Few 25-year-old family businesses easily change their service offerings. Yet, this is what Trenton, N.J.-based Mercer Group International and its sister company, Morrisville, Pa.-based Fairless Iron & Metal LLC, have done time and again to keep their businesses growing.
The Mercer Group traces its roots to 1984, when Mario Mazza—father of current company President Tom Mazza—started Mercer Wrecking, a construction and demolition business. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Mario Mazza successfully grew the company to be a dominant demolition contractor in the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania markets. At one point, "Mercer was number five on the ENR (Engineering News Record) list of top wrecking companies," says Tom Mazza, president of Mercer Group International. Among the notable jobs Mercer Wrecking performed was the Sears Building in Northeast Philadelphia.
Initially, the thousands of tons of recyclable construction and demolition (C&D) debris were merely a by-product of Mercer Wrecking’s demolition business. "We would feed our own scrap operation from the demo business," explains Brian Getta, maintenance manager for Fairless Iron & Metal. Thus, Mercer Group was always in the scrap business to some extent.
At the height of Mercer Wrecking’s demo dominance, Mercer Group made two key purchases that heightened the prominence of recycling within the company. "We bought F & W Waste and later C & R Waste (current corporate headquarters for Mercer Group) in the 1990s," Mazza says. These acquisitions marked the beginning of Mercer Group’s transformation.
At about the same time, the demolition business landscape was changing in the markets where Mercer Group operated. "Things were very good in the early 1990s," comments Getta. "There were several big demo contracts and not a lot of competition."
However, during the latter part of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, more companies entered the demolition business. Two key contributing factors marked the Mercer Group’s eventual shift into scrap and recycling as its primary business. "After the 9/11 attacks, many demo contracts were cancelled," Mazza says. Getta adds, "Also, our demo fleet was aging and we were going to have to upgrade our equipment."
With facilities in Trenton and Chesapeake, Va., Mercer Group’s focus turned solely to scrap recycling and C&D materials processing. The Trenton operation was the company’s primary scrap facility. Relying on a 74-inch shredder to process 55 tons per hour of saleable metal product, the facility accepted anything from aluminum and copper to white goods, such as washers and dryers.
The company did not leave its demolition roots entirely, as it continued to accept C&D debris. It processed brick, concrete and asphalt generated by the demolition process and crushed it into different products, such as a .75-inch clean stone and 1.5-inch blend stone for road base, fill and other applications.
EQUIPPED FOR SUCCESS
After transitioning to scrap processing and recycling, Mercer Group looked for ways to increase operating efficiencies. One of the areas quickly addressed was how the company handled its material.
Evolving from the demolition market, the company initially used a combination of excavators and material handlers at its operation. However, this was not working as well as the company wanted. "We were looking for something a little more dependable with more stability in the scrap application," Getta recalls.
Mercer Group made a change in the way it handled its material in 2003. "The company’s first purchase from us was of one Terex Fuchs MHL360 and two MHL350 material handlers," says Frank Miscavage, Northeast region manager for Terex Construction Americas.
The MHL360 and MHL350 machines are equipped with 1.5-cubic-yard and 0.875-cubic-yard grapples for handling ferrous and nonferrous metal and for loading the shredder.
The machines are marketed by Terex as being purpose-built for harsh scrap and recycling environments. Their design includes a double slewing ring, inverted boom cylinders and anti-corrosive hydraulic pipes along the boom and dipper stick.
Getta has noticed key differences between the new handlers and previous excavators modified for scrap handling. "We are seeing better lift capacities with the Terex machines," he says. They are also saving Mercer on fuel costs. "If you look at comparably sized handlers and excavators, the Terex material handler is about 25 percent more fuel efficient," Getta says.
Over a three-year period beginning in 2003, Mercer Group made a series of moves as it transformed into the large international recycling operation it is today. The company sold its facility in Chesapeake, bringing the company’s focus, temporarily, back to New Jersey.
In 2005, the company applied for and received a permit to run a transfer station at the Trenton facility. This expanded the types of material Mercer Group accepted to include plastics, paper and cardboard in addition to the metals and C&D debris it already collected.
That same year, Mercer Group formed a sister scrap metal processing operation, Fairless Metal and Iron LLC, in Morrisville, Pa. Today, Mercer Group operates its material recovery facility (MRF) and processes nonmetallic items and recycles ferrous and nonferrous metals in New Jersey, while the Pennsylvania location focuses solely on scrap processing and recycling.
Expanding to the Morrisville facility has allowed Fairless to dramatically grow its business and take advantage of the booming market conditions from 2006 through the third quarter of 2008. The facility has access to rail, which allows the company to broaden its reach into the Mid-Atlantic states and the Ohio River Valley markets. "With access to the Norfolk Southern and CSX lines, we are able to buy and sell ferrous scrap by rail," Mazza says. "We work in large volumes and own locomotives and a scale, which allow us to move rail cars in and out of the facility as needed."
The yard also has access to the Delaware River and a deep seaport for loading and unloading barges and large vessels. Waterway access connects Fairless to many global markets, including China, India, Turkey and Italy.
With an expanding diversified global customer base, Fairless needed a high-volume shredder to keep up with demand for its product. In 2006, Fairless installed a new, larger shredder at the Morrisville facility.
The company’s 8,000-horsepower shredder is nearly twice the size of the one it replaced. At capacities in excess of 200 tons per hour, the machine processes ferrous and nonferrous metals at more than four times the rate of the Trenton shedder. Large in size, it also has a voracious appetite for electricity, limiting the times during the day in which Fairless can operate the shredder.
To keep up with the incoming and outgoing material volume, Fairless also had to change the size of material handler it was deploying. "The last six machines purchased were the larger Terex Fuchs MHL380s," Miscavage says. The company also switched the type of grapple for the handlers. "We moved up from the 0.8-cubic yard to the 3-cubic yard grapple," Getta adds.
With an operating weight reaching 147,700 tons and a maximum reach of 69 feet, the MHL380 is built for high-volume material handling. Available specifically for operations like Fairless, the MHL380 can be equipped with offset boom equipment, which offers more below-grade reach than straight booms for easier barge loading and unloading.
With its access to rail and water and use of high-production equipment, the Morrisville facility has allowed Fairless to reap the benefits of a booming scrap market over the past few years. Mazza credits the success achieved by Mercer Group and Fairless to being a family-run business with the support of a dedicated workforce. Many employees have been with the company for 10 to 15 years. "Being a family business, we run a tight ship and are able to make quick decisions," he says.
It is this quick decision-making that is carrying this diversified scrap processor and recycling company through recent challenging market conditions.
The author, with Performance Marketing of West Des Moines, Iowa, provided the article on behalf of Terex Construction Americas, Southaven, Miss.