Jeff Tolke is the CEO of Compaction Technologies, providing restaurant automation for touchless handling of waste. Jeff has been with Compaction Technologies for nearly 14 years, helping reduce the volume of waste and divert it from landfills to be a viable resource. Jeff holds an MBA in marketing from Washington University in St. Louis.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Jeff Tolke talks about Compaction Technologies’ mission for sustainability
- Jeff explains how growing up in farming impacted his zero-waste vision
- How does Compaction Technologies’ system work?
- How the pandemic became a growth opportunity for Compaction Technologies
- Jeff shares how touchless compaction is also changing lives for employees and business leaders
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Compaction Technologies CEO, Jeff Tolke, about how touchless automation and compaction are changing how high-volume industries handle waste management. As a child living on a farm, Jeff’s experience with zero-waste living shaped his vision for sustainability. He uses his experience and passion to make dirty jobs easier for workers while reducing landfill waste.
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Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show, powered by Rise25. We featured top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world
Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here co host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcasts. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] Jeff Tolke is CEO of Compaction Technologies, where he leads the creation of technology to automate trash handling and more than 1000 quick serve restaurants, 200 hospitals, universities, food courts and airports across the US. Throughout his 35 year business career, he has brought new technology to market, from agricultural production methods to chemical handling systems to consumer packaged goods. Jeff has launched new technologies to improve productivity, safety and sustainability. Jeff, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Jeff Tolke 1:38
Very good. Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Chad Franzen 1:40
Hey, so tell me about Compaction Technologies. What do you guys do and what makes you unique?
Jeff Tolke 1:45
Well, we bring automation to a very mundane task that’s been in the fast food restaurant space since the dawn of time. I mean, if you think about it back in the days with Ray Kroc, and the McDonald’s brothers and so forth, when the trash cans in the dining room got full, they just went out and empty them. And it was never thought about that. This might be a little bit unappetizing for people to have to watch. It’s disruptive to the traffic flow. And it’s a rotten job. Nobody likes doing it. So we’ve put together technology. And I think we we weren’t the first. But I think we’ve done a better job of creating technology that replaces trash cans in high volume locations. So with touchless deposits, so that a guest basically presents their tray, the door opens, they drop their contents into it, and then it automatically compacts safely, quietly, quickly. And it makes it so that the guests don’t have to touch anything. But it also makes it so that the staff doesn’t have to empty the trash, except for maybe one time where they would have been dumping it 10 times. So it’s a huge time saver for the staff. It’s really well received by customers, particularly in this day and age.
Chad Franzen 3:02
Sure, what’s, what are your primary goals with Compaction Technologies?
Jeff Tolke 3:06
Well, our goal is to really get this category off the ground into critical mass. I’ve been in big companies, most of my life, got into startups and privately held things about 15 years ago. And you know, so I’ve run a very big business at various corporations. And I know about that, and I see what we’re doing here. And it’s very small relative to those businesses. But I can see the future for it. We want to get this thing up and big, so that it’s a household name is the people that work here, you know, 25 years now will look back and say, Hey, I was part of that creating that.
Chad Franzen 3:44
You have three primary products, I believe. Why don’t we go through each of them? Can you tell me about the original ecotrash® and who is what it does and who that might be good for?
Jeff Tolke 3:56
Sure. So originally, ecotrash® is really targeted. That’s our workhorse product. That’s we have our biggest install base with that unit. It is really targeted anywhere. There are high volumes of low density trash. So QSR dining rooms is a natural fit for us. But we’re also in airport, food courts. We’re in shopping mall food courts. We’re in some university and college food courts where they have all disposable waste. And the premise is just what I talked about. Automating it so that employees don’t have to spend nearly as much time emptying, changing handling trash and make it easier for guests. So originally, ecotrash® is really our workhorse. Our second product is ecotrash PTC® and this is really, this came off of some work we were doing with the Minnesota Twins. They wanted to capture paper towels in their high volume restrooms, because literally they were filling up 55 gallon drums You know, three times during a game, and they just didn’t want to have to deal with that. So what they were looking for though, was a smaller footprint. Because our machines are the size of a traditional trashcan, they were looking a little smaller. So we built ecotrash PTC®, because paper towels are really easy to crush, and anybody you’ve talked to has been in a high volume public restroom, and walked in and seen paper towels overflowing in the trash cans or on the floor. And that’s what the salts, so ecotrash PTC® is a miniaturized version of our other unit. And it condenses, trash, it condenses. Paper towels, actually, they’re really easy to crush. So it condenses them about about 25:1. So when we were really if they’re taking about 25 bags a day, they’re going to take out one, which is just a huge time saver. And it’s also a big deal for the guests, because nobody wants to walk in and see paper towels over the floor.
