Recyclers require more staff to expand
The people behind Debrand Services just can’t work fast enough.
The Vancouver company, which recycles uniforms, marketing displays and other branded corporate waste, already has an impressive client list–Lululemon, Telus Corp. and the Vancouver Canucks all send their trash to their warehouse for recycling.
Profits jumped 300 per cent last year, and even though Debrand hasn’t expanded outside of B.C., demand just keeps growing. The founders, Wes Baker and Amelia Ufford, attribute this to the rise of eco-conscious consumers, who prefer to buy from companies that dispose of waste responsibly.
That means business is good. The problem is, there’s just too much of it, and the company has already had to turn away clients because the staff was simply maxed out. The founders won’t hire employees if they aren’t just the right fit, but landing the perfect talent takes time—and money. Still, Ufford and Baker know they have to expand, or risk losing the North American market to imitators.
The business is complex. Materials range from old uniforms to paper pamphlets to banners and metal riggings. They’re picked up by Debrand’s six staff in a hodgepodge fleet of vehicles—a mini cooper, small pickup, and a 16 foot delivery truck—and delivered to a 3500 square foot office/warehouse space.
Everything gets sorted by hand. Some junk is repurposed—old Vancouver Whitecaps banners are now in the hands of highschool sewing classes, B.C. Lottery Corp’s shutter stamps were donated and resold once their brand insert was removed—the rest is fed through industrial shredders and balers before it’s sent to recycling centres. The work is tedious, and last year the tiny company diverted a massive 40,000 kg of textile waste and 20,000 kg of product and display refuse from landfills.
That’s a lot of garbage for only six employees—so much so that the company has already started turning business away.
“[Sometimes] we may already be at our max,” says Ufford. “If we don’t feel we are able to provide all our clients with the most value, we would rather turn down the business,” she says.
It’s a risky situation for a new corporation, especially one that wants to tap other markets before imitators can steal their business model.
Tom Rand, a senior advisor at MaRS Cleantech Venture Group—a Toronto-based organization that funds green businesses—says Debrand faces a difficult balancing act. The company must “intelligently manage” their growth, he says, which means ensuring they have the right staff before bringing in new business. Otherwise, the quality of the work could suffer, damaging the company’s brand.
Ufford and Baker are doing everything they can to ensure that brand stays strong—including answering phones, developing sustainable campaigns, balancing the books and, when need be, jumping in alongside the warehouse workers.
But even with the 300 per cent spike in revenue, the company only made $300,000 last year. With rent, salaries and transportation costs, there isn’t a lot left over.
To better manage their cash flow, Rand says Debrand should be in talks to set up a line of credit for use against their accounts receivable. The company is looking for outside investment, but Rand says this isn’t a catch-all solution to their problems, and could be a mistake.
“If they are a labour intensive group with a small brand and small company, bringing in investment at this time means they’re going to give up control of that company,” he says.
But Debrand’s challenge goes beyond money.
“It’s not a matter of finding enough people,” says Ufford, “it’s a matter of finding the right people, at the right time.”
They need warehouse workers, salespeople to promote the company and maintain client relationships, and staff to manage and create sustainable marketing and waste-disposal campaigns. The perfect candidate is in the middle of a unique Venn diagram–affordable (meaning young, preferably a recent university grad), with business acumen, a passion for environmentalism, and a deep understanding of branding and its importance.
Rand says the company may be better off filling the positions that don’t require such a high degree of sophistication first. He says temporary warehouse workers could up capacity and fill the current gap, allowing management to concentrate on the big picture—things like strategy, growth, and marketing.
That, he says, will give Debrand more of a shot at meeting its full potential, because despite hiring challenges, the company launched at what seems like the perfect time. Demand for corporate environmental responsibility is at an all time high, and the practice is still very much in its infancy—meaning the business has few competitors in North America.
“We’re kind of in a unique spot right now,” says Ufford.
The trick will be taking advantage of that position before the company loses its uniqueness. Because if they don’t find the right staff soon, the businesses currently rattling their door may soon be able to start knocking elsewhere.