Greenville, S.C. — Maybe Robin Ellenburg kind of fell into plastics recycling by chance, but now that he's there, the owner of ATD Inc. is all in.
And so is his son, Taylor Ellenburg.
With sales growth of about 100 percent annually for the last five years or so, who can blame them?
Robin Ellenburg spent a professional lifetime in the sale of new reusable plastic packaging, the totes and pallets and containers used to transport goods over and over again.
But it was a request by a customer to also find a home for some old, damaged containers that got him into the recycling business.
What started out as a brokerage business about eight years ago has turned into a full-fledged, hands-on recycling operation in Greenville that's expected to handle 15 million pounds this year.
“It was back in '07, right before the bottom fell out,” he remembered. “I had a really good job with Monoflo. I just told my wife I'm tired of this. I've got to do something different.”
With one child just graduated from college and one still in college, it was not an easy decision. “She was like, ‘What are you talking about?'” he remembered.
Using his connections in the reusable plastics container business — he was southeastern sales rep for Monoflo International Inc., a maker of injection molded products, including totes, containers, pallets, trays and crates — he set out on his own.
“I was working out of the house with no space,” he recalled, brokering loads of recycled plastics while also selling new containers as an independent sales rep for different companies on the side to help make ends meet.
Meanwhile, Taylor Ellenburg was working his way through college at nearby Clemson University toward a management degree and an idea.
“I knew what I wanted to do. I knew it from the beginning. I wanted to work with him,” he said about his father. “I had no other thing in my mind of what I was going to do.”
By the time 2011 rolled along, the business had grown to the point where ATD was actually handling its own material instead of working as hands-off middleman between generators and consumers of recycled plastic. A rented 5,000-square-foot building filled up fast with inventory, causing the men to start looking for larger, permanent space they could call their own.
That led to the purchase of a 30,000-square-foot warehouse about four years ago and then another 54,000 square feet of space just a quarter mile up the road last year. The company just recently fired up its first grinder at that newer location.
“We've doubled our business every year for five years,” Robin Ellenburg said. “I know at some point, that's going to be impossible to do. We can't believe how business has taken off.”
The Ellenburgs credit a key account that has helped them establish ATD and its reputation. Automaker BMW Manufacturing Co. has a factory just down the road in Greer, S.C., and recycles its plastics through ATD. Having that business gives the company credibility with other prospective customers, they said.
ATD has grown from only being involved in high density polyethylene in those early years to now accepting about 20 different types of plastics these days. The father in the father-and-son team credits his son for finding new outlets for all the different types of plastics ATD now handles.
It's been a steep learning curve and a lot of cold calls to help build the business, Taylor Ellenburg said.