AUTHOR: Cheryl Hall
Ever wonder what happens to all those huge banners displayed at sporting events?
In the case of the recent College Football Playoff, they’re in Colorado with Damon Carson. And he’d love to make you a sweet deal.
Eleven days ago, the 43-year-old owner of RepurposedMaterials Inc. opened the back of an 18-wheeler at his industrial yard outside Denver to see what he’d scored from the championship game.
Carson found 4 tons — nearly a linear mile — of heavy-duty vinyl that decked out AT&T Stadium in Arlington and other CFP venues. He will sell the game-day banners and yards of chain-link fence wrap through his industrial thrift store.
He had an inkling of what he might get from the CFP — but only an inkling. It was shipped to him free, as is and sight unseen. Carson “paid” with a promise to keep whatever he got out of the landfill. “It was like Christmas in the repurpose world,” Carson says. “We don’t open stockings. We open semitrailers.”
Carson is an industrial matchmaker. He takes castoffs from one industry and finds a second life for them in another.
“We are n-o-t not recycling,” he says. “We don’t chip, shred or grind. We look for byproducts and waste that are generic, versatile and adaptable.”
His newsletter features rebirth suggestions and before-and-after photos from his 25,000 subscribers. Sometimes he’ll pose the question “What is this?” — because he has no clue.
Huge mining tires become pasture ponds for cattle. Ski-lift cable is used to weigh down offshore commercial fish-farm cages or as handrails in industrial-chic offices. Fire hose transforms into a boat-dock bumper or a swinging vine for monkeys at a zoo.
‘Zero grand vision’
Carson started RepurposedMaterials nearly five years ago after selling a garbage company that served the Breckenridge and Vail ski resorts. He had no idea what he was getting into.
“It was entrepreneurial screwing around,” says Carson, who has a business degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. “Zero grand vision.”
A commercial painter had asked whether he ever came across billboard vinyls because they made great drop cloths.
Carson made a few calls, bought 20 retired billboards for 20 bucks apiece and quickly flipped them for a $600 profit.
The big picture dawned on him during a Christmas trip home to the farmlands of central Kansas.
“Farmers and ranchers don’t throw anything away. Railroad ties get made into fence posts. Oilfield pipe is used to make corrals,” he says. “That’s when the grand vision hit me: ‘Are there enough byproducts and waste that can get a very different second life — which is what we call repurposing — that you can make a business out of it?’”
His answer? Carson expects to bring in $2 million in sales this year, with a healthy profit margin.
His favorite inventory staple: Street-sweeper brushes from public works departments. “Absolutely going into the landfill in every city in America,” Carson says.
He buys them for about $100 and sells them for $150 apiece to dairies, zoos and ranchers. They turn these steel-cored bristled road warriors into backscratchers to keep animals from tearing up corrals and fences as they try to conquer their itches.
In November, Carson was the high bidder for a 40,000-square-foot flooring system used by Oklahoma State University to cover its football field for graduation. He sold it to Sturgis Buffalo Chip in South Dakota to use at its renowned Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Buffalo Chip also bought four gargantuan military parachutes that once dropped tanks and trucks into battlefields. They’ll become shade pavilions for concerts during the rally.
“It’s in early August in South Dakota. It’ll keep people out of the blazing sun while they listen to their favorite rock group,” says Carson, who doubled his money on the chutes.
Coming to Texas
Customers often pay at least as much for shipping as they do for Carson’s products. But his sales pitch is that they’re getting goods at a 50 to 75 percent discount, so there is still considerable savings.
People shop online or at one of his large industrial lots in Colorado and Chicago. He says he plans to set up shop in Houston or Dallas later this year.
Sometimes Carson buys the goods and pays for shipping. Sometimes he gets freebies but pays the freight. And sometimes, as with the CFP, it’s all free. Jack Groh, director of environmental programs for the National Football League and the sustainability consultant for the CFP, happily paid $4,000 to get the vinyls to Colorado.
“The CFP would have had to pay to send it to a landfill. And there’s the environmental impact of it not landing there,” says Groh, a 22-year veteran of the go-green world. “We were committed to making this happen, whatever it took.”
So what does Carson expect to do with his CFP booty?
He thinks he might sell the vinyl panels for 5 to 10 cents a square foot to dog kennels and ranchers for animal shade. But he really doesn’t know. He plans to put them online next week. On Friday, he’ll auction a sample online to test the interest.
“That’s what’s fun and funny about this business,” Carson says. “It may be the cranberry farmer in Michigan or the copper miner in Arizona or the golf course superintendent in Florida who raises their hand and says, ‘I’ll use these banners because they solve a problem.’
“You’ll have to check back with me in six months.”