“Komatsu offers the reliable equipment we need to keep daily operations running smoothly”
Twenty-five years ago, Dan McAuliffe decided to leave the declining sand and gravel industry of the Pacific Northwest. Wanting to stay in the greater-Seattle area, he found a new medium to sift – construction and demolition materials – as he started what would eventually become United Recycling & Container in Snohomish, Wash. Today, it has grown to include multiple locations and has served as a catalyst for growth into multiple industries across the region.
The transition from sand and gravel to construction and demolition recycling was gradual. Originally, McAuliffe founded the company as Topsoils, Inc. with his wife, Nicki. She kept the books while he ran the yard, made topsoil and sold recycled material to customers. As the business gained momentum, Topsoils, Inc. quickly outgrew its name.
“We began taking in concrete, asphalt and wood,” recalled McAuliffe. “After 10 years, we were accepting material from local land clearing and demolition jobs. When we started receiving material from bridge and tunnel work, I realized it didn’t make much sense to call the company Topsoils, Inc. Our product didn’t look like topsoil anymore.”
With an expanding service list and customer base, McAuliffe renamed the business United Recycling & Container in 2002. The decade-long shift from producing topsoil to recycling wood, concrete and many other construction-site materials helped him build quality relationships with local customers.
By 2014, the now aptly named company needed more land to meet increased demand. McAuliffe chose to open a second plant, United Recycling Seattle, after recognizing the need for a recycling facility closer to the booming city. He created a business plan for the spinoff, and while the two plants were similar in their services, what ensued in Seattle was wholly unexpected.
“In the beginning, we estimated needing a certain number of people as well as equipment and infrastructure for the Seattle location, based on the history at Snohomish,” said McAuliffe. “We were totally off. Within the first month, we surpassed our estimated first-year benchmarks. By the third month, we passed our five-year goals. After that, I quit projecting. We were growing so fast that I walked into the office on a Wednesday and decided we needed to start a swing shift. By Monday, we had hired an additional 20 workers.”
With the necessary staff in place to meet its production needs, the Seattle plant has been a beacon of success.
“As long as we can process it – we get through it,” remarked Mechele Baird, who is Human Resources Director at United Recycling Seattle. “When we started, we processed approximately 250 tons a day. Right now, we’re averaging nearly 500 tons per day.”
United Recycling Seattle currently has more than 60 employees, while the company as a whole surpasses 150. Between the Snohomish and Seattle plants, 1,000 tons of construction and demolition material is processed daily.
As production soared at the Seattle plant, it was apparent that newer machines were needed to replace the older equipment. This is where Modern Machinery Territory Manager Marc Bandy came into the picture. He knew which Komatsu pieces would fit the company best.
“We needed more productive equipment right away,” said McAuliffe. “Modern Machinery was excellent about recommending the right Komatsu equipment to us.”
The machines of choice for United Recycling & Container are Komatsu WA270 wheel loaders.
“We use the WA270 wheel loaders to manage everything that we produce,” shared United Recycling Seattle Manager Todd Beebe. “They push material through the door, separate it out, move it back toward the person separating and then can be used to load it into the hopper. We have at least seven loaders working at any given time.”
Several of the WA270s have modified attachments. A grapple bucket makes moving materials of various sizes around the plant more efficient. Loose items are less likely to fall and reduce production. Other wheel loaders are rigged forks, helping operators stack and transport larger materials. Overall, Beebe prefers the WA270 for its compact size and power. He also appreciates the dependability.
“The material isn’t always heavy, but it’s consistent,” said Beebe. “Because the material doesn’t stop coming in, our equipment is constantly in use. Komatsu offers the reliable equipment we need to keep daily operations running smoothly.”
The company has purchased several PC240LC-11 and PC360LC excavators as well. Equipped with smaller buckets, employees are able to pre-sort the material, which saves time and increases tonnage processed per hour. The excavators have rubber-edge buckets to reduce scraping and damage to the facility’s floors.
Additionally, McAuliffe notes that his Komatsu equipment is only outmatched by the service Modern Machinery provides.
“Throughout the years, Modern Machinery has grown as I have,” McAuliffe recalled. “They’ve maintained great products, a steady supply of parts and had quality mechanics and service techs available to limit downtime, which is very important to a company of our size.”
Safety, integrity and service
A safe workplace is also essential to running a business. United Recycling & Container holds regular meetings for operators, laborers and drivers to ensure a healthy working environment. McAuliffe takes it a step further with a safety committee composed of various employees to address specific issues that surface within the company. He hopes that taking extra precautions will protect his workers as well as result in greater production and less downtime.
“Any injury is preventable,” said McAuliffe. “Even if a truck bumps a pole, I view that as a personal injury. The safety committee addresses any concerns that may arise at our facilities. This group reassures our drivers, technicians and operators that they’re indispensable.
“Providing a safe environment is important, but running your business with integrity is also essential,” he added. “If I can’t do that, nobody is going to work for or with me in the future.”
That integrity-first philosophy has often led McAuliffe to help customers find economical solutions for their immediate needs, even if it involves using a service outside of his company.
“If I want to keep customers 10 or 20 years down the line, I need to act with their best interests in mind,” said McAuliffe. “I might miss out on their business by showing them somewhere more convenient or economically feasible today, but in the long term, they’ll appreciate my honesty. The hope is they return here for business because they know I’m on their side. I think it creates a stronger bond between customers and our company.”
McAuliffe has long surpassed his vision from 25 years ago as he has transitioned his firm from a small topsoil plant to a multifaceted entity throughout the Seattle area. While growth and success have resulted, he is never satisfied and continually looks for new business ideas.
“If there is a chance for us to achieve success, we take it,” noted McAuliffe. “We also operate United Metals and Clearview nursery, and my son, Marcus, manages United Construction, which we started several years ago. We saw an opportunity to build car lifts and car parking stalls for large high-rise buildings. Marcus is currently in Portland overseeing two construction sites, and we’ve got several more planned for the year. We’re always open to finding a niche.”
With an eye toward expansion, it’s unsurprising that a third United Recycling plant is in the works. McAuliffe expects to continue to grow his company and provide the highest quality, integrity and service for decades to come.