Damon Carson says he has the most interesting in-box in the world.
A recent e-mail: Somebody wanted to sell him 5 million brand new hazmat suits leftover from the BP oil spill.
He bought them.
Carson's business - Repurposed Materials - is sort of an industrial Pinterest.
He emails a newsletter of what he's got - a 185-foot pedestrian bridge or the University of Arizona Wildcats' home court.Sellers e-mail him what they want to unload - IKEA chairs, a million magnets, nuclear waste storage modules.
[caption id="attachment_19238" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Damon Carson started the company in Denver, but he now has stores in five states, including Delaware.[/caption]
It all started in 2010 when Carson found a few old billboard covers for sale and figured they could be reused as giant tarps. ("The technical term was "˜entrepreneurial screwing around,'" he said.)
One thing led to another and now his Repurposed Materials is growing 30 percent a year to more than $2 million in revenue last year. He has sites in Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Wilmington.
"To be honest, there's nothing magical about Wilmington," he said. "It's neutral. It doesn't help or hurt. We just wanted someplace in the North Atlantic to serve that region out of. What's best for us is just to be close to industry and people. I started this company in Denver because that's where I live, but, in a lot of ways, that was about the worst place to start this kind of business because we don't have industry and we don't have very many people."
The months-old Wilmington site, a plain-Jane industrial building across the street from the Kalmar Nyckel, is just starting to fill up with neon-green oil drums, concrete highway dividers, the gym floor from Penn State's Erie campus and stacks of new hardwood taller than a minivan.
Sam Rogers, who runs site, calls the stockpile "the randomness that is our business."
[caption id="attachment_19242" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Sam Rogers, manager of Repurposed Material's Wilmington warehouse, uncovers a wood pile in the Seventh Street yard.[/caption]
Repurposed Materials' business concept is similar to house flipping - with no do-overs necessarily.Carson just has to find someone with the imagination to reuse what he bought - new purple linen dinner napkins or Campbell Soup's old conveyor belts.
He sold Paramount Pictures a trailer load of 275-gallon liquid containers for the filming of the movie "Noah."
"I would like to believe that's where they stored the flood water, but I can't collaborate that," he said.
The artificial turf from West Point's playing fields was divvyed up for dog runs. Ditto the soccer field from Harvard. "We were joking that we were selling Harvard Yard," Carson said in a faux-Boston accent.
He sold some used billboard vinyl to a U.S. Army Ranger facility in Fort Benning, Ga., for use in a training maze. "We were thrilled because we're taxpayers, and, instead of buying new material, they bought used," Carson said.
[caption id="attachment_19240" align="alignleft" width="300"] Stacks of wood await buyers at the stockyard.[/caption]
When Comcast sold him a huge pile of 15-year-old concrete pads complete with holes for cable wires, he said he had no idea who would buy them. In a couple weeks, a trucking company bought every one to use as ballast when their empty trucks travel through windy Wyoming.
Once in a while, his Midas touch with trash fails. "My wife's running joke is, "˜I think you bought a boat anchor, Damon,'" he said.
That happened when he snatched up the 40-foot-long steel deck of a rail car he thought could be repurposed as a poor man's bridge. "I cannot sell that thing. What I learned is it's too narrow for cars, but it still really shocks me that a golf course hasn't picked it up because there's plenty of room for a golf cart. We try not to let inventory sit on our lot, and that one's about three years old unfortunately. We're starting to make it birthday cakes."
While the price of oil has crushed the plastic recycling business, Carson said it hasn't had much bearing on his business. "In some ways, it's been good for us. If somebody in Dover, Del., has 40,000 pounds of plastic pipe that they normally would take to a recycler but the recycler used to pay 20 cents a pound and now they're paying 5 cents, that's better for us. But, by the same token, we can't sell it for as much because, at the end of the day, it's plastic and plastic prices are based on oil prices."
Carson said he'd like to hear from Delaware businesses that want to offload materials or equipment. "If you're a guy with a refinery on the river and you have a lot of pipe sitting in the corner, we would love for you to say, hey, maybe I should call them."
[caption id="attachment_19241" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Repurposed license-plate letters welcome visitors to the company's Wilmington site across from the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard. Repurposed Materials is housed in a 19th Century building there.[/caption]
What's on your shopping list?
Here's a sampling of items that were repotted from their original homes to a Repurposed Materials outlet:
The 284,000-pound steel mezzanine used at the 2004 Democratic National Convention