In 1995, Greg Kirkwood was studying economics at the University of Alberta and had an idea for a small business that he could run during the summer. Just over 20 years later, he doesn’t have a degree in economics, but he does have a thriving and very successful business. What does he owe it all to? Rubbish.
No really. Rubbish.
It started when the student saw an ad for a $3,000 loan from the Federal Business Development Bank (now the Business Development Corporation) for students wanting to start their own summer business. Kirkwood applied, was approved and spent the money on an old 1976 Ford truck. He dubbed the venture “Rubbish Express” and promised reasonably priced, reliable junk removal for contractors and constructions sites.
Business boomed – and it didn’t let up when he was supposed to return to school in the fall. At first, Kirkwood tried to be both a student and a businessman, but there came a time when he had to decide. Knowing this decision would affect his future, he thought carefully and…
“…you’re leaving school to become a garbage man?!” his parents and friends were not (initially) impressed.
Fast forward 22 years and there is no doubt that his family and peers are extremely proud of the entrepreneur. In 1999, he changed the name to 310-DUMP and rolled out the yellow trucks and bins that are seen across Edmonton and Calgary daily. His clients are no longer just construction industry related or junk removal customers, but are now also businesses that require regularly scheduled waste and recycling services. To date, the company has serviced more than 100,000 customers.
“‘310-DUMP is the Westjet of waste and recycling’, is what the Edmonton Journal proclaimed in 2009,” Kirkwood says, “because we are still flying high these days! We continue to have steady growth and continue to be a smaller company compared to the large publically-traded companies; but being the smaller guy in a huge industry is okay with us. Our goal is to be excellent at what we do, and to give that personalized service that is often hard to find nowadays.”
It’s this attentive service that has kept the bright yellow trucks on the road at a time when many companies in Alberta are shutting their doors.
“In today’s challenging economic environment, we continue to deliver on our promises. We just want to be great at what we do, and operate with a customer-centric business model. Perfection might not be possible, but in the pursuit perfection, we can achieve excellence,” smiles Kirkwood.
He’s determined to keep the company at a size where personalized service remains the focus. “Many waste companies have come and gone over the 22 years since 310-DUMP started; some companies have folded in tough economic times, some small, well-run independent companies have been acquired by the large publically traded companies. 310-DUMP has had a number of companies come knocking over the years; however, my long-term vision and love for the business and industry endures,” Kirkwood points out. “Perhaps, by 310-DUMP’s 40th anniversary, my sons could be involved in the business, growing the company and continuing our mission to innovate and do what is best for our environment and future generations.”
With two sons born within 16 months, the entrepreneur, who had stared out with a dream and an old truck (and he had to reinforce the box on that truck to boot) is more than pleased to have both a growing business and a growing family.
“Right now, 310-DUMP is the oldest independently owned, full service, waste and recycling company in the Edmonton area,” he says with pride. “Operating in Edmonton and Calgary, most Albertans have used one or all of our services over the years. No matter if it’s a small or large project, our customers have benefited from our scheduled waste and recycling services, dumpster rentals, and our full service junk removal (bulky items) service. Our competitive advantage continues to be that we are a customer-centric company that delivers big-time service at competitive pricing.
“Of course, being born and raised in Edmonton is a huge advantage, too,” he smiles. “People enjoy dealing with someone they know and trust. People love that we are a local company, and they often know the people they are dealing with by name. We have been fortunate to always have our headquarters in Edmonton, and in turn, we have been able to support and re-invest in the communities we serve.”
It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been incredibly satisfying, and every speedbump that slowed him down was just, to Kirkwood, a life lesson that he used to keep the company moving forward. He’s happy to share what he’s learned in 20+ years in business:
“Have a vision. As a leader, I can inspire and motivate by communicating our vision in a clear and concise way. Communicating what our vision is and how to get there has been tremendous in obtaining the buy-in from our team. When I had my pilot’s licence, I learned that knowing where the destination was and planning on how to get there were essential to effective, efficient, and safe travels! Lead by example and show competency – I strive to be a leader who is and shows commitment, competency, and hard work, and who inspires others to strive and achieve excellence.
