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Virginia Company Expands into Grinding

Tree service blossoms into green waste recycler; Morbark key equipment supplier

By TimberLine Staff
Date Posted: 4/1/2005

CULPEPER, Virginia — While many companies in today’s competitive business climate understand that branching out or diversifying is a key to success, few have done so while still embracing their roots. Green Waste Recyclers LLC is an exception to that rule.

      The company began as a small tree service business, added an arbor supply company, and then took the next logical step: recycling green and wood waste.

      Now it serves customers within a 75-mile radius. With the aid of a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder, Green Waste Recyclers generates more than 15,000 yards of high quality wood mulch per year and is considering future expansion. Through it all, the company has found that a combination of personal service, quality products and wise equipment purchases have fueled its success and made growth manageable.


Expanding Horizons

      To say that George and Stephanie Partlow’s start in the tree service business was modest and unassuming might be a bit of an overstatement.

      “Stephanie and I started out with literally nothing,” George recalled. “Working out of the back of a car in northern Virginia, we went knocking on doors, looking for tree work. We got by on patience and persistence and eventually realized we were going to make it. We continued to grow the business for about 11 years when we saw a new opportunity in arbor supplies. It just made good sense that someone who works in the tree service industry should also know what supplies that others like us needed. That was the birth of Blue Ridge Arbor Supply.”

      Blue Ridge Arbor Supply provides tree service professionals with everything from climbing gear to signs, protective clothing and saws, and more. “At the time, we thought it made good sense, and it has,” said George.


Growth Continues

      For the next 12 years, the Partlows built each respective business until they reached a point where it became obvious that additional expansion was needed.

      “Debris disposal was really becoming an issue,” explained George. “At the time, we were chipping some of our material using a Morbark Model 17 whole tree chipper and disposing of it that way.  But at the end of the day, we were still saddled with piles of wood waste and green waste.”

      In the past, the company was allowed to burn the material. “However, changes in environmental laws removed that as an option,” said George, “and we were forced to pay to dispose of our waste. So when an 8-acre piece of land in Culpeper became available, we grabbed it. That, in a sense, opened the door for us to consider a recycling operation.”

      George and Stephanie knew that if a recycling business was going to succeed, it would need reliable equipment supporting it, and that a grinder would be the centerpiece of the operation. Having dealt with Morbark in the past with their chipper, they knew that was the logical place to turn.

      “There is a satisfaction level we’ve gotten from day one working with Morbark,” said Stephanie. “When you call the factory for any reason, you get a sense that everyone there knows you on a personal level. Similarly, their sales people — in our case, Mike Stanton — go out of their way to make sure everything is working well and that things as a whole are running smoothly. They offer a level of customer satisfaction that’s just not seen much anymore. They were our first and only choice for a grinder.”


A Look at Green Waste

      With a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder and a John Deere Model 644 loader and 330 excavator to support it, Green Waste Recyclers debuted in 2001. Material is collected at the Culpeper site both from the Partlows’ tree service operations and from other tree services in the region that need an alternate source for disposing of wood waste and green waste.

      “We take in material in just about every form,” said George. “That includes whole trees, stumps, limbs. Occasionally a tree service will even bring in chips from their operations. They know we will find it a home.”

      That home, as George put it, is converting the material into a high quality hardwood mulch that is run through the grinder, then reground to create the product most desired by customers.

      “Right now we are selling the product to area households and landscapers,” said George. “While we don’t bag any of the mulch for commercial sale or colorize it, we have looked at both of those options and are considering them. The demand certainly seems to be there, but Stephanie and I are extremely careful about controlling the rate of our growth.”


Making a Change

      In addition to processing material at the Culpeper site, the company’s crew also transports the Morbark Model 1300 for remote contract grinding services. Doing so often taxes the recycling operations.

      “This area is just booming in terms of development,” George noted. “We can easily be kept busy processing full-time for area developers and land-clearing firms. It’s a challenge just to get the unit back into the yard to grind the material for the mulch we need. To maximize productivity, we recently traded in our existing Model 1300 for a new one.”

      George was very pleased with the performance of the previous grinder, but he wanted a machine with several modifications to enable Green Waste Recyclers to process material even more efficiently. Morbark was quick to make those changes happen for them.

      “We asked that the cab on the new unit be fitted with hydraulics that allow it to be raised, giving the operator a better view into the tub during processing,” said George. “We also asked for a radial stacking conveyor off the end of the unit, which will help us spread material out better as we process. There are other changes as well, but the key point here is that Morbark listened to what we had to say and gave us what we wanted, not just what they had.”


Bringing Down the House

      The company’s recycling operations involve processing a wide range of material. Some times grinding services are provided to reduce material other than wood waste and green waste, such as construction and demolition debris.

      “When a developer goes in to clear 30 or 40 acres of land and finds there is a house or two remaining on that property, he has to dispose of those structures,” said George. “Getting them down is no problem. However, transporting the debris from the demolition site to a landfill can tap into his profits. In a case like that, they call us in, and once the house has been stripped of its contents, we feed the demolition debris into our 1300.  The whole purpose of grinding — in any application — is volume reduction, and it was certainly proven out there. One developer says that, without grinding, a house would generally fill seven trucks with debris. After grinding, just one truckload of material goes to the landfill. That’s a nice savings for him.”


Looking Ahead

      With their eye on future growth and additional investments, George and Stephanie are quick to emphasize that any potential changes will — as always — be carefully considered.

            “We are, above anything else, family-oriented,” said Stephanie, “and, though it’s much too soon to say, we hope to have our two children, Wesley, 10, and Emily, 8, join us in the business someday. They already spend a good deal of time here at the site and seem to enjoy seeing what we do and even occasionally help out. Far too often, the sacrifices that children have to make while their parents are committed to something — in our case, growing a business — are overlooked. We want to leave something that they can be proud of and — if they’d like —  continue to build. We also want them to see that, in this country, if you work hard, you can make anything happen. Their dad and I are proof of that.”


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