One Man’s Trash…

Entrepreneur is finding treasure in waste management

For Deontay Potter, trash is a valuable commodity. His venture, AMW Inc. of Los Angeles, specializes in the removal of solid waste. Though not a glamorous profession, it’s potentially lucrative. With 10 trucks and a dozen full-time employees, revenues were about $550,000 in 2001, and Potter expects to reach $1.8 million for 2002.

While the revenue growth is impressive, the pie that Potter’s business is carving a slice of is enormous. According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), a nonprofit trade association, solid waste disposal represents a $43.3 billion industry. Some 44% of the companies providing these services are privately held.

The idea for the venture came to Potter shortly after the Northridge earthquake (which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale) struck California on Jan. 17, 1994. Potter and his twin brother, Jamie, both residents of the Los Angeles area, which was 20 miles away from the center of the quake, saw an increased demand for removal of solid waste material. So the brothers pooled their resources and scraped together $20,000 to fund payroll and purchase a used truck for hauling solid waste.

“I researched and learned everything I could about transporting waste material and the process of how to bid on contracts and start my business,” says Potter.

Initially, the Potters focused the business on transporting medical and hazardous waste materials. However, after failing to turn a profit, they decided to refocus the business on solid and nonmedical hazardous waste materials in 1996. They sold their medical waste operations to Stericycle Inc. of North America for $425,000 in 1999. Shortly thereafter, Jamie found he’d had enough of entrepreneurship and gave his interest in the business to Deontay. No money was exchanged.

The move to nonmedical waste management was a good one for Potter. On the heels of the quake, the urgent need for waste removal by city and private contractors greatly outnumbered the number of agencies and private vendors available to meet the demand. “The contracts I received in the beginning of my business laid the foundation and enabled me to hire staff and purchase trucks and equipment,” he says. “I continued to build and expand the business from these initial contracts.”

Steve Tucker, vice president, Waste Management of Los Angeles, a division of Waste Management Inc., says he has worked with AMW for about a year and lauds Potter for his accomplishments. “We have been quite pleased with the service provided by AMW,” Tucker says. “I’m proud of Deontay and the great things he has done for his business.”

Potter plans to expand AMW into northern California and Arizona. He currently has several bids pending that could nab some additional and lucrative contracts for the company later this year.

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