by Cori Hilsgen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask Tom Dullinger about working hard, and he will have lots of experiences to share. Dullinger, who has been in business for 15 years, knows about hard work and what it takes to make a business successful.
Dullinger owns and operates “Reliable Rolloff,” a roll-off dumpster business. With four trucks, 173 dumpsters and an on-site transfer station, Reliable Rolloff can help customers safely dispose of waste materials.
Dullinger said he tells his children hard work got him where he is today and that same hard work will take them to the next level in their future.
“We are not the biggest business in town, but our service will be the best of any other business, guaranteed,” Dullinger said.
In the beginning, Dullinger operated only a single truck. To keep the business going meant he needed to drive that truck from 3:30 a.m. until dark during the summer months.
Having grown up on a small dairy farm in St. Wendel Township, Dullinger had learned about hard work at a young age. Work was hard on the farm. He worked six days a week and did chores on Sundays.
“We grew up poor by today’s standards, but as kids we didn’t worry about that,” Dullinger said. “There was always something we could find to have fun or get in trouble with. We lived in rock country, so every year we picked stones (for) what seemed like forever.”
After graduating from Sartell High School, Dullinger entered the workforce. He worked at barn straightening, welding and driving a front-load garbage truck for Phillips Systems.
Dullinger married Sue Reber. At first they lived in St. Cloud and later moved near St. Joseph.
Dullinger stopped driving truck and started an excavating business. After three years, Jerry Henkemeyer, who owned Park Refuse, bought out Phillips Systems and asked Dullinger if he could train someone to drive the truck he had previously driven. Since the excavating business wasn’t doing very well, Dullinger asked if he could have the job and Henkemeyer accepted.
During the following two years, Dullinger worked for Henkemeyer from 2 a.m.-noon. He would then do his excavating until dark. Dullinger then sold the excavating piece by piece during the next two years.
After three years, Park Refuse sold out to BFI. In five years, Dullinger was promoted to supervisor and then safety and maintenance manager. He was later promoted to operations manager and relocated his family to Rochester.
Dullinger was then promoted to general manager of the Rochester and Albert Lea districts. Because he noticed BFI was having some financial problems and they were starting to reduce their upper management, Dullinger accepted a job offer as the general manager with Superior Services for their St. Cloud and Buffalo locations. He, Sue and their six children relocated back to St. Joseph.
After working for Superior Services for more than a year, during which time he combined six different businesses the business had purchased into one business, Dullinger was relieved of his duties as general manager in 1997.
Since he had been working in the field for more than 15 years, Dullinger decided it was time to start his own business.
He was able to locate a truck and 16 dumpsters that were for sale in Willmar. Dullinger paid a down payment of $500 and was given two weeks to pay it off in full.
He put together a business plan and presented it to four area banks and was turned down by each one. With only one day left to pay off the bill, Dullinger asked his friend and former employer, Jerry Henkemyer, if he could lend him the money to get started. Henkemeyer said “yes” and ‘Reliable Rolloff’ was started in January of 1998.
In the beginning, he operated the business out of his home and parked the truck and dumpsters on his brother-in-law’s farm by St. Joseph.
During the years 1998-2002, Dullinger purchased 79 large dumpsters. In 2002, he purchased a 1992 truck for his brother, Vern, to drive when things got busy and to be used as a spare when the 1998 truck needed work.
The following year, Dullinger purchased another 16 large dumpsters and also bought one acre of land in the East Industrial Park in St. Joseph. In 2004, he bought another 16 large dumpsters and a brand new truck to replace the original truck, which was then 16 years old.
The new truck has an automatic transmission and air conditioning and was like “heaven” to Dullinger, who had been using a manual transmission without air conditioning for the previous six years.
In 2006, he added another eight large dumpsters and built a building on the land he had purchased in 2003. He moved from the farm to the new location. The following year, Dullinger purchased another acre of land that was adjacent to his land and purchased eight more large dumpsters.
Dullinger purchased a second new truck and hired his first employee – his son, Brad, in 2008.
Dullinger said his business was fortunate to have had many new home-construction builders who worked with him from the start.
“The business they gave us was huge to the success of Reliable Rolloff,” Dullinger said.
However, as the construction business took a down-turn, his business was also affected. Dullinger said he saw several of his customers cutting way back and some having to file for bankruptcy. He had a customer in new-home construction who had been using 213 dumpsters through its business decrease down to six dumpsters two years later.
The business has been gaining since then, but Dullinger says it’s still very slow.
“Reliable Rolloff was able to stay afloat through this downturn because we also have customers who are in the remodeling and re-roofing business,” Dullinger said. “Homeowners also use our dumpsters for their own construction or for clean-out projects. We are so thankful for this much-needed business.”
With 143 large dumpsters, Dullinger decided in 2011 to add 20-yard and 30-yard dumpsters (bigger than the 10-yard ones he’d always used) to offer more options to customers and to increase revenue. He purchased a 1995 truck with five 20-yard and five 30-yard containers. Since then, he has also added another 11 20-yard and nine 30-yard containers.
Last year, he added a 50’ x 72’ transfer station to his existing building. That allowed him to accept waste materials from customers who have small loads and don’t require a dumpster. It also allows customers to get rid of it at curbside.
The transfer station allowed him to hire his second employee – another son, Grant, who recycles the construction loads that previously were hauled to the landfill.
Since opening the transfer station, Dullinger has recycled or donated 3,200 pounds of electrical wire, 61 tons of steel, 4.46 tons of aluminum, 16.84 tons of cardboard and 8.84 tons of vinyl siding.
Dullinger has worked hard since beginning his business 15 years ago. He is grateful for the customers who have helped the business to grow and succeed.
“We are so thankful for all of the customers we have, most of whom have been with us since we started,” Dullinger said. “We are hopeful the housing market will improve in the years ahead and we will be able to continue to grow our business through hard work and service that comes from small businesses who are dedicated to their customers.”
Reliable Rolloff now employs three full-time and three part-time family members. Dullinger’s biggest triumph has been being able to keep up with the business when the home-building business was booming.
“Being in business once before, being a general manager responsible for profit-and-loss and a hardwork ethic taught on the farm, got me through,” Dullinger said.
He said his biggest struggles in business came when the housing bubble burst. He needed to watch spending much more closely and had to figure out a way to increase revenue. Fuel prices and insurance costs are also very hard to recover from in an economic downturn; fuel prices are more than double since he first started the business, and insurance costs continue to rise yearly.
Reliable Rolloff dumpsters can be used for shingle and siding removal, new-home construction, remodeling debris, general household cleanup and other things. Customers who have small loads of waste can get rid of their materials at curbside at the transfer station.
Reliable transfer station hours are 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays. The business also is open “by appointment.” To schedule an appointment, call 320-363-1194. The business does not accept any hazardous waste or gas-fired refrigerators. Tires, batteries and appliances with freon are accepted for an additional charge.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.