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August 10, 2021
For John Biles Jr., CEO of J&J Services, being in the driver's seat of a family business has presented its own set of challenges. The company's revenue has increased an average of 27% each year from 2016 to the present day.
The Nashville-based family business was established in 2000 as a portable restroom business, targeting contracts for large construction projects.
As J&J Services expanded, new opportunities for growth presented themselves. Just five years after it was founded, the downtown Nashville company entered the construction dumpster business, gaining momentum as it secured contracts for notable city projects such as JW Marriott, Fifth + Broadway Convention Center, Delta Ski Club, Vanderbilt Student Housing and others.
With the addition of the roll-off business, the company has multiplied to a fleet of 64 trucks, 48 dumpsters and 16 portable restrooms. More than 90 employees keep the business running smoothly.
Biles took over for his father in 2014 and hit the ground running. In 2018, routine bloodwork during a doctor's visit uncovered Multiple Myeloma - blood cancer. This led to months of chemotherapy, trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and ultimately a stem cell transplant. Now in remission, Biles has set his sights on entering markets in other nearby cities such as Clarksville and Murfreesboro, Tenn.
In a Q&A with Waste360, CEO John Biles Jr. talks about his journey, how his employees supported the business during his absence and how his perspective on life has changed.
Waste360: J&J Services was founded in 2000 as a portable restroom business. What opportunities did you see moving into C&D waste?
Biles: We set our first portable toilet in October of 2000. By 2005, we had grown nicely and had multiple customers asking us if we had considered getting into the roll off construction dumpster business. There was a large demand for better service turnaround times on roll off dumpsters and we knew that would not be a problem for us. As a result, we bought a new Mack roll off truck and a few dumpsters and we were in the business.
Waste360: What challenges have you faced scaling the commercial dumpster business? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge we faced scaling the commercial dumpster business was actually raising the necessary capital to get into the business. A new roll off truck is $185,000 and 30-yard dumpsters, at the time were $3,600 each (they are now $5,700 each). It is a very capital-intensive business. As a result, my father and I had to borrow money against our homes, as well as use our credit cards, to expand the business. We found out quickly that when you are small it is difficult to borrow money. It became easier as we grew and paid down debt. Beyond that, it was difficult to land large accounts when we were small because the larger contractors just didn’t believe we could handle their volume. Again, as we grew and proved ourselves, we were able to overcome that challenge as well. In 2015, we hired our first salesman, and in 2019 we partnered with Main Street Capital through a minority recapitalization. This move added a partner with the knowledge and resources available to help us with our plan to scale the business further through acquisitions.”
Waste360: You took over the business from your father in 2014. What did you learn from your father that has helped you in your role?
Biles: My father worked his way up in the steel industry from a mechanic and laborer to the Senior Vice President of Operations for the North American Division of SKW Alloys. His business knowledge is vast and I learned a lot from him through the years. However, the most important thing that I learned was to be a man of my word and to do what you say you are going to do. The waste business is not rocket science. If you can provide a good service, consistently, and at a fair price, you will be successful. He believes that you also have to apply this to your employees as well. It is a team effort. We count on everyone to do their job and do it well. We want to make J&J Services a great place to work, and if we do this, it translates into a workforce that cares about themselves, their employer, and our customers. My father is a great man with many great attributes but his humility and integrity are the two things that have helped me the most.
Waste360: Your biggest personal challenge to date was your Multiple Myeloma diagnosis. From a leadership standpoint, what values did you instill in your employees to keep the ship afloat while you fought cancer?
Biles: We truly are a team at J&J Services and do not micro manage our managers. However, we do focus on honesty and integrity and always doing the right thing. I think that is important for the culture of the organization. From there, if you develop an organization that has the ability to step up when needed they will rise to the occasion.
Waste360: What was the toughest part about being away from the business for extended periods of time?
Biles: For me it was missing the comradery of the team. Although we have an organization that is more than capable of running the organization without me, it’s nice to actually be on site and feel that you were truly missed while you were gone.
Waste360: How did diagnosis and treatment shape the way you see your business and employees?
Biles: When you are diagnosed with cancer your perspective definitely changes. I believe it has made me more compassionate in the way I deal with our employees. Our life on earth is brief and I want to make sure I have a positive impact on those I work with. From the standpoint of the business, it is part of my legacy and the cancer diagnosis just confirmed that I want the right management team in place to carry out our vision for the company after I am gone.
Waste360: J&J Services has expansion plans. Can you please discuss what kind of focus it takes to scale a business – especially when entering new markets?
Biles: If you have developed a top-notch organization, it is important to take the same approach to insure honesty, integrity, and service in your new market. Sometimes you have to be careful that you don’t try to grow too fast. If the strategy involves acquisitions, it is important to make sure your goals are aligned with the company you are acquiring.
Waste360: Where do you see J&J Services in the future?
Biles: Over the next 3 to 10 years, I would like to see J&J Services expand our product and service offerings in the greater Nashville area that could include construction and demolition recycling. I would also like to see us expand geographically in the Southeastern United States.
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