TRUCKS: Trash Taxi Rolls On

Along with Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, Americans soon might have another name to add to their list of familiar brands: Trash Taxi. After winning Waste Age's 23rd Annual Design Contest in 2001, Trash Taxi, Sterling Heights, Mich., has become perhaps the industry's most memorable fleet franchise.

Although the garbage industry does not rely heavily on marketing, Curtis E. Agius, Trash Taxi's founder, realized that painting his fleet taxi-cab yellow and adding black and white checkers and flashing lights was a great way to build brand recognition. Having already trademarked his concept, Agius agreed to sell “franchise” licenses for what he describes as a small startup fee and a percentage of gross sales. In return, Trash Taxi licensees have permission to use the Trash Taxi name and the concept.

“As soon as I was on the front cover of Waste Age, I received a lot of phone calls and letters,” Agius says. “Then we started putting together a program for [Trash Taxi] because people wanted [the name].” Five independently owned and operated companies, in Flint, Mich., St. Louis, Brighton, Colo., Agawam, Mass., and Ocala, Fla., already have bought in. And more are in the works, Agius says, including an Atlanta-based Trash Taxi.

As part of the agreement, each Trash Taxi licensee is required to become a full-service garbage company within 12 months, and every truck and employee must comply with the original Trash Taxi image. This means that along with the truck's checkerboard appearance, every vehicle must be washed daily, and employees are required to wear black pleated slacks or shorts, yellow Trash Taxi shirts and jackets. Agius also offers one-on-one consultation with haulers to find other ways to grow their businesses.

Rich Baseler, president of St. Louis-based Trash Taxi, has been pleased with the licensing agreement. Prior to joining Trash Taxi, Baseler's 15-year-old company provided roll-off service with primarily 10-yard, open-top, temporary construction roll-off containers.

Then, last summer, Baseler decided to expand his business to use 20-, 30- and 40-yard open-tops. Baseler's son remembered Trash Taxi's award-winning design, thinking it also would help the expansion. Baseler contacted Agius to gain ideas. And, in turn, Agius asked Baseler to join the Trash Taxi family.

Baseler says the move has significantly increased his business, requiring him to double his staff. “Within 30 days of signing the agreement, we added four additional trucks and went from a 100 percent temporary roll-off business to a full-service garbage business, both residentially and commercially, [including] our roll-off [services],” he says. “We have increased our revenue by 60 percent [in 90 days]. A year from now, we'll probably be in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 trucks and 20 employees.”

Trash Taxi of St. Louis' $25,000 start-up costs initially caused Baseler some concern, but now he recognizes the investment was worthwhile. Before joining Trash Taxi, his company earned $700,000 annually, but Baseler says Trash Taxi of St. Louis projects tremendous growth in the next 12 months. Prior to joining the franchise, the company only employed five people.

Another advantage of the Trash Taxi licensing agreement, Agius says, is the ability to cut costs by buying in volume. For example, to maintain the licensing agreement, Trash Taxi of St. Louis had to offer full-service collection within 12 months. Where roll-off boxes cost Baseler $2,000 each, he now is able to save 20 to 30 percent per box by buying in volume. Baseler also has saved on landfill rates because of larger tonnages and has saved on purchasing smaller items such as business cards, which he bought in bulk.

Mike Owens, operations manager of Trash Taxi of Colorado, says that name or “concept” recognition is another bonus.

“Customers remember the name, and the equipment is [easily] identifiable going down the road,” Owens says. “We feel it gives us a little edge in a very competitive market.”

Owens first encountered Trash Taxi's concept at WasteExpo 2001 in Chicago and immediately liked the name and concept. So, he called Agius about starting a Trash Taxi business in Colorado.

“We [obtained] our business license in Sept. 2001 and put our first truck on the road in Jan. 2002,” Owens says. “Second- and third-quarter revenue quadrupled, and we anticipate continued aggressive growth.”

Looking down the road, Agius believes his company eventually will target small haulers who do not have a competitive edge within their markets. So as part of his marketing plan, Agius is completing a licensee book that will outline all of Trash Taxi's rules, philosophy and wisdom.

The ultimate Trash Taxi goal is to have a licensee in every state that is independently owned and operated. “Trash Taxi takes egos away,” Agius says. “You're using someone else's name, [which] creates a family environment.”