(The following article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Business Journal.)
Oct 28, 2011, 5:00am CDT
After putting in long days getting his business, Elite Environmental Corp., running, Kevin Crosby often would then head to his second job late at night driving a semi-truck for UPS to generate more money to put into the company and to support his growing family.
“I did it for the extra scratch,” Crosby said. “I would work all day at the shop, then go home, hang out with the family, then wait for the call from UPS to come in and drive.”
Despite the long hours, Crosby had a simple motivation. He wanted to avoid taking on debt. Crosby also used personal savings to fund the 2008 startup of Elite, which provides industrial cleaning services, hazardous and non-hazardous waste recycling, transportation and disposal.
“I sold the boat and the Harley. I sold all the toys,” said Crosby, 35, who is married and has five young children.
In the end, he succeeded in avoiding bank loans to fund the startup of the business.
“I don’t like debt,” Crosby said. “If I took on a lot of debt I think the company would grow too fast. I want to keep my overhead as low as possible.”
Crosby, who earned a degree in soil science with an emphasis in waste management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, launched Elite after leaving a job with Advanced Waste Services Inc., Milwaukee.
His eight years of experience in the field gave him the confidence to start his own business, he said.
“I knew in my head how I liked things to be,” Crosby said. “I didn’t feel it was that much of a risk. You have to believe that this is going to work.”
Services provided by Elite include industrial wastewater treatment, waste and equipment transportation, waste solidification, catch basin maintenance, and chemical lab packaging.
Elite processes 600,000 to 1 million gallons of wastewater in a month, Crosby said. Customers include MetalTek International, a Waukesha castings company; Hydrite Chemical Co., a Brookfield provider of chemicals and related services; and Husco International, Waukesha, a maker of electro-hydraulic valves, machine control valves and hydraulic control systems.
In addition to the treatment processes it conducts at its cramped West Allis facility, Elite also performs on-site project work and has handled industrial tank and railcar cleanup, Crosby said.
MetalTek has hired Elite for a variety of jobs, ranging from the processing of water-soluble coolant used in its production process to the cleaning of sludge from tanks used to store oil for heat treating, said Paul Arneson, principal environmental engineer at MetalTek.
“Elite is a small firm and they are very responsive,” Arneson said. “They were also able to save us some money.”
Elite had the capabilities to shift the oil to a temporary tank while the main tank was being cleaned, allowing the oil to be salvaged.
“We had 17,000 gallons of oil and we didn’t want to replace it,” Arneson said.
The weak economy has boosted Elite’s business opportunities, as companies have been examining all aspects of their business, Crosby said.
“Our goal isn’t to low bid everything, but quite often we save a customer money,” he said.
Elite had 2010 revenue of about $1 million and is on pace to generate $1.4 million this year, Crosby said.
Elite currently has an agreement with a company to haul wastewater to its facility for treatment. However, Crosby is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Elite’s first tanker truck, which the business purchased at a cost of about $250,000, of which he had to put 25 percent down.
“We decided to get a truck so we could have our brand out there,” Crosby said. “The truck to the customer is the face of the business.”
The company, which leases about 4,000 square feet of space in a nondescript building at 360 S. Curtis Road, has six employees. Over the next five years, Crosby hopes to grow the business to 12 to 15 employees.
“We’d also like to add a couple of more rigs,” he said.
A tiny portable lab inside Elite’s facility features a key piece of equipment — an inductively coupled plasma spectrometer, purchased at a cost of $100,000.
Crosby dives into many of the various chores tied to the business. He even plans on driving the new tanker truck until other employees can be trained.
“I would never ask a guy to do something I wouldn’t do,” he said.
LESSONS LEARNED By Kevin Crosby
- What has been the biggest business risk you’ve taken so far? “During my first year in business, I had taken on the largest cleaning industrial project that I have ever been responsible for. Had I not worked closely with the client and properly estimated all costs prior to bidding, I could have taken a hard loss.”
- What is your business philosophy? “Evolve or die. There can be change in any aspect of our industry. Regulations, client needs, new technology, communications, all can and will change. We must recognize the ways we need to evolve to continue to bring the best value to our clients.”
- What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned? “Strive to exceed the needs of the clients. They will appreciate it, and it feels great when we do it.”
- What do you like best/worst about doing business in Milwaukee? “Because it’s my hometown, I enjoy the rich stories from the people who have been with their company for 10, 20, even 30 or more years. They are all partly responsible for the Midwest being known for its honest, hard working heritage. As for the worst, as much as I love the four seasons, hauling wastewater in winter will always present its share of challenges.”