Colmar--In the Blood

Features - Scrap Industry News

The scrap industry has a pull on Celia Smith and her sons Rick and Brannon Forrest.

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March 28, 2006

Scrap metal recycling yards, perhaps more than many other industries, tend to be family businesses that are passed down among the generations. There must be something in the bloodline that predisposes generations of the same family to weather the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of secondary metals markets. At least that’s what Ricky Forrest of Florida Parishes Industries Inc., Hammond, La., says he thinks.

THE DRAW

Ricky’s grandfather Deloy Smith started Florida Parishes in 1975 and soon after asked his daughter, Ricky’s mother Celia, to operate the business. Celia, who had previously worked in real estate and retail clothing and jewelry, surprised her friends and family by jumping into the scrap recycling industry with such zeal and zest.

Ricky says he was among those surprised by his mother’s career change, "but I have to credit her with holding the business together through the lean years."

Repeat Customer

Florida Parishes Industries Inc., Hammond, La., took delivery of its first piece of Colmar USA equipment, a 402 industrial loader, early this decade, becoming one of the equipment company’s earliest customers in the South Central region of the United States. Brannon Forrest, the company’s vice president and ferrous manager, says the ability to switch between a grapple and a magnet on the loader was a big asset at the yard.

That purchase was followed by a Colmar 6200-800 stationary shear/baler, a logger/baler and a 605 loader, also manufactured by Colmar USA, based in Wheatfield, N.Y.

Brannon says that the shear purchase could not have come at a better time for Florida Parishes, as it allowed the company to take advantage of the upswing in iron prices. "We can now upgrade our material from No. 2 to No. 1. It has really made a huge difference. It’s so much quicker than having two or three guys with cutting torches. And it only takes one man to run that machine."

Brannon says Colmar, which is based in Italy, had not been in the United States long before Florida Parishes bought its first loader from the company. Because Colmar was new to the U.S. market, Florida Parishes encountered a few problems with parts availability at first, but Brannon says that Colmar has resolved that issue. And Florida Parish’s additional equipment purchases surely are proof of that, as downtime spells disaster for scrap processors.

Florida Parishes uses its Colmar 5500 baler/logger to process ferrous and nonferrous material and to bale old cars and appliances. Brannon says the baler/logger has made transporting the auto hulks "so much simpler." He adds, "We used to have to load the crushed cars on a flatbed, now we just haul the baled cars in the same truck we haul the iron. We got to eliminate the flat bed and we get more weight in a truck now, too."

Brannon says, "Colmar is definitely a little bit less expensive, but the quality is still there. They seem to hold their value and they have done a good job for us."

Celia credits her success to being from a strong farm family that has a love for the land, a strong work ethic and a desire to protect the environment.

That strong work ethic also extends to Celia’s son Brannon Forrest, who joined the business in 1987 after being sidelined from college following a football injury and now serves as vice president of Florida Parishes Industries. Brannon says that his experience operating farm equipment served as a good precursor to the scrap industry, helping him quickly get into the motion of recycling scrap.

In the early ’90s, Ricky walked away from an established farming operation to join the family’s scrap business, though it was a decision he made with some reluctance. "I loved the farm, but got tired of fighting the elements to make a living," he says.

Despite his initial hesitation about leaving farming, Ricky is now glad that he traded in his tractor for a material handler and his crops for copper scrap and junked cars. Like his mother and brother, he also seems well suited to life as a scrap recycler, quickly moving up the ladder at Florida Parishes to the post of general manager.

Working at the family scrap yard gives Ricky the opportunity to work outdoors, a part of running a farm that he particularly enjoyed. But that’s not the only part of his career change that he likes. "There’s a lot more money in recycling, and any time you have more money, that makes it more fun, right?" he jokes.

