WHEN YOU LOG ONTO Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Cos.' Web site [www.rumpke.com], the first thing you see is the smiling face of CEO Bill Rumpke Sr. In a way, it's a reminder of the company's mantra: people first. Since the company's founding as a coal business more than 70 years ago, Rumpke Consolidated has aimed to treat employees — and customers — like family.
The motto appears to work. Rumpke Consolidated has grown into one of the nation's largest privately owned waste and recycling companies. It ranked No. 14 on the 2005 Waste Age 100 list, thanks to the profitability of its multifaceted operations. The company owns nine landfills, six recycling centers and 10 transfer stations, and provides collection and recycling services in four states. Throw in Rumpke Hydraulics, a portable restrooms operation and a waste brokerage service, and Rumpke Consolidated is one large, blended family with 75 blood relatives and 1,800 other employees that the executives like to call family as well. After all, says Bill Rumpke Sr., the company's unique vision and staying power is only as strong as the people who work there.
Rumpke got its start in 1932, during the Depression Era and admittedly not the best time to launch a business. As brothers William F. and Bernard Rumpke soon found out, customers often did not have the money to pay for services, so they sometimes traded goods for payment. Little did William and Bernard know that their financial misfortunes would be the root of their success.
“A customer traded a half dozen hogs one time for a load of coal,” says Bill Rumpke Sr., William's son. “From there, [my dad] got some of the nephews who were unemployed to go out and pickup garbage to feed the hogs.”
The hogs became Rumpke's main business. By 1943, the Rumpke brothers had purchased an 80-acre farm in Colerain Township, a Cincinnati suburb, to house their growing pig population. Two years later, the company purchased 150 additional acres of land and continued collecting garbage to feed the 2,000 hogs they had acquired.
Ironically, government regulation prodded the company into the waste disposal business. In 1955, a law passed requiring garbage to be cooked before being used as hog feed. That was enough to make the Rumpkes rethink their operations by exiting the pig business and charging for disposal instead. By the 1970s, Bill Rumpke Sr. and his cousin, Thomas Rumpke, who passed away last year, bought the company from their fathers and took over the helm.
Since then, Rumpke Consolidated has formed a total of 22 companies, including Rumpke Ironworks to make containers, Rumpke Hydraulics to maintain trucks and Rumpke Recycling. What used to be the hog farm now houses Rumpke Sanitary Landfill, which is Ohio's largest landfill by volume.
Clearly, Rumpke tries to internalize its waste. The company has found over the years that it's sometimes cheaper to keep operations in the family, so to speak. “If we can do it cheaper, we can do it cheaper in the support function. But if we find that we're able to find outside vendors that can do it more efficiently, then we'll use them in those instances,” says Bill Rumpke Sr.
Growth from the Core
According to Bill Rumpke Jr., COO, Rumpke is focusing its growth mainly on core assets: landfills, transfer stations and recycling plants. The company has averaged growth of 8 percent to 9 percent year over year. Some of the improvements came from evaluating company efficiency. In 2002, the company reorganized its operations around to where it thought it would get the best return.
“In some of the locations where we did not own landfills or recycling facilities, we made the decision to divest in those areas. It's proved to be successful,” says Bill Rumpke Jr. “Now, our growth is based around those core assets that we believe will provide us the best return and also the best ability to serve the customers in those markets at the best price.”
Another growth strategy for Rumpke is operations consolidation. The company's goal is to pick up 95 to 100 percent of the trash along its current routes, thereby minimizing costs for the company and customers. However, Rumpke does not want growth to come at the expense of worker satisfaction.
“We want to keep the people in Rumpke at a good living wage,” and not spread employees too thin, says Bill Rumpke Sr. “People come first. They operate all our equipment, talk to people [through] customer service, and operate honestly and effectively. We have a lot of pride in our name, and everybody here does too.”