“Creating a positive environment and looking after our people by being there when they need us is an important fundamental that we improve on every day. Our people are our most valued assets (without people, we are not leading) and by getting to know them (what drives them, what scares them, and what their dreams are), we are creating the environment for them to succeed. We trust them and provide our people with the right tools and flexibility to win. They are critical to our success.
“Focus on the customer! Leadership is less about politics and more about focusing on the client at all costs. As leaders, we make the point of discouraging office politics and always remembering that the customer comes first.
“However, I have also learned that you have to have passion because passion and commitment are contagious! Over the years, our team has shown me that the more that I show my passion, and the more I see it reflecting on our team, the better the environment it creates and the more successful we are.
“Also, reputation means the world to me. Effective leadership means being leaders in the marketplace, and I am always being ethical and dealing honestly with all of our stakeholders, whether they are customers, employees, or suppliers. I probably spent more time on this than anything. Having a good reputation as an honest and passionate leader who empowers teams is important to me. Our reputation has been a key to our success!”
Being so young when he started the business, and creating a niche in what was, at the time, a nearly non-existent market, meant that he didn’t have leaders in the industry to mentor and guide him. That’s why, these days, Kirkwood is very happy to share lessons that are applicable to all entrepreneurs, no matter what industry they are in.
“Have fun! I love what I do!” he says, showing his enthusiasm and passion for his business. “I have fun at work and while working with our team. Whether we are expanding our company or purchasing new equipment, or giving back to our community, having fun is consistent with the way I do business. We love what we’re doing, which makes the chances for success much greater.
“Have confidence. I have learned to trust my gut feel instincts, trust my colleagues and business relationships, and I show confidence in everything that I do. Entrepreneurship is about showing trust and confidence to succeed.
“Be present. Live in the moment. Those are lessons I learned throughout my career. I live every moment of my life fully and strive to help my team join together towards our common vision. In business, my attitude has helped me to be cautious but quick when I needed to take decisive actions that have paid off. When I first started the business, and as a young entrepreneur, I used the same philosophy to build our lines of business. We now trust our experience, intelligence and guts and don’t hesitate in deciding which direction to go with a project, acquisition or marketing campaign. That determination has kept our momentum strong!
“That being said, you absolutely must take a break and recharge. This is a lesson I learned after years of excessive work hours without breaks. I now take time off to recharge and spend more time with my young family while trusting our team to continue forging ahead. We encourage and expect all of our employees to do the same, to enjoy time away from the office to spend it with their families and friends.
“Last but certainly not least, reward yourself. We celebrate all wins, big and small. We get excited about any and all wins that we can celebrate with our team. It is often that we will celebrate wins on a weekly basis!”
Kirkwood can’t say enough good things about his staff. “We have great, talented, loyal and dedicated employees who appreciate our pursuit of customer service excellence.”
After more than 22 years, does he ever wonder what his life would have looked like if he had chosen the other path? If he had decided to retire that old Ford truck, hang up his gloves and turn his back on the stress of those early, long, back breaking days? He could have gone to a job in a high-rise office tower, perhaps even be in that corner office by now.
Not a chance.
There’s nothing he loves more than being in his offices in Edmonton and Calgary, greeting his team by name, celebrating each new customer, keeping the established ones happy and always being ready with that signature yellow bin or truck the moment the phone rings.
“Edmonton is such a terrific city with amazing people,” he smiles. “We have served so many friends and customers over the years, and many customers have become close friends. Many of our first customers still use us today.
“We offer a same day or next day service guarantee. If you call for service, we guarantee to meet your needs when and where you want it. Our customer service team typically answers the phone within 60 seconds or less during business hours. We have online booking available every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We take great pride in our record of meeting 100 per cent of our customers’ scheduled waste and recycling collection pick up dates. Most business owners are busy growing their businesses profitably, but we want to save our clients time and money so we make their dealings simple and easy, and at fair prices. We are all about two things: great service and fair pricing. If we can accomplish those two things, most customers are very happy.”
The next time you see those big yellow trucks roll by with 310-Dump proudly displayed on the side, know that you are seeing the product of a young man that sat down to make the choice of a lifetime – and that he clearly chose the right path