Service, Not Money

Not long ago, a national waste hauler showed up at C&C Disposal in Fayetteville, Ga., to discuss a possible buyout. With larger haulers continuing to expand by gobbling up smaller, local companies, this family owned enterprise seemed like an obvious choice.

Profitable and well-established, C&C competes with the giants of the waste disposal business. From its operating base in Fayette County south of Atlanta, it provides trucks and boxes to commercial and residential customers throughout the sprawling metro area. Cutting a wide sweep through the center of the state, C&C's service extends east toward South Carolina as far as Athens, Ga., west to the Alabama line, north to Cartersville, Ga., and south to Macon, Ga., almost 100 miles away.

As it turned out, the potential buyer, like others before him, had made the pilgrimage to Fayetteville for nothing. Cecil McAdams and his family built the company with their own hands, and are not interested in selling what has become the central focus of their lives.

After looking at the operations and fleets of trucks, the buyer was impressed by what he saw. He also was surprised at how this prosperous business had been built and maintained.

"You still get your customers the old-fashioned way - by service and word of mouth," he told the McAdamses.

That observation very well could be C&C's operating motto.

"It's a family owned and run business," says Lisa McAdams Maddox, daughter of the founder and the vice president responsible for day-to-day operations. "It was started by my father in 1973. He worked for Ford Motor Co. for 14 years, and then one day he sold his house, took his stock and bought a garbage truck. Everyone thought he had lost his mind."

Leaving a steady, dependable position with one of the world's biggest corporations to start your own business in a tough industry didn't seem like a sound idea. Observers, however, hadn't counted on Cecil McAdams' drive, determination and commitment to the values of honesty and service.

"We just started adding one employee and then another," Maddox says. "Basically, we don't lose many customers. Sometimes we lose them because of the price from the bigger [haulers], but the companies that started out with us in 1973 still are being serviced today."

Valuing Family This 70-employee business is very much a family operation. Cecil, who retired from the company a few years ago, still actively guides C&C. Maddox, who was just 13 when her father started the business, runs the day-to-day operations along with younger brother Dan, who is operations manager. Her older brother, Justin, is the roll-off dispatcher. Following surgery, their mother, Dot, retired after more than two decades with C&C. All of the children have spent their entire working lives with the company, which helps to explain the attachment that has kept this independent going strong for nearly 30 years.

"It's a family business," Maddox says. "It's almost like a child. We've raised it and now we're just not interested in selling it. We enjoy running it and watching it grow. Plus, we all make good livings doing it."

Commercial Operation Success The company's bread and butter comes from commercial hauling. They have many construction accounts, but almost 60 percent of the business is compactors and open tops, with 35 percent in front-end containers.

"We just started in the residential business three years ago," Maddox explains. "So we're in one concentrated area. Right now, we're working up to the bottom part of Coweta County [in west central Georgia]. We want to expand in that area before June."

She sees tremendous growth potential for residential service accounts. "It's really easy to get into the market with the prices being as high as they are," she says. "Right now, it's a very profitable segment of the market." There is much more competition for commercial waste hauling in this area as C&C competes with major companies.

The days of that single truck are long gone. Today, C&C operates a sleek fleet of 43 trucks, including 20 Ford 9000s and 5 Sterlings equipped with Marathon hoists, 15 Macks with E-Z Pack front-end loaders and three side loaders. Several trucks also are kept in a reserve.

"We only run 12 of the front-end trucks at any one time," Maddox says. "Three are spare trucks."

And, this family business lives within its means: they own all their equipment. "We don't finance it," she says proudly. "It's paid for before it ever hits the streets."

C&C has built a successful business with room to grow. It currently services 4,500 residential customers, 1,300 roll-off temporary construction containers and another 500 compactor self-contained units. Maddox estimates that the company has at least 3,000 roll-offs and open-top containers. "We've grown more in front ends than any other area," she said.

Maintaining Quality of Service C&C's owners are all too aware of the problems of growth that comes too fast and causes a decline in customer service. That's a situation they are determined to avoid at all costs.

"When companies start merging, they get so big they just can't give the customer the type of service they want," Maddox explains.

For example, she says a customer called and said, "you're the first person who's actually answered the phone. Whatever you charge me, I'll pay it." He just wanted someone who could answer his questions, she says.

"I think a lot of the business has come from the problems caused by mergers," she explains. "They can't accommodate the huge volume they've taken on. They realize it's a problem and they're working on correcting it, but they're losing customers and we've been able to pick them up."

Maddox acknowledges that there have been times when C&C has been overextended, but careful planning and management of operations is allowing the company to grow without sacrificing quality. The owners are adamant about turning down business if it can't provide the service that its customers have come to expect.

"We'd rather turn down the business than overextend ourselves," Maddox says. "We don't take a job we don't think we can handle."

Technology Boosts Quality To help manage its operations, C&C used computer software to better gauge the progress of its business. Two years ago, C&C installed WAM management software on its 14-terminal computer system, which allows the company to track costs and profits per-truck.

"It tells you which route you're making the most money on and what route you need to increase your business on to make it profitable," Maddox explains. "We [also are able to] keep up with everything from the maintenance on our trucks to the tonnage at the landfill."

The truck's maintenance is scheduled on the computer, so workers know when the oil needs to be changed and the tires rotated. They can keep track of costs such as fuel consumption, landfill charges, how many hauls on a particular day or week, how many yards of waste a truck picked up on any day, and other vital information.

The company, like many others in the waste industry, also is considering adding global positioning satellite technology to its software arsenal.

"It would allow us, for example, to know whether we had [multiple] trucks in the same area," she says. "It would give us a[n] idea of which truck we should send to a particular area."

To extend and grow its operations, the company is considering building transfer stations in the eastern and western outer reaches of its service area, which would reduce operating costs by eliminating its trucks' long drive back to Fayetteville each day.

"We're getting to ... where we don't have a choice; we have to have a landfill for dry and wet waste," Maddox says. "We're looking for property now."

In a time when bigger is better and rampant growth through merger is a way of life, the McAdams' way of doing business harkens back to an earlier era in the solid waste industry when building long-term relationships with customers was the primary goal.

For Georgia's C&C Disposal, it is a family value.

Number and Types of Refuse Trucks: * 20 Ford 9000 trucks with Marathon roll-off hoists

* 5 Sterling trucks with Marathon roll-off hoists

* 15 Mack trucks with E-Z Pack frontend loaders

* 3 Sterling trucks with Heil side-loaders, for the residential market

Types of Containers: * 90-gallon Schaefer containers for the residential market

* 2-yard through 8-yard Lewis Steel containers for the frontend market

* 20-yard through 40-yard Lewis Steel containers for the roll-off market

Number and Types of Customers: 4,500 residential customers, 1,300 roll-off temporary construction containers, 500 Marathon compactor self-contained units

Number of Employees: 69

Service Area: Metropolitan Atlanta and most surrounding counties

Services Provided: Residential and commercial collection, recycling, and construction and demolition debris removal.

Local Tipping Fees: Depends on the collection area

Most Interesting Trash Story: In 1999, a murder took place in one of the counties C&C serves. The parents of the murder victim called C&C, explaining that a psychic predicted the victim would be found on a large pile of garbage. Four days later, the murder victim was found in Alabama on a large pile of garbage.