Garbage guruPublished 5:48pm Friday, July 8, 2011
BERTRAND TOWNSHIP — Clyde “Sonny” Fuller laughs when he thinks back to his start in the garbage business.
Fuller, the new permanent general manager of the Southeast Berrien County Landfill, was working for a construction company in his first job out of high school. But he was ready to start his own business and wasn’t sure where to begin.
One day it hit him when he was driving past the home of his friend’s uncle, who owned a garbage company in Niles.
“The thought came, ‘he sure has a nice house and all he does is pick up trash,’” Fuller said. “So I thought, I’m going to do that.”
So he put some sideboards on his pickup truck and made some flyers and his trash hauling business was born. Over the course of six years, he built it into a more than six-figure a year business, which he then sold to Stevensville’s Reliable Disposal, a Republic subsidiary.
After seven years as operations manager at Reliable, Fuller, a Buchanan resident, is now bringing his waste wizardry to the Southeast Berrien County Landfill. He was brought in as interim manager three months ago, and in that short period of time, he has helped the struggling municipally-owned facility turn things around.
“The landfill was pretty much losing money every month before I came here for a couple years,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve only had one month that was below profit line.”
Fuller has gotten the facility, owned by the cities of Niles and Buchanan and townships of Niles, Buchanan and Bertrand, back in the black by going after lost revenue.
“I contacted some of the haulers that used to bring high volumes here and got some of the work back,” he said.
Michiana Disposal, the largest company that uses the landfill, has increased its volume by 33 percent. Fuller also helped bring Westshore Recycling and some smaller waste companies back into the mix.
Fuller has cut costs by laying off five employees, two of whom he has recently recalled.
His financial decisions and weekly reports to the landfill authority board, which had never been before given by managers, have earned Fuller praise from the board members. The board voted 10-0 to make him the permanent manager last month.
“He’s made us much more efficient,” said Bill Weimer, Niles City Council and landfill board member. “He’s also very good at cost-cutting measures. He’s a good horse trader.”
Fuller even has those who supported selling the facility rethinking their stance.
“My mind has been altered a bit after seeing the landfill operated in a different manner and seeing some new ideas,” said board member Jim Kidwell, who was leading the way in an effort to have the municipalities sell the facility. “Sonny’s doing a great job out there.”
Kidwell said the combination of Fuller’s expertise and some new blood on the landfill board has the landfill heading in the right direction.
Kidwell and the rest of the board are also excited about a potential deal with EnerTech, a Fishers, Ind.-based waste-to-fuel company. Fuller and a committee from the landfill authority board are in negotiations with the company in hopes to have it convert landfill trash into diesel fuel, causing the landfill to actually shrink in size but grow financially.
With that opportunity and the landfill again operating in the black, it appears the facility is safe for now.
“When I first got here there was a strong majority of the board toward selling it,” Fuller said. “I’ve seen that swing to where that’s not even a topic of discussion right now.”