Mike Schmidt founded his company, Whitetail Disposal, Inc., with a pick-up truck in 2006. Today, as president and chief executive officer, he oversees more than 200 employees, while servicing more than 100,000 residential customers and almost 2,500 commercial and industrial customers each week. Over the last five years, Whitetail Disposal has had an annual growth rate of more than 50 percent.
Whitetail Disposal serves counties surrounding Philadelphia, which include Bucks County, Montgomery County, and parts of Lehigh County, Berks County, and Chester County.
Schmidt, who was recently named as a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, spoke with Waste360 about his experience as an entrepreneur in the waste industry.
Waste360: What services does Whitetail Disposal provide, and what type of clients do you serve?
Mike Schmidt: We have four segments in our business: residential, commercial, industrial, and single hauler, which would be municipal contracts. We're a straight hauler, so we just pick up the trash. We don't have any transfer facilities or landfills.
Waste360: What do you think are some of the strengths of your company?
Mike Schmidt: We pick up the trash very, very well, and that all started from the beginning. Our service is like none other in the business, I feel.
We track everything, as far as misses and how many calls come into the office. As an example, in January, our total incoming calls were 18,293 incoming calls. Of the actual calls that we answered in our office here was 16,055 calls. That’s actual phone calls that we picked up, we answered, and we spoke to that customer.
Then, we had 1,707 voicemails, of which we called them back before the day was over. Then, if something happens to come in after we leave the office after 5:00 PM, those calls get returned in the morning. Our rule is by lunchtime, with most of those phone calls being returned by 10:00 AM or 10:30 AM. We try and communicate with our customers.
Waste360: What is your corporate philosophy?
Mike Schmidt: I started this back when I was 21. So it was very, very much family from the beginning. I see all my employees as family. They're all my extended family—210 extended families—that work here.
I see each and every one of them every single day. Everyone that works here at Whitetail, I consider family, whether you just come in today and start working, or whether you've been with me for 10 years. That is really the backbone for us to be able to be successful and run a successful company.
Everything we do, our decisions are based directly in our local community, for the local community, to benefit the local community. We also bring stability to our market as far as the pricing and the service. That's where the customers are starting to see the difference.
Waste360: What brought you to the waste industry?
Mike Schmidt: I grew up on a dairy farm. Nothing necessarily brought me to the industry other than that there are a lot of similarities between the two. But, I wanted to do something that was consistent. Farming wasn't always consistent because you have to rely on the rain, the sun—everything is weather-related. But, I just wanted something more consistent.
Waste360: Did you start by working with another company? Or that's when you started your company?
Mike Schmidt: No, that's when I started my company, when I was 21. I had no previous experience in the trash industry. I didn't work for anybody else. I just took what I learned from my dad over the years as far as how to run a business.
I started my own little farming business when I was 14. I was out working with my dad on the tractors when I was three, four-years-old. Soon as I could walk, I was out in the fields and in the barn. Just with being around my dad growing up, if something broke when you're out there in the field baling hay, you couldn't call someone to fix it. You had to fix it yourself. You had to figure it out. A lot of that transfers over to the trash business.
I kept the truck at [my parents’] farm for many years. One thing led to another: my brother came on board and then my other brother. I have three brothers in it with me now. My mom still does all of our billing. We're still very much family-run—going back to the idea that all my employees are family.
Each of them plays a very important, vital role in Whitetail. If someone doesn't show up, even though we have 200 employees, you do notice it. And, I'm still on the front lines every single day. I'm up at 4:00 AM, and the first one there, and the last one to leave.
Waste360: So, you're still doing pickups?
Mike Schmidt: I do some of that. Absolutely. That's just to keep a feel for it. I'm in the office. I'm out in the field. I'm out in the shop.
Waste360: Who were some of your early clients?
Mike Schmidt: I didn't go to anybody that I knew at first, as odd as that sounds. I went out and I just started knocking on doors in the neighborhood and the businesses. Just going in and telling them "I want your business."
I still have my first customer to this day. And actually almost all my first customers I still have, unless they went out of business. I went out, knocked on every door myself. I still knock on doors. If I have some free time I go out and knock on doors.
Waste360: Why do you think this is an industry that young people should consider for a career?
Mike Schmidt: A great example is what's going on in the world today as far as with COVID-19. It's a stable business to be in. It'll be able to provide for your family, if that person were to ever have a family. It's very interesting. It's very fun. It's a lot of hard work, but it's very rewarding. You get to work with a lot of people, different people every single day. And no matter what's happening in the world, you'll always have a job.
My schedule has never been the same from one day to the next, over the last 12 years. Millennials love change; they don't like doing the same thing. So, probably that is the biggest thing. It’s always going to be something different.