David Motor & Scrap
David Hickman weathered Hurricane Katrina, and came out with a stronger business. “There is no middle ground in business,” he said. “You have to get big or stay small.”
The hurricane cut lines of communication and made travel difficult, but it also brought in a lot of scrap – a boon for those who could handle it. “It has not slowed down,” Hickman said, noting that his yards are receiving hurricane-related scrap on a daily basis.
But it’s not all about clean-up. Hickman is also investing in new equipment, new properties and new technologies – all to grow his business. He noted that the fact that two steel mills are opening nearby doesn’t hurt, but that “selling scrap is not the problem.”
Hickman “played in the scrap business” when he was growing up, in the yard his father owned. Later, he worked for his father as well. But family and business aren’t always a winning combination. “My daddy actually fired me when I was 22,” Hickman said.
Later, when his father got out of scrap, Hickman stepped back in, buying the property and began the building of his own business. “I started from scratch,” he said. “It took a long time to get it back to where dad had it.”
Now he’s got two locations in Mississippi: David Motor & Scrap in Biloxi and Recycling Center in Pascagoula. He has a new shredder operation in Mobile, Alabama, David’s Auto Shredder. But that’s not the end, Hickman recently signed papers for Pine Hill Recycling in Picayune, Mississippi and is involved in his father’s operation, Beaumont Scrap in Beaumont, Mississippi.
Along with the yards, Hickman has about 100 roll-off containers in service, and the number of employees is edging toward the 100 mark. Among those employees are family members including Hickman’s mother who runs the scales at his Biloxi location, his son, Josh, niece Danielle, and sister, Roxanne, who is a yard manager.
Hickman credits part of his success to the “family” feel of his operation. “When people deal with us, they feel like they’re part of the family,” he said. He explained that unlike other businesses where the owners are hard to find, at David Motor & Scrap “you can talk to people.”
While his expansion deals with property, Hickman said that the best part of the business is “dealing with the people.” Because he doesn’t stay isolated from the business, he knows his customers, and they know him. “You make so many friends,” he said. “Everybody in town knows you.”
Hickman’s plans for expansion continue. He would like to have more feeder yards. “When you have a shredder, you want to be able to feed it,” he said. He also said that a 1000-ton shear would be a “nice little addition” in the future.
At his shredder yard, Hickman is installing “one of the first drive-through locations for a shredder in the south,” with two scales so traffic will flow smoothly and customers “never have to back up or turn around.”
But that’s nothing compared to the technological improvement he’s planning for the shredder yard. Already in the works, this improvement will keep his shredder fluff out of the landfill. In fact, Hickman will be taking in fluff from other shredders. He needs more of it to feed a new process that will turn the fluff into diesel fuel.
While the concept seems far-fetched on first glance, it’s similar to the processes that turn corn and other organics into biodiesel. Much of the shredder fluff is petroleum-based to begin with, so it becomes a matter of getting the material back to what it used to be – and in this case, converting it to diesel fuel.
Hickman admitted that he didn’t quite understand the chemistry behind the process, but he definitely understands the economics. When everything is in place, he will be generating over 500 gallons of diesel fuel per hour. Not only will he have enough to fuel all of his own equipment, but he’ll be able to sell the excess fuel after paying the required taxes. “We could sell diesel for $1.65,” he estimated.
While there are plenty of biodiesel operations, Hickman’s will be the first of its kind to use fluff to make diesel. “We’ve got to have an edge if we’re going to compete,” he said.
Hickman also said, “I want to keep it a family business. We want to keep it down-to-earth. Customers can always talk to me if they want to.”