Chad Franzen 5:54
Who might, who might that be valuable for them?
Jeff Tolke 5:56
Oh, that’s, that’s actually, we find that that is a bit more of a universal fit that goes really anywhere, you’ve got high volumes of paper towel waste. And you know, our biggest install base right now is in a corporate office campus, where they are very heavy into recycling and composting. So they’re actually capturing their paper towels and composting them. And with that product, interestingly enough, we’ve we can see the future coming to where paper towel companies are going to want to recycle and reclaim paper towels as a feedstock for paper towel production. And really, there’s no source today of clean paper towels, clean, pure paper towels. Well, we basically can create that with eco trash PTC. And so envision a paper towel manufacturer coming to a large organization and saying, hey, we’ll not only sell you the paper towels, but if you can condense them down into small packages, we’ll bring them back. And that’s that’s really the knock that paper towels get in the marketplace is they’re they’re not sustainable. They’re, they’re wasteful. But the I think if COVID has taught us anything, it’s that simply blowing stuff irrelevant air dryers in a grill, good solution either. So as as companies are moving back to paper towels, and literally it’s hospitals, our biggest install bases are in hospitals and corporate campuses, a few in colleges. But again, that products really just getting off the ground.
And then you have one more primary product called ZeroWaste®.
Yes, ZeroWaste®, that’s actually a bin. That’s, that is a single use bin. It’s a cardboard box, but it’s specifically designed to fit our unit. So what that allows us to do is instead of compacting paper towels into a, into a trash can with a liner in it, you can pack them into a think of it as a rigid trash bag. And it’s single use, so you basically stuffed it full for the top shut. And then you can palletize that, and literally get 1000 pounds of paper towels on a pallet. So there’s nothing magical about ZeroWaste® bins. They’re just cardboard boxes that are specifically fit, or PTCs, ecotrash PTC® for the purpose of recapturing and reclaiming paper towels.
Chad Franzen 8:15
So I’m guessing, because because of the compaction, you use less trash bags, I’ve kind of volunteered at a church where I had to go in there and empty the trash. And you know, everybody walks in and washes their hands and then dries their hands with a paper towel and do it about once every 15 minutes. And we went through, you know, a tons of a ton of trash bags. I guess he used less prospects with products.
Jeff Tolke 8:38
Yeah, in our in our, you know, case studies, and we oftentimes when we go into a customer, we first do a baseline to see what they’re doing before the install machines. And we’ve seen reductions of 20 to one literally where they’re pulling 20 bags of trash. And now they’re only pulling one, our biggest customer in 2019. Before COVID. We estimated that they save 11 million trash bags from going to landfills. And that’s a to me, that’s a big deal. They chose not to talk about it. But we think that’s a pretty impressive statistic when you can keep that many trash bags out of landfills.
Why do you say that’s a big deal?
Well, as you as you get into sustainability and the whole concept of landfilling, one of the big barriers to really having that system work well is the layers of plastic that are in those landfills brought on by just regular garbage handling. If you can get those bags out of there and get those plastic layers out of there, that helps with decomposition with the movement of fluids and gases up and down in a landfill. It’s just a much more efficient way to do that. And then plastic bags I think are easy for people to gravitate toward that they’re not a great thing for the environment. You hear about them out in the ocean and so forth and just having plastic fewer plastic bags and fewer less as plastic and landfill that’s, that’s good for everybody.
Chad Franzen 10:03
What effect if any has COVID had on Compaction Technologies?
