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Beating the big players to those waste contracts

SWR has been in operation for only three years, but is causing waves with its energetic approach to business. Part of this must be down to the dynamism of chief executive Giles Whiteley and the business he has helped to create, which tends to focus on those waste streams not always managed by other companies.

“SWR is a waste management company,” he says, “and we aim to provide a fully outsourced service to our customers. We get to know customers’ waste production: we ask all the right questions before we start to propose a waste solution. We then work with them to produce a co-ordinated waste plan for what we call their ‘waste estate’. We aim to be the only provider to that business, and specialise in businesses that have multiple sites and multiple waste streams.

“What we try to do is put ourselves in the market where there aren’t too many other people, and find niches where there is a sector that has a problem with waste that isn’t well serviced by other people. We also like to simplify things for our customers.”

He gives as an example Dobbies Garden Centres, which has 26 stores across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Whiteley says that before it worked with SWR, it had 40 or so contractors yet wanted to recycle more via one national contract. Dobbies found that it had the options either of working with small contractors to recycle as much waste as possible or working with one contractor that, according to Whiteley, would offer only mixed recycling collections.

“I want to get known in the business as someone the small guys want to work with”

“These guys have glass, plants, compost, food waste from restaurants, wood, hard plastics in the form of plant pots and soft plastics from packaging. So nine or 10 waste streams to be segregated out. What SWR does is work with those sites and put the right contractors in place. We manage all of them. There is one number to call, which is us; there is one contract; and one invoice. We provide all the reporting. Ideally, Dobbies views us as its outsourced waste department.”

SWR started out specialising in the automotive sector, collecting vehicle waste from garages. It realised that the model it built could be rolled out into other sectors.

“We have done very well this year in the garden centre market, with over 100 garden centres,” says Whiteley. “We do very well in the hotel market, and there is manufacturing and window-replacement companies - we’ve yet to find a sector we can’t help. If you are a single site with lots of paper, there is probably a company that is going to do just as good a job as SWR. If you are a company producing paper at 16 sites, along with other materials, then that probably sits more with where we can add the value of service.”

He says it is increasingly hard to differentiate between waste companies in this market as each one will say the same sort of things.

“What SWR does exceptionally well is customer service,” he says. “I’ve been in this industry just three years, and one of the first things I noticed was that the bar was set really low for customer service.

“We noticed that companies spending a lot of money were struggling to get on the phone to their waste contractors. So we have put together a core team of customer service professionals, service delivery professionals, account managers - people that go out and understand customers on-site. What this has enabled us to do is manage the contractors underneath us very well, have service level agreements in place with those contractors and basically pull together all the things that other companies do and do it well.”

The company was started by chairman Angus MacDonald, who bought a firm called Oakside Environmental and from that created SWR to focus on car dealerships.

Whiteley says: “Those businesses had a particular set of issues. They have lots of hazardous waste; they have lots of general waste all the time and lots of different types of recyclables. They have packaging, hard plastics from car components, metals and so on. They also don’t have a lot of space as they have lots of equipment on-site that they require such as parts washers and so forth.

“We collect [in SWR’s own trucks] recyclables in source-segregated bins, the hard plastics, soft plastics, cardboard, paper and also collect small volumes of tyres. Most tyre collection companies will take minimum volumes of around 50. Because our trucks go in on a two-weekly basis, if there are four tyres, we will pick up four tyres. If there is one pallet, we will take away the pallet.

“Hazardous waste is outsourced to our hazardous waste partners and the residual waste we outsource, with one company looking after the lot.”

Whiteley is ambitious for SWR and sees the company growing rapidly: “We’ve doubled our revenue year-on-year since we were formed. We are only three years old, and we intend to do that again this year. We are going to continue to expand into new sectors and we are very interested in acquisitions.

“On the automotive side, we now control somewhere in the order of 5,000-6,000 tonnes a year of bumpers, for example. Now bumpers are an incredibly high-quality polypropylene. Because that is a niche sector and a very valuable material, I’m interested in working with, or purchasing or building a business that actually takes that further down the line. So rather than us selling polypropylene bumpers for £100 per tonne, I’d like to get to the position where we can have closed loop recycling - get that material back into pellet form and send it back to the car manufacturers to create new bumpers.

“In terms of other sectors, I’m very interested in the hospitality market. The hotel market is something we have just broken into with Macdonald Hotels. There are a couple of others I can’t talk about because we haven’t signed them yet.

“I want to get known in the business as someone the small guys want to work with. I see us becoming the customer service and account company for other waste firms. wherever it may be - in Bodmin or Aberdeen. Otherwise we won’t get a crack at the whip for the big accounts that the likes of Biffa, Sita and Veolia get to see the tenders for.”

GILES WHITELEY CV

After working in consultancy, and spending time working in India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, Giles returned to the UK in the telecoms sector. He became commercial manager of Redstone in 2004. He became chief operating office of SWR in 2007 and chief executive in 2009.

The best thing to happen in my career was…
“Meeting SWR chairman Angus MacDonald on a sleeper train from Inverness to London. We got talking and, here I am, working as chief executive of SWR. It is the best job I have
ever had.”
The worst thing to happen in my career was…
“Redstone purchased a number of companies, and it was my job to streamline them and cut out duplication. I had to make somewhere between 50 and 80 people redundant over a period of time and sit through every redundancy meeting with HR. It was a hard thing to do for those people.”

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