Work to always be growing or you will shrink.
In 2014, Lowell Fleming began to move his business drive toward the most eco-friendly business he could find. As his desire to help the planet grew, he founded Northwest Biofuel. His company is dedicated to creating innovative methods of recycling used cooking oils and developing less of a carbon footprint.
Like many entrepreneurs, his business was inspired by the need to find a job that suited his experience and desire to do something positive.
Instead of remaining in the traditional job market, Lowell began his own company. Without the financing or many of the basic products, he took his pickup truck and a single 55-gallon drum and set out to create his future.
After offering to collect his first client’s cooking oil, he dropped off the food grade drum and came back a month later to pick up the filled drum. As his business grew, he made similar connections and gathered more cooking oil, which would have otherwise been released into the environment. Failure was not an option for Mr. Fleming. After collecting the cooking oil, it is recycled and converted into a clean-burning bio-diesel fuel.
From humble beginnings combined with experience and a drive to succeed, Northwest Biofuel continues to serve greater Portland Oregon metropolitan area restaurants. He provides free cooking oil collection, grease trap cleaning, and related services. His business has grown quickly since 2014 due to his commitment to service and desire to make it easy for restaurants to comply with local grease trap cleaning and used cooking oil disposal regulations.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I used to work for a company as a driver. I learned all of the aspects of the business and decided to begin my own company. The name for the company came from the description of what we do. We collect the used cooking oil from restaurants so that it can be brought back to our facility, cleaned and sent to a local refinery to be converted to biofuels.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually start my day between four thirty and five. I begin by scheduling customers for service throughout the Portland metro area. I follow up with customers to make sure that they are having all of their requirements met. I submit reports to the city regarding compliance for each restaurant where we collect the cooking oil. Another part of my day is making calls to find new customers.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Our days are pretty routine. We have a system for how we collect cooking oil. If we see a new way to be able to make it easier to collect cooking oil, we just make a plan and test it out. If it can either save time or make it easier on the driver, we will implement the change. We also implement ideas for our customers to assure that we have the quickest in and out service for each customer site.
What’s one trend that excites you?
What excites me is the trend toward renewable energy. Renewable energy is being implemented at a state and local level. We follow the requirements to report each restaurant’s compliance. Renewable energy is great for the environment and that excites me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am persistent. I am also disciplined with regard to the routine that we have to follow each day. I am careful to make compliance reports which are important for clients as well as our business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to always be prepared to address adversity in business. Be ready to take a chance on an opportunity. Not everything goes as planned all of the time. But be ready to address each situation as it comes. You have to keep going and you can make it work. You have to work to always be growing or you will shrink.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I believe that if you are efficient at your business you can service a marketplace at a lower cost than your competitors. It may take more work. The profit margins may not be much, but it can work.
I also believe in the loss leader theory. When acquiring new customers, we oftentimes give them a perspective customer free or low-cost service for the month.
If you continue to provide them with superior customer service, they will stay with you for years to come. And the free service will pay for itself many times over.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
The one thing that I recommend is that you have to be willing to outwork your competition on a daily basis. I think a lot of businesses can grow and then become complacent. I think if you stay true to your original principal of providing superior service at the lowest possible price, you have the opportunity to grow and experience long term success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My strategy goes back to the loss leader theory. By providing our service for either free or reduced cost to acquire a new customer and provided superior customer service, they will stay with you for many years. It just pays off in the long run. This is one way that we have grown over the years.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I think that my original business plan was fundamentally flawed. I had to be ok with evolving. It is completely different today than it was when I first started out. You have to be willing to adapt to the market. You have to diversify the services that you provide. You have to be able to learn from the signals that your customers are giving you.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
My advice would be that you having to be willing to work hard for years for your business. You have to be willing to work seven days a week and give up everything or know that it is possible that your business will fail.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best hundred dollars that I have spent is when I went out for a great steak dinner.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use QuickBooks online. It is everywhere that I need it to be and a critical part of my business.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The one book I would recommend is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It teaches you that no matter what adversity there is, it can be handled with grace.
What is your favorite quote?
“Win the day.” by Chip Kelly.
• If you stay true to your original principal of providing superior service at the lowest possible price, you have the opportunity to grow and experience long term success.
• Always be prepared to address adversity in business.
• You have to work to always be growing or you will shrink.
• Be ready to address each situation as it comes.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.