Jeff Tolke 10:09
Well, actually, it’s it’s a the best in the worst. Right when it all started, a lot of our customers shut down, they’re dine in. Fortunately, they stayed in business because they had great drive thru and they had great carryout delivery. But our sales suffered, our business was down pretty substantially during COVID. But when COVID began, and we saw the impact that this is going to have on customers, and consumers willingness to touch surfaces, we said, hey, this is something that’s going to be big, we should do our best to survive and, and stick around for this. And it’s, it’s, it’s panned out that way, since COVID. happened, we’ve had interest from customers that have long ago told us no, not interested. But now they are interested. And I think you’d come out, you combine that fact, from COVID, with now the labor hangover that we’ve got, where nobody can find labor. This is also a huge issue for a lot of our customers, we’re getting calls back from people that we call five years ago that are saying, hey, it’s time for me to do this.
Chad Franzen 11:13
When we first started talking, I asked you about Compaction Technologies’s goals, and he said it was kind of make it more mainstream commonplace to see those kinds of your products in restaurants and other places like that. What’s it going to take to do that?
Jeff Tolke 11:27
But you know, it’s really, I think, a change in mindset. A lot of the more senior people we talked to in the industry, you know, they’ve kind of got their mind made up that hey, this is how you handle trashing quick serve. But our biggest customer, when I look at the operators that we’re dealing with, with that customer, they all tend to be younger, newer, a little more innovative, and not necessarily convinced that oh, well, this is the way we’ve got to do it. You know, I could see that my dad was a farmer. And you know, he did stuff the same way in a lot of cases. But, and I can see that same behavior and a lot of the more senior people in the fast food industry. But I think as we see some turnover there and see some new blood and some new thinking people are going to sit you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to just hire people to go out and move trash in. And literally you talk to anybody that works in fast food joint say what was the worst job there is it was dumping trash. So it’s something that it’s easy to take away. And, you know, yes, I want to see the company grow, I want to see the idea get big. But also there’s some real benefit. We’re providing people’s work lives. I mean, when when you go to work, and all day long, you’re moving trash, to get away from that and get on to bigger, better things is that’s a real win. And, and that’s what that’s a lot of what I wanted to see. And also just making a dent in the in the mountain of trash bags that goes into landfills. I also see some real opportunity here, as waste streams become more separated. So as we now start to separate compost, from recycle from landfill, those operations that do that, they’re going to instantly create three times they’re going to go from one stream to three streams, they’re not going to instantly increase their hauling frequency by 3x. They’re not going to increase their storage capacity by 3x. They’re going to need to condense that stuff so that they get it picked up on the less frequent and more user friendly schedule. So as waste streams get more diverse and more specialized. I think I think we’ll have a real big fit. And we’ll really be able to help facilitate that that changeover.
Chad Franzen 13:41
Is this something you’ve always kind of been, you know, passionate about during your career, even before you were at Compaction Technologies.
Jeff Tolke 13:49
You know, it’s really something I was born with. I mentioned my dad farmed, I grew up out on the West Coast, outside of Portland, Oregon, out in the country. And growing up, we never had garbage service. So we practice zero-waste from when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s. And it wasn’t this, you know, when you think of people that are practicing sustainability, you kind of think, you know, maybe a little earthy or a little hippie, like and my parents were everything but that, but we were very, very sustainable. I mean, we we separated all the cans from the bottles and we recycled everything. What little bit we couldn’t compost we burned. And that was just a way of life because there was no other alternative. I mean, I never saw garbage truck till I went to college. And so this was really kind of built into my DNA. And, you know, as I’ve as I’ve worked in different industries, the whole notion of getting rid of containers is is a big one because that’s the waste, right? That’s the That’s the stuff that you see along the road and that’s the stuff you don’t want to have out there because that’s the that’s the litter and I mean this this falls right into kind of some of my core beliefs
Chad Franzen 14:59
I mentioned a little bit about about your background and your introduction, can you tell me kind of some of the other things that you’ve done prior to Compaction?
