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Leonard Cherry, the owner of Cherry Companies, described the founding of the company in a very simple way – his parents started a house moving business in 1952 with their four sons. “I’m number two,” Cherry said. “We were all raised in the business.”

While house moving didn’t involve people’s household possessions – the company moved whole houses – Cherry noted that if people left possessions in the house, they were moved right along with it. One memorable move included a grandma who rode along on the porch during the move.

House moving wasn’t enough work, so “we looked for business opportunities for expansion.” Over the years, the company added more and more services including demolition and interior gut-outs. In the early 1990s, the company opened its environmental company that handled asbestos abatement.

In 1993, the industrial division opened, followed by concrete recycling. Cherry said that they always focused on ways to re-use or recycle everything, so nothing was wasted.

The expansions continued, adding more services like commercial demolition and industrial dismantling as well as new equipment, like a portable crusher. In 2001, they got involved in the stabilizer business, where concrete, aggregate and water are mixed to make a ground stabilizing mixture.

Now, the company no longer moves houses, and instead focuses on recycling materials like concrete, asphalt, tires, aggregate and metal while they continue with crushing, dismantling and demolition.

Cherry said that “it’s been a natural progression” from one business and one material to the next. “We were recycling before it became a buzzword,” he said. Looking towards the future, he said the company will continue doing the things they’ve always done, asking “what’s the long term plan?” and moving the company into the third generation of ownership.

“We continue to look for business opportunities that connect with what we do,” Cherry said. Expansion is likely to be about new products and industries, rather than geographically, since he said that recycling tends to be “regional and not national.”

That philosophy has worked well. “Our business has grown every year for the past 22 years, except 2008,” Cherry said. He expects an eight percent growth rate for this year by “expansion of output rather than the newest widget.”

Although Cherry wants to recycle every bit of material, he said that landfill disposal fees can affect customers’ interest in recycling. However, “we will continue to add items we can recycle at a profit.” And that’s the key. “If it costs $5 to put it in a hole or $8 to recycle, what are you going to do?” he said.

The company remains a family business, with two brothers-in-law, two sons-in-law, and one aunt working. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a free ride for family members. “Family will get you hired, but it will not prevent you from getting fired,” he said.

While it’s still a family company, it’s no longer small. As Cherry said, it started with “Mom, dad, and we 4 boys, and we were the crew,” and now the company has 300 employees, 3 portable recycling plants, 5 permanent recycling facilities, and 10 pug mills. Cherry said that they’re the largest recycler in the state of Texas and one of the top 10 demolition companies in the country.

The demolition work provides raw material for the stabilizing material the company sells, but that’s not enough for their needs so they buy about half of the raw materials from their competitors in the demolition industry. The finished material is sold for pipe bedding, for road grading and temporary roads, and for construction sites.

Recycled aggregate, another important part of the business, has the same specs as new material, Cherry said. They sell eight different types of aggregate material along with two types of recycled asphalt.

Cherry said that the good thing about the recycling industry is that it converts a waste stream into a commodity that can be sold. In his market, he can afford to pay for asphalt and concrete, while he accepts roofing shingles for free – which is still better than paying to have them landfilled.

Sometimes it’s not enough to be able to recycle the materials, though – there has to be a willing market for them. Cherry said that right now recycled asphalt products can be a tough sell because oil prices are relatively low, so the company is working on establishing new markets for the materials.

“I love my job,” Cherry said. “I love the interaction with co-workers while we try to solve a new problem or find a new market. I like the people and I like the challenge.”

He also credits the employees for the company’s success. “Our business model has exceeded everything beyond my wildest expectations,” Cherry said. “Primarily because of our employees.”

Published in the July 2017 Edition of American Recycler News