Rumpke's commitment to its workers has kept turnover low and workers happy and productive. Many of the employees have been with the company for 10 to 20 years. In an industry where it is difficult to attract and retain qualified workers because of the long hours and regulations, Bill Rumpke Sr. says that the company's family image has helped combat that problem. Employees often recruit their own relatives to work for Rumpke. And the company has an open-door policy that it purports helps workers feel free to discuss issues with their superiors without fear of retaliation.
Teaching the Qualifications
Keeping qualified workers employed has been made easier through the company's extensive training program. In the past few years, Rumpke has rolled out major changes to its training matrix. Drivers, regardless of their previous experience, must attend a combination of classroom and field training to become certified to drive the company's trucks. New employees spend a minimum of 2.5 days in a classroom environment where instructors cover topics including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, customer relations, courteous driving, defensive driving and just plain common sense. After that, prospective employees move to field training where they spend five days to two weeks with a trainer to become certified drivers.
Some people wash out of the program without becoming certified, according to Larry Stone, safety director. “In the past, our industry would take whatever it could get [in terms of drivers],” he says. “We don't accept anyone with a history of DUI [driving under the influence] or reckless operation. We don't accept anyone who has three moving violations in [the] past year of driving history. Our standards have risen dramatically.”
The company also has ongoing monthly workshops, called Toolbox Talks, which reinforce the topics covered in the 2.5-day classroom training. Employees are broken into groups of 12 to 15 people to keep people attentive.
“We try to keep our in-service training program relevant to issues that are happening on the street,” Stone says. “In the beginning of the school year in September or August, for example, we talk about approaching apartment complexes and school areas that are populated with kids. In October, it's National Fire Safety Month, so we'll talk about fire extinguishers and first aid.”
One of the training program's crown jewels is Rumpke University, a comprehensive sales training initiative required for the entire sales force. The coursework began in February 2004 after employees vocalized a need for more sales training. The company called on N.Y.-based Veritas to provide written course materials and train two members of Rumpke's sales staff to administer the program. The core classes, which are required for both existing and new employees, include prospect management, high-efficiency selling, appointment making, product knowledge and cold calling.
Ongoing training is conducted throughout the year at the corporate office and other company locations to cover topics such as price negotiations and contact training. Such classes last anywhere from a day to a week.
Rumpke University has proved to be successful, says Bill Rumpke Jr. “We have grown our commercial revenue quite well with this program,” he says.
Rumpke's goal is to provide the education the sales force needs for top performance, then provide incentives for employees to apply their knowledge on the job, says Matt Bauer, sales director. “People are compensated as a result of their performance,” he says. Employees are also ranked each week, and then the consolidated information for each month is shared across the company. Such performance evaluations have helped the company determine where it is falling short and where it needs to beef up its education.
Safety in Numbers
Education is not limited to employees, however. Through the Slow Down To Get Around campaign, Rumpke hopes to educate consumers about keeping all types of public workers safe nationwide.
Within a week in December 2003/January 2004, Rumpke had two motorist-involved injury accidents. Stone studied the company's safety program and found that while something needed to be done to stop those kinds of accidents from occurring, his drivers were doing nothing wrong. Based on this information, he realized that the motoring public needed to be educated about sharing the road with service workers of all kinds — not just waste industry workers.
The Slow Down campaign was born in 2004, funded by a $10,000 grant from Dodge Center, Minn.-based McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing. The program initially was marketed at municipalities and other waste companies, and included a media kit containing a broadcast-quality TV commercial, two 30-second radio commercials and marketing information about how and why to promote the program in the community. Waste companies can put their own logo at the end of the commercials. So although Rumpke developed the program, it took a family approach to keeping the entire waste industry well.
“This is not a PR campaign for Rumpke,” Bauer emphasizes. “This is a PR campaign for safety within our industry.”
