Family-owned Pequot Lakes Sanitation grows over the years
Since 1995, the family-owned Pequot Lakes Sanitation has provided waste collection services to residential and commercial customers from Crosslake to Pine River, to the south end of Gull Lake to Highway 1.
The company’s family roots actually date back to 1982, when Dick Wilske bought North County Sanitation. Wilske doubled the business in the first year and then in 1995 sold part of the business - the Pequot Lakes portion - to his son and daughter-in-law, Robbie and Taren Saccoman.
The Saccomans, who lived in downtown Pequot Lakes at the time, named their portion of the business Pequot Lakes Sanitation. Two years later they bought the rest of North County Sanitation from Wilske and his wife, Kay, and the entire business changed to the Pequot Lakes Sanitation name. In 2007, the business expanded again with the purchase of Gull Lake Sanitation.
Robbie previously spent 18 years in the plumbing business as the owner of Cross Country Plumbing. At the same time he often helped his father with the garbage route by filling in for him when Wilske vacationed.
“The intent was to make sure he could retire,” Robbie said, eventually making the decision to quit the plumbing business and buy his dad’s business.
Robbie ran Pequot Lakes Sanitation with one truck by himself for about six years. The work entailed a four-and-a-half-day route in winter and six-day route in the summer.
“It was manageable for one person, but he had long days,” Taren said.
Robbie agreed: “There were a lot of 15- to 16-hour days.”
He hired his first employee, Tim McFeters, in 2002.
After severing his right foot while working on a truck at his home in 2002, Taren sold her half of a garden center/landscaping business she owned to help Robbie run Pequot Lakes Sanitation.
The business grew from one truck to two by 2002, and currently Pequot Lakes Sanitation/Gull Lake Sanitation has five trucks and nine employees. The territory covered has grown as well.
“Breezy Point boomed about a dozen years back,” Taren said, explaining a portion of the company’s growth on the residential side.
In 2003, the Saccomans moved to 50 acres in Ideal Township, where their shop is located and where they built their home. Robbie is a charter member of the Ideal Fire Department.
In 2008, they purchased a fully automated truck, where the driver doesn’t have to get out of the truck to dump trash.
“As long as the customers leave their carts facing the correct direction and away from posts, etc., an automated truck will speed up the operation 10 fold,” said Robbie, “even when the homes are as far apart as they are in our area.”
Over the years they also added curbside recycling service in Breezy Point and more recently in Pequot Lakes, after those cities required it.
“Nobody is required to recycle, it’s completely up to the customer,” Taren said, noting those two cities require refuse haulers to offer the service, though she said it’s not profitable for haulers. “It costs us just as much to get rid of recycling as it does garbage as far as the tipping fees are concerned. It’s a second truck and driver along with all the operation expenses.”
It once was free to haul recycling because it was free to dump it, and haulers made their money from aluminum and cardboard and county SCORE (Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment) funds. Now, the Saccomans said, haulers have to pay to get rid of recycling, as there’s an overabundance of recyclable materials that keeps the market low and forces the recycling centers to charge for the loads.
Cities do reimburse haulers for recycling, but counties control the amount.
“We have a real problem in this county as there is not a place for the haulers to haul the recycling materials so we have to haul to Cass County or other drop locations, which are farther away,” Taren said. “That only adds to the costs of the service. If Crow Wing County provided the option of a recycling transfer center and still provided the SCORE funds to the haulers, then it would be a win-win situation for everyone. It’s a common misbelief that recycling is a free service, but it’s not realistic.”
As can be expected in the heart of a tourism area, business is seasonal. The Saccomans said they lose a noticeable number of their customers in winter months. That correlates to Crow Wing County’s population, which the Saccomans said is reportedly composed of 33 percent snowbirds - or people who flock to warmer areas during the winter months.
The Saccomans have seen other changes in the business over the years as well. Tipping fees once totaled $25 to empty a whole truck at the old dump west of Pequot Lakes. Now trucks are scaled and dump fees have increased up to $66 a ton. The whole business has become more regulated through the years.
“Back then, you could dump anything,” Robbie said, including electronics and tires. “People used to throw that away every day. Now anything other than household trash has an organized separate destination location.”
In 2011, Pequot Lakes Sanitation began offering pink trash carts to lakes area residents to support breast cancer awareness and research. Anyone can buy a pink can from Pequot Lakes Sanitation, regardless of who hauls their trash, and a portion of the cost will go to the American Cancer Society.
Taren said the business has a good relationship with its customers - and those customers’ dogs.
“The drivers take dog treats in their trucks,” she said, noting that is a unique aspect of the company.
Robbie’s daughter, Maranda, has been a longtime driver for Pequot Lakes Sanitation but soon will move out of state. Taren’s son, Tyler Gardner, also worked for the company for a time, but he too, moved.
Robbie and Taren still enjoy the business, especially with all the help their employees give them that frees up some time, but they look forward to retiring in the near future.