Blazing Trails

FEATURES – SCRAP INDUSTRY NEWS
Blaze Recycling & Metals, Norcross, Ga., is the realization of a dream for brothers Craig, Kevin and Gary Blase.
Brian Taylor OCTOBER 20, 2006

Growing up with a father who was in the heavy equipment business, Craig, Kevin and Gary Blase were able to learn first-hand about the industrial sector of the economy and what makes it tick.

Craig says their father had one phrase in particular that has helped guide them on their present course: “Find the dirtiest business out there, and you’ll make money.” One could certainly argue that scrap recycling does not deserve the dubious honor of being labeled “the dirtiest business,” but the daily practice of handling the discards of others has indeed proven profitable for the three Blase brothers. The company they created, Blaze Recycling & Metals, now has four locations in northern Georgia and has grown steadily throughout its 16 years in business.

STARTING SMALL. The Blase brothers were exposed to the scrap business early in life, at times joining their father on weekend or summer visits to scrap yards.

Craig retained an interest in the scrap business and, after attending college, he began working for an Atlanta area scrap recycler. Kevin borrowed money to start a small retail scrap business in a 3,000-square-foot portion of a building in Norcross, Ga., a northern suburb of Atlanta. “I added Gary to the business after he had attended the University of Georgia, and he began buying industrial scrap to add to our retail mix,” he says. “Then, when we generated enough revenue to bring Craig into our business, we brought Craig in.”

Says Craig, “Effectively, everybody came together to expand the business. The business had sales but lacked capital. But we made slow capital investments, starting with a truck, a crane and then processing equipment.” Small milestones began to be surpassed, such as the first direct sale of a shipment of copper to a consumer. “Selling that first load of copper was almost like taking the champagne bottle and breaking it across the ship,” recalls Craig.

Although the brothers have their squabbles and will verbally spar when making major decisions, all agree on one key point: “What this company has done is invest dollar-for-dollar back in the business,” says Craig. “No one was selfish—there was no one here wanting to buy a sports car out of company profits. We all had a common goal and we have worked together,” he says.

As the company has evolved, each of the brothers has claimed certain responsibilities. Gary directs nonferrous sales, Craig oversees sales of ferrous scrap and Kevin directs physical processing operations. But each remains involved in the critical scrap buying process. “Everyone is involved in purchasing scrap; it’s always No. 1,” says Kevin.

Another member of the Blase family has also been critical to the success of Blaze Recycling & Metals. “Our mother, Caroline Blase, has been the company controller from day one,” notes Craig. “We’ve never had to worry about receivables or whether our customers were being paid. The three of us could concentrate on growing the business and we knew the money was being well taken care of,” he states.
With Blaze Recycling & Metals currently operating in four locations with a workforce of more than 160 people, Caroline now oversees an accounting staff of eight people.

From its start as a small nonferrous retail recycler, Blaze branched out initially at its Norcross property. The company added ferrous scrap to the mix, installed a wire-chopping line, added metals baling and shearing equipment and started a container roll-off service that allowed it to compete in the industrial scrap market.

The growth of the business was aided by the hard work and reinvestment philosophy of all three brothers as well as the declining fortunes of key competitors in the Atlanta market.

In the span of a couple of years, an auto shredder in nearby Athens, Ga., was idled, shredder operator Mindas Metals lost the lease on the land where it had been running a shredder, and former metals recycler Recycling Industries Inc. (which had acquired the former Central Metals) declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, leaving just one auto shredding company running in the Atlanta region and some new gaps in the scrap service market.

After a bankruptcy judge caused Recycling Industries to suddenly close its doors, “we had phone calls from people begging us to bring a box to collect their scrap,” recalls Craig. “Recycling Industries had probably been the largest scrap roll-off company in the state, and all those customers needed service.”

Blaze Recycling responded with two critical decisions: to begin not only acquiring more roll-off containers but also building its own and to purchase land that would serve as the home of its own auto shredder.

FLICKING THE SWITCH. The recent history of scrap metal recycling is full of the trials and tribulations of company efforts to successfully locate a new shredding operation.
Blaze Recycling did not make its decisions hastily. Craig says the company purchased the land well ahead of time and made sure it had the right zoning.

The process was not always easy, but by ensuring upfront that it had purchased land with the proper zoning and in working closely with the host county to ensure proper permitting of the shredding plant, the process overall was smooth.
The company began accumulating shredder feedstock at its Norcross and Lawrenceville sites well before the plant began operating in the fall of 2004. By September, Blaze Recycling’s Harris 98/115 shredder began tearing through inventoried feedstock.

The timing of the shredder start-up could not have been much better. In early 2005, the company was able to sell shredded scrap at a dollars-per-ton figure that greatly exceeded the procurement cost of ferrous scrap in 2002, 2003 and early 2004, allowing the company to realize a quick return on its investment and to quickly invest in enhanced downstream systems.

The Harris shredder’s non-magnetic output is now conveyed to two Steinert eddy current units and a newly purchased Steinert Induction Sorting System (ISS) in a one-pass system designed to produce several marketable nonferrous grades.
Success in shredding has not been without its challenges, the brothers note, citing the continual need to seek out scrap to feed the Harris shredder.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM. Although Blaze Recycling entered the shredding business after a vacuum had been created in the area by several idled plants, it still faced a competing shredder operator.

Blaze Recycling noticed resistance to its efforts to acquire auto hulks from area crushing crews. Many of the crews had a long-term relationship with the competing shredder operator and resisted the efforts of Blaze to establish a business relationship.

“As we began to see it, we had very little choice but to vertically integrate,” says Kevin. Subsequently, the company now has five mobile crews using R.M. Johnson car flatteners and a Sierra portable baler/logger.

The crews go to auto salvage yards and other locations throughout the region as well to two new feeder yards that Blaze Recycling & Metals has opened within the past two years.

Last year, the company purchased an existing textiles and metals recycling facility in Griffin, Ga., about 40 miles south of Atlanta. “It’s now a feeder yard that buys ferrous and nonferrous scrap that can be processed with torches and mobile shears there, or shreddables that can be shipped to the Lawrenceville shredder,” Gary says.

More recently, the company has added a small yard in Gainesville, Ga., north of Atlanta, that will operate similarly to the Griffin yard, says Craig.
In the near future, a fifth location is planned, and the brothers say the process of researching where to locate a second shredder is well underway, with Craig noting that it is likely to be outside of the Atlanta area. The brothers also would like to upgrade and expand their nonferrous operations to include a larger indoor processing area.

It has been a remarkable 16-year journey, the brothers say. “We knew that we were going to grow this company by putting the dollars back into it, but I’m not sure we ever realized we could grow as fast as we have in the past 24 months,” says Kevin.

The brothers acknowledge that being in the Atlanta region—one of the fastest-growing areas of the United States—and the closing of several competitors have provided Blaze Recycling with tremendous opportunities. But Craig also says he and his brothers have done some things right and continue to put in the time, effort and re-invested dollars to keep the company on the right path. “We have to delegate more than in the past, but we’ll still personally look at the scrap we’re buying and make sure it is worth the price we’re paying,” he says. “We’ll personally check the oil levels of equipment when production slips.”

Craig, Kevin and Gary may still need to get dirty to ensure that their business is profitable, but it has been part of their operating premise since starting the company. “We love what we do,” Gary says.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.