The Road Ahead
Similar to others in the waste industry, Rumpke says it faces challenges ahead. Fuel price increases, as well as federal and state government surcharges, made it tough to do business in the past year, the company acknowledges. Nevertheless, increasing regulatory pressures are not necessarily a bad thing, Bill Rumpke Sr. says.
“I think that increasing regulations separates the very good away from the rest of the flop. [Regulations] are usually tough, but if you can comply, then you can be the wanted provider out there,” he says.
That said, Rumpke Consolidated expects to be a waste services provider for a long time. The company expects a 7 percent to 10 percent increase this year on gross revenue. It is placing its bets on the William Thomas Group, a waste brokerage service.
Rumpke started that brokerage division in 2002 after company executives noticed that they could not secure a lot of customers because they were under national contracts with large companies. Bill Rumpke Jr. believes that the William Thomas Group has the potential to secure good pricing for large national accounts by working with mid-size companies in markets.
“We're not necessarily going to do all the hauling for these customers,” he says, “but we will go out and find the best price for that customer.”
Another growth area for Rumpke is its landfills. Four of the nine landfills will be up for expansion in 10 to 20 years. The company also is not averse to expansions of other kinds, such as new markets for collection and recycling operations. Rumpke currently has operations in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia and hopes to expand its regional territory.
“We don't know where this is going to take us. We could be double this size in 3 to 4 years,” says Bill Rumpke Sr. But more importantly, he adds, “We want a good, strong company where everybody [in the family] can make a good living and a good bottom line.”
Wendy Angel is Waste Age's Associate Editor.
Company Founded: 1932, incorporated in 1965.
Services and Service Area: Solid waste collection, transfer and disposal. The company operates 9 landfills, 6 recycling centers and at least 10 transfer stations. Rumpke is divided into 5 markets areas with 30 locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
No. of Employees: 1,971
Equipment: International, Mack, McNeilus, Heil trucks, among others. More than 12 container manufacturers. Caterpillar and Volvo landfill equipment, among others.
Most Interesting: The company was recognized as Alcoa Recycling's Supplier of the Year. In 2004, Rumpke was honored as the University of Cincinnati's Tri-State Business of the Year. The company also was one of the first “Partners in Education,” in which it partnered with a local school to provide environmental education and support. Company Founders William Rumpke Sr. and Bernard Rumpke have been inducted into the Environmental Industry Association's Hall of Fame for their recycling efforts.
SAFETY AROUND THE CORNER
Rumpke wants its Slow Down to Get Around Campaign to be as second-nature as “stop, drop and roll.” Nearly 200 municipalities have signed up for the program since it was unveiled in 2004. Yet Safety Director Larry Stone says the company is not stopping there in its aim to keep waste workers safe.
Already, Rumpke has launched the second phase of its Slow Down campaign, thanks to the help of McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing, which committed $10,000 to produce another public service announcement (PSA) and media kit, and the Washington-based National Solid wastes Management Association (NSWMA), which will be distributing the commercial. This second PSA will be different from the old one, Stone says, because it will have additional public safety equipment in it. “We're going to have police cars, fire trucks and U.S. Postal Service vehicles as well as municipal trucks.” Additionally, the announcement will include statistical data compiled from information on service-vehicle injury accidents.
In the meantime, Rumpke is pushing legislation in Ohio to help combat injury wrecks involving service vehicles. If passed, Ohio Senate Bill 23, which was introduced by Sen. Patricia Clancy in January, will increase the fine given to motorists who collide with a service vehicle, Stone says. The proposed legislation will require a court appearance for accused motorists, and, if found guilty, will increase the penalty to the next highest degree for that offense. Service vehicles that are included on the bill are ambulances, law enforcement vehicles, fire trucks and waste hauling vehicles.
Stone and Tamara Finch, the widow of a fatally injured Rumpke driver, have been cooperating with Clancy to push for the bill's passage. Although the bill remains in committee, Rumpke remains hopeful that it will be passed before the end of Ohio's current legislative session.