A value proposition for success in the local grease market

By Ron Kotrba | August 21, 2012

Jeff Rola of Go Bio is a grease collector in central Oregon who has beaten out much bigger competitors such as Baker to secure 50 percent of the used cooking oil market share in the region. How did he do this? “Because I’m local, I’m there, I show up and I share with the local community,” he said at the Collective Biofuels Conference in Temecula, Calif., over the weekend. In a professorial style, Rola, who used big flip paper and a marker instead of PowerPoint slides, had his audience form a circle with their chairs and introduce themselves one by one before his presentation began.

Central Oregon has around 150,000 people so, using the general rule of thumb that each person in a given area equates to about one gallon of used cooking oil per year, Go Bio collects about 75,000 gallons of grease annually and delivers it to Sequential Pacific Biodiesel LLC in Salem, Ore. Rola’s fleet today consists of two 1,500-gallon vacuum trucks, but he said he is looking for a tanker to maximize his hauls.

Selling points that Rola uses when establishing a new account include that he has been in the community for 30 years, and that this local network is more valuable than money.

“We clean up your area, we show up,” he said. “And we take care of your FOG,” or the fats, oils and grease from restaurant grease traps. “Learn to love grease traps,” he said. “We take the brown grease and mix with the used cooking oil and send to Sequential Pacific, and then they deduct any waste from that.” Go Bio pays a septic hauler to carry the wastewater away.

He also said he does business without contracts. “Binding agreements can come back to bite you,” Rola said. Some new customers are worried that if they leave their current hauler service, they will never want them back if something happens in the new service relationship. Rola said this is not the case. “The big companies leave their bins there because they know that if something happens to me, their bin will be there.”

To take the business to the next level of obtaining regional or national accounts, Rola said it may require an association—a cooperative. Atul Deshmane, CEO of the Pacific Northwest biodiesel and fuel distribution company Whole Energy, said, “There should be a co-op, you all are developing best practices.” If this were to happen, Rola said the co-op leadership would have to be revolving to prevent corruption.

In the end, Rola emphasized that those who are looking to acquire local grease market share from the big players have to position themselves as value creators for their communities. “They quote price, you quote value,” he said. “They have capacity, you have community.” 


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