In the world of solid waste collection, often the largest public companies are the ones that make the headlines and get the lion’s share of the recognition for the work that the industry does.
But beyond the Fortune 500 lists and cable news CEO earnings report summaries are the regional and local haulers that are working every day in the shadows to serve the needs of their communities.
Olcese Waste Services based in Mound House, Nevada, is one of these companies.
Founded in 1997 by Tillio Olcese III, the company serves a customer base in Nevada and California from its three yards in Mound House, Fallon and Eureka, Nevada. According to Olcese, the company’s customer base is comprised of 25 percent residential customers, with the rest a mix of commercial and industrial clients. The company also offers demolition and excavation services, as well as commercial and industrial recycling.
While Olcese’s first business endeavors out of college included both the formation of a snow removal business and demolition company, it was the family business that soon came calling.
Olcese’s grandfather and namesake, Tillio Olcese, spent his career working in the waste sector. Tillio Olcese Jr. followed his father’s path into the industry and worked his way up to become a partner at Carmel Valley Disposal in Carmel, California, in the 1970s. Later, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, his father moved on to Olcese Disposal in Daly City, California. It was here that Tillio Olcese III got his start in the waste business working on the back of a truck and helping with fleet maintenance on the weekend.
Despite the success of his snow removal and demolition businesses, Olcese felt the pull to get back to the business he learned growing up.
“You know, garbage, the waste business, it kind of gets in your blood and it stays in your blood,” he says, “I enjoy it. My father did it. His father did it. It’s year-round work. Getting the trucks out every day and getting the garbage picked up, I enjoy that and the whole process of it.”
Olcese says that one of the main things his father taught him about the business was the importance of being fastidious about having, and maintaining, quality trucks.
“My father taught me how to fix the trucks and how to go about getting the trucks fixed, how to buy the trucks, specing the trucks, what works in terms of collection vehicles, and what doesn’t work,” he says.
“You know garbage, the waste business, it kind of gets in your blood and it stays in your blood. I enjoy it. My father did it. His father did it. It’s year-round work. Getting the trucks out every day and getting the garbage picked up, I enjoy that and the whole process of it.” –Tillio Olcese III, founder, Olcese Waste Services
Of course, fleet vehicles and technology have changed markedly over the years, which is reflected in the vehicles the company puts on the street.
Olcese says the company has gradually replaced many of its older rear loaders with a mix of automated side loaders, front-end loaders, and roll-off trucks.
In 2018, Olcese says the company made a substantial investment in technology for its trucks to improve its routing, back-office accounting, truck maintenance scheduling and pickup confirmation capabilities of the 36 trucks in its fleet.
“It was a lot of money, especially when you’re small. We were a lot smaller then, and it was a lot of money. We had some growing pains in learning to use and adopt the technology, but we’ve overcome those obstacles, and it works great for us now,” he says.
Even though this required a significant cash outlay, Olcese says it has resulted in smoother operations, better data tracking and reporting capabilities for the company.
Rolling with the changes
Olcese says that Olcese Waste Services has seen its ups and downs over the years as it has ridden the economic wave of the local commercial market.
“In the 2000s, we were growing, and then the Great Recession came in 2008 and that killed us because the housing market around here was very economically depressed. There was a big housing crash here on the West Coast, and that stopped the construction business and stopped our roll-off business. We really had to downsize and lean up. But then in 2014, right after President Obama got reelected for that second term, that’s when things really took off, and we haven’t stopped. It’s like somebody turned the light switch on, and we were back in business,” he says.
Olcese says the company’s demolition business works in concert with the company’s waste business, as the two complement each other.
“When we’re tearing down a building or gutting out a store, we’re using our roll-off bins to haul the material off to the landfill. So, there is a big complement [between the businesses] there. I would say that the waste business supports the demolition business, and some of our demolition business supports the waste business,” he says.
The next evolution
Being a smaller operator, Olcese says that the company works to separate its offerings from other waste services providers by being more responsive to its customers’ needs.
“We’ve carved out our niche by No. 1 answering the phone. No. 2, we take care of the customers’ needs. Then No. 3, we show up when we say we’re going to show up to service the customers’ roll-off bins or to pick up that front-end loader container at the commercial establishment. And even on the [residential] side, we show up when we’re supposed to be there, and that really sets us apart,” he says.
Additionally, Olcese says the company invests in new containers to ensure its customers always have quality assets.
Beyond these differentiators, Olcese says the company works to have a safety program that rivals that of the larger companies.
Olcese says that the company takes a hard-line approach regarding safety. The company performs FMCA background checks on all its employees and inquires about job history from previous employers. Additionally, once someone is hired, the company does several weeks of training and monitors that employee during the initial stages of employment to ensure they are performing their job safely and as specified. The company also hosts regular safety meetings to keep safe operation top of mind for its employees. For at-fault safety incidents that do occur, Olcese says the company has a “zero tolerance policy” that helps the company maintain a roster of responsible employees.
Olcese says that another one of the things that helps distinguish the company is its employee base of around 40 full-time employees who are dedicated to its waste management business.
“We kind of embrace the family atmosphere here and not so much the corporate environment. And with our employees, they understand that,” he says. “Whether it’s holiday parties or company lunches or things like that, we try to do some things where we show our appreciation and get people together. As a smaller company, the drivers see me every day. They know who I am, and they have my cell phone number. That is a little bit different than what you might see at a larger company.”
While finding and keeping quality workers is a challenge for all waste companies, Olcese says that he does what he can to make sure the company is retaining its employees.
“As far as retention, No. 1, we have good equipment. We have some older equipment, but we keep on it so our workers can get in a quality piece of equipment every day of the week. Then, our pay and benefits are right in line with the market. If you sign up and work with us, there are no layoffs in the middle of winter or in the middle of spring. Plus, being a little bit of a smaller company, having that family atmosphere is a real differentiator.”
Although the company’s growth had been of the organic variety until 2016, Olcese made its first acquisition that year when it acquired local mom-and-pop hauler Fernandes Disposal. According to Olcese, the transaction helped him understand what to look for and how to evaluate a waste business, which has been pivotal as the company continues to look for West Coast-based acquisition targets that make sense for the company.
“We are looking to grow. We’re waiting for the next opportunity. We’re looking at a few things right now, but nothing’s really panned out just yet,” he says. “However, we are talking to a few companies to try to branch out. We’ve had periods where business was up and down, but we’re [poised for] growth and ready to capitalize on a good opportunity if one presents itself.”