Travis Baker had a few important things to learn about running his own junk removal and recycling business – such as pricing, operating a backhoe and how popular his rent-a-dumpster service would be.
But he’s starting his third year as owner of Heartland Recycling Services more confident than ever.
“Actually, it’s going way better than I expected,” Baker said. “We grew over 100 percent in the second year.”
Baker, 28, launched his business in 2013 offering only junk removal, with the goal of recycling as many materials as possible. Baker said he had worked in warehousing and logistics from the age of 18 to 25 and “pretty much went as far as I could with that.”
“I always wanted to do my own thing – have my own business; I’ve always been obsessive-compulsive about being clean, and I also have a passion for the environment.
“I thought I’d put those traits together in a small business.”
He started with a pickup and utility trailer that he filled with things customers wanted to get rid of. The second year, he bought a used dump truck from the city of Lawrence with twice as much capacity for larger loads, plus another trailer that he parks for customers to fill themselves.
“They fill it up, then I go and pick it up,” he said. “That service ended up being so popular, that trailer is booked all the time. It’s never sitting around.”
He’s in the process of buying a second dump truck, from a dealership in Wisconsin, and six more bins for customers who want to save money by doing some of the work themselves.
Heartland also performs demolition services, taking down about a dozen structures a year. For that work, Baker rents a backhoe.
“I had no training on the equipment,” he said. “I just figured it out.”
On the junk removal, Baker said he tries to differentiate himself from competitors by basing his pricing on how many cubic yards he’s hauling instead of what percentage of the truck it fills. He thinks that’s easier for customers to understand.
He still follows that method; however, he had to raise his rate to $20 per cubic yard after realizing he had underpriced himself.
“I was being overly fair to the customer and not being fair enough to myself,” he said. “I didn’t really make any money the first year.”
The downturn in prices being paid for recyclable metal also didn’t help.
“The scrap metal industry is so far down that it makes metal practically worthless,” he said. “It might pay for our gas.”
Baker says he’s still committed to recycling as much metal, plastic and paper as possible.
“It makes sense financially,” he said. “Anything we can recycle we don’t have to pay at the landfill to dispose of.”
His ultimate goal is to operate his own waste-sorting facility, “making everything as super-efficient and cost effective as possible.”
Baker, who also owns a real estate investment company, says he’s “always working” at one of his businesses. He has two employees and more he calls in for bigger jobs.
He works out of his home for now but hopes to move Heartland into a commercial building this year.
“I have just figured this out on my own,” he said. “But I’ve completed every job to the customer’s satisfaction.”