Discarded TVs help recycling firm rebound
MIDDLEBURY — Like most of us, Robin Ingenthron spent Tuesday weathering a major winter storm.
Actually, he’s had a lot of experience surviving storms of both the natural kind and those endemic to the business world.
Major setbacks threatened to bury his Middlebury enterprise, Good Point Recycling, several times during the past three years.
But Ingenthron refused to give up, and Good Point has emerged stronger than ever in a recycling industry that has chewed up and spit out many of his former competitors throughout the country.
His business has found its salvation, oddly enough, through the flat screen TV.
Ingenthron, during a Monday interview, pointed to three specific “bad times” in Good Point’s recent history.
First, there was the economic crash of 2008 that occurred soon after Ingenthron bought his company headquarters — the former CPC of Vermont building at 227 Pond Lane. Two months after Ingenthron closed on the property, a major tenant announced its departure, leaving Good Point without a substantial revenue stream and a surplus of space.
“Scrap steel, copper, plastics and all of the stuff we harvest went to World War II (recycling value) levels,” Ingenthron said. “That was the first of many sleepless nights.”
But Good Point was able to survive by separating and reclaiming recyclables that other companies didn’t want to bother with. Most of the industrial-sized recyclers were shredding items and picking out salvage.
Good Point also delved into foreign markets, as nearby as Mexico and as far away as Africa.
“I had to grow into the building, and do it through re-use,” Ingenthron said. “We got through it.”
DODGING A BULLET
The company had found new financial stability in part by winning a statewide e-waste contract through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. Good Point was riding the crest of a high inventory and an improving market for recyclables.
But in what was a well-chronicled case, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and Good Point in 2013 did not come to terms on a new contract, prompting the ANR to award it to the second-lowest bidder: Casella Waste Management.
Good Point filed civil suit in Vermont Superior Court in Barre, charging that ANR had violated procurement standards and contradicted the agency’s own bidding standards. The company wanted the agency “to rebid the project and properly apply the mandated procedures.”
While Good Point prevailed in its complaint and ultimately regained the statewide e-waste contract in 2015, the lost inventory over a 10-month period had taken its toll.
“I had to borrow money and lay off half the workforce,” Ingenthron recalled.
Remaining workers had to multi-task to allow Good Point to tighten its financial ship.
Good Point, Ingenthron said, does around $3 million in annual business. Loss of the state contract cost it around $1 million.
To make matters worse, a concurrent drop in scrap metal prices cut the company’s revenue stream by another $600,000, according to Ingenthron. Eight of the company’s former competitors went out of business when scrap metal prices declined.
Fortunately, Good Point survived by taking on some of its former competitors’ business, and through a more lucrative statewide e-waste contract.
“I bid what I needed to bid to make us a $3 million company again,” Ingenthron said. “We increased our bid by one-third and were still the low bidder.
This, in turn, helped Good Point weather the period of low scrap metal prices.
NEW REVENUE STREAM
But another big factor in Good Point’s resurgence has been an increasingly prevalent item in the world’s e-waste stream: flat screen TVs. Good Point has established itself as a national leader in the recycling of flat screens TVs, the components of which can fetch a premium through resale on eBay or contracts with manufacturers.
Last year, Good Point had one worker in charge of disassembling flat screen TVs and harvesting the reusable parts, including plasma, LCD or LED screens; the power board that converts the AC current to DC; a main board that takes the video signal and transfers it to the screen; the TV stands; and LED strips.
Company workers on Monday were busy harvesting parts from a truckload of flat screens delivered to Good Point’s 50,000-square-foot headquarters.
While one worker was loosening the screws on the back panel of the flat screen, a colleague was setting up a digital camera to photograph it. Separate photos are taken of any of valuable pieces from the TV. The photos are uploaded onto eBay, where individuals and businesses can bid on the items.
And those items are in high demand.
Thanks to Google, YouTube and other on-line education tools, consumers are increasingly looking to repair their flat screen TVs rather than tossing them. Armed with how-to knowledge, consumers can replace a busted or worn-out TV part for under $100 through Good Point, instead of having to pay hundreds for a new flat screen.
Some folks are looking for TV stands after becoming tired of seeing their devices on a wall.
Other folks end up with a cracked screen as a result of a drop or random projectile. Ingenthron jokingly refers to this phenomenon as the Wii effect. Nintendo Wii is an interactive video game in which the player can, for example, use a faux racket to play tennis on the screen. A spirited game and a sweaty hand can propel the racket into the TV screen.
One person’s TV damage can be Good Point’s gain.
During the past month, the company recorded $20,494 in on-line eBay sales of flat screen material. Last year, the company did a total of around $70,000 in the flat screen trade, according to Hill.
Good Point is currently taking apart and processing around 10 to 20 flat screen TVs per day, according to Hill.
Company officials would like to hire more folks to process many more TVs, but finding and retaining blue-collar workers given Vermont’s 3-percent unemployment rate is a challenge, they said.
“It’s just a very tough labor market,” Ingenthron said.
Good Point currently has 25 full- and part-time employees. Ingenthron wants to double his workforce within a year.
“I’ve got enough material to hire 25 to 30 people, just to do flat screens,” he said.
“Robin could make a few phone calls and we could probably get 20 trailer loads of the flat screen TVs,” Hill added. “But we’re not quite set up yet to ramp up production.”
Flat screen TVs are proving to be a versatile product with worldwide applications beyond entertainment, company officials said.
Specifically, flat screens that have exhausted their TV potential are gaining a new lease on life as signs. Ingenthron was explaining his business to some folks in Ghana last year when one of the participants had an epiphany.
“The lighting still works, so you can print on a clear plastic sheet a restaurant name or something like that, and use it as a sign,” Hill said.
It should be noted those fluorescent lights still have mercury in them and the recycling process is labor-intensive. It all has to be done by hand, Hill noted. That kind of attention to detail is a big part of Good Point’s staying power in an industry where the price for raw materials can fluctuate quickly, thereby turning profit into deficit virtually overnight.
Hill and Ingenthron said most other big recycling firms want to take in large quantities of materials and put them through a shredder, salvaging the most valuable materials without much regard for reuse.
Good Point, on the other hand, has worked out a system that depends on a trained workforce to carefully extract valuable components. During the past five years, Good Point has collected and managed over 20 million pounds for recycling — mostly used electronics, collected from a five-state area.
“It takes a while to build a team to do something like that,” Ingenthron said.
“Now we have a system; we just need people,” Hill added.
Even now, Good Point is expanding its reach.
The company has a contract with Sony to run its voluntary recycling program in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
Good Point took over operations of a former competitor in Brockton, Mass., and is conducting e-recycling for nearby towns Brookline and Quincy. That contract could soon expand to include the Bay State towns of Easton and Braintree.
Still, Ingenthron is committed to keeping Good Point’s headquarters in Addison County. The company will hold an electronics collection day at its Middlebury headquarters on Saturday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be free of charge for all items, including computers, TVs and air conditioners (no refrigerators).
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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