In rural Pennsylvania, your trash is their treasure
For The Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority, it’s trash or be trashed. Waste disposal is a dirty job anywhere, but in rural Pennsylvania, it’s also fiercely competitive. One public sanitation service might work for big cities, but out in the counties of Sullivan, Bradford, and Tioga, several companies vie with one another for the privilege of gracing their own landfills with your garbage. Miss a few pickups or knock over a few cans, and you could find your once-faithful clients on someone else’s pickup route.
Fortunately, Northern Tier, which was founded in 1973, is on the top of the trash pile, taking the waste of homes, businesses, and industrial sites in a place where household riddance includes everything from plastic cups to old tires to the smoldering contents of “burn barrels” (backyard incinerators). “Sometimes people bring animals; they’ll have a horse die and need to do something with it. We can actually deal with that,” said Financial Manager Kay Calaman, who, after 14 years with the company, is hard to rattle.
Their facility features two trash compactors, a water treatment facility, and of course the landfill itself, which, because it must meet a menagerie of environmental codes, isn’t just a pile of garbage. “We choose a site that meets all the codes and then seal it and get it ready for the solid waste,” Calaman said. “You get used to the smell after a while.”
Foul odors are par for the rubbish-strewn course, Calaman said, and the Northern Tier team can’t let a little stink get to them if they’re going to keep an edge on their nearly dozen competitors: “We have to be the most dependable,” Calaman explained. “Rain, snow, whatever, it must be really, really bad if we’re not out on our rounds. We never leave the cans knocked over…the staff even wears uniforms, so we look professional.”
Northern Tier keeps strong ties to its customers with outreach events, thousands of dollars in scholarships for students going into waste management fields, and education seminars to promote safe and environmentally-friendly practices. “We have very few people leave,” Calaman explained. “And if they do, it’s usually because they’re moving out of town.”
Messy work, clean software
Operating over three counties, Northern Tier’s contracts can differ between each township. Some customers are billed monthly, some yearly, and some by the individual truckload. The company had been tracking its customer data on the old Cougar Mountain DOS system, with each department (curbside pickup, rear loads, etc.) running independently. “We had Cougar Mountain, but we had basically four different companies set up.”
Calaman was promoted to financial manager last year, and it wasn’t an easy transition. Not only was she responsible for upgrading their accounting systems from DOS to Cougar Mountain Denali, but also merging several decades-old databases. “I worked with George from Cougar Mountain, and he worked hard on it. It was difficult getting everything where it needed to be, but I gotta say, Cougar Mountain did it and did it fantastically. And it was a tough time for them too because it was the first of the year and they had a lot of stuff with other customers, but they dug in and got us done.”
Denali’s comprehensive General Ledger reports give Calaman accurate and straightforward insight into the financial status of Northern Tier, allowing her and the rest of the management team to make better decisions. The same platform also allows her to zoom in and track the individual profile of each customer. “Someone might be paying for service for two yards, but not using all of it. We can see that, and then we can call them and say, ‘We really think you ought to try one yard or a yard and a half.’” This enables Northern Tier the ability to better serve their customers and provides a reason for their customers to continue to choose Northern Tier over the competition.
Of course, Calaman couldn’t do all this without learning to use the new software, so Cougar Mountain invited her to its Boise, Idaho headquarters for a hands-on training event. “We learned a lot,” she said. “It was a hands-on training, and they asked us to bring our own laptops with our own materials, and that was great because we could ask them questions and they could see the information on our laptops and give us relevant answers.”
That level of client understanding was important to Calaman because Northern Tier has always made a point to understand and accommodate the specific needs of its own customers. “It was so great to be able to bring our own stuff in and show the trainers, because we’re unique, we’re a landfill, and they could look at our own information and say, ‘Oh, yes, I see how you do this.’”
Denali’s secure audit trail provides Northern Tier with confidence in the internal controls they implemented. Calaman said the company plans to add Payroll to use the existing platform for its entire staff, which ranges from office workers to surveyors to truck mechanics. It won’t be a simple matter, but Calaman is confident that Cougar Mountain’s comprehensive systems, responsiveness, and accommodating service will once again meet company’s needs and help Northern Tier stay at the top of the trash heap.