Curtis Smith is sure of one thing: There will always be garbage.
Smith has worked nearly a decade in waste hauling and recycling. He opened his own custom truck business, Smith Truck Body, in 2021 in Rosebush, Michigan.
He started in the industry as a driver and worked his way up to operations manager, learning about trucks from the inside out. And he found out he had a knack for them, understanding early the needs and reasoning behind the designs and engineering. There’s a lot that goes into hauling trash.
At another job, he helped grow the company to become the largest provider of Multi-Lift systems, those slick devices on the back of trucks that handle dumpsters, trailers, tarps, containers and more. When a consultant advised the company to eliminate trash haulers from the customer base, Smith saw an opportunity.
Multi-Lift quickly began sending customers to Smith, who, at the time, was working in his home garage. “We could only work on one truck at a time,” he said, and they got four orders right away. Another snag was having to pay vendors upfront because most required six months’ of business to get any credit. Smith orders truck chassis ahead of time (nearly 40 for 2022) and has to think 1.5 years ahead.
“We’ve already hit the projections for the year and I was very conservative on projections!” Curtis Smith, owner, Smith Truck Body, August 2022
He needed more space, more equipment and working capital. His local bank turned him down for a loan because Smith Truck Body was a startup. He turned to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Mount Pleasant for help. They referred him to Northern Initiatives, where he worked with Commercial Lender Lucy McCraven.
“That part went fast,” Smith smiled. He already had all the information gathered, including cash flow projections and target markets. His Northern Initiatives loan helped pay vendors, hire an employee (see below), get a sweet Iron Worker machine (to cut holes and punch steel, aluminum and other metals, saving the time and expense of making brackets), and a trailer to haul the finished products to customers.
Shortly afterwards, Smith Truck Body was asked to bring one of its trucks to Waste Expo, the annual industry convention. Thanks to supply chain issues, they had only two people and three days to build it – and they did it! After its debut at Waste Expo, the truck is at work in Grand Rapids.
Smith is quick to credit his team and thrilled to be able to pay the majority of their health insurance costs, plus provide uniforms. “I just want to provide a good life,” he said. The team typically works four 10-hour days and has three-day weekends. His first hire, Derek Seymour, a friend since second grade, was also Smith’s first business partner in a high school street machine shop.
Smith also received an SBA Microloan for technical assistance, which didn’t increase the amount of the original loan and has already resulted in a marketing plan based on an in-depth digital audit. His next hire will likely be an office person who can help implement the recommendations.
For Smith, the best part of owning his own small business is seeing the growth. “We’ve already hit the projections for the year,” he said in August, “and I was very conservative on projections!”
Smith Truck Body Impacts:
- Four jobs created
- Filled a service void in rural Michigan