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Garbage containers stymie raccoons' nightly dining habits

Published: 01/05/2006 - Vol. 2, No. 1
Terry Poulton
Business Edge

When can an entrepreneur's wildest dream come true?

When he or she spots an urgent, widespread problem and comes up with a unique and limitlessly scalable remedy. That's just what's happening at a now tiny but sky's-the-limit Toronto company called Bin Solutions.

Its founder and president, Zion Shraiter, says his inspiration for creating the handsome containers for garbage cans and recycling bins and boxes that are his sole stock in trade was the shock he got when he first emigrated to Toronto several years ago.

"It was so nice and clean here and everybody was so welcoming and polite," the Israeli native recalls.

But as he rode his bicycle around the city prior to getting his driver's licence, he says he "couldn't believe how people handled their garbage," compared to the tucked-away trash enclosures in the big cities of Israel.

"But in Toronto, no matter whether it's (an upscale) neighbourhood like Rosedale or a more working class place, there are garbage cans and recycling bins and paper scattered all over," says Shraiter. "Most of the time, animals dump them, and then the rain and snow makes everything a big mess."

A woodworker by trade, Shraiter says teaming up with two other Israeli immigrants catapulted his vague idea of "doing something" about Toronto's trash problem into an action plan. An intense design and testing period commenced about a year ago - and then the hand manufacturing and house-by-house distribution of a few hundred Bin Solutions containers throughout the literally litter-littered city.

On the eve of Bin Solutions' first anniversary last month, Wiseman gave Business Edge a tour of its wood-filled North York plant, where spic-and-span order prevails and approximately a dozen bins a week are constructed. They are then spray-painted and weather-proofed with a solution that not only protects against rain and snow, but causes ice to bead so it can be easily wiped off.

Wiseman laughingly details what a far cry the efficient current setup is from the company's earliest digs. "We started out in Zion's garage. When that got so cramped that we could hardly walk around, we worked out of a tent in his backyard" for about four months.

Although the team's first prototype now looks to Wiseman "like a Homer Simpson contraption," Pascal LaRouche says that snooping neighbours, including himself, caught on to its potential immediately.

Plagued for years by "having to pick up scattered chicken bones and everything else" after dogs and some of Toronto's estimated 40,000 raccoons had their way with his garbage bins, LaRouche says his interest was increasingly piqued as he "walked by and watched Zion and the others trying out different designs.

"As an investment manager myself, it was really interesting to watch both the bin models and their business model evolve," LaRouche adds.

He says he snapped up one of the first containers Bin Solutions offered for sale and has "traded up" whenever the bin design and locking features were tweaked.

Measuring 47 inches wide, 30 inches deep and 50 inches high, the current bins have a hinged top lid, swinging side doors and are large enough to hold various combinations of garbage and recycling containers.

"We know they're sturdy because we really punished them during the testing stages. We smashed them with hammers to see how hard the glue bonded. To make sure we got the weatherproofing routine right, we completely soaked the wood, then froze it and retested with different spray applications. And the hinges are all simple pins, not metallic parts that can rust or break and rot away the wood," Wiseman says.

By adding what Shraiter calls "clever shelves," vertically and/or horizontally, Bin Solutions can customize its containers for individual householders' needs. For example, a storage space for salt or other ice repellents can be created underneath a green bin. Or shelves can be slid in to stack blue or grey boxes beside a trash can.

But it's Bin Solutions' unique critter-defeating lock mechanism that's really putting smiles on the faces of customers such as LaRouche. Wiseman says the team thought they had vanquished raccoons with an earlier version of the T-shaped latch that's now in use.

"But last July, we heard that a couple of really smart raccoons had managed to break in. So I rushed over to the customer's house with Srul. He used to be a special investigator with the Israeli police force, so he immediately started investigating the 'scene of the crime,' figuring out how the raccoons got in," Wiseman says.

"It was just like watching a detective on TV and we all had a good laugh. But the evidence he found helped us design a locking latch that no raccoon has yet gotten past," he says.

Asking how Bin Solutions markets its products produces another chuckle from Wiseman. "Zion is well known for putting the cart before the horse," he says, recounting how his resourceful partner commissioned the design of an advertising postcard and hand-delivered it to dozens of mailboxes.

"But the design we had finally decided on wasn't actually finalized yet. So we ended up scrambling for 20 hours a day for a week or so to have some ready for when the orders came in."

And come in they did, especially thanks to mail distribution of Bin Solutions' postcards to selected postal codes in an ever-widening portion of Toronto, advertising in a few magazines and an exceptionally lively website. Plus, adds Wiseman, the seeing-is-believing technique of always keeping a container on the company truck trailer.

"You wouldn't believe how often people stop us to ask about it when we drive around on deliveries," he says.

All of which is why the Bin Solutions story is so admirable and even inspirational. In many ways, this company is a throwback to the modest, hands-on approach from which so many small businesses have morphed into behemoths.

Someone had an idea. A handful of others had faith. And none of them asked for a penny from outside investors. They just used their noggins to figure out through trial and error how to make something useful. Then they constructed and distributed it with their own capable hands.

The Bin Solutions team is succeeding because they're alleviating a problem, notes Toronto city Coun. Joe Mihevc, a vocal proponent of better garbage handling and a more pleasant local environment.

"Our garbage-storage needs in Toronto have increased quite dramatically since recycling and sorting was introduced," Mihevc says. "Bin Solutions has come up with a very practical way to store garbage, to keep it tidy and raccoon-proof and to be aesthetically pleasing. I wish them well."