian Trucking was officially incorporated.

Interestingly, the company's name was not derived from the family homeland - although the Brueggemanns are from northern Germany - but rather from a nearby business called the Bavarian Tap Room, the owners of which were good friends of Lawrence Brueggemann. After prohibition forced the brewery to close, Brueggemann Trucking rented some of the Bavarian Tap Room's space and moved its offices to the defunct tavern. Soon after, the freight hauling company became known as Bavarian Trucking.

It was not until 1959, however, that Bavarian Trucking entered the waste management industry. Several years earlier, the company began recognizing a need for residential and industrial waste disposal services in the area, says Rick Brueggemann, Bavarian Trucking's sales manager liaison for landfill affairs, and the great grandson of company founder Ben. As a result, company trucks were modified for trash hauling and customer routes were established.

"We originally started out just hauling waste," Rick says. "We secured a landfill and began operating it, but did not own it." Gradually, Bavarian Trucking progressed from a freight handling company to a waste disposal company. By 1973, the company had purchased their present landfill in Boone County, Ky.

Today, in addition to its solid waste landfill, the company operates a construction and demolition debris landfill and boasts approximately 35,000 commercial, industrial and residential waste hauling accounts. Bavarian Trucking offers a full range of solid waste and special waste collection and disposal services through its state-of-the-art fleet of 43 refuse trucks. In addition, operations have remained very much in the family: of the 83 employees at the company, 30 are family members.

Success Comes with Challenges Bavarian Trucking owes its success to a combination of factors, including experience, familial connectedness and geographic location. As one of the oldest waste management companies operating in the region, company officials have experienced the challenges of operating in both the waste management industry and in the state first-hand. Although business appears to be going strong now, the company spent many years struggling to stay afloat.

For instance, the 1980s, in particular, were lean years for the company as increased competition, lingering debt and a changing marketplace caused some flux, Rick says. "To say that we were struggling is an understatement."

This period immediately was followed by Kentucky's passage of emergency regulations on landfills, which, at the time, were the fourth most stringent landfill regulations in the nation. "We were very concerned about the costs involved in bonding as a result," Rick says. Because of the state's stringent new regulations, numerous landfills were forced to close. In 1992, for instance, there were 75 landfills in operation in Kentucky, Brueggemann points out. By 1995, only 24 remained.

To counter the threat of going out of business, company officials made a number of decisions, the most important being to eliminate Bavarian Trucking's debt and unnecessary operating expenses. "We wanted to eliminate the amount of debt and waste we had," says Jim Brueggemann, president of Bavarian Trucking. "We knew that's what would save us money."

"With fierce competition, we could not afford to have a lot of interest payments," Rick adds. "Fortunately, being a family company, we can do things that a regular company wouldn't and couldn't do," he says. Specifically, that meant family members hunkering down to weather the storm of lean profits by temporarily sacrificing their own quality of life for the longevity of the business. In addition, the company began streamlining operations to become more profitable.

This included closing the company's recyclables processing plant in 1996 after only a few years of operation. "We were one of the first in our area to get involved in recycling, but early on we recognized that recycling was not all it was supposed to be," Rick says, adding that the company never realized any profits from the operation. "It was not a very popular decision at the time, but now a lot of municipalities respect us for it," he says. Although its processing operations continue to be suspended, the company still collects recyclables.

Despite difficult circumstances, the company's geographic location has been a natural boon for business. Located approximately 23 miles from Cincinnati, the company is situated in one of the fastest growing areas of the nation, Rick says. "This used to be a rural area, but we've seen a steady growth in the population throughout the years, which has been good for business," he says. Currently, Bavarian Trucking serves a growing list of customers in approximately 13 counties in northern Kentucky, greater Cincinnati, and southern Indiana.

