By BECKY GILLETTE
OXFORD — When John Alford and Will Fountain founded GreenServ Inc. in Oxford about four years ago, they had been hearing complaints about customer service and costs for disposal of medical waste. One international company has the corner on about 95 percent of the medical waste disposal business in the U.S. Alford and Fountain saw there was a need for alternatives.
“Having worked in the medical device field at a corporate level, we saw a need for more competition for medical waste disposal,” Alford said.
“What we heard were complaints about being overcharged and poor service. We thought we would start a medical waste disposal business by first establishing a footprint in north Mississippi.”
It took a year just to get all the permits from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Then they were able to start providing an alternative. Alford said being able to save customers 30 to 50 percent while providing superior customer service has helped the business grow tremendously.
The medical waste market isn’t something you hear about every day. Alford describes it as an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind business.”
“We just try to be proactive and approach these folks so they know about alternatives in their area,” Alford said. “That has been a huge factor in the company’s growth. The costs for medical waste disposal for hospitals, nursing homes, dental offices and medical clinics can be substantial. With health-care businesses seeing reimbursements going down and prices going up, our customers have found it very beneficial to save money. They can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.”
Fountain said after receiving a warm reception in north Mississippi, the company traveled down I-55 to make the pitch to more health-care businesses.
“Most people didn’t initially realize there was an alternative in the marketplace,” Fountain said. “We focused on reaching out and letting people know we are here as an alternative to people’s medical waste needs. One of the other things we tried to do on the front end was be up on the best technology we could use. Documentation is critical to be able to offer our customers confirmation that the waste is getting to proper treatment and disposal facilities.”
Everything they do is electronically based. They have electronic manifests so customers don’t have to deal with a lot of paper receipts. Customers can access information with the GreenServ online customer portal, and customers also get an email with receipts.
Fountain said they don’t just quote customers on prices. They also show how they can make disposal more efficient. For example, they might be able to provide more frequent pickups. They offer industry standard boxes and liners for waste service or reusable 28-gallon containers.
“Besides saving money, we are showing them another way,” Fountain said. “And they can rest assured everything is being done properly. We pay close attention to DOT and health department regulations. We have a complete OSHA compliance program. It is an extremely comprehensive program we are very proud of. This is a bonus we are able to offer to customers.”
They have been able to grow so rapidly that in June Fountain was able to quit his job with a medical device company to work full-time for GreenServ. It now has 500 customers and has expanded into Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas. They have 13 employees and offices in Jackson and Monroe, La., in addition to the home office in Oxford. Those include drivers, a sales manager, sales people, a comptroller and operations manager.
“It is a different ballgame now,” Fountain said. “Before we were just getting word out to people who were really frustrated. Now we have a track record, and customers stay with us because we make it easy to do business. Customers trust us. They know we are responsive and easy to work with.”
Historically, most hospitals had their own medical waste incinerator. But concerns about air pollution from medical waste led to the Environmental Protection Agency shutting down hospital incinerators.
Alford said now most medical waste is sterilized and then landfilled, which avoids air pollution issues. GreenServ uses companies in Hattiesburg and Birmingham, Ala., to sterilize the waste, but the company plans to open its own medical waste treatment facility in 12 to 18 months. A large steam autoclave similar to what is used to sterilize equipment for surgery is the standard method for sterilizing medical waste.
About 90 percent of what they pick up can be treated with sterilization before going into a landfill. Hazardous waste such as body parts or chemotherapy medicines must be incinerated.
Alford said as the company has grown, they have concentrated on making it a superior work environment, a place people enjoy working.
“Work doesn’t have to be miserable,” said Alford, whose has spent 25 years working in the orthopedic implant industry. “We pride ourselves in getting things done and are very productive, but we have a nice, fun atmosphere. We treat people right. We try to develop employees and help people to develop themselves. We have events like crawfish boils and Christmas parties. Working 4o hours a week at something that is not enjoyable is no way to live life. We have employees who are like minded. They like this business and like each other. We also offer a 401K program and match for employees and pay for a portion of health insurance for employees.”
Both founders are Mississippi natives, and are proud to be growing their business in Mississippi.
“We have pride of ownership to develop something in this state showing you don’t have to do to Dallas or Atlanta to establish a successful business,” Alford said.