As the large public companies are in the midst of reporting their quarterly results, Waste360 wanted to see how midsized companies are handling life and business during COVID-19.
I spoke with Kevin Atkinson, president and owner, Texas Pride Disposal to see how he and his team were faring in that part of the country.
Waste360: How’s the landscape looking where you are during the pandemic?
Atkinson: From our standpoint, we are primarily residential so we have not been impacted as dramatically as far as service. It was hectic there for a while in March and early April because all of the closures coincided with our normally busy spring-cleaning season. So, we had accounts that were pushing 30-40 percent more of the usual volume that they produce. But, we have settled into a relatively more normal situation, although we are still a bit heavy on our residential side. But, it seems people have finished most of their special projects and focusing on getting back to work, at least here in Texas.
Waste360: Will you have to revisit your contracts due to the COVID-19 and subsequent increased volumes?
Atkinson: March was so hard to read because it is typically a tough month for us anyway because it is the annual spring-cleaning season. So, we decided to wait until April ended to see what that looks like year over year and that should be a more realistic number on where our volume jumped. We talked about going back and getting a pandemic volume charge. Our customers have been very appreciative that we were continuing to show up every day during this. We will look at this to see if they would be willing to handle any charges passed on to them due to such increased volumes.
Waste360: What is the difference between impact of changing volumes on midsized companies vs. larger ones?
Atkinson: The one thing that I have said since day one is that residential sometimes gets looked at as the red-headed stepchild syndrome side of the business. I have always said that you are always going to put your trash to the curb and this pandemic has really shown how vitally true that is and how consistent residential collection stays. We have been a lot less affected because of that reason.
In the last year, we started to increase our commercial volumes, so we have seen those back off slightly. Collectively, our team is in good spirits and miraculously we have not had one case of COVID-19 in our workforce. Compared to other parts of the country and other lines of business, we are hanging in there pretty well. Our concerns are similar to what WM and Republic said in their quarterly reports, more so on the collection side. About 10 percent of our customer base is billed directly and therefore, we just have concerns there on the collections side.
Waste360: You fared well during Hurricane Harvey and a devastating fire. How does COVID-19 compare and did anything you learned through these challenges help you through the pandemic?
Atkinson: This is definitely a unique situation and something you can’t really prepare for in the sense that it has changed everyday life so dramatically. Our customer service team has been working from home for the last six weeks. We recently moved facilities and because we are prone to hurricanes and flooding, we upgraded our phone system and it has really paid off for us during this time. I wanted something that could be easily accessed from anywhere and this has done just that. Our team literally just had to unplug their phone sets at the office and plug them back in at home and they did not miss a beat. The lessons learned through some of the tribulations we have been through with Harvey and the floods, have taught us well in that sense.
The crews and management are still coming in every day and reliably picking up the garbage even given the excess volume. It is not me, it is my team and they have shown once again that they are willing and able to go above and beyond any expectations.
Waste360: What have you learned about leading during this pandemic?
Atkinson: It has been tough because I’m such a hands-on person and I have been trying to be leading responsibly while also staying safe due to some respiratory issues I had as a child. So, I am trying to strike that balance between keeping things moving, keeping people motivated and doing everything we can to keep that ball rolling. Even given the circumstances, we are still adding about 2,000 homes a month. I will take that as a win.
In April, we placed an ad to service industry employees (food service, bartenders) that had been furloughed and brought them on to help. We could have gotten it down earlier with our own guys, but so many local people need jobs and opportunities. It was fun to be able to give back like that.
Waste360: What would getting back to normal look like for you?
Atkinson: Texas seems to be trying to get back to normal faster than other parts of the country. I think even with opening things back up, until we realize that it is safe to go back to offices and restaurants, or until a treatment or vaccine is found, there will still be concern. So, as much as we are all pushing to get back to normal, there will be a new normal for quite some time for all of us. People will not want to go through this again and I think a lot of what we have learned as a society during this time will stick with us.