With good demographics and increased attention to the bottom line, Bavarian Trucking has been able to steadily increase revenues while decreasing operating expenses during the past four years. For example, in 1995 approximately 21 percent of the company's budget was tied up in operating expenses. In contrast, in 1998, approximately 12 percent of the company's budget went toward operating expenses. "This simply means a more efficient company," Rick says.

Bigger is Not Necessarily Better Despite running a successful business, Bavarian Trucking is not always focused on the bottom line. In fact, one of its most prominent mottos reads: "Dedicated to serving God and country." Printed on Bavarian Trucking's business cards, the motto reflects the company's dedication to traditional family values, which the Brueggemanns trumpet as one of the backbones of their success.

"This [motto] and a lot of the mentality that goes along with it came from my uncle, Bernie Brueggemann, who was president of Bavarian from the 1960s to the 1980s," Rick says. "He was very religious, pro family and patriotic. We wanted to maintain the motto today because it describes the company culture that Bernie helped build."

Another motto that the company recently adopted informally is that "bigger is not necessarily better."

"We're striving just to be the best, not necessarily the biggest," Jim says. "Our goals and objectives are to do as much as possible to provide good and dependable service. Since we're a family oriented business, we promote that aspect ... and I think it attracts customers."

This approach is in line with the company's marketing strategy, which emphasizes up-front, honest and sincere service. "We have a marketing strategy that's unique," Rick says. When most companies seek to expand their market, they will offer great rates to get potential customers on board, he says. "Because of our experience, we realize our best assets are our customers who have been with us for a while."

Consequently, Bavarian does not try to attract customers at prices that are lower than what its long-term customers have been paying. "I really think that this has worked in our favor," Rick says. "We're recognized as a stable company - one that doesn't use gimmicks to attract people."

Indeed, these combined approaches have helped the company stay competitive despite a growing number of competitors in the region, including Rumpke Recycling - considered Bavarian Trucking's No. 1 competitor - Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., Waste Management Inc. and, most recently, Republic Industries.

Commenting on his competition, Rick says, "Because we've concentrated on being efficient, they haven't hurt us."

As for future company plans, Bavarian Trucking also takes a different stance on growth than some of its competitors. "We don't really see the need to try to grow too rapidly ... it's never been a goal of ours to be the largest," Rick says. For example, "we're taking in 700 tons per day at our landfill and we don't have the desire to get much bigger than that. That we handle what we have efficiently with acceptable margins is what's important to us right now."

However, as a family company, Bavarian has the long-term in mind because of its history in the community and its desire to keep the business going for future generations of Brueggemanns.

"Our growth will come solely in the manner we do business," Rick says. "We already have fifth-generation family members working here now so we expect to be around for a long, long time."

Solid Waste Services: Recycling; construction and demolition debris removal and disposal; business and industrial waste collection and disposal.

Service area: Gallatin County, Ky.; Boone County, Ky.; Owen County; Ky.; Grant County, Ky.; Campbell, Ky.; Carrol, Ky.; Hamilton County, Ohio; Clermont County, Ohio; Butler, Ohio; Warren, Ohio; Dearborn County, Ind.; Switzerland County, Ind.; and Franklin County, Ind.

Customers: * 29,000 residential;

* 850 commercial;

* 3,200 recycling;

* 150 industrial;

* 400 C&D debris and others.

Employees: 83

Equipment: * 25 rear loaders; 5 front loaders; 12 roll-offs; 1 semi;

* 90 gallon carts - Toter, Waste Wheeler and Otto;

* front load and rear load containers - 2 cubic yards (cy), 3 cy, 4 cy, 6 cy and 8 cy;

* roll off - 20 cy, 25 cy, 30 cy, 32 cy, 40 cy and 42 cy (self-contained and stationary compactors).

Tipping Fees: $25 to $30 per ton, depending on volume (landfill has a capacity of 17 million cubic yards)

Most interesting items found in the trash:

Old 1890s Catholic Bible; historic newspapers such as photographic detail of 1937 flood in Cincinnati; and scissors used by Bobby Kennedy at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.