In recent years, the marketplace has shifted from “one-size fits all” products and services to more customized and unique offerings. Unlike many large companies that target the masses, these niche businesses cater to highly defined customer markets that often go over
-looked by their large competitors.
Though niche businesses can be extremely profitable, many entrepreneurs often question if it’s worth pursuing a business that appeals to such a specialized and precise target market. Recently, we sat down with Christine Kiourtsis, co-owner and president of Renewable Recycling, and learned more about her niche business and why it was worth pursuing.
Her mission: Protecting the environment, one mattress at a time
When Christine noticed someone leaving a mattress at a town-park dumpster near her Long Island home, she felt compelled to act. In October 2014, she started Renewable Recycling.
“Currently, more than 90% of used mattresses are dumped,” she says, “and there’s no need for that, considering that most of the components—wood, metal, foam and cotton—can be salvaged and reused. Right now, though, people just don’t know of alternatives.”
Christine and her team are on a mission to change the path of old mattresses from waste that contaminates the ecosystem to one that supplies sustainable materials for everything from pet beds to carpet underlayment.
Since opening in 2014, Renewable Recycling has been leading the charge in reducing mattress waste. “Renewable Recycling is the first of its kind in the New York/Long Island area that’s recycling up to 85% of mattress materials,” she
In addition to day-to-day business networking, Christine and her team are working with city and county officials and others to develop viable legislation that will make mattress-dumping illegal. She’s starting locally but aims to broaden her impact to other cities and eventually other states.
As she builds the business, she’s also collecting data that shows how many tons of materials are kept out of the landfills—something that may eventually tip the scales in favor of action on the part of government officials.
“Local data on this has never been gathered, since mattresses typically just get dumped in with everything else. When we can show the real impact, then it’s more likely that we can move the needle,” she says.
More than a new business
After starting Renewable Recycling, Christine quickly realized that she had to identify and develop new income streams in order to make her business profitable.
“There’s an endless supply of mattresses coming into the cycle every day and figuring out the logistics, while costly, wasn’t hard,” she explains. “The real challenge is figuring out how to make it profitable so that the business is also sustainable, and that takes time.”
Christine is growing several revenue streams. First, she charges a fee for pickup. “Most of the business owners and administrators that I’ve spoken with understand how reasonable our fee is and we send trucks and manpower, and we provide sealed and locked containers that are offloaded from tractors for storing and preserving mattresses on site. We then do pickups on a scheduled basis.”
Then, she sources manufacturers who can purchase the components in bulk. “They save money by purchasing repurposed materials and they know they’re doing the right thing. That’s something that they feel good about. And today’s consumers look for companies that care about the environment, so this becomes a competitive advantage for them.”
Doing good comes with costs
Before opening her business, Christine also had to budget for necessary equipment, trucks and vans for mattress pickups, new staff, as well as space to process, sort, package and distribute the materials.
Additionally, Christine needed good branding and marketing materials, especially a professionally designed website that serves as a one-stop information and ecommerce site, with functionality for pickup scheduling, too.
“The more recycling we can do, the more likely it is that we can make this profitable and sustainable, so we need to get word out about our services and the benefits,”Christine says. “We need enough volume to make it feasible. And the mattresses are there, it’s just a matter of getting everyone on board.”
Getting help from Excelsior Growth Fund
To help her dream come to fruition, Christine turned to Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) for funding. She learned about EGF at a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) networking event and, as she tells it, she didn’t consider any other funders, because EGF was at every networking event she went to and she knew that they’d be more receptive to her idea.
“Before EGF, I used up my savings and a small private loan. We just received our first EGF loan and it will make a huge difference.”
She adds, “Working with EGF was great—our advisor was amazing. She took the time to visit our facility and to learn about our vision and the impact we aim to have. She helped at every step. It was relatively quick and easy, and in a few weeks, we had the funding we needed.”
“Our EGF loan gives us the ability to buy more equipment and ramp up staff, as well as continue to market and expand our services.” And, she adds, “we have some potentially huge partnerships on the horizon and without this funding in place, it would be tough to show that we can come through. This loan not only powers our operations, but it’s also something we can leverage for growth.”
Sharing her insight
Among the advice she has for small business owners, Christine says, “Go to every networking event you can. You’ll learn something and make invaluable connections. And keep at what you’re doing. You’ll always run into challenges, you’ll always have people saying ‘no,’ but if you’re consistent and persistent, there’s always a ‘yes’ somewhere, you just have to keep going until you find it.”