Jeff Tolke 15:06
Sure, my first job out of school, I was a chemical salesman, I worked for a big agricultural chemical company, and I call them farmers out in the upper Midwest. I went into marketing with them, then I moved into consumer packaged goods, got my master’s degree and went into consumer packaged goods, which eventually brought me to where I am now. And then I bounced around kind of back in the specialty chemical business and a few others. And a friend of mine did a start up. This was probably 15 years ago. And I kind of got that bug and jumped on board with that. And we’re pretty successful after a few years, and I went looking for something else to do. And I ran into my current business partner, and here we are 15 years later
Chad Franzen 15:48
Would you say that most, you know, big food service organizations or places that would be a good fit for Compaction Technologies products, are aware that this type of technology exists, and it’s just a matter of moving forward with it? Or are you still trying to make people aware?
Jeff Tolke 16:02
Awareness is a big deal. There’s a lot of people out there that just, it’s just off their radar. And you know, we’re not a big budget outfit, I don’t I don’t have the resources to go out and shout this from the rooftops and you know, put it on every news media outlet, we have exhibited at some pretty major trade shows. But even at those, you know, your, you know, at the National Restaurant show, if you’ve ever been I mean, you’re you’re a drop in the ocean, that thing is so big, you really got to have the right people walk by your booth and notice you that we have picked up some pretty big customers and NRA, the biggest thing for us has been getting penetration in a big national chain. And we started into that in 2017. And right now we’re in about half of the locations and Chick fil A across the country. And that’s that’s helped us as much as anything.
Chad Franzen 16:50
What are some of the things you’re most proud of? I’m sure that’s one of them. During your time at compaction technology so far.
Jeff Tolke 16:56
You know, and it’s, it’s, to me, the big thing is the the sounds a little corny, but it’s the contribution to society. Yeah, I’m a capitalist, I want to do well, I want to financially do well, as a result of this, of this program, or this endeavor. But at the same time, we’re taking trash bags out of the landfills, that’s a huge deal. We’re approving the work life for 1000s of people that work in restaurants, that’s a big deal. And to me, the thing I’m probably most excited about is what we are going to do for things like reclaiming paper towels. That’s such an exciting thing for me, because, you know, I’ve grown up around recycling and that, and I just think that paper towels are a natural natural fit for the next big recycling stream. But there’s just no good way to get a clean, dense stream of paper towels to ship back someplace. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff in our future. We’ve got a lot of growth ahead of us. And I think our future looks really bright.
Chad Franzen 18:01
I have one more question for you. But first, can you just tell me how people can find out more about Compaction Technologies?
Jeff Tolke 18:07
The best way is to go to our website, www.compactiontechnologies.com. And search on products. I would say if you’re in a market where there’s Chick Fil A’s, and you can you got about a 50% chance of running into one that’s got our equipment, go in and ask that manager has this made a difference for your business.
And we don’t have a specific list of people to go talk to because universally these folks love what we’re doing for him. The employees love what we’re doing for them. And our business model is a we don’t we know to sell the unit. It’s on a equipment as a service basis. So we take care of it. So we have to renew that when a contract is over. And our renewal rates are the highest I’ve ever worked with in our in my career. Because that tells me people like what they’ve what they’ve gotten what we’re doing.
Chad Franzen 18:59
Sure. Great. That’s great. Last question, what are some books or podcasts that you have found valuable or enjoyable over the years?
Jeff Tolke 19:07
You know, I’m not quite there on the podcast stuff yet. I’m still a little bit. Not quite there yet. But I did just register for Spotify about a year ago, now working my way into the podcast, but books. I’m a big fan of Good to Great and Built to Last. Because those two books really talked about it’s not the it’s not the the CEOs persona and their ego that is the company. You gotta wait for that CEO to step away and then it just keeps going. And we’ve tried to build a team here that, you know, if somebody leaves, somebody gets sick, somebody’s down, the next person up is gonna is gonna run with the ball. And that’s when I think of the things I’m most proud of. It’s this team there, you know, we didn’t go out and hire a bunch of big talent. We hired folks that, you know, like the idea of what we were doing and the stuff afford it and they put their blood sweat into it every day. And I’m just I’m just so proud to be a part of this.
Chad Franzen 20:05
Well, I really appreciate your time today, Jeff. It’s been great hearing about Compaction Technologies and your story and I appreciate your insights. Thank you so much. Thank you. Pleasure to be here. So long, everybody.
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