JANUARY 2012

A Closer Look E-mail the author

EarthSaver Equipment, Inc.
Alex Clinton • 972-496-1460

When Alex Clinton talks about his father, Powell, it’s like a history lesson about the wood-waste recycling industry. Clinton said that his father spent months adapting a hay grinder to process wood waste. “That was the beginning of tub grinders for wood waste,” he said.

—The EarthSaver Team

The idea was hatched when Powell saw the enormous amount of wood waste coming from land-clearing operations. He knew that hay grinders might be able to grind wood as well, but they weren’t sturdy enough. Powell got a hay baler and took to to a lumber mill and worked on it until it could handle lumber “without self-destructing.” Hay was easy, but “he needed something more robust to grind wood.”

It wasn’t enough to make that one machine, so Powell went on the road with his product, talking to wood waste recyclers up and down the west coast. At first, he contracted with a hay grinder manufacturing company to modify their equipment for use with wood, but it didn’t take long before he founded his own manufacturing company “to make tub grinders in all sizes.”

It wasn’t long before the company was selling grinders as fast as they could make them, but it wasn’t just the manufacturing that made Powell a trendsetter. “We had recycling yards,” Clinton said, in New Jersey, Florida, and California. “We showcased our equipment by running successful recycling yards. Nobody ever did what my dad did. It was kind of a cool idea.”

While the yards were designed to show people the equipment, they also showed people how to run a successful recycling yard.

For 20 years, the company continued as a manufacturer of wood recycling equipment, but now they’ve transitioned to a brokerage company, selling equipment from a number of different manufacturers.

Clinton tells people that he’s the company’s sales agent, but his job is much more than that. “When you’re a small business, you get to wear a lot of hats,” he said. And the company is very small – just Clinton and his dad. At times, Clinton’s two brothers work for the company as well, but for now, it’s a two-man operation.

He said that it used to take a big business to have a marketing department, sales department, accounting, and all the other departments needed to sell machinery. But now, with the help of computers, much of the work is automated, and running from an office at the base of Glacier National Park in Montana.

On the other hand, “our equipment is everywhere,” Clinton said. The company contracts with a number of other companies to store and to repair the equipment. When Clinton or his father needs to look at a particular machine in person, he said “you can fly to go to the machine rather than pay to move it.”

Clinton said that a big part of the company’s success in brokerage is the breadth of his father’s knowledge of the wood recycling industry and the machinery involved. “We provide an impartial opinion of what equipment is best for what applications.” He said there is no one “best” machine – it’s all about matching the right machine for the right application for the right customer.

Not only do Clinton and his father know about new and used machinery for sale, they know how to hunt down parts for customer’s machines that are still in service.

Clinton’s background in finance also gives him a unique expertise when helping customers figure out “not just how to run it, but how to buy it properly.” He can help them figure out how to finance a machine, how to depreciate it properly, and how to make money using the machine. “They want a machine, but what they really want is to make money,” Clinton said.

Clinton said that while the electronics in the newer machines have improved over the years, “the mechanics for grinding are sort of the same.” But what is starting to change is the product running through those grinders, including shingles.

As the price of oil goes up, the cost of asphalt goes up, and it makes it profitable to grind used shingles to be used as aggregate in new asphalt. Right now, it’s still a small portion of the equipment sales, but Clinton believes it will grow.

Another new opportunity is biofuel. “That’s been the talk for a number of years in the industry,” Clinton said. “Recycling is on everyone’s mind, but it’s not always the cheapest option.”

Not everyone buys a wood grinder for recycling, though. Clinton said that they are often used on development sites when clearing property. What might fill 50 trailers can be condensed to fill 20, cutting down on transportation costs. Grinders are also used for cleanup after natural disasters like hurricanes.

But while Clinton is looking to the future, he’s most proud of the company’s roots. “Dad was a pioneer,” he said. And that pretty much says it all.