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Dave Shrimankar was doing software development for the U.S. government when family members in India asked him if he could find HMS scrap for them.

Although he knew nothing about the business, he figured he’d give it a try. He did some research on metals and scrap, then placed some classified ads.

Shrimankar said his family members were looking for “a reliable person to source the right quality.” It didn’t matter that he was completely new in the business – they trusted him to find what they needed at a fair price.

Much to his surprise, a buyer in Spain contacted him, looking for aluminum scrap, and the rest was history – he made that first connection, made that first sale and decided that his days in the software world, where he was “sitting in a cubicle 10 to 12 hours per day” were over.

“I always wanted to be my own boss,” he said, and he wanted something that was hands-on. “I can’t sit in an office all day.”

While it would seem like brokering scrap sales would be an office job, Shrimankar spends a lot of his time traveling to visit the scrap yards all over the country where he buys his material. He only spends 2 to 3 days per week in his office.

He has also visited many of the buyers. “I get to meet a lot of people,” he said, “and literally all over the world.” One thing he’s noticed over the years is how much many of these countries have progressed over the past 18 years. Right now, China is building a high-speed rail system and Korea has faster internet compared to what’s available in the U.S.

Besides traveling to visit customers, he also attends a lot of trade shows and seminars, and often brings his family along to those, since there tends to be enough downtime to enjoy the area.

When he’s traveling to customers in the U.S., however, the trips tend to be all business. He might spend six hours traveling “on some of the smallest roads” for a two hour meeting, then turn right around and head back home. But he said he enjoys those trips, since he gets to see so many parts of the U.S., and he noted that “there are a lot of different cultures in America.”

He said that although many of the scrap yards are situated in less desirable parts of cities, “once you’re in the scrap yard, you’re just dealing with nice people.” Besides making business connections, he likes to learn people’s ways of doing things and to build friendships. “I love every aspect of visiting scrap yards.”

Shrimankar said that language is not much of a barrier to doing business overseas, and that most of the people he talks to speak enough English to make his job easy, although there have been a few times he’s needed an interpreter. Meanwhile, he’s learned a little bit of Spanish related to scrap buying and selling, like the words for copper or aluminum.

At first, most of his sales – besides that first sale to Spain – were to Asian countries, but as the economy declined in 2008, many of those sales disappeared. “China stayed in the market the whole time,” he said, “but India didn’t buy nearly as much.”

Since then, he said that buyers have become “hyper-cautious” about market conditions. “They have one thumb on approving payment and the other on a panic button regarding the price of scrap.”

While some sales overseas are because the importing countries don’t have the natural resources to supply their metal needs – like China – other exports come about because the material isn’t desirable domestically. Electric motors, for example, require a lot of manual labor, so it’s not cost effective to process in countries with high labor rates.

When making sales, Shrimanker said that the two critical factors are price and quality, but price is always first. “If the price doesn’t match, nobody cares about quality,” he said. Once a price is good, then the buyers get into the details of material quality.

But that doesn’t mean that quality is unimportant, and some buyers require material assayed before they make the purchase. When he buys material, Shrimankar is very selective about whom he buys from, preferring to do business with companies that have been in business for a long time. “Some have been in business 50 years,” he said.

Published in the December 2013 Edition of American Recycler News