CEDAR RAPIDS — Perhaps you’ve stopped by The Can Shed on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids to turn in cans and bottles for your nickel redemption.
But you’ve probably not been past the front room where they accept bottles and cans and hand over the cash.
Behind the scenes, there are stacks and stacks of aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass containers. People are arranged in sorting lines before a large machine that counts the aluminum cans, crushes them and transforms them into large cubes.
All of this is done in a very fast-paced environment that is more than a little bit loud.
“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes here,” said CEO Troy Willard, who started The Can Shed in 1997 after conceiving the idea while working as a driver for Coca-Cola. “I saw a need for someone to collect cans from all the local retailers.”
Willard said there are several aspects to The Can Shed’s business model.
“We have our walk-in business, where the general public brings in their cans and bottles and we give them a nickel per piece,” he said.
“We have our commercial routes, where we pick up materials from local companies,” added Managing Partner Darrin Peyton. “We have 800 commercial accounts. Some are weekly pick ups and others are on an as-needed basis.”
Willard said The Can Shed also processes materials for beverage distributors, such as 7G Distributing and Coca-Cola.
After containers arrive, they are sorted by distributor.
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“The distributors are the ones who collect the nickel, so the process really goes full circle from them to the retailer to the consumer, to us, then back to the distributor,” Willard explained, pointing out the piles of cans from Budweiser, Coca-Cola and other beverage makers.
“It is all hand sorted,” Willard said. “We process about a million and a half containers a week and up to 2 million per week during the summer,” which creates several hundred thousand pounds of material.
“I got into this business to make a buck, but what I’ve come to learn over the years through networking with other business owners in this industry is that we have a true environmental impact,” said Willard. “It’s great to run a small business and employ other people while also doing something for the greater good.”
The hard work over the last two decades hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Can Shed recently received a “Commitment to Iowa” award from the Iowa Recycling Association.
About 45 staff members work at The Can Shed, although the company hires temporary staff during particularly busy times of year.
“Everything is seasonal here,” Willard said. “We have the three big holidays in the summer — Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day — and then you head into tailgating season.
“After that, you have the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. Finally, after the Super Bowl, we have a little time to catch our breath.”
The Can Shed also operates a redemption center in Iowa City. “We transport all of that product up here to Cedar Rapids to process it,” Peyton said. “It’s where we do the dirty work.”
Willard said he hopes to open another satellite location in the near future.
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Peyton and Willard knew each other through their previous jobs and Peyton came to work for The Can Shed 11 years ago. In August, he became Willard’s managing partner.
Peyton is in charge of all things related to transportation — drivers, scheduling loads, maintenance on 35 trucks and trailers.
“I have a driver mentality and I’m looking at the business through a different lens,” he said. “A by-product of a good management and ownership team relationship is that we can put a good plan together and execute it.”
In his role, Willard oversees the implementation of new ideas.
“We have some automation ideas we are working on,” he said. “We want to have a solution for everyone that comes into The Can Shed.”
Willard also does a fair amount of lobbying regarding Iowa’s bottle and can recycling bill.
“This is a high volume, low margin business,” he said. “Most of the lobbying I do relates to the benefits of the law, increasing the processing fees and expanding the law to include all bottles and cans.”
Peyton and Willard continue to work to make the experience of working with The Can Shed simpler for customers. In August they rolled out some new redemption rules to streamline their customer service operations.
“We are trying to get people in and out of here faster,” Willard said, noting that about 60 percent of the business is aluminum cans.
AT A GLANCE
Business: The Can Shed
Owner: Troy Willard
Managing partner: Darrin Peyton
Address: 4121 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
Telephone: (319) 366-1300
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