Virginia grinding firm’s roots run deep: Green waste recyclers’ modest start has blossomed into a full-service company

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Companies that want to excel in today’s competitive business climate are finding that branching out or diversifying is key to success. Few companies, however, can do so while still embracing their roots. Green Waste Recyclers, LLC is an exception to that rule. The Culpeper, VA-based firm started as a small tree service, added an arbor supply company, then took the next logical step with a move toward recycling the green and wood waste it and others in the area generate. Today, the company serves customers within a 75-mile radius, and, using a Morbark Model 1300 tub grinder, generates better than 15,000 yds. of high-quality mulch per year with an eye on future expansion. Through it all, the company has found that a combination of personal service, quality products and wise equipment purchases have fueled their 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 even be a bit of an overstatement.

“Stephanie and I started out with literally nothing. 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 that 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 others like us needed; that was the birth of Blue Ridge Arbor Supply.”

Partlow says that Blue Ridge provides tree service professionals with everything from climbing gear, to signs, to clothing, to saws. “At the time, we thought it made good sense and it has.”

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,” he says. “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, that would not have been a concern; we could have simply burned it. However, changes in environmental laws removed that as an option, 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 site 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,” says Stephanie Partlow. “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 loader and excavator to support it, Green Waste Recyclers debuted in 2001. Material at the Culpeper site is collected both from Partlow’s own projects as well as from other area tree services who benefit from having an alternate source for their disposal needs.

“We take in material in just about every form,” says George Partlow. “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 Partlow puts it, is a high-quality hardwood mulch which is run through the grinder, then reground to create the product most desired by area customers.

“Right now we are selling the product to area households and landscapers,” he says. “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.

Double the Power
In addition to processing material at the Culpeper site, Partlow’s crew also takes the Model 1300 out for contract grinds. Doing so has often taxed the recycling operation prompting an additional purchase.

“This area is just booming in terms of development,” says Partlow. “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. As a result, we’ve purchased an additional 1300 from Morbark. Once we take delivery on that we will have one unit out in the field and one dedicated to processing here at the yard.”

As if to underscore one of their real strengths: learning as they go along, the Partlows requested modifications to the new Model 1300 — and 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. 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
Partlow says their recycling operation encompasses processing a broad range of material. However, even that statement doesn’t do justice to a request he occasionally gets from area developers.

“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. 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 we feed just about everything from the demo into our 1300. That includes the walls, the floors and any contents in the house. On one project we processed a tin roof, which got rolled into a ball, and pulled out by the magnet; the refrigerator; the stove; the toilet; a fireplace; even cast iron radiators. The only thing we pulled out was the carpet which tends to clog a grinder. The whole purpose of grinding — in any application — is volume reduction and it was certainly proven out there. The developer says that, without grinding, that house would have filled seven trucks with debris. After grinding, just one truckful of material went to the landfill. With the exception of carpet, that 1300 doesn’t seem to care what it grinds.”

Looking Ahead
With their eye on future growth and additional purchases, George and Stephanie Partlow are quick to emphasize that any changes will, as always, be carefully considered.

“We are, above anything else, family-oriented,” says 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, seem to enjoy seeing what we do and even occasionally help out. Far too often, the sacrifices kids 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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