In the trash business it pays to be, well, scrappy.
That pluck and panache has guided John Arwood for decades as he’s transformed his Florida-based operation into a major force in the Southeast. One of his latest innovations is becoming the first U.S. hauler to accept bitcoin—a digital currency created in 2009—as payment for related services that he offers nationwide.
“I’m fascinated with being on the latest edge of technology and I’m always trying things that are outside the box,” the president of Arwood Waste and Arwood Waste National says. “I see bitcoin as being a currency of the future.”
Since Arwood added bitcoin to his billing menu last summer, at least one customer per month has taken advantage of it. In a nutshell, bitcoins are stored in a digital wallet that exists either in the cloud or on a user’s computer, according to a CNN Money primer. The wallet, the equivalent of a virtual bank account, allows users to send and receive bitcoins, buy goods or save money.
Arwood envisions bitcoin as one ticket to boosting his customer base. In 1984, he and his father founded Arwood Waste in Jacksonville, Fla., a trash, demolition and recycling business that now serves the Interstate 95 corridor between Brunswick, Ga., and Palm Coast, Fla. Two decades later, he expanded online and on the ground by launching Arwood Waste National, a network allowing customers in all 50 states access to garbage compactors, portable toilets and commercial and residential dumpsters.
It’s that latter audience that has been receptive to filling Arwood’s digital wallet. He’s hoping that coast-to-coast presence combined with the bitcoin bait will lure behemoths such as Google, Apple and General Motors.
“I’m hoping that one day I’ll snag one of them,” Arwood says. “It might sound like I’m greedy but I just want to build a niche with these big companies that need garbage services just like everybody else.”
U.S. borders are not a barrier for the 41-year-old entrepreneur. Arwood is already marketing his services in Canada and Australia, where he figures he will have an edge because bitcoin is more popular and accepted. On the international front, he wants to restrict his business to English-speaking countries because he doesn’t want to have to hire translators at his Florida call center.
Bitcoin transactions allow for a universal payment system, Arwood says. That saves him from the hassle of keeping up with the changing laws and rules centered around international fund exchanges.
David Biderman of the Washington, D.C.-based National Waste & Recycling Association, says he would be surprised to find waste haulers at the vanguard of using bitcoin because the industry is so conservative.
He wasn’t at all shocked to find out that the resourceful Arwood was the lead dog.
“More of our members will start to use bitcoin if it becomes a more widely accepted form of commerce,” says Biderman, general counsel and vice president of government affairs at NWRA. “It only makes sense when residential and commercial customers are comfortable with bitcoin, the same way that credit cards and payment over the Internet became more common and people become more comfortable with it.”
Waste Management spokeswoman Toni Beck says her company is keeping an eye on bitcoin but “not giving it active consideration at this time because it’s a little too early to tell what role it will play in commerce.”
Arwood, the founder of National Garbage Man Day, embraces his iconoclasm.
He attributes his forward thinking to the early 1980s when he accompanied his father to work at a steel tank manufacturing factory and discovered that he could make money collecting and selling scrap metal destined for the garbage bin.
That fueled his fondness for experimentation and for unearthing treasure in trash. He found his marketing groove in the early 1990s when he began designing web sites for his ventures.
“I’m just a little garbage guy living in a country town who has learned how to reach customers worldwide,” Arwood says with a laugh. “Every day there’s a new challenge and a new door that opens that’s unique.”