Ricky says that once he started working at Florida Parishes, the scrap recycling industry "got into my blood." The variety of materials and markets that the scrap recycling industry offers appeals to him, he says. "There are so many things to do and so many things to market. If one material is not making money, you can sell this or that. There is always something to sell that you can make a few dollars at."

MARKET FLUCTUATIONS

Today, Florida Parishes handles a variety of scrap metals, including aluminum, copper, brass, stainless steel, lead, steel and iron. In a year, Ricky says the company processes roughly 2.4 million pounds of nonferrous and 20,000 tons of ferrous material. "If it’s metal, we’ll take it. We see a lot of copper and aluminum and then a lot of iron."

The company used to handle scrap paper, too, but decided to focus solely on the metals end of the business about three years ago as those markets began gaining momentum.

The Florida Parishes yard sits on a 10-acre plot of land in a relatively undeveloped area outside of Hammond’s city limits. Ricky says the company owns the land surrounding the scrap yard, helping to insulate the operation from any future neighbors. A 60-foot-by-100-foot building near the entrance of the facility houses the nonferrous operations. Railroad tracks divide the ferrous operations from the rest of the facility, which also includes a shop where Florida Parishes services its equipment.

The company splits its business fairly evenly between peddler traffic and industrial accounts, both of which have been pretty steady, especially following Hurricane Katrina, Ricky says. However, he adds that the influx of material following the storm did cause the market in the area to dip slightly, though it appears to be normalizing.

Florida Parishes sends most of its steel scrap to Bayou Steel and its baled autos to Bayou’s Mississippi River Recycling division, both in LaPlace, La. Despite hurricane-related problems in the area, Florida Parishes was not affected by the trucking issues that interrupted the operations of some area recyclers because the company does its own trucking.

While operating its own trucks helps to somewhat insulate the company from the headaches associated with transporting its material, Ricky says Florida Parishes also has its reputation to thank for the company’s success throughout the years.

MEASURES OF SUCCESS

Ricky says good secondary metals markets have certainly helped to contribute to Florida Parishes recent success (the company grossed $6 million in 2005). However, the Forrest family also takes steps to ensure the company’s success, even in leaner times.

"You have to make sure you don’t get into too much debt," he says. With this thought in mind, Florida Parishes held off on purchasing equipment in the late ’90s, when secondary metals markets plunged. "It made it more difficult to get material out, and we couldn’t upgrade it," Ricky says of the operation’s lack of processing equipment at the time. However, the family deemed that having money available for daily operating expenses was more important.

A notable improvement in the market enabled Florida Parishes to purchase a stationary shear/baler from Colmar earlier this year. Brannon, who also acts as the ferrous manager, says the shear purchase was timely and has helped the company upgrade and process material that had been backlogged, capitalizing on recent upswings in secondary metals pricing. Rather than pocket the profits, Ricky says that Florida Parishes enjoyed being able to reward its employees for their dedication and service. For example, the company has been able to present its staff of 20 employees with monetary bonuses.

In exchange, the company is rewarded with loyal service. For example, one of Florida Parishes’ weighmasters, now in her early 70s, has been with the company since its inception. And one of the company’s truck drivers and his wife, a weighmaster, have been with the firm for nearly 21 years. The couple’s sons are also employed by Florida Parishes.

"We treat our employees with respect," Ricky says. "We treat them the way we want to be treated. As long as they are happy, we are happy."

This axiom also extends to the customers of Florida Parishes, further adding to the company’s success.

In Ricky’s estimation, few tangible qualities set one scrap yard apart from its competition. "We are all alike; we buy, sell and process material."

But there are less tangible ways in which scrap recyclers can distinguish themselves from other area operations. In some cases, it’s by developing an area of expertise, in others it’s by putting an emphasis on customer service. In Florida Parishes’ case, the Forrest family says it’s their hands-on work ethic.

"We’ve been here for years," Ricky says. "There have been a couple of yards that have tried to move in and have left. We managed to stand our ground. We treat our customers well, and they keep coming to us."